In anticipation of “Unrequited Infatuations,” the first memoir by rock guitarist, songwriter, singer, bandleader, record and radio producer, and activist Stevie Van Vandt (aka Little Steven), to be published in September 2021, we’re presenting a spring 1987 Q&A with the then-future Rock & Roll Hall of Famer spotlighting his third solo album, “Freedom – No Compromise.”
Conducted by music journalist and radio writer-producer Stephen K. Peeples, the Q&A was included in the press kit for the album, out in May that year on the EMI/Manhattan label.
The press release from Hachette below offers further details about “Unrequited Infatuations”:
Uncover never-before-told stories in this epic tale of self-discovery by a Rock ‘n’ Roll disciple and member of the E Street Band.
What story begins in a bedroom in suburban New Jersey in the early ’60s, unfolds on some of the country’s largest stages, and then ranges across the globe, demonstrating over and over again how Rock and Roll has the power to change the world for the better? This story.
The first true heartbeat of “Unrequited Infatuations” is the moment when Stevie Van Zandt trades in his devotion to the Baptist religion for an obsession with Rock and Roll. Groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones created new ideas of community, creative risk, and principled rebellion. They changed him forever. While still a teenager, he met Bruce Springsteen, a like-minded outcast/true believer who became one of his most important friends and bandmates. As Miami Steve, Van Zandt anchored the E Street Band as they conquered the Rock and Roll world.
And then, in the early ’80s, Van Zandt stepped away from E Street to embark on his own odyssey. He refashioned himself as Little Steven, a political songwriter, and performer, fell in love with Maureen Santoro who greatly expanded his artistic palette, and visited the world’s hot spots as an artist/journalist to not just better understand them, but to help change them.
Most famously, he masterminded the recording of “Sun City,” an anti-apartheid anthem that sped the demise of South Africa’s institutionalized racism and helped get Nelson Mandela out of prison (on February 11, 1990).
By the ’90s, Van Zandt had lived at least two lives—one as a mainstream rocker, one as a hardcore activist. It was time for a third. David Chase invited Van Zandt to be a part of his new television show, “The Sopranos”—as Silvio Dante, he was the unconditionally loyal consiglieri who sat at the right hand of Tony Soprano (a relationship that oddly mirrored his real-life relationship with Bruce Springsteen).
Underlying all of Van Zandt’s various incarnations was a devotion to preserving the centrality of the arts, especially the endangered species of Rock. In the twenty-first century, Van Zandt founded a groundbreaking radio show (Little Steven’s Underground Garage), created the first two 24/7 branded music channels on SiriusXM (Underground Garage and Outlaw Country), started a fiercely independent record label (Wicked Cool), and developed a curriculum to teach students of all ages through the medium of music history. He also rejoined the E Street Band for a 20-year victory lap.
”Unrequited Infatuations” chronicles the twists and turns of Stevie Van Zandt’s always surprising life. It is more than just the testimony of a globe-trotting nomad, more than the story of a groundbreaking activist, more than the odyssey of a spiritual seeker, and more than a master class in rock and roll (not to mention a dozen other crafts). It’s the best book of its kind because it’s the only book of its kind.
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Little Steven Talks about ‘Freedom – No Compromise’ (1987)
Released in May 1987 by EMI/Manhattan Records, Freedom — No Compromise is the long-awaited third album by Little Steven (Steve Van Zandt), following “Men Without Women (Under the Gun)” (EMI/America, 1982) and “Voice of America” (EMI/A, 1984).
Little Steven wrote, arranged, and produced “Freedom — No Compromise,” recording at seven studios on the East and West Coasts between early 1985 and late 1986. He took time out from the sessions for other projects and special appearances, including Artists United Against Apartheid’s “Sun City” single/LP/book/video; the anti-apartheid concert in Central Park and the Amnesty International concert at the Meadowlands in New Jersey during summer 1986; the co-writing and co-production of Lone Justice’s second album, “Shelter” (Geffen, 1986); and the University For Peace/United Nations benefit in Tokyo (December 1986), among others.
Like “Men Without Women (Under the Gun)” and “Voice of America,” “Freedom — No Compromise” features musical support from his group The Disciples of Soul plus New York and L.A.-based players, many of whom he’d worked with before.
