The Heart of Rock 'n' Roll: Guided By Steven Van Zandt, The Rascals Reunite on Broadway

By Judy Samelson
17 Mar 2013

Steven Van Zandt
Photo by NBC/Heidi Gutman

Speaking of musical roots, can you talk a bit about this project you've spearheaded, the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation? What is it exactly?
SVZ: Sure. We are right now writing the history of rock 'n' roll to be included in school curriculums. We're about halfway to our goal. I outlined 40 chapters of the history of rock and roll, each of which had five sub-chapters, so there's 200 different chapters, 200 lesson plans right now being written by the Foundation experts — Scholastic [Inc.] is our partner also — and we'll be in a pilot program probably by the end of this year. Mostly middle school. We really have to avoid high school at the moment, because of the No Child Left Behind legislation, which has been very damaging to the arts, and it is the reason why most of the Arts classes have been eliminated, along with music classes. I've spoken at Congress about that, and it's not going to get fixed anytime soon, so we are going to concentrate on the middle school years — sixth, seventh, eighth grade. We'll trace the history of rock 'n' roll, which goes all the way back to the early 20th Century.

Essentially we're telling kids [to] tell us what you're listening to and let's trace it back. So we have that common ground immediately with the kids. We're hoping that not only do we get a chance to inspire people and get them excited about music in general, but we're hoping to fight against the drop-out epidemic, which is out of control. Statistics show that if a kid likes one single class or one single teacher, they will come to school. And we want to be that class. And have a class that's fun. And again, we have that immediate common ground. Because that has to be established. That is the hardest part of any classroom, getting the kids interested and holding their interest. They're already into music, so we'll talk about what they're into and simply trace it back. And in tracing it back, they will learn the entire history of America and the 20th Century.

Getting back to The Rascals, what has this experience been like for them to be playing together again? Have they fallen into the same rhythms?
SVZ: Yeah. It's amazing. When a band has that kind of chemistry, it's not a cliché. It seems like a cliché; it seems like something you'd say, you know, that a band has chemistry. But they really do. At rehearsal they make the hair stand up on your arms. They're just fantastic together — as most great bands are. No matter what they're doing individually or what they may sound like in terms of the individual musicians, when certain great bands play together something different happens. And they are one of them. You know, 40 years went away like 40 seconds. I'm not kidding. They were just amazing right away. After that it's just a matter of learning the show because it's a very, very technological show.



Marc Brickman, my partner, is one of the greatest modern staging and lighting guys in the business. We have a completely organic dimension to the technology. If you go see most rock acts or pop acts with any kind of video screens, it's all on a time code. They push a button at the beginning of the show and it just runs. This one is completely — every single song, every narration — manually operated and manually cued so the audience can participate. And so it's just a matter of the band getting used to working with the video screen and all that.

Will they play a consistent set every night?
SVZ: Pretty much. If we take it on the road, which we may do . . .

That was going to be my next question.
SVZ: Yeah. We are going to try and do that. We are going to play Memorial Day, for instance, at the Hard Rock Casino in Ft. Lauderdale. Once we're at that stage, where we're playing every single week, we may — we could — maybe change the songs around. But it's like any other Broadway show. Every song fulfills a function, and we have specific video that goes with each song telling that story. Again, we're not just telling the story of The Rascals, we're telling the story of the '60s, as well. So it may not vary much. At some point we may throw in a couple of other songs, replace a few songs now and then. I'm not sure how that will develop. It could happen, but you're not missing much with thirty songs, that's for sure.

While preparing for this interview, I've been listening to all my Rascals' records, and the thing that strikes me is that even though the times in which they were recording these great songs were difficult ones, there's not an ounce of cynicism in the music.
SVZ: Ah. Yeah. That's a good point. And you know what? We actually address that in the show. Yeah. You gotta come see it 'cause you're gonna love it.

It all seems to have come directly from their hearts. It was genuine.
SVZ: And that's probably the biggest reason they did not come back before this, I think. Because they were so idealistic and very much did not want to in any way denigrate or dilute their own idealism and history and legacy. Do you know what I mean? They just sort of honored — in a funny, odd way, they honored that by not coming together. Until this show. That legacy is being honored by the show. I think that's one reason why they did not come together for forty years. They wanted to leave what they had done in its perfect state, if you will. So that's one reason why it took this long to actually happen, and it may never have happened. But I think the show honors that memory, that legacy, that body of work in a way that they felt they all could endorse.