Bruce Springsteen made a surprise appearance in Asbury Park, New Jersey on Sunday night (May 6) to induct Steve Van Zandt, E Street Band member, actor and producer, into the New Jersey Hall of Fame.
From the stage at the Paramount Theatre, Springsteen remarked that “rock ‘n’ roll chose [Van Zandt] early. … One look at Steve, and I knew that we both drunk the same Kool-Aid.”
The Boss then talked about how the two used to argue as teens over their musical heroes, who had the better clothes, guitar, hair, and “thousands of hours of preparation for the day when folks could argue about us.” Springsteen continued: “Steve is one of the greatest living white soul performers we have. He is the sole creator of the male babushka — a man who, not unlike Hugh Hefner, had managed to spend his whole life in his pajamas.”
While Van Zandt is already in the Hall as a member of the E Street Band — the group was inducted in 2012 — Sunday night was about recognizing his work as a solo artist, including his activist efforts in 1985, organizing musicians to stand up to apartheid in the MTV hit “Sun City.”
Taking the podium, Van Zandt humbly accepted his induction with self-deprecating humor. “We were lucky to grow up when we did,” he said. “We did a lot of good work together, and still more to come. … What is most important was he is the only person I have ever met for whom rock and roll was everything. Not a job, not a convenience, not a way to fortune or fame… but it wasn’t a legitimate business yet, and the only successful bands were from England.. Not New Jersey. So we needed each other’s reinforcement.”
Van Zandt later cracked: “With Bruce and the E Street Band, we did the impossible: made New Jersey hip.”
Lightning struck again, Van Zandt continued, when “Sopranos” creator David Chase tapped him for the role of Silvio, making New Jersey “fashionable” once more.
Van Zandt then took the stage with his band to perform “Soulfire,” the title track from his latest album, before Springsteen joined him once more for a duet of “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” a song he wrote for Southside Johnny.
The evening was hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. Additional inductees included Blondie’s Debbie Harry, The Four Seasons and Frankie Valli, Gloria Gaynor (who performed “I Will Survive”), “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro and author Harlan Coben, among others. Presenters included Joe Piscopo, John Roberts of “Bob’s Burgers” and astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
Meryl Streep was due to be inducted but could not attend due to a conflict with her production schedule for “Big Little Lies.”