Special guests include Bruce Springsteen, Ruben Blades, the African National Congress’ Sechaba Cultural Singers, and the South African Students Committee of the University of California at Los Angeles. Little Steven played all guitars on the album; Grammy-winner Tom Lord-Alge mixed the tracks.
In the following conversation with music journalist Stephen K. Peeples, which took place in Los Angeles as “Freedom — No Compromise” awaited its release, Little Steven outlined the album’s central themes and discussed the individual tracks…
(For context: In spring 1987, Ronald Reagan was still president, apartheid was still law of the land in South Africa, and Nelson Mandela was still in prison. – SKP)
Peeples: “Freedom — No Compromise” touches on the struggles for freedom and self-determination by focusing on three inter-related areas — South Africa, Latin America, and the problems among the Native American people in North and South America. Your last album, “Voices of America,” covered some of the same territory, yet your understanding or vision of those issues seems to have both deepened and broadened on the new album.
Little Steven: “Voice of America” had the shock of discovery, betrayal, and the anger that goes with that. There’s a little bit more perspective now — I’ve gotten a little more distance and knowledge behind me on these issues that I’ve had swirling around in my head the past five years. And I think that perspective’s reflected in the new material. The new album’s conceptual and each song serves a purpose — something I’ve been trying to do with every record.
I also try and produce a record in a way that reflects my mood at the time as well as the content, and I think compared to “Voice of America,” the new album is probably a little less angry. There’s a little more space, a little more clarity — a little simpler in some ways.
Peeples: The story goes that you put this third album on hold to do the “Sun City” project.
Little Steven: That’s true. I wrote most of “Freedom — No Compromise” in Africa during the fall of 1984, which is a long time ago. The ironic thing is I’m finding time is actually working for me. If I’d put this record out at the beginning of 1985, I don’t think the environment would have been as good for it as it is now. As it turned out, I returned from Africa and took “Sun City” off the album and threw it out there, simply because “Freedom — No Compromise” is about South Africans, Latin Americans, and Native Americans and their common ground, and I thought each issue might have more impact if I focused on them one at a time.
So I chose Africa first — resulting in “Sun City” and the “Sun City” album. I figured if people begin looking at South Africa, and there’s some understanding of the problem there, then it’s easier to say, “Well, look, the same kind of thing is happening right here at home with Native Americans.” That was the thinking. I didn’t get back to actually recording “Freedom — No Compromise” until much later. I had a few tracks down in the spring of ’85, but did most of it during the spring of ’86, and added things here and there during the summer.
Peeples: Here and there is right. The credits list seven studios on two coasts. You must have had the master with you wherever you went, so you could jump into a studio at a moment’s notice.
Little Steven: I like to record that way. In terms of the actual number of days I worked, it didn’t really take that long, maybe three months. I record very quickly — it’s just getting a chance to focus on it and do it. I do get sidetracked rather easily.
Peeples: You mentioned earlier that you see similarities between the South African, Latin American, and Native American issues.
Little Steven: There’s a fundamental, underlying theme that goes through most of my work — I spelled it out in the song “Solidarity” on “Voice of America”: we’re all pretty much the same from country to country, culture to culture. What’s going on is that the people and their governments exist in two different realities and very rarely have the same priorities. Our problems stem from generally accepted government policies like worldwide weapons sales, corporate imperialism, manipulated prejudice and environmental rape while the people are too busy trying to feed their families to change things in any permanent way.
Peeples: What do you think it’s going to take to make governments more responsive to their people?
Little Steven: The expectations and responsibilities of the social contract, if we can call it that, vary from country to country, but that’s a good question — one that hopefully, people will begin to ask.
I think we have to begin by redefining the concept of progress. We seem to measure progress by profit or military superiority or both. They generally go hand in hand. Workers’ labor can’t be exploited unless there’s a gun to their head. We’ve got to start thinking about economic development in harmony with the Earth or there’s not going to be any Earth left. That’s something both capitalism and Marxism ignore completely. Perhaps a new political ideology, one that combines a little bit from the broad concepts of capitalism and socialism, a new system taking elements that work from existing systems, and include a respect for indigenous people’s culture and environmental consciousness. Which means a visionary or visionaries would have to come up with something. That’s probably what it’s going to take, but I don’t see any visionaries on the horizon right now. Those deep ecology people are still underground but they are the hope of the future. It’s just Indian thinking really.
I think people communicating with people directly — not through their governments — will be a big part of it, too. Music is part of that.
