Thursday, June 20, 2013

Local Heroes: James Gandolfini R.I.P.

"You better get me 100 faces to show up for the weekender and tell 'em to come heavy because there's gonna be alotta drunk gavones lookin' for trouble there. Make it fuckin' happen..."
Not a lot of cool people come from my home state of New Jersey.  We're cursed with fucktwits like Whitney Houston, Jon Bon Jovi, John "I did not offer that masseuse a hand-job" Travolta, socially conscious yet musically boring  Bruce Springsteen, a Jonas Brother, Susan Sarandon (went to high school with my best friend's dad in Edison, NJ)....yeah you get the picture. Who do we have to brag about? Frankie Valli (true story he sang at a B-day party for a classmate in grammar school who was his niece) and that's about it. Last night FaceBook was abuzz with word that one of our favorite sons, actor James Gandolfini had died at the age of 51. I'm not the type to get misty when celebs die.  The passing of Joe Strummer, Syd Barrett and Reggie King were about the only times I've ever been moved. But I liked Gandolfini, especially when he played the complex hard nut Tony Soprano on HBO's series "The Sopranos" and it struck me because he was only a few years older than me.

I've been a life long New Jerseyite and there's two very important stereotypes about my fellow Garden State residents: they've all got a story about meeting Bruce Springsteen (accurately portrayed on "The Ben Stiller Show" in their "Tales From Springsteen" sketch) and everyone knows someone who is either in the mob or knows someone who knows someone....Organized crime is steeped in our marrow, which explains the mass appeal to myself and the rest of the state with "The Sopranos".  Growing up as a kid in Jersey the mark of success in a diner or restaurant was to have a framed, signed potrait of Frank Sinatra on display .  These days it's one of James Gandolfini(my octagenerian Aunt and Uncle's fave Central Jersey Italian bistro proudly displays a framed shot of the owners with Gandolfini standing between them in their foyer) . His "Tony Soprano" character was one of the finest I've ever seen on a TV show.  His butchering of the English language was always a constant source of amusement ("my ma, she's like a freakin' albacore around my neck..."). He was a brute who had soft spots for children and animals, would screw anything that took his fancy and wouldn't think twice about unflinchingly putting a bullet in your face (and once beat Ralphie Ciffaretto to death for killing his racehorse). Each week I'd tune in to see what sort of drama he'd be under secretly praying we'd get to watch him "whack" (that's murder to you non-Americans) somebody because he did it so well.  One of my fave scenes was him offering a wanna be wiseguy who was tied up in a chair a can of warm diet soda asking him  if it was okay, when the hapless victim says "Thank you T", Tony quips "Cause that sugarless motherfucker, it's the last fucking drink you're ever gonna have" before emptying a clip from an automatic in his chest. My home team/local heroes The Swingin' Neckbreakers even got five seconds of fame on an episode rocking out to "You", one of their best tracks from their killer debut LP "Live for Buzz".  He  produced a moving documentary on wounded Iraqi War vets called "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq" and later another on post traumatic stress disorder called "Wartorn 1861-2010", which wins kudos from me because, well I've got a soft spot for anybody who's concerned for Veteran's. James Gandolfini was a Jersey boy, born and bred, went to Rutger's University and played one of TV's most famous fictional New Jersey character. We loved him for that.  Salute Tony Soprano, wherever you are....

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