Oprah: So what's the difference between walking onstage in front of 30,000 people on drugs and off drugs?
Steven: When I got sober, I asked myself, "Why did I even take them onstage?" Because being onstage is already like being on drugs. It's another world. But the drugs—it was just a way of life. If you didn't take LSD in high school, you weren't cool. So we took acid and walked up to the top of Mount Sunapee. Tasted the wind when it blew. I would sit at night with my dog, Cricket, and stare at him for so long my shirt would be soaking wet. I didn't want to miss a movement he made.

Oprah: Well, that sounds crazy to me.
Steven: Yeah, but I can get that same experience now from a song. I can get so inside a song.

Oprah: Where do the songs come from?
Steven: "Sweet Emotion" just came. Sometimes it just comes to you as a gift.

Oprah: And "Dream On"—you wrote that here?
Steven: Yeah, on a pump organ.

Oprah: Are the songs always there, waiting to be uncovered?
Steven: I think Michelangelo would say that the sculpture was always there. The rock was in the way, and he just chiseled the rock away to reveal it.

Oprah: That's what I meant.
Steven: The melody's there, just waiting. I learned that from my dad.

Oprah: You know, this month in the magazine, we're talking about expressing yourself. You've never had a problem with that.
Steven: No.

Oprah: I think every human being yearns to get to the highest expression of themselves. What's yours?
Steven: That's pretty much it—when I'm onstage in the throes of emotion, singing. And they're singing every word and nuance back to me. It's like making love. It's a complete sentence. It's a lifetime in a song, if the melody's just right.

Oprah: Tell me this: How do you do what you do, night after night for 40 years, and not be completely controlled by your ego? How do you live a life where you are an American idol and still hold on to yourself?
Steven: I have a big ego, but I don't buy into it. I can't live off the ego. It's an honor that I get to be that guy onstage. It's not something I earned.

Next: Why performing is about so much more than talent