Peeples: How big a role does touring play in the communication process?
Little Steven: When you tour, when you travel, you become very aware of how much it means to go to a different country and just talk to each other. You find out how similar we are, really. Sure, all the different ethnic and cultural traits are different and they’re all interesting and I love those differences, but deep down it’s extraordinary how much we’re the same.
The more we communicate nation to nation, the more I think it’s going to be increasingly difficult for governments to mobilize their people to go to war, because people are eventually going to stop and say, “Wait a minute — I know those people. Let’s talk.”
The reunion of people with their governments is most likely to happen from the ground up, in other words. Hopefully, there will be some direction from some visionary as I said, but overall it’s pretty bad — the poor keep getting poorer and so on. We have to start facing the fact that the Industrial Revolution is over, and we should try to spare the Third World having to go through that so-called progress and modernization at the expense of the environment.
We have to redefine nearly every political word we use — communist, socialist, capitalist, Republican, Democrat — because at this point they don’t mean a thing. They are the clubs we belong to because our father did before us.
The concept of democracy is that the people are one with the government. In our country, there’s not much of a democracy at work — with all the lobbyists and PACs (political action committees), politicians no longer have a sense of loyalty to their constituencies, even on a superficial level.
It goes further than things like the National Security Council, which has all this power without being accountable to the people, because the people had nothing to do with creating or operating the National Security Council. Politicians did. And the politician who gets elected is the one who has the most TV commercials in his campaigns.
It costs millions to win a Senate seat. Abraham Lincoln wouldn’t have a chance. So there’s a real accountability problem all down the line, and a real sense that the will of the people is not being served. Does any sane person think we need $300 billion for defense? Reagan’s still voting in the United Nations against sanctions for South Africa when not only the American people want them, but Congress as well. We’re still giving bank loans to Chile — who thinks that’s a good idea?
THE SONGS – SIDE ONE
Peeples: Let’s get to the individual songs. “Freedom” is almost a call to action. It grabs you by the lapels and says, “Wake up! There’s a problem here you need to know about. Kill the apathy and do something about it!”
Little Steven: Yeah, it’s similar to what I did with the first song on “Voice of America,” but this time I tried to broaden it a bit. The background context is still U.S. foreign policy which I believe is the underlying problem throughout most of the world.
I wanted the opening to be really simple. State the horror and oppression that surrounds us, speaking as a member of the oppressors, and do it in as few lyrics as possible. I like the album’s overall theme to be very direct in the first song, and then get into specific things in the later songs.
Peeples: The last line, “Freedom — what you gonna do with your life?” refers to all the options and choices we have on those issues, saying get off the dime and pick one, and do it.
Little Steven: That’s basically what I wanted to say — “This is going on, me and you are responsible, and it’s going to continue until we do something about it. No one else is going to do it for us.” Governments are no longer doing it, if indeed they ever did. I feel they do have a role in helping the oppressed or the poor, but when governments are not taking care of those basic things, then the people have to do it.
Peeples: “Trail of Broken Treaties” is the first of the three specific themes on the first side.
Little Steven: Like the rest of our foreign policy our most outrageous criminal activity happens out of sight of the American people and, for the most part, the media. According to our treaties, every one of which we have broken, Indian nations are sovereign nations. That is foreign policy, technically, and should include all the respect we give England or anybody else. Instead of respect, we have imposed phony governments on them, practice regular religious persecution, pollute their land, relocate them, sterilize the women, put them in jail, and dig up whatever land we haven’t been able to steal.
The belief that the land is sacred is the central spiritual concept of Native Americans and all the indigenous people. They are the caretakers of the Earth, they don’t own it. Nobody can own it. We’re supposed to live on it, live with it actually, and leave it in good condition for our children.
That’s the common ground — we’re going to have trouble breathing the air soon, drinking the water, eating the food — toxic waste and radiation and all that is getting worse. For us, it’s just practical living. For Native Americans, it’s genocide. That culture is disappearing and the sacred, unpolluted Earth is disappearing right along with them.
Peeples: Somewhere along the line, Western civilization divorced man from nature.
Little Steven: Yeah, and the Native Americans are the ones who remember. We’re the ones who forgot. Go back far enough and we all come from the same place, but they never left.
