David Chase will forever be linked with “The Sopranos,” a show so robust with an ending so unconventional, it will undoubtedly live on among TVs greatest.
But now Chase is turning his Italian-American roots to a movie – his first — about music. Specifically, a young New Jersey-ite (Douglas, played by relative newcomer John Magaro) who aspires to rock ‘n’ roll greatness, much to the extreme disapproval of his traditional bear of a father (played by head Soprano himself, James Gandolfini).
The Chase written-and-directed “Not Fade Away,” opening in Atlanta Jan. 4 is set in the 1960s, when kids still hung out in record stores and The Rolling Stones (a Chase favorite) influenced more than one teen to tune a guitar (or, in Douglas’ case, take up the drums).
It’s not autobiographical, but Chase, who worked on the music with E Street Band legend – and former “Sopranos” henchman – Steven Van Zandt was once a young man in New Jersey who played the drums and, for a brief moment, thought about being a rock star.
Things seemed to have worked out OK for him, anyway.
In a recent conversation from his home in New York, Chase, 67, discussed the difference between making a movie and a TV series, how Gandolfini proved integral to the story and the perfectionism of Van Zandt.
Q. Was music always the topic you knew you wanted to tackle in your first film?
A. I knew music would be a topic, but I didn’t know it would be my first. When I finished (“The Sopranos”), my real desire was to do a suspense film but I wasn’t completely happy with the status of the ideas I had.
Q. Was this movie something you’ve been thinking about for a long time?
A. I’d talk about it a little bit in the (“Sopranos”) writer’s room. I wouldn’t say it’s been a work in progress, but I had an idea for it 30 years ago.
Q. What was it about John Magaro that made him the perfect Douglas?
A. There was no other Douglas. Aside from the fact that he fit the part the most — he got more out of it, there were other guys who were good but maybe a little too old– he had a certain something. He thinks all the time, so he was right for that part because the kid in the movie thinks too much. He has that cautious way in examining everything.
Q. Was he a musician already when you hired him?
A. None of the three main guys were musicians. Steven had to put them through boot camp for two and a half months.
Q. You worked with some familiar colleagues with James Gandolfini and Steven Van Zandt. Did you always know they would be a part of this movie?
A. Steven and I we talked before I started writing. His advice to me was, ‘Don’t do it!’ He said, ‘Do some crime story.’ I said, ‘I don’t have an idea.’ Then he came around to this (topic). Jim (Gandolfini) didn’t occur to me until later. I was having trouble writing it and put it aside and I think my wife might have mentioned him, and as soon as I pictured him as the father the whole movie clicked into place. Once I saw him in that role, I could see the scenes better.
Q. How difficult was it for you to create characters that had to become fully realized in two hours of screen time rather than several seasons on TV?
A. It was hard, it was different. It was the exact same thing but it wasn’t a case of difficult, but how much story to tell. In the end I had to cut things out on film rather than on paper. But I’m really happy with the music. We have a great sound mix. The guys who did the sound and a lot of that is all Steven — he was really a fanatic
Q. Tell me about the process of working with Steven in a musical sense.
A. He’s a perfectionist. When it comes to music, he doesn’t crack the whip, but he expects and he gets the absolute best and works and works at it. The instrumentals in the movie were done by (E Street Band members) Steven and Max Weinberg and Gary Tallent. I was saying, ‘Guys, you have to play worse than that, you sound too good,’ and Steven would say, ‘This is horrible,’ and I’d say, ‘You’re playing way too good for kids in a garage.’ It was tricky because you couldn’t have them be a clown band, but they also couldn’t be too good.
Q. Do you still play the drums?
A. I don’t play anymore. I gave it up in my 20s, then I took up bass and I wasn’t any good at that. Our band didn’t get out of the garage. We never played one high school dance or frat party, but we plotted all the time and talked about it and taught ourselves different songs. It was a lot of fun.
Q. Besides the Stones, who else do you listen to?
A. Besides the Stones, I’d say Robert Johnson and Dylan, Gil Scott Heron – I still listen to these people. The Ventures, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Ray Charles of course.
Q. When you look back at that time in music and then look at all of the kids who might want to start bands today, do you think it still holds the same mystique or that our gravitation toward technology has changed that feeling?
A. We can’t even go to record stores anymore. I’m not sure it still does hold that mystique. When those records came out, that was like a new iPhone coming out. It was every season, and then there were these huge incremental changes from each record (in a band’s career). My whole life view was filtered through that music. I was in college at the time and I think I learned more emotionally through music than I did in Victorian Lit. I imagine being a musician today…where is your sense of accomplishment? It used to be you felt accomplished if you got a record deal. Today, I don’t know.
Q. What’s next for you professionally?
A. I want to do another movie. I wanted to do a movie for a long time. I was never crazy about being in TV, but it was very satisfying in every way. I’ve got a few ideas.
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene