James Gandolfini—Musings From The River Styx [Do You Believe In Ghosts?]

James Gandolfini [1961-2013]
With the roll out of my long-awaited new blog (well, long awaited by my webmaster, anyway, the legendary Jazz Video Guy, who I’ve had on retainer for over a year, and has periodically wondered aloud when I was going to finally get up off of my prayer rug and get my ass online…”What are you waiting for, Chip?”), I couldn’t help but notice that like Charon, the ferryman on the River Styx, I too, always seem to be helping the souls of friends and inspirational figures with their transit to those mysterious dimensional realms we spend most of our lifetime being a feared of…least ways offering up a heartfelt amen chorus.

And so my initial RADIO FREE CHIP postings have all been honorariums, tributes, fond farewells to two giants of music—Mulgrew Miller and Johnny Smith—fellow-travelers in the greater musical journey I have been engaged in most of my adult life; people I have been privileged to meet, to hear, to know, and to speak up for as an admirer, an advocate, an enthusiast.

You see, as a devout musician…I am a DJ, I am what I play.

And when I speak of someone’s SOUND SIGNATURE, I am speaking of their muse, of their individualistic V-O-I-C-E; those fundamental characteristics which distinguish their particular sonic fingerprints from a universe of other aspirational vibrations, seeking to reveal a higher truth, the bitterness and sweetness of life, or simply to get your foot a tapping.

Because when it comes to music, sharing is caring, and spreading the good word, connecting people with transformative sounds that can enrich your life—well now, that is a big part of my mission as a writer, a musician, a journalist…and now as a blogger.

What was I waiting for? Well, having more excuses than Heinz has pickles, somewhere in the back of my mind, my excuse de jour, was that I was waiting on the birth of my grand daughter, which I had taken in both the literal and symbolic sense, to represent the first day of the rest of my life, a totemic event—an affirmation.

Mia Love Mommy Smile [6-25-13]
Mia Caroline Stanley was born on April 15, 2013, which in a very surreal sense, will forever symbolize for me, not only death but renewal. Like millions of American. I was already reeling from the twin whammy of IRS tax filings and the Boston Marathon Bombings (hell, Lincoln was assassinated on April 15, 1865), and when my grand daughter arrived, the juxtaposition of such profoundly negative and positive energy in alternate breaths, was especially poignant to this freshly minted dedushka.

As it so happens, on the morning of Wednesday June 19, 2013, I was in San Diego, California, visiting my daughter Jen, her husband James, and my dear little Mia. I had a dentist’s appointment at a clinic in Tijuana later that afternoon.

I woke up at first light, but everyone was still asleep, and not wanting to wake the baby, I went back to bed and had an extremely intense, vivid dream featuring, of all people, James Gandolfini.

Tony Soprano Menacing
Here I was in these curiously bucolic surroundings, sort of like the panoramic opening shot of American Beauty, wherein the viewer swoops in from above the tree tops with a God’s Eye perspective of a heavily wooded suburban neighborhood. I found myself at ground level, looking over a set of houses, separated by verdant greenery, and well above the rooftops, were a dense set of tall trees, and above those was a giant catapult, not unlike those depicted in films of medieval battles, wherein the catapults would launch giant stones and burning cauldrons of oil at the bulwarks of a besieged citadel.

Only instead of firing some manner of ordinance, the catapult instead launched actor James Gandolfini like a shot off a shovel on a horizontal trajectory across the tree tops, until he alighted upon a particularly tall tree, which bent gracefully down to the ground, where he disembarked—not unlike how Buster Keaton leapt from the side of a plateau and came down to earth in one fluid motion, during his climactic chase sequence in The Seven Chances.

Curiously, in the next tableaux, I found myself in a surreal machine shop, which somehow I knew to be a place where they manufactured trumpets. I was aware of the presence both of Gandolfini and my good friend, the master trumpeter Ron Miles, in the shop—but they were out of the frame.

