Saturday, October 16, 2021

My favorite and least favorite Sopranos characters

In the late summer and into this fall, for the first time, I watched The Sopranos. These are my 20 standout characters from the show.

Tony, Carmela, and A.J. HBO image.

Favorites


  1. Tony--of course. He makes the show. While he’s a sociopath who does horrible things, he’s still oddly likable--mostly. That smile. Those impish eyes. It’s the irony of the show and one of the ironies of the human condition that someone like Tony Soprano can do all that he does yet still be likable. A true anti-hero.

  2. Carmela Soprano--wow, Edie Falco nails it as the mobster’s wife. No innocent herself, her “take the world as it comes to me” attitude is still inspiring. After all, isn’t that all any of us can ever do? She takes on life with aplomb. Carmela has her dark moments where she pressures people, but she is married to the family after all. Though she and Tony endeavor to protect her from Tony’s many crimes, it’s impossible to hide them all--even when things aren’t spoken. She’s no dummy. Yes, she suffers too, but the way she soldiers on through it all makes her admirable.

  3. Meadow Soprano--a total winner. She may just rise above her background, if she chooses, and is lucky. Her character evolves from a bratty teen to a smart, nice, and going somewhere young woman--whether it’s in or out of the mob. 
  4. Svetlana Kirilenko--the one-legged Russian gumar of Tony’s--though her role preceded and survived her brief fling with him. Here’s someone for whom life has dealt a shitty hand but she has a great attitude, and like Carmela too, presses on with gusto. In the arc of the series she’s a minor but memorable character.
  5. Hesh--Tony’s Jewish friend with the horse farm and long ties with Tony’s family. Love him with his happy-go-lucky charm. 

  6. Artie--The restaurateur. He's got his problems, but is hard working, has a great smile, and does his best even when he’s dealt blows by life. By the end of the show his endurance for the world is flagging, but hopefully he’ll find his bounce again.

  7. Michael Imperioli as Christopher. Josh Miller photo.
    Christopher Moltisanti--Arguably second to Tony in carrying the plot, Chris had aspirations of leaving his life of crime but he was so immersed that there was little hope he ever could. He commits countless atrocities including hitting Adriana and cheating on her like there’s no tomorrow. Yet he’s a strong character who helps make the show and plays well off of his “uncle” Tony.
  8. Jennifer Melfi--Tony’s psychiatrist who treats him like the train wreck that he is. Like any of us who watched the show, she just couldn’t look away from Tony and his world. The actress's husky, calm, and confident voice helps define this character.
  9. Furio! Love this sexy Italian import. He migrates from old world to new as he engages in his life of crime. He’s ruthless but can be charming when the situation calls for it. A cool dude and one you don’t want to cross. 


Least Favorites


  1. Janice Soprano--the dreadful sister of Tony who uses everyone and whines endlessly. Ugh. A bad person through and through.

  2. Uncle Junior--Mobster scum with a permanent chip on his shoulder.

  3. Ralph Cifaretto--Played by the actor who was Cypher in The Matrix, Ralph is crazy and stands out as especially detestable in a show with many bad people. 

  4. Richie Aprile--Brother of Jackie Sr. who becomes Janice’s boyfriend and fiance in season two after serving ten years. In one of my favorite scenes, Janice finds a memorable way to say her goodbye to him when things turn sour. Richie was horrid--a guy who took deep pleasure in other’s pain. In that sense he and Janice deserved each other. Yet he didn’t know his place in the broader family after being released from prison. 

  5. Livia Soprano--Tony’s mom, of course she makes my least favorites list. Interesting that show creator David Chase says she’s modeled after his own mother. Poor David Chase. 

  6. Paulie--I just can’t stand this dude. Pure mobster and a pure guy in all of the worst ways--oozing with toxic stupidity. And the wings in his hair. Ugh. 


Honorable Mentions


  1. Silvio Dante--Of Tony’s inner circle of thugs, I really like Silvio. This real life E Street Band guitarist and songwriter is a cool dude in a weird yet undeniable Jersey way. For someone who appeared in almost every episode of this long series, his character is overly cartoonish and underdeveloped.

