Friday Reads: Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of the Sopranos

There are very few guys (even the pacifists), if they are really being honest with themselves, who would disagree with the notion that at least sometimes they think or wish they could handle disputes like they do on The Sopranos. Very few. And by stating this reality, I’m not saying that those individuals actually would; I’m just saying they wish they could. Argument with some Putz at the store? Traffic road rage? Disagreement at work? Who doesn’t daydream about handling such disputes in the same fashion that Furio Giunta would?  There are also other examples besides the “Furio way” that an average Joe might imagine he could handle conflict resolution, of course. Cliff Booth from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood most certainly comes to mind as such a role model. The point is not the ultra-violent acts, but rather the calmness and confidence that accompanies the action. Now, enough of this tangent, let’s get to the book.

Many of you may have at least heard of Talking Sopranos, a podcast started by actors Michael Imperioli (Christopher Moltisanti) and Steve Shirripa (Bobby Baccalieri), and this book (Woke Up This Morning) is basically the condensed highlights version of the podcast. If you don’t want to take the time to wade through each of the podcasts, I’d recommend this book. Easy to read and entertaining. Frequent guests on the podcast include the series actors, writers, set designers, and others that worked on the show’s production. Some quick highlights:

  • Steve Shirripa is not nearly as big as Bobby Baccalieri. He wore a fat suit for most episodes, and during the show was actually about the same size as James Gandolfini (Tony Soprano). Around 230 pounds. Ginny Sack (played by Denise Borino-Quinn) also wore such a suit.
  • Furio, played by Federico Castelluccio, while born in Napes, Italy, grew up in Patterson, NJ (since he was 3).
  • Tony Sirico (Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri) is shockingly similar in real life to the character he played. When an episode was set to take place in Paulie’s apartment, the directors went to Tony’s actual apartment, then re-created it for the show.
  • The episode “A Don Doesn’t Wear Shorts” was written after James Gandolfini received a phone call on his cell phone from an unknown number, and the caller said, mysteriously, “A Don never wears shorts”.
  • Matthew Weiner wrote for The Sopranos from 2004-2007, before Mad Men.

I intend to watch some of these podcasts at a future date. The book (and likely the podcast) sometimes comes across as highbrow back patting about this and that (actors and their “art”); however, overall there is many interesting things to be learned by this behind the scenes book and corresponding podcasts.

Finally, for the record, I’m disappointed by David Chase using The Sopranos theme song, and actors Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Meadow Soprano) and Robert Iler (AJ Soprano) to peddle on behalf of Chevrolet. Watch the show (or re-watch it), not the commercial. And to David Chase: You don’t need the money, so why would you do it? To summarize this, I must quote Tom Waits (substitute “song” for “show” in the passage below):

“It’s no wonder a corporation would want to hitch a ride on the spell these songs cast and encourage you to buy soft drinks, underwear or automobiles while you’re in the trance. Artists who take money for ads poison and pervert their songs. It reduces them to the level of a jingle, a word that describes the sound of change in your pocket, which is what your songs become. Remember, when you sell your songs for commercials, you are selling your audience as well.

When I was a kid, if I saw an artist I admired doing a commercial, I’d think, “Too bad, he must really need the money.” But now it’s so pervasive. It’s a virus. Artists are lining up to do ads. The money and exposure are too tantalizing for most artists to decline. Corporations are hoping to hijack a culture’s memories for their product. They want an artist’s audience, credibility, good will and all the energy the songs have gathered as well as given over the years. They suck the life and meaning from the songs and impregnate them with promises of a better life with their product.”

Imperioli, Michael and Shirripa, Steve. Woke Up This Morning: The Definitive Oral History of the Sopranos. William Morrow, 2021.

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