Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer School with Steven Van Zandt

On Wednesday night I had the opportunity to hear Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band (and "The Sopranos") give a lecture at City Winery.  eMusic sponsored the event, the first in what I hope is a series of lectures and other gatherings for members of the music download service.  They billed it as a discussion of Van Zandt's ideas of what makes a great rock and roll band.  That concept initially sounded a little weak, content-wise, but I was intrigued enough to respond to the invitation anyway.  Who doesn't like free drinks and the chance to listen to a music legend?

There was a small crowd at the event, under 100 people.  Van Zandt talked for about a half-hour about the value of arrangers in rock music.  The lecture was much more interesting than I expected.  He said that all aspiring rock musicians start out as arrangers, as they learn how to play other people's music, and that being a great arranger makes you a better songwriter.  He illustrated his points with audio clips of Chuck Berry originals and The Rolling Stones' covers of those songs (some of which sounded like bootlegs from Van Zandt's collection), then he moved on to Bob Dylan and covers of his songs, and so on through the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.  He argued that the period from 1951 to 1971 amounted to a rock and roll renaissance.  And he said that the introduction of CDs was a scam, and that "digital music sounds so fucking bad."  I thought that was an interesting opinion considering who paid for the event.

After his talk, my friend Jessica and I went up to Van Zandt and chatted with him for a few minutes.  We thanked him for the lecture and he said that he thought it went well since he wasn't sure who the audience would be or how the material would be received.  Then we told him we are aspiring rock musicians ourselves, as a bassist and drummer, respectively.  When he heard this Van Zandt looked wary.  His eyes widened.  We thanked him again and moved along to allow others to greet him.  A moment later Jessica turned to me and said "I think he thought we wanted him to listen to our demo tape."  To our credit, we thought we looked really old for people trying to break into the business.

For more coverage of Wednesday's event, check out the Twitter hashtag #emusicsvz.  Several eMusic members, including me, live-tweeted the lecture and caught some of Van Zandt's other points that I may have missed.  I hope eMusic does other events like this one, because it's a fun way to meet other members, learn about music, and enjoy food and swag.  I'm glad I came back to the service after a brief break last year.  I just can't quit you, eMusic.

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