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Steven Van Zandt: Teachers make great audiences, probably because they never get out

Education is now the most important thing to me, and I don’t want anyone thinking it has something to do with politics

December 4, 2018

5:08 PM

4 December 2018

5:08 PM

I’m at the airport in Salt Lake City, waiting for the snow to stop so we can get up to Vancouver. I’ve been on the road with the Disciples of Soul since a month before Thanksgiving. This tour, the Soulfire Teachers Solidarity Tour, has been going on and off for a year and a half now, and it ends on December 16. The road is a lifestyle I’ve gotten used to. I miss my wife, I miss my dog. But we don’t go out so long, three or four weeks at the most before going back home. It’s not like the old days, the we’d go out for a year, and stay out. It’s much more civilized now.

The tour promotes my music-based school curriculum, TeachRock.org. Teachers are the most under-appreciated and underpaid workers, we give them absolutely no respect, but they’re completely responsible for the future of our country. We actually booked the tour to visit communities where they were striking, or almost striking, to give them the respect that they deserve, and tell them about the Teach Rock curriculum. We’re doing it out of gratitude.

It’s been a while since I was at school. So the biggest surprise was that teachers are fantastic audiences. I suspect it’s because they never get out. They’re always home, grading papers all the time. So it was like releasing the lions from the cage! Honestly, it’s been amazing, and a lot of fun on top of feeling like we’re actually accomplishing something.

The new school curriculum is STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, Math. Part of our goal is to make it STEAM, the ‘A’ being the arts. I feel very strongly about this. The arts are a different part of the education process, and an essential one. They affect different parts of kids’ brains, and help balance their reluctance and their intimidation. The arts play on the imagination, and there are no wrong answers in art, because art is whatever you feel. I feel with the constantly changing technology these days it’s far more important to teach kids how to think, rather than what to think. The arts do that. We’re determined to turn STEM into STEAM. It’s happened already in New Jersey, and that’s a wonderful start.

I’ve managed to keep the same band together for a year and a half. The longer you’re together, the better you get. I’ve been working with some of the guys since Introducing Darlene Love, which is going back three or four years. The same guys are on the Soul Fire album, and on the live album that’s just come out, and they’ll be on the new album, which comes out in May. They couldn’t be better. They’re amazing musicians, they’re amazingly versatile, which they need to be for this kind of music, and at the same time they’re wonderful people to live with and work with. That’s important to me at this stage in life. I’m not into any drama, any ego problems, or whiners and complainers. They have to be the right personality as well as be rather extraordinary.

On the road, it’s nice to run into friends. It might be a DJ, a journalist, an old friend from school. At moments like that, you see your life from the outside. And frankly, it usually looks better from the outside. I’m quite ambitious about what I’d like to be doing. I’m always feeling, my God, I have 20 percent of the output I’d like to have. I’d like to be really accomplishing a lot more, and I’m very frustrated most of the time because of that. At the same time, you try to live day to day, and doing this show with this band and having this amazing response from the audience tends to make everything else alright. I have no complaints about my life, but I do feel some frustration.

I wanted to spend a couple of years reaching into my own music, which has been very helpful and very rewarding. This new album is probably the best thing I’ve ever done, and it’s because of this tour. I want to get back on TV. I’ve got five scripts of my own and about 25 treatments. Lilyhammer is done. Those 24 shows, tell everybody to watch them slowly, and then watch them all again. Once I get back on TV, and we have the Disciples going, and when Bruce gets ready we’ll do the E Street Band, then those three things, the cornerstones of my life, will be just fine. But right now, I feel a little bit anxious.

I was very much a political activist, and I really stopped doing that when I started doing the education thing. I was conscious about being non-partisan, for 10, 12 years. I didn’t endorse Obama, and I’m not criticizing Trump. Education is now the most important thing to me, and I don’t want anyone thinking it has something to do with politics.

I think the country is very, very frustrated and very uneasy at the moment. You don’t see the progress you’d like to see, but that’s been true my whole life. I’ve never seen the country in a secure, happy state of mind, not since the Sixties anyway. So it’s nothing new. It’s frustrating to see our country leaving the world stage. You see the same thing happening in Britain.

I’ve been venting mostly in England against Brexit with all of my might, because I’m trying to stay out of politics here! I’m taking it out on Great Britain! Brexit is a terrible, terrible decision, perfect bad timing. As we leave the world stage, now Britain’s going to do the same? Who are we leaving the world to? It looks like China to me. That doesn’t bode well. So at the moment I’m pro-environment and anti-Brexit, and that’s as political as I get.

I don’t understand how the environment became a partisan issue in the first place. I’ve just started a boycott against Marriott hotels, because of the plastic they’re using. It’s insane, they’ve just changed their policy to all room service now being in plastic containers. Twelve percent of the waste stream is plastic, but only eight percent of that gets recycled. Just getting rid of plastic packaging would make an enormous difference. You have to start somewhere.

Aside from the fact that’s it’s totally toxic. I don’t care what people say, and maybe there’s no proven statistics yet. I’ve been drinking water out of glass for 20 years, okay. When I have to drink water out of a plastic bottle, believe me, it tastes like fucking plastic. I guarantee anybody, drink water out of glass, just for a couple of weeks, and then try plastic. You’ll see what I mean.

Steven Van Zandt is a musician and actor, and the founder of TeachRock.Org. The Soulfire Teachers Solidarity Tour runs until December 16.


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