Words: Ryan Waring
Art: Steph Holm
Continued from Part I.
5. “Seven Souls” – Material feat. William S. Burroughs
From S06E01: “Member’s Only”
Over the course of The Sopranos’ run, each offseason lagged longer than the previous. By the sixth and final installment’s premiere, two full years had passed since fans had last heard from Tony Soprano and company. If the show ever needed a bold opening montage, this was it, and David Chase delivered with an unforgettable sequence, mostly for Jamie-Lynn Sigler’s sultry striptease, but also for its hypnotic soundtrack: a remix of Material’s unclassifiable backing for a William S. Burroughs narrated selection of his The Road to the Western Lands concerning Ancient Egyptian understanding of the soul. Now, I could spend the rest of my life chasing an allegory that would probably either be dead wrong or not even there at all, but regardless of Chase’s riddle, the mood is all parts alluring, haunting, threatening, and awesome.
4. “Living on a Thin Line” – The Kinks
From S03E06 : “University”
According to “University” teleplay writer and Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter in a DVD commentary, “Living on a Thin Line” is the series most asked-about song. The Kinks never released the Dave Davies-penned track as a single, so it certainly habituated a more obscure part of their catalog. But its lyrical content, which roughly describes fleeting memories of empires immemorial, empty change, and the past’s influence on our present and future, probably held a certain allure given it was basically right up the show’s alley. That said, I can’t imagine it was ever played in any strip club in 2001 or ever. And despite that “University” is undoubtedly one of the more remarkable 60 minutes of the series, “Living on a Thin Line” feels better suited for any number of other episodes.
3. “Black Books” – Nils Lofgren
From S03E07: “Second Opinion”
Last week I wrote about a neologism I coined for an admittedly unimportant and derivative phenomenon I called ‘parthenalgia,’ a wistful yearning to relive a first experience. I’m glad I did I when I did, because I’m not all that sure I could wholly describe what separates these top three from the rest of the pack in this writer’s mind without describing the feeling in detail. For my money, “Black Books” and the next choice could have easily claimed the top spot had I ranked on a different day, and that is precisely because each subsequent listen instantly teleports me to watching each respective scene for the first time. Here I’m back in the Columbia dorms as Carmela, tupperware of ziti in one hand and seminar flyer in the other, watches a wearied Meadow shuffle down her hall. Or when it replays at the end of the episode, as a depressed Carmela gives into the security of her criminal breadwinner, despite her psychiatrist’s imploring her otherwise. It’s some combination of the brilliant solo work from another E Street alum and the impact of Carmela’s disappointing capitulation to her husband’s crippling vice grip (Edie Falco most deservedly won an Emmy for her work in this episode), or maybe even the perfect tenor for a poignant moment.
2. “I’m Not Like Everybody Else (Live)” – The Kinks
From S05E10: “Cold Cuts”
Tony Soprano is probably a sociopath. At the very least, sadism isn’t exactly proper, and Tony Soprano is certainly a sadistic bastard. All throughout the series, Chase via Dr. Jennifer Melfi probes Tony Soprano to uncover the roots of what makes him evil or not evil. As futile as the efforts felt sometimes, much of the ostensible influence in his assessment had, up until this point, directed the arrow toward the obvious: the gangster lifestyle he inherited from his father. Obviously, Melfi had always suspected he was underestimating his mother’s influence, and it’s here when he manifests her miserable narcissism most patently. And as he storms out of the Baccalieri dinner, smugly satisfied that he could find the right buttons to undo all the progress Janice had made in her anger management class, raining on her happiness exactly as Livia would have, the second Kinks song on the list closes out the scene and magnifies a display of conceit that all but confirms that Tony Soprano is indeed his mother’s son. Also, how great of a (relatively) spoiler free tribute is this video?
1. “This Magic Moment” – Ben E. King and The Drifters
From S06E13: “Soprano Home Movies”
As much as I’d love to think little A.J.’s “So what, no fucking ziti now?” best sums up the whole series in six words, Carmela’s “My husband is not a vindicative man,” in this episode has to be that phrase. The two most brilliant facets of the show, in terms of both idea and execution, were its ability to merge serialization with self-containment in a way to make it so necessarily a television show and to fool the world into thinking they were watching the next gangster flick when really The Sopranos was one long character study. “Sopranos Home Movies” is The Sopranos. I know I already called the pilot a microcosm of the show, but that was like a restaurant menu with all the house options and now it’s time to pick the best combination of courses. In “Sopranos Home Movies” two couples celebrate a birthday at a lake house; there’s only a brief bit of mob violence in the end, but it’s telling.
“This Magic Moment” first plays diagetically through a radio as Tony, in a scene steeped in symbols we’ve already seen and will certainly see again, does that “sitting in a chair thing” that Janice says she’s seen before. It’s implicit, but when we hear her tell Carmela that it was she, Janice, that takes more after their father, its all the more certain that Janice sees their mother in her brother. And when we see Bobby in that final scene, holding little Nica tightly while looking over the tranquil lake in a touching father-daughter snapshot, just a short car ride removed from popping his kill cherry per the orders of a brother-in-law boss he bested in a fistfight, Tony has dragged another innocent down into the miserable muck with him, pettily, selfishly, vindictively, exactly as his mother would. And as “This Magic Moment” plays out Bobby, gazing wistfully out into the lake, just as earlier where Tony soaked in the peace before the tuner abruptly cut to a devastating Iraq war bulletin, you can’t help but see people who are cleaving to their maudlin memories in a calm before shit really hits the fan.
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