Bruce Springsteen made a surprise appearance at the New Jersey Hall of Fame induction ceremony Sunday to help honor E Street Band’s Steven Van Zandt. The guitarist was inducted alongside fellow Jersey-reared stars like Meryl Streep, Blondie’s Debbie Harry, Gloria Gaynor and the Four Seasons.
“Though born in Boston, Massachusetts, there is no pure distillation of the Jersey ethos than ‘Little’ Steven Van Zandt,” Springsteen told the Asbury Park audience. “Roaring into New Jersey at seven years old, baptized at 13 and the Holy Spirit of the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, the Stones on Hollywood Palace, Steve’s vocation – rock & roll – chose him early.”
Springsteen then told the audience about the first time he saw Van Zandt onstage in 1966. “One look at Steve, I knew we drunk the same Kool-Aid,” Springsteen said of their friendship. “This all culminated in a brotherhood in the E Street Band. Steve served as playing, singing, producing as my irreplaceable lieutenant and our lifetime friendship.”
The rocker also praised Van Zandt’s work outside of E Street, including his solo albums, “Sun City” and collaborations with Southside Johnny. “Steve is one of the greatest living white soul performers – I mean writers – we have,” Springsteen added.
Springsteen acknowledged Van Zandt’s role on the New Jersey-based HBO series The Sopranos, playing mob lieutenant Silvio Dante, as well as the guitarist’s charity work. “This is his greatest legacy,” Springsteen said of the Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and the TeachRock program.
Van Zandt then came onstage to deliver his acceptance speech. “I had the experience of witnessing New Jersey become fashionable twice in one lifetime. Thank you, New Jersey; you have been very, very good to me,” Van Zandt joked, later noting that if it wasn’t for New Jersey, he never would have met Springsteen, a previous New Jersey Hall of Fame inductee.
Following the speeches, Springsteen, Van Zandt and the house band performed Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ “I Don’t Want to Go Home,” penned by Van Zandt in for the 1976 album of the same name. The two were then joined onstage by the rest of the evening’s inductees; Meryl Streep, who headlined this year’s Hall of Fame class, was unable to attend to do filming on Big Little Lies.
“We did the impossible: We made New Jersey hip,” Van Zandt told his fellow inductees.