I get it!

At the risk of taking sides in what must be the episodic-television wuss-out of the decade, let me just say the more I think about the last Sopranos installment, the less I hate it. It was a bold gesture, and a hard truth: Nothing really changes, especially with people who don’t want to change.

Tony and Carmela have arrived in middle age, failures in the one thing they strived to do (besides make money) — raising their children to escape their parents’ lives. Meadow’s on her way to being a mob wife and lawyer, having laid aside the one “pure” career path that would have set her apart. AJ’s the self-deluding, shiftless little shit he was always destined to be. (And how ironic, that by saving him from the Army, they’ve drawn a target on his back that will be hit sooner or later. Never mind Tony and Carmela’s support for the war and the president, but not when it comes to actually fighting the thing. Sure, he’s going to be an officer. And learn Arabic. Right.) In fact, the kids aren’t even sheltered anymore; they both know what DefCon 3 is, and discuss FBI protection at yet another family funeral the way they might talk about parking at the Meadowlands. Carmela has sold her soul so often she’s not even bothered by it any more, as long as there’s another house to divert her attention, or a nice piece of jewelry, or an Hermés scarf. Janice is ready to break up Bobby’s poor orphan children, in the name of being a “good mother,” so the next generation of lunatic killers is well under way.

Paulie’s a whack job, still. Sil’s in a coma. Junior’s getting off easy, wasting away in a poor farm with his glasses held together with duct tape. Everyone else is dead. The envelopes are lighter than a rejection letter. The party’s over, and seven years of therapy didn’t make a dent. Sounds like hell to me. As the song on the jukebox says, Oh, the movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on…

I’d say more, but I know you all want to dis–.

[Twenty seconds of black.]

Oh, my, it was a nice weekend. Perfect weather. Alan went on a man-date with himself Friday night. It was fully in keeping with my secret to a happy marriage: Space.

You gotta give one another a little room to be something other than Mr. or Mrs. Better Half. Two become one, but before two became one they were two ones on their own. I was, anyway. So when Alan called late Friday afternoon, at the hour when we begin calibrating the closing of the Features section with whatever I’m making for dinner, and said, “The Sun Ra Arkestra is playing a 10 o’clock show in town, and I want to go,” of course there was only one answer: “Have a nice time.”

He didn’t say “without you,” but there was no chance of getting a babysitter at that hour, and on the subject of Sun Ra, we’ve agreed to disagree. I happily acknowledge I am not cool enough to fully appreciate a jazz musician who claimed to have been teleported to Saturn in 1936, where he was given instructions to drop out of college and speak to the world through his music. The show was at a building in southwest Detroit I’m actually familiar with, the Old Bohemian Hall, a relic from the early 20th century, when your tribe was your life. I did an interview there last fall. There was a scraggly art party going on downstairs, and the interview was up, on the second floor, where there’s a stage about the size of something you’d find in an elementary school. The owner showed me the bronze hooks recessed into the floor, where they set up the gymnastic equipment on Saturdays. I kept looking at the stage.

“You can almost see John Reed up there, talking to the crowd about one big union,” I said. Exactly.

Anyway, the place was a mess. It was one of six buildings the owner bought in the ’90s, he said, for a combined price of less than he paid for a Jeep Cherokee a few years later. Of course, the expense in real estate in places like this is not the purchase but the demolition and/or stabilization. You pay $1,500 for the building and put $100,000 into the roof. Alan said it was still a mess, very Fabulous Ruins. The stage lights consisted of a pole lamp with the shades removed, some clip-on work lights from Home Depot and, of all things, a trouble light in a cage, like you use to work on your car. The Arkestra does a bit where they stand up and walk around the hall playing their instruments, and they looked mighty vexed with the un-railed, unlit and crumbling steps they had to use. Did I mention most of these guys are in their 60s and perhaps 70s?

So what was the music like? “Oh, it was good,” Alan said. “Imagine Duke Ellington’s band in tinfoil hats and on acid, and with one guy playing a ram’s horn.” As I said: Not cool enough.


There was so much good stuff in the papers over the weekend I can scarcely get to it all. Joel Achenbach on Red Meat Politics in the WashPost, along with a satisfying thumbsucker on cultural genocide by someone other than Americans, and the NYT did a short piece directing me to TrashTheDress.com, a website dedicated to a new wrinkle in wedding photography — the post-wedding dress-trashing session. Some gorgeous photographs. I wish I’d done this. Of course, my dress was off the rack and not Vera Wang.

