Capone kicks out the jams with NOT FADE AWAY writer-director (and 'Sopranos' creator) David Chase!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
Before David Chase created one of the greatest shows television ever gave birth to, "The Sopranos," and even before he worked as a writer, producer and executive producer on such series as "The Rockfor Files," "I"ll Fly Away," and "Northern Exposure," he wrote for one of the weirdest and best shows about the supernatural known to mankind--the Chicago-set "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," starring Darren McGavin. I discovered these tales of a newspaper reporter going toe to toe with all manner of zombies, vampires, and other monsters on Chicago's streets after I moved to the city in the mid-1980s, but man, did I grow to love the show and its writing. At the time, I had no idea who David Chase was, although I had watched "The Rockford Files" as a kid with my parents.
But then came Tony Soprano and his extended New Jersey family, and the face of television and writing about organized crime was forever altered. It's been five years since "The Sopranos" has been off the air, and since then Chase has been bombarded with offers to write and/or direct big-screen movies. But he had a story he wanted to get out of his system for years. Being an enormous music fan (as "The Sopranos" proved with every episode), Chase has always wondered what separated young musicians who went on to become rock stars and those of equal or greater talent that simply didn't.
Chase's feature film directed debut NOT FADE AWAY answers that question…sort of…by digging deep into the lives of a band that started in high school and seems on the verge of something much bigger, and then just doesn't quite get there for reasons that are as frustrating as they are almost pre-destined. It's a great little movie that was made in no small part with the help of a couple Chase's "Sopranos" pals. The first is E Street Band member Steve Van Zandt (who played Silvio Dante on the show), who serves as music supervisor for the film, which really means he was the resident expert on garage bands as well as rough-around-the-edges popular music. He also helped the young actors in the film look like they knew how to play instruments.
The second, is James Gandolfini, who plays the angry, disapproving father of band leader Douglas (John Magaro). Gandolfini shows a very different side to his acting talents here, and it was a pleasure to watch him work here. (Fans of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" will be shocked and amazed to see Jack Huston (who plays the masked Richard) as one of other band members.
NOT FADE AWAY is a great period piece that captures a time and place where the world's events played more in the background of the families in this New Jersey suburb. But more importantly, the music kicks ass, and the story is one that you simply never see told. It's a great little movie that opens wide this week. Please enjoy my talk with the immensely talented David Chase…
David Chase: Hi.
Capone: Hi, it’s good to meet you, sir. So does being in the land of Carl Kolchak disappoint you that it’s not overrun with monsters?
DC: Yeah, I'm very disappointed. [Laughs] No, that’s the first thing I thought of. You know, we never came here to shoot. Darren McGavin came here and did three or four days of second unit, which we threw in. It was so cheaply made, and so all of those driving shots we used for voiceover.
Capone: Yeah. I know some people though that love that show so much.
DC: There are people who love it.
Capone: Still. And they're available, so people can still discover them. I love that the story of NOT FADE AWAY is about these immensely talented guys that were just missing that one thing that hardly any bands ever really get--sometimes it’s just timing or luck. But it wasn’t talent, that’s not what was lacking here. Why was this story important to tell for you?
DC: In as much as my preachery self is concerned, I really wanted to convey to people--and other people have said this better than I can or how I’m going to say it right now--hat really inspiration is part of it. I think people look upon people in the entertainment business, for example, and think, “Wow!” I remember a guy telling me one time that his mother said she loved the lines that Cary Grant came up with in the movies, and he said, “Well, he doesn’t come up with those.” She refused to believe that. And people think that this stuff just comes out of extreme talent and genius and flare, and it doesn’t. It takes a lot of nurturing. There's a seed.
Capone: So in your estimation, is that what’s missing here? That degree of nurturing that is required for success?
DC: I think what’s missing here is a sense of proportion. I think they see themselves as not on the same level as the Stones but certainly as viable, and they will get there at some point.
Capone: Right, not as far behind as they probably should and definitely are.
DC: Right, but they're colleagues. [laughs] They and the Stones are colleagues.
Capone: I love those conversations that they have, where it's almost like a foregone conclusion that it’s just a matter of time before fame finds them, and it certainly isn’t, and we can see that. Does this movie even happen without Steve Van Zandt as a part of it?
DC: I don’t think so. I mean, maybe it would have happened, but the textures wouldn’t have been the same.
Capone: Yeah, because in addition to what he brings as a musician, he also probably was one of these kids for a while.
DC: If he were here, he would tell you that he had no choice, that he was a misfit. He wasn’t interested in going to college. He wasn’t interested in getting a job. He had no choice but rock and roll. That’s what he would tell you. I think these guys have other options. I think they're kind of spoiled.
