New Jersey Alchemy

The other odd day I caught an episode of The Sopranos half way. Christopher and Paulie lost in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in winter after giving chase to a Ukranian gambler they tried to kill but failed. A series of comedic errors so artfully acted. Within seconds I recalled the entire story arc from the 3rd season. The episode aired in May of 2001 so ingrained in me is the series. 2001. Can it be? Four months before the entire world changed. This episode is regraded as possibly the greatest of them all and was written and directed by Steve Buscemi.

It’s not unusual for a single television programme to perfectly represent its American decade. All in the Family—70’s. Miami Vice—80’s. The 90’s? I’ll pass on the 90’s. The 2000’s? Well, in my opinion the decade was owned by the Sopranos. Although the pilot was filmed in August 1997 and didn’t premiere until 1999 the Sopranos to me represents post 9/11 through the mad pre-crisis years to 2007 when the series concluded. Sunday nights in Los Angeles were “Sopranos Night.” Friends gathered at my gf’s house in Brentwood. Italian food delivered. Cable box switched over at 8.59. Waiting for the static to clear, as an ominous refrain arose before H-B-O appeared on the screen. This was in the time before digital streaming and box sets where you could binge watch your favorite programme. At 9 of an evening we would rewatch the previous week’s episode until 10pm when a new episode premiered. Waiting a week for a new episode was unbearable. Thankfully HBO would rerun the previous weeks episode multiple times during the week and often I would watch it two or three times.

There is something inexplicable about the series. It wasn’t the story arc. And let’s be clear Tony Soprano was a misogynistic pig who repeatedly lied to his wife’s face and if that wasn’t bad enough displayed violence towards women. To top it off he was a murderer. Its physicality perhaps? The locations? I spent a lot of time in New York City in those years. So much so I let an apartment at 29th & 3rd. NYC grew familiar to me.  Cast spotting in the city became sport. Jamie-Lynn Sigler partying with cast members of Law & Order SVU at the Rose Bar. John Ventimiglia on a side street in Tribeca (See New York Story). 

Fast-Forward. June 19th 2013. The Sopranos was relegated to AppleTV binge watching or cable boxsets for six years already. Los Angeles and NYC part of my past. My current was—and still is—the Costa Brava, Spain. The news on in the background of my home office on 27 La Miranda. Something about James Gandolfini. Turned up the volume. Rome. Age 51. Died suddenly. Shock in me. A little part of my memories died when I heard The news. The ending of the series, whilst ambiguous, suggested heavily Tony Soprano was assassinated. And there’s no coming back from that. The reality of James Gandolfini’s death meant there would never be a Sopranos movie with him as the protagonist. Aging and death come for us all. It came for Tony Soprano on June 10th 2007. It came for James Gandolfini six years later almost to the day.

Subsequent to his death the sad realities of his life came to life.  Whilst Tony Soprano was a philandering psychopath, James Gandolfini was a sensitive actor who used alcohol and cocaine to deal with his own demons and in no small way this and his incredible high-fat diet contributed to the massive heart attack that killed him.

I recently watched a programme on the YouTube, tribute to James Gandolfini featuring the cast of the programme. What really brought it home most was the incredible connection Edie Falco who played his wife Carmela had with him from the very beginnings of the show in 1999. In fact, to a one, the remaining cast said being part of The Sopranos was like being family. 

Screen Shot 2019-08-04 at 6.12.57 PM
Tribute To A Friend Documentary – James Gandolfini Remembrance Tribute

It’s 20 years since the Sopranos began. 1999 feels  like ancient history. 2007, when the programme concluded, seems only yesterday. And whilst I don’t miss those years, I certainly miss watching Gandolfini’s perfectly flawed mob boss.

One interesting caveat is the once endless argument over wether or no Tony Soprano died at the end of the series when the screen suddenly went to black and the Journey song abruptly ceased. David Chase—the producer—was interviewed and during the discussion inadvertently slipped up. It was not missed by the interviewer.

“In an interview with TV critics Matt Zoller Seitz and Alan Sepinwall for their book The Sopranos Sessions commemorating the 20th anniversary of the epochal HBO series’ premiere, Chase refers to “the death scene.” Here’s the quote:

Sepinwall: When you said there was an end point, you don’t mean Tony at Holsten’s, you just meant, “I think I have two more years’ worth of stories left in me.”

Chase: Yes, I think I had that death scene around two years before the end … Tony was going to get called to a meeting with Johnny Sack in Manhattan, and he was going to go back through the Lincoln Tunnel for this meeting, and it was going to go black there and you never saw him again as he was heading back, the theory being that something bad happens to him at the meeting. But we didn’t do that.

Seitz: You realize, of course, that you just referred to that as a death scene.

[A long pause follows]

Chase: F— you guys.

Safe to say there can never be another Tony Soprano. Not with James gone.

Interesting footnote is there is another Tony Soprano. The Many Saints of Newark, a prequel movie about a teenage Tony Soprano is in production, shockingly starring his now teenage son. I’m not sure how this will work. Of course an incredible cast has signed on to the production, but casting James Gandolfini’s son to play a young Tony Soprano seems to be a PR move. I won’t comment more until the September 2020 release date and I’ve had the chance to see the film along with everyone else.

Link to article on The Many Saints of Newark

As always. May the road rise with you. 

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