  2. A.J. Soprano--Anthony Junior is highly unlikable but gets a pass from my least favorite list since he was a kid.

  3. Adriana--Christopher’s girl. She grew on me, though not enough to make my favorites list. Her downfall and final demise was tough to watch. 

  4. Rosalie Aprile--Friend of Carmela, widow of Jackie Sr., mother of Jackie Jr., and sister-in-law of Richie. I like her toughness and apparent joie de vivre in spite of being at the heart of a wicked, mobster-filled world that--along with cancer--takes the men from her family.

  5. All the beautiful young men who had early demises--if there was a good looking young guy, there was an extremely high chance he was going to get whacked, starting with Brendan Filone who falls into the “he had it comin’” category, cute or not.


I was late to The Sopranos, not tuning in for the first time till the summer of 2021 with the strong encouragement of some friends who watched it closer to its original release--twenty plus years ago!
Jackie Jr., another of the good looking young men. Image via HBO.


Saturday, August 21, 2021

The Covid Dance

The Covid dance . . . the God. Damn. Covid dance. 

We're all doing it, or . . . maybe not all, but certainly many of us.

Early on . . . don’t touch anything . . . and wash your hands like a mad man. 

I never was a big one for the alcohol-based hand sanitizers. Of course it was much later that we found out Covid almost exclusively spreads through the air, not via touch. 

I was big on a tight Covid bubble. First on my own with my pup in Salt Lake. Then with my sister and our bubble in Dutchess County, New York, that included three or four others. This felt like dangerously too many people, especially when others beyond that group came. The bubble was never as tight as I wanted.

Then masks became normalized--even in Utah after I returned from my April in New York. Last summer the numbers were rising, then drifting down slightly in the fall. My mid-summer trip to my brother’s in Wisconsin was tough. He seemed pretty free and loose with his Covid protocols compared to me. But then again most people are. 

The winter Covid tsunami had me very isolated--though seeing people outside some in the remote Arizona RV camp I’d retreated to for three months felt OK, until it didn’t. By late December the pandemic was really bad, hospitals were packed, my outside encounters with others became more distant and far less frequent. 

This spring arrived and I was fully vaccinated by late March. Within a month I was able to finally let my guard down. I went to some restaurants, a house party, I even had a couple of dinner parties. Against my gut instinct I let someone come to a party at my house who wasn’t vaccinated. The rest of us were, that was his problem. 

And now Delta. The vaccines are mostly doing their job, though one friend’s elderly father (87) who was vaccinated is dying in Florida as I type this. Or I should say he’s ailing--time will tell if Covid and old age will get him but apparently it’s not looking good. (He died about a week later.)

And the likelihood of new strains . . . . yet despite being uber Covid careful I am going to be a stubborn optimist and state that there is no guarantee that new strains will be worse than Delta. 

But time will tell. 

I am wrapping up a week with a group of people I love in Driggs, Idaho, near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. A pretty big group--around 200 of us, maybe pushing 300, I’m not sure. It’s a gathering of people and their RVs. I am only seeing people outside (with one exception the first day). If it’s crowded, even outside, I am wearing an N95 mask. It’s not just about protecting myself, though that’s part of it, it’s about slowing the spread. 

I’ve stayed this whole week, though it’s been excruciatingly hard at times. Here I am with people I want to hang out with and I can’t hang out with them because of my Covid boundaries. I’m glad I came and stuck it out, but it’s been tough. 

Doing the Covid dance. And for how much longer? The promise of the spring of ‘21 and early summer feels like a distant memory. 

Hunkering down has its drawbacks to mental health, yet it’s what I have to do for now. 

And the politicization of Covid makes the Covid dance that much more miserable. Mask vs. the “freedom” to not wear a mask (and infect others). Vaccinate vs. a “personal choice” not to vaccinate (and exacerbate the spread). Humans love to be idiots. It’s tiresome even with, especially with, people you love. 

