by Molly Lambert
Fuckin’ John From Cincinnati. Just what we need HBO. Another white middle aged guy in crisis show. Then again it’s David Milch, so maybe it’ll be brilliant. Way to finally fire your woman beating top exec also.
After reading my last few installments, you probably said to yourself “Molly, why are you so hung up on this gender stuff? Aren’t we kind of past that now? Isn’t Big Love enough for you people?” To which I would respond “Suck my left one, you fucking fascist caveperson.” I am not using caveperson as an insult. It’s a positive re-appropriation of the term, as also applied to the word cocksucker. Which brings us back to David Milch. Which brings us, then, to Tony Soprano.
Tony, Toni, Toné. If I am the first person to make that joke, I am way too stoked about it. (Sidenote: Raphael Saadiq is fucking Joss Stone? He needs to roll up on Erykah Badu. Her pussy’s made of LSD like Bjork’s is made of mushrooms.) We ended last week with another psychedelic drug, peyote. If last week was a strange trip, this week’s was the inevitable comedown.
AJ’s depression gets so bad he tries for that most elusive thrill, suicide as an escape from one’s growing responsibilities. The last guy we saw off himself was huh…maybe the dude who (excruciatingly) hung himself? The Sopranos relishes showing us that there are no easy deaths. We’re not afraid of death. We’re afraid of realizing we’re going to die as it is happening.
This little detail is what makes Edgar Allen Poe stories so sweet. Especially the one where the drunk guy is bricked into the wine cellar. I would like my gravestone to read “She Digressed.” Anyway evil, like asbestos, has corrupted every facet of Tony’s life. He thought he could get wet and keep his family dry, but there’s Coco telling Meadow he wants to jizz in her mouth (on it? near it? he was unspecific) and here’s Tony curbstomping him.
No, it’s too late now to start making apologies for a life spent fucking people over under the delusion that you were not like the guys who surrounded you. My favorite line in “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” is when Warren Beatty (McCabe) says “I got poetry in me. I do! Got sense enough not to try and write it down.” Tony believes, like we all do, that his particular sensitivity makes him exempt. We know he’s different from Paulie and Silvio because of the way he sees things.
Is it just because it’s told from his point of view? I often fantasize, when I am not thinking about sopapillas or the young Bruce Springsteen’s boner, about alternate versions of “The Sopranos.” The fictional world they’ve created is so complete, so novelistic in detail, I’d watch spin-offs centered on virtually any character. Tony could die, and I would happily go on following Janice or Carmela Soprano through the rest of their days and nights.
Everyone has their own vulnerabilities. We’ve been shown the softer side of Johnny Sack, Paulie, even Phil Leotardo. Christopher’s death was so perfect and poignant because it came on the heels of his own epiphanies about himself, how weak he really was. He’d finally figured out, just like AJ now has, that the entire system on which he had based his life is bullshit. The men take every chance to give up and succumb fully to their basest desires (cheating, gambling, drugs) despite knowing these things are part of the corrosion that make their lives so miserable to live that they constantly want to escape them. This is a great metaphor for pretty much anything you like. The women acknowledge the horror that the men won’t, but they’re fucked too since they’re trying to labor under the delusion that the men know what they’re doing. Everyone knows the truth, but nobody’s talking.
They’ve taken what they thought was the easy way out, only to find that the immortality they felt as young toughs had faded with old age. They continually revert to their worst selves because it is the easiest thing for them to do. Because they’ve been doing it their entire lives and are choice blind about their ability to change it.
Acknowledging that his depression is tied to crime, that his father was deeply unhappy and his unhappiness stemmed from his guilt, that AJ’s clearly does also, and AJ is too much of a modern boy to repress his feelings in the name of honor and dignity and an outmoded code of masculinity, is still too much for Tony. It’s a lot easier not to have morals when you don’t have a mortgage and a daughter of face-jizzing-on age.
And since “The Sopranos” is a serialized TV show, none of these plots come with any finality, even when they finish. I wonder if Tony will go to jail. Yeats would agree that imprisonment would be worse than death. Since this blog hearts poetry, I won’t feel nerdy dropping this Wordsworth quote:
In truth the prison, unto which we doom Ourselves, no prison is.
The underlying, deeply zen message of the show is that we could be happy with what nature gives us, if we weren’t creatures of such grotesque lusts. Nothing satisfies us, even happiness becomes boring. We crave flux and stability, extreme high and low points to offset the dullness of long stretches of life. Carmela’s Madame Bovary affair with the college counselor was a great episode about this theme (as is, you know, Madame Bovary.)
You hate your family because you love them. Tony seeing AJ suffer and wanting to help him might be the first real empathy he’s felt in his life. He can’t displace it onto someone else because AJ is an extension of his self. Since he can’t blame AJ, he tries to blame Carm. I mean this show just keeps hitting every number in Poetics like a roulette wheel. If you didn’t choke up during those Tony/AJ scenes you are most probably a sociopath and need to start seeing Peter Bogdanovich.
Molly Lambert is this recording‘s senior contributor. She lives in Echo Park, California.