There is no limit to it — grave desecration is a major, major problem. Ancestors’ bones are scattered through half the museums in the country, which is absolutely sacrilegious in that culture, probably most, but especially Native American culture. It’s a very sacred thing to have the ancestors and the land together and it goes back thousands of years in some places. With “Trail of Broken Treaties,” I just wanted to capture that total lack of respect and understanding that mining companies and the U.S. Government have expressed by their continued genocidal actions.
Peeples: You seem to be writing more things from the viewpoint of the people you’re talking about, trying to put yourself in their situations.
Little Steven: I find it very satisfying — I don’t think I ever did that until “Los Desaparecidos” on “Voice of America,” which ended up being one of my favorite songs. It adds to the song’s universality. Then as you write about the common ground you’ve been experiencing, you begin writing from the heart. You slowly realize it’s not “them” you’re writing about anymore. It’s you.
Because of that ongoing revelation, I’ve been taking it one step further on the album by merging my viewpoint and that of another person in the same song. “Trail” starts with my view and the bridge of “Pretoria” is from the standpoint of someone who lives in South Africa. It becomes very satisfying — you get closer to what you’re writing about that way. If you read and research and absorb, what comes out is a combination of a different ethnic reality with your own. The common ground is just below the surface — you just gotta dig a little. You get a better understanding of yourself from the experience of learning about others, and then the songs flow out in a natural, conversational way. That’s how “Trail of Broken Treaties” was written.
Peeples: The guest vocalist on this track, Kenny Moore — doesn’t he usually sing with Tina Turner?
Little Steven: Right. I went to see Tina in New York a couple of years ago, during her “Private Dancer” tour. And I’m hearing Tina, plus what sounds like another Tina, singing the harmony above her. When it came time to record I remembered him and we tracked him down in L.A. — that’s Kenny doing all the harmony parts on “Trail.”
Peeples: Next comes “Pretoria,” the South African situation from a different perspective.
Little Steven: “Pretoria” is the other side of “Sun City,” emotionally, for me. It’s removed and distanced from the immediate personal anger I felt when I was there. The thing that fascinated me was the lack of anger among the black South Africans. I could not understand that. Interestingly enough — and there are many other parallels — you see the same thing among the Native Americans and Latin American farmers.
Going to South Africa was just such a dramatic revelation to me. The dignity, patience, and integrity of these people survive somehow — and they manage not to be angry or bitter. I had a hard time dealing with it. I was in South Africa for only two hours and was already enraged. But it took me a long, long time, and distance, ironically, to be able to understand that enough to write about it.
Peeples: The key line comes at the end — “They know they ain’t got much time left in Pretoria.” The government may be running scared, but from what you’re saying, the black majority isn’t yet angry enough to force majority rule. How aware are the people that time is running out in Pretoria?
Little Steven: There is a feeling among the people, black and white, that apartheid can’t go on forever. It might take five years, 10 years, or 20 years, but finally, the awareness that it must end is building. I think they’re ready now, but their nature is very peaceful for the most part, certainly more so than the neurotic, ambitious nature of most of us of Western European descent.
The African National Congress (ANC) will continue to play a more and more important role. The U.S. Government actually calls the ANC too violent. Maybe you have to go there to see how sick that is. The ANC exhibits the ultimate restraint as far as I’m concerned. You try living with Hitler and see how long you remain non-violent, right? The economic boycott, if it ever gets enforced, combined with Mandela being released, is the last chance before full-out bloody revolution, and the people aren’t going to wait much longer.
Part of the problem that has to be dealt with — and this has parallels in any situation where people have been oppressed for long periods of time — is that a certain colonized mentality tends to take over.
That’s the most tragic part of all. At some point, people who’ve been beat up socially, politically, and physically for hundreds of years tend to not want to lose the little they have left, so that in the end oppression becomes self-fulfilling. You have to fight against that, too. That’s the way the South African government gets its collaborators, and there are lots of collaborators. You don’t have to look any further than the White House.
Peeples: The Sechaba Cultural Singers are featured on “Pretoria”…
Little Steven: I had been working with the Africa Fund and the African National Congress during the “Sun City” project so I told them I wanted to do a chorus in Zulu — who speaks Zulu? So a friend from the ANC told me that they had a cultural group here in the U.S. that I was not aware of — The Sechaba Cultural Singers, based in New York.
Peeples: “Bitter Fruit” takes a look at some of the problems in Latin America.