The Covid dance . . . damn you. 

Art by Mary Akinlabi via Amplifier.


Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Kerouac’s On the Road

I’ve explored America, my country.

My explorations on my own started in the 1980s and continue to this day. I say “on my own” to differentiate from the travels with my family in the 1970s and early 1980s which too are part of my journeys.

from the cover of On the Road with image of Jack Kerouac and Neal C

I’ve been to 46 states and have criss-crossed the continent by car: east to west and north to south. I’ve strayed into both Canada and Mexico too, along the highways, byways, and freeways of these three North American countries. I’ve flown around the country quite a bit as well, but it’s the more than three dozen months I’ve been on the road myself that resonate presently.

And somehow I’d never read Jack Kerouac’s signature 1957 novel, On the Road--until this week. 

I’ve been aware of it for decades, but having not read it, it had no overt influence on my extensive wanderings.

On the Road chronicles Kerouac’s travels with his gang of friends from 1947 to 1950. In some ways it’s a love letter to and about his friend Neal Cassady who appears as Dean Moriarty in the book. All of the names were changed and the book is sold as fiction though it’s very much based on real life events.

I was so wanting to love this book and I so didn’t. And yet, I am glad to have finally read it as it’s considered one of the great American novels and my own life has been driven by the impulses that drove Kerouac and his friends--to see new places, meet new people, and seek adventures. 

Yet all in all, my adventures are somewhat tame compared to those of Kerouac and company. 

The men whore around--with Cassady/Moriarty in particular leaving babies in his wake with multiple women. Kerouac shacks up with a young Mexican mother for a short period and then summarily moves on leaving her only with the memories of their short affair. The book is wildly politically incorrect from a 2021 perspective--though that aspect alone wasn’t why I didn’t like it. 

It was probably the seediness that rubbed me the wrong way--yet that’s what the book is so the fact that I don’t like that aspect of it says as much or more about me than the book. But the junkies and criminals that were Kerouac's friends, and the madness of Cassady/Moriarty . . . ugh. And it was relentless. 

Some things I did like:

  • Kerouac’s narrative style--it still feels fresh today, 64 years after it was published

  • The descriptions of traveling in America in the late 1940s, pre-interstate highways and on a shoestring budget

  • The joie de vivre of it, even though it’s seedy and sad, it is meant to be a celebration of an enthusiasm for life and that comes through in a way that defines and carries the narrative

  • It’s a love letter to America, flaws and all


I was two-thirds through Joyce Johnson’s memoir Minor Characters, when I set it aside to dive into On the Road. I’ll be finishing Johnson’s book for sure. She dated Kerouac in 1957, the year On the Road was released and she knew a lot of the main characters. Her book's title is in reference to herself, as she, and all of the women then, were minor characters for the men who led the Beat movement.


Her book sparked me into a mini-self education into Kerouac and his Beat writer friends who created a literary counter-culture movement in the 1950s. I was truly appalled to find out that two of these luminaries are actual murderers: William Burroughs who shot his wife in the head, killing her instantly and served no time for it, and Lucien Carr who stabbed David Kammerer to death and got only two years because it was allegedly done to stop Kammerer’s homosexual advances on Carr. On top of that Burroughs is a junkie (which he was quite open about and heavily informed his writing--it also seems to have contributed to his murder of his wife). 


I had heard of these people before but hadn’t ever taken a deep dive into them and their worlds. Between finishing On the Road and reading Johnson’s memoir, combined with lots of internet searches to get more of the background of the Beat gang, it’s maybe not a deep dive, but it’s been an interesting swim. 


On the Road has many memorable descriptive gems of people, places, and broadly the human condition. Also, countercultures are important to the overall well being of the broader culture. These contribute to making this book an important part of the canon of American literature. 


I am glad to have finally read Kerouac’s book, even if it was somewhat darker than I was expecting. And I do recommend that people go on the road themselves to expand their understanding of the world beyond their own backyards--whether or not they read On the Road.