Capone: Right. It seems like with something like acting, being in a band, being a singer-songwriter, that if you can envision another future for yourself, you’re probably not going to make it. If this is the only future that you can see for yourself, then you don’t have a choice.
DC: That’s what he would tell you, I’m pretty sure that's how he'd say it.
Capone: In terms of pulling the music together, can you tell me just a little bit about how you decided on which songs were going to make it and then which songs you were going to rely on Steve to write?
DC: Well how that came about was, I talked with Steve. We talked about the script quite a bit, before I started writing, and he told me I shouldn’t do it. Coming off "The Sopranos," he said, “Don’t do that story. Do like a psychological thriller or a crime drama or something like that.” And I wanted to do that, but I didn’t have a story that I thought would be really good for that, and I had this idea in my head. So he and I would just talk about rock and roll in the '60, but not from any story plotting standpoint.
Then he read an early draft, and I don’t think he was that knocked out by it, but he said, “If you want my help, you’ve got it.” What happened was, I went away to write the script and I was gone for a couple of months, and I got a demo from him. I just happened to get a demo from him in the mail in which there was a song on it called “St. Valentine's Day Massacre” Now I got this CD right at the time when I was thinking about quitting, because the script wasn’t really going that well. But I heard the song and I liked it so much that it inspired me, and I thought, “God, rock and roll is so great. Don’t quit. Keep going. Write about this music that you love so much." Not only that, but the structure of the song happened to be the structure of the movie, which was “Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years.” And I thought “Well that’s a sign from some body, you should just keep going.”
So that then became the song that the band finally struggles to write, the one song that they do get to write, and then I went back and wrote a few things in. For example, one of the lyrics in the song I received was, “Am I still the late night call when you’ve got nothing to say?” I really loved that image. So I went back and put that in the script. I put that in the movie, the scene in which she calls him late at night and she has nothing to say to him. So it shaped it. There wasn’t a lot of story that came out of what Steve had done, and in terms of the music, I wrote into the script all of the songs I wanted in a scene and say, “You can here this in the background and that in the background.” It was constantly changing.
Capone: You certainly don’t get lost in nostalgia at all, and it’s actually kind of refreshing that this is taking place in the '60s and yet some of the bigger events in the sixties are kind of pushed to the side or are way in the background. Was that a deliberate choice to not get lost in that?
DC: Yes, very much so. We’ve all seen the acid trips, we’ve seen THE DOORS, we’ve seen Woodstock. We’ve seen all of that stuff, and I didn’t want to do all of that stuff again. I ove American history and love historical things, but what’s always been more interesting to me is just to do the little backwaters where all of that stuff is happening around them and they're in it. But like most Americans never took a psychedelic drug. Most Americans didn’t even have long hair. Most Americans never went to a protest march. Only 100,000 of them went to Woodstock. So I wanted to do more of the regular people.
Capone: I’ve got to ask though, what is the focus in the film on the "The Twilight Zone"? I have a theory, but I want to hear what your reasoning was.
DC: "The Twilight Zone" was, I think, one of the first pop artistic endeavors that started to show the dark side of the American psyche. The paranoia, I think, was engendered by a lot of things--rampant capitalism, by narcissism, certainly by nuclear weapons. And I said to someone facetiously that "The Twilight Zone" was like a dry run for LSD, because it was always weird and always strange. It was hallucinatory and peculiar, and the generation growing up on "The Twilight Zone" gravitated naturally to those drugs. That’s just a theory of mine. That was sort of the gateway to pot.
Capone: It was also one of the first times where the writer become the host. It marked a new era where the artist was at the forefront.
DC: I was talking to somebody about that yesterday and I said the same thing, then remembered "Alfred Hitchcock Presents…".
Capone: Yeah, he did. But he already established himself up to that point with film. And I don't think he wrote those stories, not that Serling wrote every "Twilight Zone," but still…
DC: But if there hadn’t been an "Alfred Hitchcock Presents…", I bet you Serling wouldn’t have been allowed to do it. I’m sure he said, “It’s going to be similar to 'Alfred Hitchcock Presents…'” It was very different, but there had been some attempt at that, and they were also weird stories. I mean "Hitchcock" was different, but they were strange stories.
Capone: How long had this idea for this story even just been gestating in you? I mean how many years are we talking?
DC: It must be 30 years. I didn’t think about it all of the time, but gestating? Probably 30 years or so, yeah.
Capone: Wow. So back to when you were new as a writer even?
DC: Yeah, when I first started working on TV. When I was working on "The Rockford Files," I started thinking I would try to do a movie about some friends who had a band in high school and coming right out of high school.
Capone: How important was it that James Gandolfini be a part of this for you? I feel like every musician has to have an unsupportive father in order for them to succeed, that the story is not as interesting if the parents are 100 percent behind their kid.
DC: Maybe that's why there's no good for rock and roll any more [Laughs].
