By Carly Keyes, Daily Arts Writer
Published January 14, 2013
In his feature film directorial debut, “Not Fade Away,” David Chase displays his passion for rock ‘n’ roll music. Set in suburban New Jersey, the movie follows a group of hopeful teenagers as their band tries to “make it” during the ’60s, when the genre exploded into American culture.
During an interview with The Michigan Daily, Chase made it clear that this is a film about music.
“I wanted to use lesser-known album tracks,” Chase said. “I had an idea of the music I wanted, and I went out and got it.”
Chase described how most of the popular ’60s tunes are already largely associated with other classic films and directors.
“I believe that when you go to clear The Rolling Stones’ music, you have to ask Marty Scorsese,” he said.
And despite the monumental historical events during that time, he didn’t want to focus on that.
“Depicting an era like the ’60s is kind of a fool’s errand, and it’s been done,” Chase said.
“Nobody (in the film) goes to a protest march. You can assume that they’re taking drugs, but you don’t really see that. Nobody’s seeing flowers or anything like that. One guy goes to Vietnam, but you don’t follow him to Vietnam.”
But what’s most unique about “Not Fade Away” — apart from the paramount focus on rock ‘n’ roll — is that the story, for Chase, is a personal one. Though they never left the basement or settled on a name, Chase played drums in a band with his friends while growing up in New Jersey during this epic music movement.
“The film is autobiographical in terms of the feelings involved on the part of the lead character, but not necessarily the events or the other people,” he explained. “Except for the part about the father. That was kind of me and my father.”
James Gandolfini (“Zero Dark Thirty”) plays the father who strongly discourages his son, Douglas (John Magaro, “Liberal Arts”), from pursuing a music career. Gandolfini reunites with Chase for the first time since they worked together on “The Sopranos,” the most financially successful television series of all time.
Chase, who created the critically acclaimed show and wrote and directed multiple episodes, feels a certain amount of individual pressure to perform with his successive projects.
“I never expected creating something that so many people knew about and invested so much in,” he said. “I thought there’s no way I can do anything like that again. Yet, you feel like if you haven’t done something like that again, you’ve failed.”
This project marked Chase’s first major jump from the small screen to the silver screen, and it forced him to alter his typical writing routine.
“There was always a solid outline,” he explained. “This time I decided to say, ‘I’m going to sit down and write (the screenplay) and see what happens.’ I went in without a map.”
Steven Van Zandt, another former cast member of “The Sopranos” and a musician with Bruce Springteen’s E Street band, produced the music and wrote the film’s original song, “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Originally, he and Chase wanted to cast musicians who could also act, and considered using well-known entertainers.
“Stars are stars and they’re useful in many different ways,” Chase said. “But, in retrospect, I’m really glad we didn’t use them. I think it would’ve skewed the movie in a way.”
By the time filming began, Van Zandt had molded the casted actors into a truly talented band who did all of their own vocal work and most of their instrumental parts.
In “Not Fade Away,” Chase paints a picture of a musical era that’s a far cry from the pop melodies, country ballads and rap anthems on today’s mainstream radio stations. But, asserting that issues America faced — sexual, gender and racial politics — still permeate strongly five decades later, Chase believes some things haven’t changed.
“The ’60s never got solved,” he stated, noting the major difference is that now “there’s no music to lead you through it.”
Chase expanded upon this stark contrast between the overarching culture of the two generations.
“Now everybody’s tattooed and has piercings. Everybody looks like an outlaw, and they’re not really. People back then who looked like outlaws were outlaws.”
Similarly, as authentically showcased in “Not Fade Away,” Chase believes that people who looked like musicians were musicians, too.