Q&A: David Chase Talks ‘Not Fade Away,’ Rock n’ Roll, and Ambiguous Endings
David Chase worked in television for over 20 years writing, directing, and producing shows like “The Rockford Files” and “Northern Exposure” before he stunned viewers in 1999 with his epic mob series “The Sopranos.” The show lasted six seasons and racked up numerous awards, but it arguably made its most significant in television history with its ambiguous conclusion, which left many fans angry.
In the years since, Chase decided to explore a new avenue by writing and directing his first feature film “Not Fade Away.” His tale, which is set in the 1960s and follows a young man from New Jersey, named Doug (John Magaro) as he starts a rock band and tries to make it big. Doug faces the usual trials and tribulations including grief from his working-class cantankerous father (played by “Sopranos” alum James Gandolfini). Musician Steve Van Zandt who played Silvio on “The Sopranos” also assisted Chase, providing tunes he wrote and helping to secure rights to famous songs from the era.
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable interview with David Chase where we discussed his new film, rock n’ roll, and why wrote an ambiguous ending for his film. Below are some of the highlights of the conversation.
Q: In this movie you really focus on the music: there are close ups on the instruments and you cast no-name actors. Why was that so important to you to really focus on the music?
DC: Because I really wanted to do a movie about the music. I love the music from that period, and I’ve seen movies, ya know, without mentioning them by name about The Beatles, and other bands, and I just didn’t want the movie to be about the personalities involved; well it is about the personalities involved, but I wanted it to be first and foremost about the music that they were trying to learn and appreciate.
Q: How soon into production did Little Stevie (Steve Van Zandt) get involved?
DC: Uh, Stevie came in way before I started writing. We’re friends from ‘The Sopranos.’ We used to, whenever we get together we talk, he’s just a complete [Rolling] Stones fanatic. We have similar tastes. Whenever we get together we would argue about what was the best song or what was the best song on album. Or we’d talk about, and he’s a font of information, I could listen to him for days because he knows everything about the recording of that stuff and who did what and when. So I talked to him about this script before it was even written.
And then after it was written, in the second draft or something, or the first draft, it wasn’t really working for me and I wanted to quit and I lost interest. And he sent me this song, a demo of his called ‘Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre,’ which is in the movie. I liked it so much, I liked the song so much and it said so much to me about rock n’ roll and it was so rock n’ roll I thought, ‘Don’t give up on this. You owe it to rock n’ roll to, rock n’ roll’s a great subject. Keep going.’ Not only that but this song fits in really well.
Q: So how much of this is autobiographical and personal for you?
DC: A lot of it is personal, but not necessarily autobiographical. My feelings about things are in there, but the events are not really real. They’re kind of. Semi-autobiographical. The stuff with the father is kind of like me and my father.
EC: The idea of family is very important in ‘The Sopranos,’ and I read that thinking about your family kind of coalesced into the show. Would you say that some of what you wrote was kind of continuing that therapy?
DC: I never wrote ‘The Sopranos’ to exorcise anything, nor did I write this to exorcise anything. But this I feel, and maybe it’s the theme in ‘The Sopranos’ too. I really feel that this movie states a basic human dilemma or conflict of interest, which is the pull of security versus the pull of freedom. We all want to be part of something, be part of a family, have a place we can go back to where it’s warm and they’ll open the door for us, and give us a hug and all that. At the same time we want to be lone individuals in charge of our own destiny. Nobody can tell us what to do or who we are, or define us. And those two things are constantly pulling. That’s the way I see this film in terms of the family dynamic.
Q: There’s a great line in the movie where Doug says he wants to explore film because he wants to explore how music and film relate. What does that relationship between music and film mean to you?
DC: Just like he says in there. You can read a book and you can put the book down and come back two days later to it. You can look at a painting, you can stop looking at it, go away, look at something else and never come back. But music and movies, theoretically to really get it, you’ve got to start at the beginning and go through it. How many beats, how many bars and then at the end, it comes to an end. And I think that’s interesting. That the two are so…a friend of mine was telling me recently that Stanley Kubrick said that movies have a lot more to do with music. They’re more like music than they are like literature.
Q: (SPOILER ALERT) The movie has an ambiguous ending just like ‘The Sopranos.’ Did you have set vision for how it would be, or did you want people to think about it and follow that ambiguity?
DC: I just found that the possible answers were unsatisfactory. I basically just felt that if in fact you construct a story which just boils down toward the end to a romance between a man and a woman, the question is do they stay together or do they not stay together? My feeling was that they’re too young to be together. I don’t believe that they would stick it out through all that. But I believe that it’s different from ‘The Sopranos’ in that you really don’t know what happened. I think you have a pretty good idea where this kid is headed. You don’t know where Tony Soprano is headed at all, but you do sort of know where this kid is headed and probably where his girlfriend is headed. So to me there’s a difference.
EC: The message that I got is that rock n’ roll lives on and the same message could be applied to the end of “The Sopranos.”
DC: That is kind of what it is. Rock n’ roll lives on. My feeling about it is you may not have your girlfriend, you may lose your girlfriend, you may lose your friend and all that stuff, but you still have the music to keep you company and to inspire you and to be your flame inside. That was kind of what I found.
Not Fade Away is now playing in theaters.