Steven Van Zandt Recalls Bob Dylan Becoming God And Inspiring Musicians To Express Themselves

During a recent interview with Glenn Kirschner, E Street Band icon Steven Van Zandt reflected his opinions on the emergence of rap music and said that at that point, Bob Dylan was a great inspiration for artists to express themselves.

Besides his long-term and successful music career, Steven Van Zandt is also publicly known for his activist side. After leaving the E Street Band in 1984, he formed a protest group, named ‘Artists United Against Apartheid,’ to fight apartheid in South Africa. He tried to raise awareness about the apartheid issues in South Africa by recording an album, titled ‘Sun City,’ with 54 different artists including Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, and Bruce Springsteen.

The project was one of the first musical collaborations which support a political cause rather than a social one. Later on, the guitarist also spoke up to create awareness about the US intervention in governments of Central America and other issues. Thus, Van Zandt is sensitive about any discrimination issues based on race. During the interview, he reflected on the opportunities that black and white artists were given to express themselves.

He stated that white artists could easily express themselves politically as they had the opportunity and encouragement while the black artists didn’t have the same chances. White artists had Bob Dylan to encourage them to express themselves. Hence, Van Zandt thinks that the emergence of rap music was really important in this respect since it gave room for black artists to raise their voices. For him, it was kind of unusual to see black musicians in rock although there were some exceptions like Jimi Hendrix. However, rap opened up more space for black artists so he thought that it should be supported.

Steven Zandt speaking on rap music:

“The truth was the black artists were just not encouraged to express themselves politically. We had some exceptions that were just exceptions because they were not quite in the rock mainstream world like Gil Scott-Heron and the last poets but mostly the black artists were simply not encouraged to express themselves politically and white artists were. They were expected to follow in the wake of the man who at that point was god which was Bob Dylan. Jimi Hendrix was doing it.

Jimi Hendrix was an exception, and ‘Sly and the Family Stone’ started to do some things and George Clinton but it was unusual. So here comes this thing called rap and they are doing nothing but expressing what’s going on and I’m like ‘Man, we gotta encourage this, we gotta support this‘ and I put him on the record, and people were shocked. They were like ‘What are you doing? You’re putting Run-DMC next to Miles Davis and Melle Mel next to Jackson Browne and Bob Dylan.’ And I’m like ‘Yes.’ That’s how important I feel this is.”

You can watch the entire conversation below.