Street Talk: Little Steven Van Zandt

The longtime E Street Band guitarist and Sopranos heavy (hello, Silvio) meets ME in Las Vegas to discuss his Sirius satellite radio gig and why CDs are "the biggest fraud ever perpetrated on the public.

Photo courtesy of London Features
During the Sirius press conference, one of my editors, Jamie Sorcher, asked you, "Is it true you're the Godfather of garage rock?" Yeah, I remember. And I said, "Actually, I'm the grandson." [both laugh]

Satellite radio seems the perfect place to expand your 2-hour weekly syndicated radio show, Little Steven's Underground Garage, into its own stream. Would you say satellite radio is the only way to go for the future of radio? Well, they're doing something radical - and it is radical, let's not kid ourselves. It's absolutely revolutionary. To do anything more than a 2-hour show, you gotta go to satellite, to Sirius. These guys are looking for the innovations. Because as our society fragments, niche products are more and more the way of the future, and this is the niche that we own. It's a very big next step in the rock and roll revolution, the next step in its rebirth. But right now, rock and roll isn't even a niche. It's unbelievable.

You don't have to worry about programming a set "format," do you? I don't care what "format" it is; all I care about is hearing a cool song. I'm gonna program the Ramones into The Ronettes, into The Hives, into The Kinks, into The Standells, into Jerry Lee Lewis - which everybody says is impossible. "You've got five different formats." I say, "No, it's one format." The Ramones didn't just drop out of the sky. Joey Ramone was listening to Ronnie [Spector]'s vocals in The Ronettes. There's a direct relationship there. And Howlin' Pelle Almqvist [singer of The Hives] is listening to Eddie Cochran, or whoever. There's an absolute linear connection, a straight line from the pioneers of the '50s right through to the garage rockers of today. And that's what I'm playing.

Nobody else is playing any of it at this point. The oldies stations are eliminating a lot of the '50s, the classic-rock stations are eliminating the '60s. Look, you eliminate the '50s and '60s, you're obliterating the Renaissance, ok? That's like taking Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams out of the theatrical canon.

Somewhere along the way, and I don't even know how this happened, a disconnect took place between radio, record sales, and performance. These things all used to be connected. Now they're completely fragmented to the point where they don't even touch each other. We've gotta bring it back to where radio actually sells records.

Do you think downloading is a culprit in some of this? Partly, but not as much as everybody else thinks. I think it's the result of selling kids $15 records with two good songs on them. Well, guess what? You've been robbing these kids for years! Now they're gonna steal you back, ok? They didn't start it, the mainstream record companies started it, throwing this mediocrity on these kids. Whaddya think, they're stupid? They're not stupid. Two good songs out of 14, for $15? Fuck you! We're gonna fuckin' download the one song we like!