Little Steven: The title comes from one of the books I read when I was doing research into U.S. foreign policy. It dug into the 1954 coup in Guatemala, which the more I read about the more I realized was a good example of what we’re continuing to do in Latin America — basically engaging in a conspiracy between the CIA, the U.S. State Department, multi-national corporations, and the military to overthrow a government talking about land reform, and selling it to the American public as policing a communist threat. The book describes the exploitation of workers and enforced slave labor of peasants by big business, and how this kind of thing inevitably leads to revolution.
We somehow get sold the idea that the problem is rooted in political ideology. We always hear about communist revolutions — the words “communist” and “revolution” have somehow become synonymous, when, in fact, there has never been a soldier in the trenches in history who has fought for communism or any other ideology. That’s one of the greatest fallacies thrust on us every day by the government and the media. What people fight for is freedom and human rights and a little piece of the land, a piece of the dream. Revolution is almost always a righteous revolution, one that we’d support, in fact, were we living up to the ideals upon which this country was founded. But we end up opposing such revolutions instead because we don’t have the interests of the people there in mind. We have the shortsighted interests of big business in mind. That’s the sad situation we’ve created throughout Latin America. Of course, all this becomes background for the story in the song.
Peeples: What led to the Spanish-language version of “Bitter Fruit” with Ruben Blades? I know he was one of the participants on the “Sun City” project.
Little Steven: I first became aware of Ruben when I read an interview with him. I felt we had some common ground. Ruben’s album “Buscando America” came out at the same time as “Voice of America” and we both had a song about “Los Desaparecidos,” so obviously there was a lot of common ground.
“Sun City” was the first time we worked together, and then when I was recording “Bitter Fruit,” the song reminded me of some things happening in Panama right now that I had talked about with Ruben (he’s from Panama), so I asked him if he wanted to sing it with me.
About doing it in Spanish — one of my great frustrations in life is that I can’t speak every foreign language, and I have a lot of friends in Latin America and in the Latin community and I wanted to speak directly to them. Ruben was a great help because we not only had to translate the lyrics into Spanish, but also to interpret them for that community. Latinos in general are more subtle, more into poetry; it’s part of the culture. Sometimes the more direct you are the less effective the impact, where the opposite is true for Americans. In America, right now, you can’t be direct enough, and even then you’re lucky if you get your idea across.
Peeples: Ruben also plays percussion on “Bitter Fruit”…
Little Steven: When he came in to sing his part, he said the song needed just one more percussion part — never mind we already had 24 tracks of drums and percussion. So he picked up a mike stand and drumstick or knife or something and tapped out this great rhythm, which is now a central part of the song.
THE SONGS – SIDE TWO
Peeples: “No More Party’s” is a call for different approaches to the problems of the different political ideologies, a redefinition of terms, because the traditional or orthodox ones haven’t worked. It’s also the most humorous, in a dark way.
Little Steven: After the opener and the three main themes were established I wanted a change of pace emotionally. My version of comic relief, you might say. I wanted to go into a broader sort of statement, having more to do with my own philosophy than any specific issue and have some fun with the double entendre.
I try on every album to have at least one song that presents a more idealistic view of the world. It was “Among the Believers” on “Voice of America.” Some people may think that’s naive, but it’s not. I think one of an artist’s opportunities is to show the limit, provide perspective, remind us what the ideal is. Or in this case, at least offer something to think about. The idealistic point of view may not be practical but it’s important to recognize it, just to broaden the discussion.
Traditional political parties and governments are very good at limiting the discussion, like saying, “How communist are the Sandinistas?” Few, if any, in Congress have the intelligence, education, or moral sensitivity to ask, “How many Nicaraguan people are we killing, and why are we killing them?”
But the discussion doesn’t get that far. It’s, “We’re there and we’re killing Communists” and that’s somehow okay. It’s never, “What is a communist, and why is it okay to kill them?”
I think one of our government’s major methods of manipulation is the co-opting of words and phrases like “freedom fighter,” and totally corrupting our language. The media plays right along and before you realize it we’ve added a few more billion to the defense budget. How many times a day do you see the word “communist” in the paper? Next time you see a politician, ask him to define communism and explain why it is a threat to us. He will tell you he’s definitely not one, but he won’t know the answer. None of these guys have read any Marx, I promise you. We have become afraid to educate ourselves.
Peeples: Tell us about guest vocalist Cobra Jones.