Ron Miles & The Ronnettes, Sepia
Why a trumpet shop? Somewhere in the dusty archives of my subconscious, was the dimly lit recollection of a story, related to me by a high end audio manufacturer, back around the time when Gandolfini became a cultural icon and struck it rich. He was looking to put together a really righteous audio system, and was auditioning a series of pricey loudspeakers. At that time, my colleague related to me how Gandolfini was not only a gifted actor, but also a musician, who played both tenor saxophone and trumpet. Shades of Benny Cater—I was impressed. (Least ways, I should like to believe it is true.)

I had my 1911 Holton Cornet, which Ron Miles had gifted me, and I suppose that I wanted to let Gandolfini try it out, but somehow I had disassembled it, and was too bumbling and flustered to put it back together again. It was at that point that I woke up to the sound of my granddaughter cooing in the kitchen.

Some twelve hours later, after I’d returned from Tijuana, I opened up my MacBook Pro, downloaded an online newspaper, and the first thing I saw was the headline: “James Gandolfini, Dead at 51.”

I let out an anguished yelp, and my daughter scolded me not to wake up the baby. But I was completely shaken by this psychic anomaly, and by my powerful spiritual connection to James Gandolfini, seemingly at the very moment of his spiritual transition. The more I thought about it, the more suggestive the imagery of my dream resonated in my mind.

What more apt a metaphor for a massive heart attack, and a sudden and immediate passing, than being launched from a catapult?

James Gandolfini
I felt it deeply and like everything else in my life, it resonates with music.

Amongst people of my age (just turned 61), there is a keen awareness that we are all on the clock, playing with the house’s money—on mortality alert. And it doesn’t take much to snap one back to complete attention; certainly nothing quite like the passing of an iconic figure or a contemporary…well before their time.

Tony Soprano Moody
Some people have commented that it was too bad he never had a chance to do comedy or Shakespeare.

Well, now…much like Ian McShane’s exquisitely complex portrayal of the equally brutal Al Swearengin in Deadwood, if Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano doesn’t represent an apex of dark comedy and high tragedy, I don’t know what does.

Gandolfini’s unflinching sensibility in revealing the human side of an unapologetically ruthless and duplicitous protagonist, suggest such giants of literature as Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab let alone Willie the Shake’s doomed villains. So much so that amidst the outpouring of love and adulation for Gandolfini, many people still seem unable to draw a line between where Jimmy left off and Tony began…as if he weren’t really acting.

And that my friends, is acting—Gandolfini’s humanity flowed like music. Nor could this favorite son of New Jersey’s imposing physical presence obscure his sensitive side—and the feelings he evoked amongst total strangers, who felt as though they knew him, and experienced his passing as that of a close friend–of family.

james_gandolfini as a young manFor all the collective loss we have felt at the passing of this complex and very underrated actor, who had yet to really mature his muse–despite the iconic role of a lifetime–when looking into the eyes of my eight week old grand daughter, all I could think of was the eight month old daughter Jimmy left behind, who won’t get to cuddle with her great big teddy bear of a daddy any more—and will only know him through frozen cinematic images and the recollections of others.

I am crushed. Still, in our own small way, RADIO FREE CHIP seeks to affirm life in his passing, and to share echoes of the joy and inspiration he left us in his art; and so, to bid a fond farewell through the consoling music of others that I often find myself turning to, when I need to sigh, rather than cry–because to say goodbye, is to die a little.

And yet, not unlike that moment in a New Orleans funeral, when the time arrives to transcend the sadness, and remember the gladness, we hope our recollections and odd juxtaposition of sounds and images, suggests something both of the wistful and the joyous, of the inspiration and humanity James Gandolfini conveyed as an actor, a father, a friend, even to one for whom our spiritual connection was something distant and ineffable until at the very moment of his passing we experienced a surprising moment of intimacy. Damn.

Which is why we choose to mark his passing with an oddly personal collage of images, in celebration of James Gandolfini’s very singular Sound Signature.

I mean, man, did he not ramble?

James Gandolfini Waves Goodbye

Posted in radiofreechip

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