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.”
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.