Capone That’s right, now they're all so damn supportive. But having him in that role play a guy who certainly threatens violence against his son, although I don’t know if he ever actually follows through.
DC: He grabs him by the collar.
Capone: I think at some point the kid figures out that the threats are a little hollow. But how important was it to have him as that anchor?
DC: It had nothing to do with the violence necessarily, but at another juncture I was ready to give up on the script. At yet another time, I was having trouble with the relationship between father and son, then I pictured Gandolfini in the role and I thought, “Oh yeah, that's it.” It all kind of ratcheted into place at that point.
Capone: It wasn’t about a violence thing necessarily, but he does bring that baggage with him, and then you do a great thing where you actually kind of counter it and undercut it in a way, so we feel threatened by him at first and then it goes away.
DC: Well, I think that was the casting choice. Had it been Danny Devito, you would have had a different feeling or a John Tuturro, Steve Buscemi, possibly. It would have been a different feeling. But Jim is just so big, and he carries that Tony Soprano thing.
Capone: The title of the film, was that always the title?
DC: No, it was originally called THE TWILIGHT ZONES, because that’s the name of the band.
Capone: I love that it’s indicative of the band’s of that era, that so many of them started out as cover bands, like the Stones did, but then they have to move out of that. Was that one of the reasons that you liked this title?
DC: I thought “Not Fade Away” was a good song, and it has to do with the passage of time, that maybe what it implies is that this stuff is fading away.
Capone: Do you think even then that it was the case?
DC: No, I think from this vantage point, yeah.
Capone: Going back to the nature of the fights between the father and that son, they're about having this secure future versus this big question mark that the son is driving towards with music. Was that something that was especially prevalent in that era?
DC: I don’t know how many people even seriously considered a career in music or films or literature or anything like that. It’s always been a minority of people, but the story of his father, this is a guy who grew up in the Depression. His parents were immigrants. He gave his son everything, every advantage only to find that the kid didn’t even want it, that the kid wanted to do something else. For the father, if the kid had been a school teacher, that would have been great, a lawyer would have been great, doctor would have been amazing. But the kid didn’t want any of that security. “You want to be a what? He want’s to be a rock and roll singer? What the fuck is that? What kind of job is that?” I don’t think it even computes for people like that. I remember my father saying to me, “He can be a clown in the circus, but he’s going to finish college first.”
Capone: I was going to ask you about some of the casting choices, but the one that really struck me and made me laugh was seeing Lisa Lampanelli as the aunt, because I didn’t even recognize her at first. She is the perfect Italian aunt though. She’s great and she’s not being funny here, she’s just playing a role. What made you think of her?
DC: She is perfect. I think she’s very funny. I saw her routine on HBO, I saw a couple of concerts. Well to begin with, in however many seasons we did of "The Sopranos," we ran through so many Italian-American actors and actresses, and we were looking for a new face, and she was really funny to me. I just like her appearance and everything, her size. I could see her in that family. I saw her with Gandolfini very easily.
Capone: And then some of the kids. I’ve seen John [Magaro] in other roles before. How important was it that they could sing, and you could teach them to play?
DC: It was a big gamble. We started out by trying to find musicians who could act and we went online with a big casting call, and we went around to all of the universities and high schools in the New York area and put up posters. We had a lot of responses, but they just didn’t have the acting chops. So then I said “We have to stop this foolishness. The music, if we have to, we can fake it, but the acting you can’t fake.” So we found the actors, and it turns out that we were very lucky, that we found three guys who picked it up very quickly.
Capone: That’s good to see that Jack [Huston] can act without a mask. I’m sure I’ve seen him in other things, but I spent half the movie trying to figure out why he looked so familiar and why I couldn’t figure it out. Then it dawned on me, yeah.
DC: Oh really? He’s great and he's so different from that character.
Capone: I know. He just feels so much younger, too. So when we're watching the film, are we hearing them play live?
DC: No, we had a band play live. But we had playback. We recorded instrumental sessions and that band was Steven, Max Weinberg, Garry Tallent, and a guy name Bobby Bandiera in Steven’s studio. But then we went in, and that’s really John and Jack singing, but they're not playing. They are miming along to it, but he got them to a point where they could play.
Capone: I heard they went through some boot camp with Steve?
DC: Well yeah, they were in his studio every day with drum and guitar teachers, absorbing this '60s rock and roll atmosphere.
Capone: One of my favorite scenes in the film is actually not even that significant. It's where John is showing somebody how Charlie Watts does that one drum pattern on “Not Fade Away,” and that’s like “That’s it.” I've never seen a scene like that before in a music film.
DC: That’s what I wanted to do. You’ve seen how many rock and roll biopics, and they never talk about the music. They never talk about “What chord is that?" But that’s what it is like to be in a band.
