Don’t Stop Believin’


And after three days of drinkin’ with Larry Love
I just get an inklin’ to go on home
So, I’m walkin’ down Coldharbour Lane
Head hung low, three or four in the mornin’

The sun’s comin’ up and the birds are out singing
I let myself into my pad
Wend my way up that spiral staircase
An’ stretch out nice on the chesterfield

‘Pithecanthropus Erectus’ already on the CD player
And I just push that remote button to sublimity
And listen to the sweet sculptural rhythms of Charles Mingus
And J.R. Monterose and Jackie McLean
Duet on those saxophones

And the sound makes it’s way outta the window
Minglin’ with the traffic noises outside, you know
And all of a sudden I’m overcome by a feelin’ of brief mortality
‘Cause I’m gettin’ on in the world
Comin’ up on forty-one years

Forty-one stony gray steps towards the grave
You know the box, awaits its grizzly load
Now, I’m gonna be food for worms
And just like Charles Mingus wrote
That beautiful piece-a music, ‘Epitaph for Eric Dolphy’

I say, so long, Eric
So long, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus
So long, Duke Ellington and Lester Young
So long, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald
So long, Jimmy Reed
So long, Muddy Waters
And so long. Howlin’ Wolf

I say, so long, Dr. Melfi
So long, Christopher Moltisanti and Paulie Walnuts
So long, Adriana La Cerva and Ralph Cifaretto
So long, Bobby Bacala and Silvio Dante
So long Artie Bucco
So long Russian in the snow
So long Carmela, and so long TONY SOPRANO!

In January 1999 I had one of those illnesses that makes you wonder if you’re going to make it through.  I mean nobody lives forever.

And living alone all you’ve got is the Internet and cable TV.

Oh, you’ve got newspapers and periodicals.  But with your brain fogged, about all you can do is lay on your bed, watching the tube, trying to survive.

And back in the days when we thought original programming on HBO was closer to "Dream On" than the "Larry Sanders Show", when our expectations were low, when we still looked for excellence in the theatre, long after midnight I stumbled upon a show on HBO better than anything on the big screen, that had me hooked, that had me scanning the TV schedule to record the twenty minutes I’d missed.  That show was "The Sopranos".

Oh, there’d been reviews in the newspapers.  I started scrambling through the discard pile, looking for scraps.  And I started combing stacks of CDs, looking for one entitled "Exile From Coldharbour Lane", by one Alabama 3, released long before on Geffen Records to no acclaim.  I had to hear the theme song, "Woke Up This Morning".

That was the beauty of David Chase’s song choices.  He could find material written without the "Sopranos" in mind that fit the series just perfectly.  And last night was a fitting finale, for it was the music that added the juice, that put the episode over the top.


1967 was the year of psychedelia.  It not only saw the birth of Hendrix, but other exploding, limit-testing bands.  Not only in England, or on the west coast, but in New York City.

Yes, in 1967, Vanilla Fudge blew our minds with a reworking of a Supremes song that had us forgetting the original.

And it was this song that woke up Tony in the safe house, emanating from the clock radio.

Classic rock is not only the soundtrack for fiftysomethings, but fortysomethings too.  For those working for a living, you want something familiar, that rings your bell.  You don’t want to go where you’ve never been before, especially since everywhere your children went musically sucked, until it was right back to your tunes, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd.

Set me free, why don’t you babe

That’s all Tony wanted, for all six seasons, to be set free.

Can you ever be set free of the family drama?  Tony Soprano never escaped his.  Janice is still here to haunt him, to remind him of the hell he lived through.  He probably believes it’s justification for his sociopathic behavior.  Yet in Tony Soprano, we see ourselves.  Not in the idiots on Dr. Phil, but in T.  We’re getting up in the morning, we’re going to work, we’re living up to our obligations, but why do we feel so empty, why do we have so many questions?  The anxiety drove Tony Soprano to Dr. Melfi.  While there Tony got in touch with his feelings.  To the point where he could lay his story on A.J.’s psychiatrist easily, he wants to tell his story.  Carmela is horrified, but Tony wants to reach out and connect, and that’s why we related to him, why we believed in him, why we kept tuning in every weekend.  Because in Tony Soprano, we saw a little bit of us.

Tony is not only haunted by his mother, but his past deeds.  He wants to be set free, but he’ll be lucky to function out in the open, never mind stay alive.


Darkness at the break of noon
Shadows even the silver spoon
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon
Eclipses both the sun and moon
To understand you know too soon
There is no sense in trying

A.J. Soprano gave up trying.  How do you keep on keepin’ on when the woman you love dumps you, when there’s war and destruction everywhere, when you can not only not trust corporations, but the government.

