Monday, September 21, 2009

Meeting Of The Minds

When WXRT morning disk jockey Lin Brehmer announced that Little Steven Van Zandt, guitarist for Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band and host of the syndicated Underground Garage radio show, would be dropping by the station Monday morning, most listeners probably expected a five minute interview. Surprisingly, Van Zandt and Brehmer chatted, joked, and played classic garage rock songs, including ones by Paul Revere and The Raiders and Tinted Windows, for an hour. If Van Zandt was tired from being onstage for a three hour, high energy performance at the United Center the night before, he showed no signs. He talked about watching Dick Clark’s Where The Action Is TV show as a kid, as well as the troubled state of current rock’n’roll.

Van Zandt, whose Underground Garage show airs on WXRT each Sunday night, recalled the days when rock music was meant to make people dance and bands honed their skills by performing cover songs before moving on to original material. Even The Beatles worked that way, he insisted. On their current tour, which showcases Born To Run in its entirety, Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band go back to their bar band roots by taking audience requests to perform other groups’ material. Van Zandt confessed it can be a challenge to whip up those songs on the spot.

A self-proclaimed keeper of the flame, Van Zandt feels too many bands today lack the necessary fire. Still, he’s no crabby elder statesman lost in the past. Through his radio show, he promotes new acts like The Urges and The Cocktail Slippers alongside classic artists like The Rolling Stones and The Ronnettes. He champions female bands from any era. He’s also launched the ambitious interactive website Fuzztopia where fans as well as bands can promote and present music. Van Zandt explained the site is still a work in progress.

His philosophy meshes well with WXRT’s "Past, Present, Future" ad campaign. Years ago, the station took a huge risk by including punk and new wave songs on its playlist, along with the progressive rock favorites listeners had grown to love. That gamble has made WXRT stronger. Today, Van Zandt and Brehmer came across as kindred souls who love rock music and are determined to keep its fire burning. 

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