Capone That’s probably 90 percent of what they do, figure out ch.
DC: Yeah, of course that’s what they do, even in a great band. It's about musical discovery. You're musicians practicing music, playing music, and you never see that. It’s all about the sex life or the craziness or whatever it is. You never hear Ray Charles talk about his music. I’m sure he talked about it all of the time.
Capone: So do you have any other long-gestating ideas that you’re thinking about?
DC: I’ve got a couple of them, so I’ll have to pick one.
Capone: Do we think that’s going to happen sooner rather than later?
DC: I would like it to, but I’m not making much progress. I’m doing a lot of this stuff now, press, so I’ve not been able to work on it.
Capone: All right, well it was great to meet you. Thank you so much.
DC: Thanks a lot. It’s nice to meet you.
-- Steve Prokopy
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Dec. 24, 2012, 5:32 p.m. CST
Lookin' fooord to it.
Dec. 24, 2012, 5:36 p.m. CST
Sold. I will go see this.
Dec. 24, 2012, 5:57 p.m. CST
C'mon, let's doth our caps for Quincy...eh?
Dec. 24, 2012, 7:35 p.m. CST
Yes let's doth our Mets Cap, and a drink a swig of bear, and puff on a stogie for Oscar Madison too. And the Last of the Twelve Angry Men. And the original CSI investigator. Forget Ray Barone, he's what I'll always think of as a Sports Reporter. His IMDB is resplendent with films like Goodbye Columbus and appearances on shows like The Fugitive, Naked City, and of course the Twilight Zone.
Dec. 24, 2012, 9:32 p.m. CST
I know it's Christmas, but let's see how long it takes to get Jack Klugman's obit up. I wonder if Herc will ignore this just to avoid bringing up Larry Hagman.
Dec. 24, 2012, 10:52 p.m. CST
the man was a class act..a pop culture site like this ought to get on it already
Dec. 24, 2012, 10:54 p.m. CST
David Chase is not an easy interview. I like how you don't allow for broad or pat answers. You touch on something specific and allow that to open up organically and in two seconds your research and intuition become evident and the guy is pleased to answer your questions. Good shit.
Dec. 25, 2012, 12:17 a.m. CST
I will see this despite it not catching my interest from the plotline, out of respect for what amazing work he's contributed that changed TV.
Dec. 25, 2012, 12:32 a.m. CST
by Hugh Gustavus
Dec. 25, 2012, 12:32 a.m. CST
by Hugh Gustavus
Dec. 25, 2012, 7:39 a.m. CST
Wow, if the rule of threes applies, I wonder who's next. Never a STAR, but just a great actor, and a war veteran. Let's all do a two-step, for an underappreciated actor. Tootsie, Dog Day Afternoon, The Sting, O brother where art thou, and my personal fave, Doc Hopper in the first and best Muppet Movie Like Mr. Klugman, not a merry christmas for their children and grand children.
Dec. 25, 2012, 7:45 a.m. CST
Not trying to disrespect your previous comments but, MERRY CHRISTMAS!!! How about for one day we put our shitty comments aside and wish everyone an awesome day.
That's my plan anywho.
Dec. 26, 2012, 9:12 a.m. CST
by Marc Cerasini
Not to end THIS fucking movie with a stupid assed blackout that RUINED the whole SOPRANOS finale for everyone who thought their cable went out. Chase you fucktard.
Dec. 26, 2012, 9:53 a.m. CST
I know it is Xmas week, AICN, but come on. These two deserve obits. You will post an article for a teaser poster for numerous obscure, direct to video flicks, but you will not post obituaries for two actors who probably had 100 years working experience between them. Shame on you. This site has become as shoddy as the housekeeping in Oscar Madison's bedroom. Very distatsteful. The scene in Tootise with Dustin Hoffman returning the engagement ring to Charles Durning in the bar is priceless.
Dec. 26, 2012, 9:56 a.m. CST
If you didn't understand the "smash to black" at the time, you simply don't count in the grand scheme of things. And ... scene.
Dec. 26, 2012, 12:12 p.m. CST
by Con Shonnery
The great Gerry Anderson has gone http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-oxfordshire-20845407
Dec. 27, 2012, 5:23 p.m. CST
Thanks, Capone! Great interview with one of my favorite tv people of all time. I too was a bit surprised by the subject matter I watched in the trailer, but there were a couple of heavy moments I could tell would be vintage Chase. He doesn't pussyfoot around things, that's for sure. He takes on issues and personalities with dramatic weight that grabs you, one way or another. It's refreshing. I'll definitely be seeing "Not Fade Away" opening weekend.
Dec. 27, 2012, 9:09 p.m. CST
**** A David Chase interview with no mention of a Sopranos movie......who fucking cares about anything other than that?
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