Saturday, April 20, 2013

Quote of the Day (Steve Van Zandt, on The Rascals, ‘First Rock Band in the World’)

“Some people may not realize it, but the Rascals were the first rock band in the world. In the Fifties, you know, we had vocal groups, and solo people…And then in the Sixties, on the West Coast, you had the Beach Boys, but they really were a vocal group and they became a band later… We also had the Byrds, but McGuinn really did that first record by himself and then they became a band later. And okay, over in England, some guys were making some noise. But in the real world, in the center of the universe—New Jersey—The Rascals were the first band! Which is why I don’t understand why it took so long to get them into the Hall of Fame!”—Steve Van Zandt, speech inducting The Rascals into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, May 6, 1997, Cleveland, Ohio

Broadway, courtesy of Miami Steve Van Zandt, has finally made room for the other Jersey Boys--Eddie Brigati (Garfield), Dino Danelli (Jersey City), Felix Cavaliere and Gene Cornish—in a concert-biomusical: The Rascals—Once Upon a Dream, for 15 performances only. 

The critics haven’t been especially effusive about Van Zandt as writer, co-producer and co-director (with Marc Brickman) of the show. The hell with them, I say—he took on a role infinitely more difficult.  Cavaliere joked in this YouTube clip that he was getting ready to send him to Gaza—a piquant comment on the strenuous diplomatic effort needed to bring together a quartet that, for 40 years, had resisted efforts to reunite.

For the longest time, the most notable aspect of Van Zandt’s induction of his teen Garden State heroes was that it convinced David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, that he would make a great Silvio Dante in his upcoming gangster series. But, we know now, it also created a debt of gratitude among The Rascals that Van Zandt was able to draw on.

Children of the Sixties such as myself can also see more clearly now how The Rascals provided much of the musical DNA—as well as a positive and negative role model—for Van Zandt, his best friend and “Boss,” Bruce Springsteen, and their mutual friend, “Southside Johnny” Lyon. The Rascals’ “blue-eyed soul” style and their refusal to play before segregated audiences helped to dissolve artificial musical barriers based on race.

Over the past several days, I’ve seen pictures of Van Zandt, Springsteen and Southside with one or more of The Rascals. Seeing them together, you can almost hear the echoes of their forebears in the younger men’s work. The accordion that forms such a memorable backbone of “How Can I Be Sure” also anchors “Sandy (Fourth of July, Asbury Park)”. The giddiness of “Good Lovin’”--a frequent live staple of Springsteen and the E Street Band--finds its later counterpart in the even wilder “Rosalita.”

That’s because New Jersey, in the Sixties, really was, as Van Zandt said with tongue in cheek, the center of the universe. Especially down by the shore, where the necessity was on danceable rock ‘n’ roll, bands immersed themselves in a polyglot universe, yet with musicians of at least some Italian-American descent—including Springsteen and Van Zandt—in the forefront. But the Rascals got there first, paving the way for them as well as the likes of Hall and Oates, the J. Geils Band, and Mountain.

Before the dream curdled for the band in 1970, with Brigati’s departure, they provided untold amounts of joy for fans. Maybe, if we’re lucky, The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream will inspire a new generation to listen to the music at the heart of it all.

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