But for pure knee-slapping humor, though, nothing matches the Bambi-vs.-Godzilla clash of this priceless interview of Jack Kevorkian by none other than Mitch Albom. Two of the nation’s leading hucksters of death go mano a mano, but the contest ultimately disappoints:

What do you think happens when we die?

“You stink. You rot and stink.”

No soul?

He laughed. “What’s a soul?”

It’s like watching Strawberry Shortcake in a steel cage match with Ted Bundy.

Regular readers have long ago given up hope of seeing even a glimmer of self-awareness from either of these guys. Kevorkian thought there would be riots in the street when he was sent away these last seven years, and Albom long ago accepted the job as the national expert on death and dying (Good Morning America Division). Still, it would’ve been even funnier if Kevorkian had messed with Mitch’s head a little bit, and instead of saying death leads to “rot and stink,” if he could have given a more Mitchlike answer:

“I think, Mitch, that when we die we find ourselves irresistibly drawn to a bright white light. As we step into the light, we suddenly find ourselves in an old-time drugstore, with a soda fountain. Sitting at the small tables are all your loved ones who preceded you in death; your father is the soda jerk, putting the finishing touches on a root beer float, which he places before you as you sit down. All your dogs, cats and other pets are there, too, waiting to be petted, although I think there’s some dispute about pet reptiles — they may be in a different facility. But definitely the dogs and cats are there. OK. So you sit down, and everyone is smiling at you. You may be confused. If you were taken quickly, say by a car crash or explosion or something, you probably are. You’re all like, “How did I get to this soda fountain, and why is my dad wearing a paper hat?” But you’re not afraid, because you’re suffused with the light, and also you have a nice root-beer float to enjoy. Then, the door opens again, and a guy who looks a lot like Wilfred Brimley walks in. This is God. Yes, God is Wilfred Brimley, but Wilfred Brimley is not God. It will all make sense to you as you experience it. Then–”

“Excuse me for a moment please, Jack. I need to go make some notes.”

It’s another lovely day. Enjoy it.

Posted at 7:51 am in Current events, Media, Television |

13 responses to “I get it!”

  1. john c said on June 11, 2007 at 9:21 am

    I liked the ending. There was ambiguity and tension. Was Tony about to get whacked, or arrested? (arrested, I think) And it preserved the idea that some combination of active and passive evil – the Soprano crew, including family – is simply a part of the universe, lurking both in the shadows and in plain sight. I loved it when Meadow, the smart one, looked in her dad’s eyes and passionately lamented how the legal system “treats Italians.” He might as well have touched her hand and called her Carm. And I loved the fact that they were able to turn AJ on a dime. Passionately confused youth about to join the Army and “liason with the locals” one moment. And in two or three sentences referencing a movie-business job and a possible night club, there is the AJ shrug and: “Okay.” And Tony’s encounter with Uncle June, where T realizes – with envy? – that the only way out of this thing of ours is to completely lose your mind.
    Question, though, who was the cat? It would be easy to say Adrianna. Or Pussy. Or maybe Christopher himself, eating scraps in the backroom of the Bing.

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  2. nancy said on June 11, 2007 at 9:33 am

    Not sure about the cat. My gut instinct is: It’s David Chase, messing with our heads. In the last few weeks, the level of ambient-noise bullshit surrounding this show is like the weed whacker next door when you’re trying to sleep. I sometimes wonder if some of these theorists have been watching the same show I have, their theories are so ridiculous — Melfi whacked, Meadow assumes control of the Family, Carmela whacks Tony, Tony shoots himself (probably the most stupid of all — his depression always stopped way short of suicide).

    What I enjoyed, and thanks to the genius commenters at Television Without Pity for pointing them out, are the little jokes that fly by without comment. The “Twilight Zone” episode in the background is “The Bard,” and the line we hear is something like, “Today’s producers see the writer as king!” And the discussion of that craptastic movie! Cyborg prostitutes, and Carmela’s helpful, “I read it. It’s scary.” (I also laughed out loud at her chime-in about possibly running over children in the leaves; I think they teach you that line in the delivery room.)

    ADDED: Oh, and the throwaway line on the tour bus: “Little Italy, once 40 blocks square, now reduced to this single block of cafes…” And Phil’s guy, Butchie, walks right out of it when he’s on the phone and ends up in the much bigger Chinatown, facing: The future. That was cool.

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  3. ashley said on June 11, 2007 at 10:40 am

    OK, so what did it mean when the Fed said “We’re gonna win this one” when notified of Phil getting whacked?

