NOT FADE AWAY
Putting the Band Together
Yet for all the newfound confidence and independence playing in the band affords Douglas, his new life as a local rock god and his now scruffier longhaired look soon causes simmering tensions between Douglas and his middle class family -- most notably his father Pat who's played by an actor who will be quite familiar to admirers of David Chase's previous work -- James Gandolfini. In this far more generationally divided world of the Sixties, Douglas rebels from the authority of his clearly unhappy housewife mother Antionette (Molly Price) and the businessman father whose own American Dream for his son does not include the extreme long shot of rock stardom, but something far safer and steady. Only Douglas' little sister Evelyn (Meg Guzulescu) sees any prospect for success. As in countless homes in the Sixties, the generational battle lines are drawn. Harshly rejecting his father's path during one key scene, Douglas declares, "The band is my family now."
For James Gandolfini, playing the part of Pat in NOT FADE AWAY was not simply a chance to reunite with David Chase, the man who made him Tony Soprano, but also an opportunity to play a part that brought home some of his own personal memories. "The script was very specific to the way I grew up too, so I identified with it," says the three time Emmy-winning actor. "A lot of it made me laugh which won't make other people laugh -- it's just so specific to things that I saw. My father was a bit like the father in the movie. So I figured it was a chance to see what I could do with it -- and it was David's script. That was a time when a lot was happening with two different generations, and it was an intense time for David so it was a personal story for him, but I think it resonates with a lot of people. Even now, if your kid wants to go into the arts, or be an artist, or thinks he's that much smarter than you, it's an interesting dynamic."
"James plays every father who can't always express his love in the most nurturing way," says David Chase. "The character is kind of like my father, but Tony Soprano had elements of my father too. And it's great because James brings so much to everything he does. And working with him gave us time to talk about things and just between us appreciate the work we have done together. He is such a perfectionist and he just got it."
Unlike his character Pat who is generally reserved in his praise for his son Douglas, James Gandolifini is quick to praise John Magaro, the actor who memorably plays his son onscreen. "I did a little movie with John before, and I think he was great in this movie," added Gandolifini. "And I ain't just sayin' that."
To bring all this personal and musical drama to life meant that Chase and his collaborators had to form a Sixties band of their own that looked and sounded true to that
experience and to that time. Thankfully, Chase had the perfect man in his corner to help him bring this musical moment alive onscreen, especially for an imaginary yet very authentic sounding band from the Garden State. That man was, of course, the legendary singer-songwriter-producer Steven Van Zandt -- perhaps best known for his enduring role in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Chase's admiration for Van Zandt goes back well before THE SOPRANOS. Indeed, Chase once told this writer that the cover art for Van Zandt's acclaimed 1982 album Men Without Women by Little Steven & The Disciples helped spark his creation of THE SOPRANOS.
Right from the start David Chase understood he was putting together a movie, not just a band, and he cast NOT FADE AWAY accordingly. As Chase explains, ""ou know there's the old stand-by which is to just go for the best actor, and worry about all other things later? That's the criterion I used. I knew that even though this movie had a lot of music, there was even more acting required. So we had an exhaustive casting process, and got the best actors for the parts."
Once those actors were cast, however, Chase put his onscreen band through a kind of rock & roll boot camp with Van Zandt - a man who served his time in the trenches with some of New Jersey and the world's most enduring bands - to turn his charges into gig-worthy rockers.
As Van Zandt says with a laugh, "A film about a band growing up in New Jersey? Big stretch for me. This story was maybe a few years before my time actually. The story is from 1962 to 1968, and I really wasn't in my first band until 1965 or 1966, but the fun part was you got to design what this band sounds like and be accurate to every single year from '62 to '68. You have to use the right equipment, use the right sound, and use the right attitude. That was really a lot of fun. It's the most fun I've had in a long time."
"Steven did a great job," Chase says. "He sort of rode herd on a whole crew of people that helped that happen. We got very lucky. The three central guys in the band, in the month of October they played nothing. By the time we started shooting in the beginning of the year, they could play. That's a tribute to Steve, and to the people he got to work with the guys too. It's also just so happened that the guys like John Magaro and Jack Huston turned out to have talent on their instruments. Some people simply cannot play the drums, right? They cannot keep a beat. And John could. If he hadn't been able to, we would have had to work with that somehow. But making the movie would have been much, much harder, and the music wouldn't have come off as well. Some people have musical talent, some people don't. We just happen to get three guys who do. And then the other two guys in the last configuration of the band -- Brahm Vaccarella as Joe Patuto and Gregory Perri as Skip, they really can play. So in the end, they really became a band."
In the end, all this practice and attention to detail pays off in a movie that seems both true to its historic time, and true to the music itself.
"Learning to play the music for this movie has been unbelievable actually, and they have taken a lot of time and surrounded us by a lot of great people to make sure we
knew what we were doing," says John Magaro. "First, they got me a great drum teacher Andy White who is one of the fifth Beatles. Andy actually played on "P.S. I Love You" and "Please Please Me" the original tracks. This is before the Beatles' first album came out. Steve got him to come in and teach me drums. Learning from somebody like that who was working in that era, and had that style and vibe about him was really priceless."
Yet in the end, Magaro and his onscreen band mates in NOT FADE AWAY learned that rock & roll is as much an attitude as anything else. "The main lesson Stevie taught us was to enjoy it," he explains. ""ou can tell someone to be confident and have a swagger, and act like a rock star, but it's really just about having fun. I think that's a big part of the movie. These guys have a lot of tension, a lot of politics, and a lot of infighting within the band, and their families and their lovers too. But the time that they really connect and click is when they're playing their music. And I think a lot of musicians feel that way. The music is where it all comes together."
As no less of an authority than Steven Van Zandt, "There's something universal about music bringing people together for a minute -- in this case on stage, onstage. No matter what's going on off stage, on stage, music bonds people beyond their personalities, beyond the circumstance. Music is a unifying force."
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