It’s depressing.

We live in a country of depression.  We lack community, truth is last on the list of virtues, we’re reeling.  Who can we look to for solace, who can we idolize?

In the sixties, musicians.  First and foremost, Bob Dylan.

You might not need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, but you need Bob Dylan to feel that you’re not alone.  For he sings it straight.  In a world full of bullshit, only Dylan is speaking truth.

I missed the Dylan bandwagon until "New Morning".  And when Bob went on tour with the Band, and I got tickets for their Madison Square Garden show, I bought his catalog via mail order.  And my favorite is not "Blonde On Blonde", nor "Highway 61 Revisited", but "Bringing It All Back Home".  Because "Bringing It All Back Home" has "It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)".

I’m lucky to be here.  I lost all my money, I lost my wife, I endured medical crises, I held on via sheer will.  And music.  Most significantly, "It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)".

So I was positively stunned when it was coming out of the stereo in A.J.’s Xterra.

Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on
All around you

Like A.J. says, "It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)" is just as accurate as when it was written, forty odd years ago.

This is what’s wrong with America.  They’re selling us shit, telling us if we only buy their crap, our lives will work.  When if we buy their line of bullshit, never mind their products, it never will.

You’re only young once.  You only get dumped for the first time once.  A.J. has had trouble righting himself.  The loss is almost too much to bear.

Just ask the parents of dead soldiers.  But their kids are never coming back, they’re never going to love again.  But it’s all for a good cause, one that old men who avoided the last conflict are saying is necessary, even though we scratch our heads and can’t see how we’re winning.

A.J. wants to make a difference.  Even after he feels up his girlfriend.

He’s free of possessions, he decides to enlist.

How do you deal with your kids’ choices?  How do you keep them safe?

Tony and Carmela buy A.J. off.  With a fake job and a BMW M3.  He’s moved on, he’s forgotten about the world’s problems.  Just like you did when you stopped being a hippie and put on a suit and tie.  Meanwhile, Bob Dylan might have wavered, might have toyed with religion, but he stayed the course.  That’s why we believe in him.  Go for the easy money and you’re not an artist, you’re no different from A.J. Soprano.


I’ve been down

Tony’s survived, but he’s one step from the slammer.

Whereas Lowell George was more like Christopher Moltisanti, he couldn’t escape the monkey on his back.

I still remember the day Lowell died.  I was at Zipper BMW, getting my car fixed, when the news came over the radio.  We’ve all got heroes, he was one of mine.  Because he was not too big for his britches (emotionally anyway!), he wasn’t telling us how great he was, he just dripped his honey all over these records, we were ENRAPTURED!

Don’t only listen to the Little Feat records.  Listen to Bonnie Raitt’s "I Feel The Same".  Or James Taylor’s "Angry Blues".  Lowell’s slide guitar and background vocals were the spice that put these tracks over the top.

Little Feat had one radio hit, but it wasn’t a Lowell George track, but a Billy Payne-penned number, "Oh, Atlanta".  The Feat was for fans.  Who knew David Chase was a fan?

How do you cope when the walls are closing in?

You keep on keepin’ on.  That’s what Tony Soprano did in last night’s episode.  He never caved, never gave up.  He defeated Phil Leotardo, can he defeat the long arm of the law?


Just a small town girl
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train
Goin’ anywhere

You might think that New Jersey is just across the river, but really it’s a whole ‘nother STATE!  Carmela was not the best-looking girl in this backwater.  She had an overbearing father and a clueless mother.  She wanted out!

But how do you get out?  There’s no money, and not enough smarts.

You attach yourself to a man on the way up, you dedicate yourself to a man with a future.

Tony Soprano delivered excitement, the hope for a better life.  The fact that he was in the Mafia, that he screwed other women?  She could overlook that.  She could gain solace from Father Phil.

Just a city boy
Born and raised in South Detroit
He took the midnight train
Goin’ anywhere

Tony had no choice, no options.  He wasn’t going to med school, he certainly wasn’t going to work in a pizza parlor.  By time he realized the Mob life might not be right for him, it was too late, he was in too deep.

Tony was sophisticated in the ways of the Mob, but not of the family.  He wrestled with the truth of his father’s life, of his mother’s hatred towards him.  He needed to lean on the shoulder of a good woman to get through.

And that’s how Carmela and Tony came together.