Little Steven: Cobra Jones is a very mysterious cat. I was first introduced to him when I did the 12” single for the 1984 presidential election titled “Vote! After World War III,” one part of which we’re actually going to re-release on the B-side of one of the “Freedom — No Compromise” singles.
It’ll be just in time for Reagan’s impeachment.
I was looking for a rapper for this one, and tried to get RUN-D.M.C. and Melle Mel, but they were all outta town. Then this dangerous character Cobra Jones shows up — I ran into him on the street corner, he recognized me, we got talking, and I invited him down to the studio.
Peeples: “Can’t You Feel the Fire” has a distinct Rolling Stones circa “Exile on Main Street” feel.
Little Steven: Oh, yeah, Keith Richards is right in there with Muddy Waters, Little Richard, Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Sam Cooke, Chuck Berry, and everybody else whose music I’ve absorbed over the years. That’s absolutely where this came from. The Stones as a band hold a very special place in history and it bothers me when people forget that. So I keep it alive with a riff here and there, now and then. Just for my own entertainment to tell you the truth.
Peeples: Lyrically, you’re reiterating that apathy must end, that it’s time to do something.
Little Steven: Yeah, it’s about motivation and, in the end, hopefully motivational. “Party’s” and “Fire” are there for departure. They relate to the main themes but provide a little overview — “Party’s” more ideological and “Fire” more emotionally, just to mix it up a little. Both of these songs make up an ongoing theme that’s in a lot of my stuff. We must stop letting other people do our thinking for us.
Peeples: “Native American” looks at our home front tragedy from a different angle than “Trail of Broken Treaties”…
Little Steven: “Pretoria” is the other side of “Sun City,” and “Native American” is the other side of “Trail.” I tried to capture a moment of the uncomplicated beauty and integrity of Native American people. I see a very definite connection between the survival of traditional Native American beliefs and our survival on the Earth, so if we don’t begin to listen to them and respect them and preserve the environment for our children, we are in big trouble. There’s hope only if there’s change, and I mean very soon, because time is running out.
Peeples: What about the basic hypocrisy of the American public getting all self-righteous about South Africa when we’re doing much the same thing here with Native Americans?
Little Steven: Well, I hope that message gets through. From the public’s viewpoint, the Native American situation is a non-issue, because U.S. Government policies toward Native Americans are all done behind closed doors, as is all of our foreign policy. And this is foreign policy even though it’s on American soil, because our treaties — the ones we’ve broken — have been made with sovereign Indian nations established long before we ever got here. And public awareness is also low because the situation is mostly centered in the far-out reaches of the country, away from the media centers. Just like the rest of the Third World.
The news relating to Native Americans just isn’t as dramatic as the events in South Africa, and look how long that took to focus on. We may not have 2,000 people gunned down by police in South Dakota or New Mexico, but we do have dozens of unsolved murders at Pine Ridge.
We do have Leonard Peltier in jail even though every piece of evidence against him has been overturned.
We do have a 60-year-old fisherman named David Sohappy in jail for fishing. We have absolute cultural genocide — a lot of Native American people are losing their language as well as their land. We have sterilization of women, forced relocation, radiation poisoning, and on and on. It’s subtle and slow, off in the distance. That’s why it’s not been a popular issue.
The other complication here has to do with sovereignty and assimilation. It is easier to understand the ongoing civil rights struggle here or even in South Africa because that has to do with cultural assimilation. You can question the wisdom of that, but that’s what it is about. With Native Americans, assimilation is being forced upon them. They don’t want it. They want their land and their culture protected, something the treaties they’ve signed supposedly guaranteed, but we’ve never honored those guarantees. The choice to assimilate should be up to them.
The Native American issue is one of the most complicated questions I’ve looked at. I don’t have any easy answers but I know the key to the ultimate solution begins with education, communication, economic development in harmony with the Earth, traditional spirituality, and unification. The genocide will continue until the Indian nations unite and the American people begin to honor the treaties. All I can do is try to point it out to people and hope something happens.
Peeples: How did Bruce get involved?
Little Steven: We’d been talking about the issue for a while, and this felt like a good song to sing together. I look for any opportunity to work together, to tell you the truth, ‘cause I hardly see him anymore. He and I split up the lyric lines and I sang the high parts like I used to do when we sang together, and it just felt right that way.
Peeples: How did you arrive at a reggae rhythm for “Native American”?