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  4. nancy said on June 11, 2007 at 10:44 am

    I think it was a mild witticism referring to the fact that when your enemy is busy destroying himself, you shouldn’t interfere. How amusing that Agent Harris’ goomar was his “friend in Brooklyn.” Was she scowling at him because she heard him on the phone? I got the idea their tiff dated back to before that.

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  5. Jeff said on June 11, 2007 at 11:30 am

    I’m of the “everything in the show is from Tony’s POV” camp, i.e., the end was his getting shot from behind, not even seeing it coming . . . and we are invited to a) imagine the scene, Meadow coming through the door, Carmella screaming, and A.J. doing who knows what, as the killer leaves, and b) how we feel about Tony having been who he has been, and then — blackness. Nuttin’. Is that fair, is that just how it is, or does it make us think . . . well, not about Mitch Albom, anyhow.

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  6. LA mary said on June 11, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    I made Rao’s recipe for spaghetti and meatballs in honor of the last episode, although if I was true to my NJ roots, I should have used the recipe from LaNeve’s in Haledon. That recipe isn’t in any cookbook I know, though.
    I liked last night’s episode. Especially the shot of the babies bouncing in their carseats when the car ran over pop-pop’s head. That to me was just David Chase to the nth degree. Perfect. I don’t think Tony got shot in Holsten’s. Busted? Maybe.

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  7. mouse said on June 11, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    Anybody who thought David Chase was about to make
    a neat little package with a pretty red bow was probably
    disappointed.Great show,fitting,if not great ending.

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  8. DWF said on June 11, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Um…anyone scroll down on Trash the Dress and see the photos of the groom holding a shovel standing next to a dead bride in a trunk? WTF???

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  9. LA mary said on June 11, 2007 at 4:28 pm

    I think we are all returning to the Potlatch concept, seeing who can destroy or waste more valuable items to prove they can afford to do it.

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  10. czucky Dimes said on June 11, 2007 at 5:54 pm

    The ending?—Best one I’ve ever seen. Works on so many different levels(pardon the cliche). The best David Chase touch though was the Federales tipping Tony where to find Carmine’s Uncle Philly.

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  11. nancy said on June 11, 2007 at 8:04 pm

    Well, my dress is trashed, and I didn’t get a good picture out of it. What are you supposed to do with the thing? I could have sold it, I guess, but that seemed sort of bad karma. I don’t think Kate will want to wear it, and it wasn’t the sort of silken work of art that needed to be sealed in a little coffin. I wish I’d known a photographer who could have made it work for me one last time.

    I would have worn it riding my horse. He was gray. It would have made a nice picture, with riding boots.

    That said, the trunk shot was a bit …much. But I guess that couple had a sense of humor.

    As for Tony’s friend in the FBI, I’m amazed at how many comments I’ve seen here and there from people who “can’t believe” the “corruption” this reveals. Jeez, what do these folks think law enforcement consists of? Without stoolies and mutual back-scratching, the whole system would collapse.

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  12. Dorothy said on June 12, 2007 at 6:39 am

    I didn’t get to see it until last night (celebrating the graduation too much in Columbus Sunday night). I liked it a lot. I think the FBI guy was referncing the future, in that “they” will win by tricking Tony somehow and they’ll eventually get a conviction against him. Tony is beholden to him since the Fed gave him the tip on where to find Phil.

    The ambiguous ending was terrific. Did the guy in the restaurant merely recognize Tony, was he there to do damage? Lots of laugh lines last night, too. Just wish I could remember them right now! I’m out the door to do more house hunting.

    Oh – my daughter is 24, but half her life ago when she was a string bean pre-teen we had her try on my dress. It fit her perfectly and we photographed it. If memory serves correctly it was on Father’s Day when we did it, and Mike groaned in pain seeingher in it! No one will ever wear it (at least I doubt it) but I kept it for sentimental reasons. I’ll check out that website later.

    (Grad pictures posted at flickr, John!!)

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  13. ashley said on June 12, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Well…straight from David Chase’s mouth:

    After all the speculation that Agent Harris might turn Tony, instead we saw that Harris had turned, passing along info on Phil’s whereabouts and cheering, “We’re going to win this thing!” when learning of Phil’s demise.

    “This is based on an actual case of an FBI agent who got a little bit too partisan and excited during the Colombo wars of the ’70s,” says Chase of the story of Lindley DeVecchio, who supplied Harris’ line.

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