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Little Steven talks new Western Mass marijuana line, frustration with Biden, new TV projects

A rocker with a scarf on his head and a colorful guitar points off stage while performing with a full band
Louis Arzonico
Steven Van Zandt.

Legendary rocker Steven Van Zandt of the E Street Band – also known for his acting on “The Sopranos” and “Lilyhammer” – is working with a Western Massachusetts cannabis company on his personal line of weed products.

Now 70, Little Steven says he hasn’t smoked weed since his halcyon days in the 1960s.

“We did those kinds of drugs for reasons of trying to expand our consciousness," he told WAMC. "We did not do drugs in the 60, to escape. Those kind of drugs would come later in the 70s, like cocaine and things like that, which is a whole different animal. But the hallucinogenics, whether it was marijuana, or hashish, those kinds of things, were our way of trying to expand our consciousness.”

Though his days of plant-based consciousness expansion are over now, the guitar titan has teamed up with Western Massachusetts cannabis company Canna Provisions to launch a new line of pre-rolled joints under his Little Steven’s Underground Apothecary brand. His interest in marijuana as a holistic medicine is deeply entwined with a sense of injustice that the plant remains illegal on a federal level.

“It’s just a ridiculous holdover which we have to run into quite a bit in our country with various religious extremists and people who oppose these things, for no particular reasons, really, just because they can," said Van Zandt. "It's just ridiculous. Why would alcohol be legal and marijuana and not be legal? I mean, if anybody can just answered me that question, I'll go away, you know, but I just think that it's obvious that it needs to be legal. I mean, it doesn't hurt anybody. The worst thing that happens to you, it makes you hungry. We have a little bit more of the CBD in the balance and a little bit less of the THC, so our high is a more mellow high and emphasizes the body, the function of the effects on the body rather than rather than the mind.”

10% of the profits from the Little Steven branded pre-rolls – which feature Canna Provision’s Smash Hits strain of cannabis – will go to the National Organization for Marijuana Legalization.

Van Zandt has always been politically outspoken, from opposing South African apartheid in the 1980s to protesting the treatment of Leonard Peltier. The Native American activist been imprisoned since 1977 after he was convicted of aiding and abetting the murder of two FBI agents during the 1975 Pine Ridge Indian Reservation shootout.

“An absolutely legitimate political prisoner in America," said Van Zandt. "And then we're talking, he's been in jail 45 years. Evidence was falsified, witnesses were coerced, they didn't allow the ballistic test into the trial. I mean, obviously innocent, and he's been in jail 45 years. I mean, it's absolutely horrifying. And I'm on my, what, sixth or seventh presidents trying to get him out. I don't know why. They let all kinds of people out for all kinds of reasons. But here's a guy who’s obviously innocent, a terrible trial, terribly corrupt trial. And yet 45 years later, he's still in jail.”

The decidedly left of center rocker is also deeply frustrated with the Democratic Party.

“I'm very, very disappointed at the tepid lack of urgency that's going on in our country with the Democratic Party," Van Zandt told WAMC. "You expect more from them. You don't expect anything from Republicans anymore. I mean, they're just hopelessly lost. But Democrats, I would have loved to have seen Joe Biden come in and do a John Kennedy, saying instead of going to the moon in 10 years, we're going to be poison free in 10 years, we're going be pollution free, fossil fuels free in 10 years, by 2030. That's what we should have done, not this 2050 stuff. It's an emergency and nobody's acting like it.”

Van Zandt is particularly opposed to Biden making any concessions to the coal industry as he works to pass his signature infrastructure bill.

“This guy is trying to make 50,000 miners happy and screw the other 300 million people in the country?" the incredulous rocker asked. "Really? You know what I mean? 50,000 miners, that's all there is. 50,000 miners, and you got to be deranged, by the way, deranged to want to hold on to that job. I mean, go a half a mile underground and die of black lung by the time you're 50? This is what they're defending? I mean, Jesus Christ, you know? What the fuck is going on here? There’s incident after incident, we can go on all day about the unforced errors that Joe Biden's administration has committed. But the environment is something that needs to be focused on, and hopefully, hopefully, infrastructure is going to include that.”

As always, Van Zandt has multiple irons in the fire. Heading into 2022, he wants to keep up the momentum for his Disciples of Soul band.

“2017, ’18, ‘19 were the three most productive years of my entire life," he said. "Six album packages and two new albums, ‘Soulfire’ and ‘Summer of Sorcery.’ So I like to keep them together. But if Bruce decide to go out, you know, I'm giving Bruce first priority. So if he wants to go out with the E Street Band in 2022 then then I will do that.”

The longtime screen actor says he’s also eager to get back into television, and has three scripts he’s working on.

“One of which is actually a sequel to Sopranos, one of which is a story about Cuba," said Van Zandt. "And the other is a detective buddy series between two guys who form a detective agency. Any one of those three I would do and I also have a couple of treatments, which I really, really liked that I haven't totally finished the script on. One which takes place in France, which I'm also very interested in, another detective role in France.”

WAMC: You've done so much over your life- Has this always come easy to you to step into all these different worlds? You certainly carry yourself with a certain joie de vivre, you don't seem easily cowed. Has this been like a natural thing for you to sort of move from space to space and finding yourself in the middle of a lot of conversation?

VAN ZANDT: Yeah, I don't know how or why. We'd have to have a psychiatrist spend some time on that one. But for some reason- I wasn't sure what I wanted to do when I was a kid. But for some reason, I think the love I got from the family, even though my mother divorced my father when I was young, like two or three years old, and that's supposed to be traumatic and screw you up for life. But in my case, we moved in with her parents, and, you know, I'm the first grandchild in the Italian family, we got the grandparents, we got aunts and uncles- You know, I mean, I got a lot of love. And I think that made me secure in some undefinable way. So when you when you feel kind of secure in that intangible way, you can go from thing to thing. And, you know, I also have very high standards. My standards were set very high by growing up in the renaissance period of the 60s. And it absolutely was a renaissance, you know, when the greatest art being made is also the most commercial, you’re in a renaissance. And for me, you know, the standards were set very, very high. And so I've been applying those standards, no matter what I do. No matter what I do, if my name is on it, it's going to have high standards, it’s going to be a high quality content or product or whatever. That's just something that I decided early on- You know, I'm going emphasize quality over quantity. And for most of my life, I really, really wished I had more output. But these last three years, before the quarantine, I must say, they were as productive as you can possibly be. But other than that, most of my life has been a little bit lacking in in output. I would have liked to have been more productive, to be honest with you. But, you know, I'd rather have something be great. Greatness is everything to me. I seek it out, I support it when I find it, and I try and achieve it when I can. That's what it's all about to me. It's like, we're here for a reason. And like my father said, if you're going do something, do it right, or stay home.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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