Little Steven: I’ve loved reggae for a long time, and usually do a couple of songs in that style for every record. Some end up on the albums and some don’t. It’s that cross-cultural thing — common ground between people close to the Earth. I don’t know, it just worked for me.
Peeples: “Sanctuary” talks about the Latino version of Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad.
Little Steven: Right. The Sanctuary movement is made up of various religious groups and concerned citizens who give sanctuary to Latin American political refugees who’ve been denied asylum or legal entry into the U.S., because they are coming from countries where the U.S. Government refuses to acknowledge there are any political problems.
Countries like Guatemala and El Salvador, very proudly sold to us as “new democracies” which is a lie. They’re still run by the military, the oligarchy, and the multinational corporations.
It’s outrageous that these providers of sanctuary are being arrested and jailed for fulfilling something they believe is a sacred religious duty and a moral obligation. It should transcend anything this U.S. Government has power over. Aren’t the original ideals of America bigger than any administration? I used to think so.
We’ve become a nation of hypocrites. I mean, what’s the Statue of Liberty all about? We don’t live up to the ideals upon which this country was founded, and I think a large part of our problem is that the typical American citizen believes we do. We think it’s freedom and justice for all whenever and wherever Americans get involved. It’s not. We’re way off track and need to check ourselves out.
Peeples: There seems to be a spiritual current running through the whole album. What role does organized religion play in all this?
Little Steven: There is a fundamental spirituality, a harmony with the Earth that is present in all traditional indigenous people. It’s in all of us, if we can just get to it, if we can remember that it’s there. That’s what makes traditionals different. They remember.
At the roots of most organized religions, that spirituality is there. The names of the god or gods or spirits change, but the philosophy is all pretty much the same, and it’s good. It’s humanity. It’s inside all of us.
On this record and with these issues, along with the undercurrent of true spirituality, there is a taste of the hopeful and harmful roles organized religion can play.
It can be power-hungry and look the other way in some military dictatorships in Latin America.
It can be the “liberation theology” movement in other Latin American countries, supporting the people and giving them strength.
It can be divisive in Nicaragua.
It can be unifying and philosophically pure in the Sanctuary movement.
It can be big business, hypocritical and silent.
It can lead the revolution in South Africa.
It all depends on how far people stray from true spirituality, truth, and justice, and wander blindly into the divisive, confusing, power-mad business that organized religion can be.
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Grammy nominee Stephen K. Peeples is a multi-media writer-producer who was raised by career newspaper journalists and music-lovers in Miami and Los Angeles. He earned a Grammy nomination as co-producer of the “Monterey International Pop Festival” box set with Lou Adler and Geoff Gans (Rhino/MIPF, 1992); Peeples also wrote the liner notes booklet. • Peeples was the original, award-winning producer of “The Lost Lennon Tapes” radio series for Westwood One from 1988-1990, and writer/producer of hundreds of WW1 programs in the preceding five years. • His first music industry gig was as an Associate Editor at Cash Box magazine in Hollywood in 1975. He went on to be a Media Relations-PR executive for Capitol Records (1977-1980), Elektra/Asylum Records (1980-1983), and Rhino Entertainment (1992-1998). He also wrote liner notes for nearly a dozen albums, including “Les Paul: The Legend & The Legacy,” Capitol Records’ acclaimed 4-CD box set (1991). • Moving online, Peeples was Rhino’s first web editor (1996-1998), then elevated to content editor of Warner Music Group websites (1998-2001). • Based in the Santa Clarita Valley just north of L.A., Peeples was the award-winning Online Editor for The Signal newspaper’s website from 2007-2011, and wrote-hosted-co-produced SCVTV’s WAVE-nominated “House Blend” local music TV show from 2010-2015 (archived online and still airing in reruns). • The Santa Clarita journalist was most recently News Editor at SCVTV’s SCVNews.com and SVP/New Media for Rare Cool Stuff Unltd. As of summer 2021, he was developing a biography of notorious Texas Artlaw Boyd Elder. • For more info and original stories, visit Peeples’ website at https://stephenkpeeples.com/. For exclusive behind-the-scenes interviews, subscribe to his YouTube channel.
Article: Little Steven (Van Zandt) ‘Freedom – No Compromise’ Q&A, 1987
Author: Stephen K. Peeples
Category: News and Reviews
Article Source: StephenKPeeples.com