A singer in a smoky room
A smell of wine and cheap perfume
For a smile they can share the night
It goes on and on and on and on

Although they’ve got a taste for the finer things, these are not sophisticated people.  Tony might ride a private jet to Vegas, but when he’s not playing the role of a whale, he’s flying commercial, just like us.  The evening meal might be pasta, they’re not going out to Artie and Charmaine’s every night of the week.

The "Sopranos" was not really about the exotic life of the Mob, rather it was about the everyday life of a family, that’s what kept us watching.  To see Meadow manipulate her parents (remember the gas card penalty?), to see Tony and Carmela flummoxed by the behavior of their son.  Sure, the hits provided excitement, but we saw a bit of ourselves in that big house on the hill.  We’ve got more questions than answers, we’re worried about alienating, about losing our kids.  Does tough love work?  Are kids worth it?

Strangers waiting
Up and down the boulevard
Their shadows searching
In the night
Streetlights, people
Livin’ just to find emotion
Hidin’, somewhere in the night

So, was that guy at the counter gonna shoot Tony?  Was he going to go into the bathroom and get a gun, like Al Pacino in the "Godfather"?

Was Meadow going to miss the death of her father?  Or was she going to get hit in the street, providing Tony’s ultimate loss?

We were expecting the series to end with a bang, the walls were closing in on Tony, wasn’t that what this whole season was about?

Workin’ hard to get my fill
Everybody wants a thrill
Payin’ anything to roll the dice
Just one more time
Some will win
Some will lose
Some were born to sing the blues
Oh, the movie never ends
It goes on and on and on and on

I thought Tony was going to go to jail.  He still might, but only in our minds, in our projections of the future.  As for now, he’s still got his wits about him, but the high alert is off.  He’s gonna go on lovin’, touchin’ and squeezin’.  Not only other women, but businessmen both legit and illegit up and down the eastern seaboard.

I thought Meadow was going to take over the family, like the aforementioned Al Pacino in the "Godfather".  She still might.  Her dinner speech about the inequities doled out to Italian-Americans shows that she’s on the side of her father more than that of the law.

A.J?  We’ve all got a loser in our family, a wayward child.  But maybe our perception is wrong.  Maybe those not following the anointed path are just that more sensitive, that more informed.  They just weren’t made for these times, but they’re made for relationships.  A.J. will make a better husband than any Soprano before him.  And isn’t that what it’s all about, family?

Carmela.  Is in such denial that she’s lost herself.  What is a woman in modern society?  A hard-edged businessperson?  Or a doormat?  Or someone in between, renovating houses when she’s not cooking the meals?  Carmela may be wearing blinders, but maybe that’s the best way to get through life.

Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to the feelin’
Streetlights, people
Don’t stop believin’
Hold on
Streetlights, people

We believed the "Sopranos" would end like "Six Feet Under", with no chance of a sequel.  We expected resolution for Tony, at least a denouement.  But instead of drama, instead of satiation, we got a reflection of life.  Which goes on.  People die, loss is suffered, but you’ve got no choice, you’ve got to eat, you’ve got to make decisions, you’ve got to go forward.

I was left with a smile on my face.  I didn’t feel tricked, but overjoyed.  The producers had faked us out.  We expected conclusion, darkness when we got light.  Just like our deceased parents live on in our minds, vibrant, even appearing in our dreams, the "Sopranos" lives on.  It’s not finished, but still ongoing.  It doesn’t matter if there are new episodes, we know these people still exist, they’re still looking for answers.  Just like us.

The best drama reflects us.  In an era where movies are big budget fantasies, laden with explosions and far-fetched plots, only on television is there any reality, only on television can we connect with ourselves, the human condition.  And for initiating this trend, we must thank David Chase and everybody involved in the "Sopranos".  They got it right.  All the anxiety of modern life.  All the boredom.  And all the drama.

You might not be worried about being killed, but job loss is just around the corner, and people don’t think twice before getting a divorce.  Life is daunting.  It’s a maze more akin to a rat race than a chess game.  It’s overwhelming.  But by watching ourselves on the screen, we get the power to put one foot in front of the other.   By using our music, not new stuff for a cash-in soundtrack album or favors owed, David Chase has winked at us, shown us he’s cool, shown that he’s one of us.  We’re all in it together.  None of the actors really died.  You’ll see them on the streets of New York and Los Angeles.  They may never do anything as good again, but they don’t have to.  They’ve left us with eighty six episodes to savor forever.  Some better than others, but with many peaks.  Just like our days.  We’re searching for the peaks.  Thanks to the "Sopranos" team for delivering them.  We’re gonna miss you.

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