NEW YORK, N.Y. - Steven Van Zandt says his first thought when he heard Nelson Mandela had died "was a selfish one."
Van Zandt, guitarist in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, said he'd hoped Mandela would be able to attend one of the band's South African shows next month.
He said the trip will be the "first time I'll be back since my research of '84." That research led him to spearhead a cultural boycott of South Africa, forming Artists United Against Apartheid. Van Zandt released the protest song "Sun City" in 1985 that included influential musicians such as Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Miles Davis.
Van Zandt said he met Mandela twice, including at a U.S. reception Van Zandt hosted in 1990. "When I met him, I'd never felt this before or since — I felt like I was meeting a religious figure — like old-time," the guitarist said. "I mean like Buddha, Jesus, John the Baptist. He had that kind of vibe."
He's promoting the newly released second season of his Netflix series "Lilyhammer." It's about a New York gangster trying to start a new life in Lillehammer and ends up pretty much corrupting everybody around him in the small Norwegian town.
"He feels like there's a little criminal in everybody and it's his job to find it," Van Zandt said of his character. "And he's quite successful at that."
Van Zandt says he'll tour with Springsteen in South Africa and Australia until March, when he will return to Norway to film the third season of "Lilyhammer."
As for Springsteen's new album coming out in January, Van Zandt said he doesn't know if he'll be on it. "Bruce is recording all the time," he said, adding that Springsteen often asks him to sing or play something or sends him tapes to work on. "If those things got used or if they didn't get used I'm not quite sure."
Van Zandt says he's happy the E Street Band — which wasn't inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of fame with Springsteen in 1999 — will receive the Award for Musical Excellence at this year's induction ceremony in Brooklyn.
"It's wonderful to be in there with all of our heroes," he said. "I'm glad it happened."
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