Stevie Van Zandt in a scene from the HBO documentary...

Stevie Van Zandt in a scene from the HBO documentary "Disciple." Credit: HBO

DOCUMENTARY “Stevie Van Zandt: Disciple”

WHERE Premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. on HBO (streaming on Max)

WHAT IT'S ABOUT This 146-minute portrait of the E Street Band (and “The Sopranos”) legend covers the entire career — several of them in fact. Interviews include: Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, David Chase, Eddie Vedder, Bill Wyman, Bono, Darlene Love, Joan Jett, Peter Gabriel, Jackson Browne, Ruben Blades, Richie Sambora, Southside Johnny (John Lyon), Long Island's Gary U.S. Bonds, and Stevie himself.

“Disciple” was directed and produced by Bill Teck (“One Day Since Yesterday: Peter Bogdanovich & the Lost American Film”).

MY SAY There has never been a rock biopic quite like “Stevie Van Zandt” because there's never been a human being quite like Stevie Van Zandt. Maybe best known to one generation of fans as Silvio Dante, another as Little Steven, another as a member of the E Street Band, there were many Van Zandts in between and beyond. To some, he's possibly better known (and revered) as the longtime host of SiriusXM's “Underground Garage.” Others remember the mid-'80s activist who took on South African apartheid — the chapter in Van Zandt's life that so emphatically put him on the right side of rock (and world) history.

Singer, guitarist, record producer, songwriter, arranger, rock and roll archivist/historian/promoter … will the real Steven Van Zandt please stand up? In this exhaustive, occasionally exhausting film, they pretty much all do.

Teck's challenge was to bring these lives into focus, which he does, albeit in microbursts, as his subject moves restlessly and at times compulsively through the four “chapters” that structure this film. Van Zandt, now 73, simply doesn't stand still for anyone, including Springsteen, who is both awed and bemused by his oldest friend. “He's an all or nothing person,” Springsteen says, in trying to explain Van Zandt's aversion to politics early in his career, then the commitment later on. 

In fact, Van Zandt's mostly an “all” type. Born in Massachusetts, raised in Middletown, New Jersey, he linked up with Asbury Park pal John Lyons to cofound the seminal “Jersey sound” band, Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. After writing the band's biggest hits, and adding that iconic horn section, he jumped over to E Street in 1975 and subsequent superstardom. He later formed Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul — still esteemed by rock and roll purists but (alas) largely forgotten by everyone else. (The band still tours, however.)

Then came the politics. Van Zandt embraced many causes, above all opposing apartheid, and in 1985, created along with activist/ journalist Danny Schechter, Artists United Against Apartheid — a loose-knit group of performers who produced a song and record (“Sun City”) protesting a new mega-resort in South Africa.

Van Zandt concedes that his zeal for causes probably derailed his solo music career — a brief setback, as it would turn out. “The Sopranos” creator David Chase later saw him induct the Rascals into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on TV. So “charismatic,” Chase recalls, in explaining his unorthodox choice to play a critical role opposite James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano. Indeed, it bears repeating (and is again in “Disciple”) that the guy who created one of the most memorable characters in modern TV history had never acted a day in his life. Van Zandt later produced and starred in Netflix's first (and first good) streaming series, “Lilyhammer.”

Teck struggles with (and ultimately succumbs to) the problem with these sorts of films. There's too much praise from too many admirers and friends, which all starts to blend together, then turn into bloat. Van Zandt's wife, Maureen, at least captures the essence of this astonishing life: “You had the vision, followed through, and went all the way." And how. 

BOTTOM LINE A generously chronicled — in parts bloated — portrait of a rock and roll great.

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