The most talented don’t always make it big

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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During a recent NPR interview with David Chase and Steven Van Zandt about their new movie, “Not Fade Away,” a startling admission was made.

Van Zandt — a founding member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street band — told Fresh Air host Terri Gross: “There were a whole lot of really good bands in my neighborhood that never made it — you know, better than us, by the way.”

“You know,” he added, “there were guitar players that were better than me and Bruce. There were singers that were better. There were bands that were better.”

On this surface, this sounds absurd.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band have been — for decades — one of the most celebrated and successful musical acts in the whole world. Yet a founding member is arguing there were better bands in … his neighborhood?

This is no doubt true. There are all sorts of factors that contribute to success. Talent is just one of them.

Like David Chase, I played in bands when I was younger. And like Chase, I found a different professional outlet for my creativity.

(Truth be told, my bands were never talented enough to “make it.” But I do wonder about our songwriting. My bandmate George wrote a song called “Leave Him at Home” — about a girl who can’t get another guy out of her head — that should have been a hit for someone like Counting Crows. A later band called Vatic wrote a song called “Give Way” in the 90s. Tell me my opening guitar part doesn’t sound a lot like the theme to HBO’s “Entourage.”)

Interestingly, Van Zandt’s observation about how talented people often don’t “make it” in music is also true in politics.

A few years ago, I asked Karl Rove about this phenomenon. He essentially conceded that many of his lesser-known contemporaries had as much raw talent as “The Architect.”

“In politics there are very smart people running around who could — if they stepped into a presidential campaign — play a significant role. But for some reason, they don’t,” he said.

Matt K. Lewis