David Chase recalls the precise moment when the British Invasion changed his life. “I was going around a traffic circle in New Jersey and (The Beatles’) ‘Love Me Do’ came on the radio,” he said at a recent screening of his semi-autobiographical film “Not Fade Away,” which is set for a Dec. 21 release from Paramount. But as the title of his feature debut suggests, “The Sopranos” creator’s coming-of-age tale about aspiring rockers in the ’60s pulses more to the kind of hard-edged blues as practiced by the Rolling Stones than the lighter pop of the Fab Four.
A 1964 clip from ABC’s “The Hollywood Palace” sets the stage in the movie, with the Stones performing “I Just Wanna Make Love to You” in full-blown Bo Diddley mode and host Dean Martin rolling his eyes. This generation gap is further reflected by the gulf between John Magaro’s character Douglas, who is, like Chase was at his age, a drummer in a garage band who becomes the front man because he can sing, and his disapproving working-class father, played by head Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.
Rock and roll is religion for Douglas — who bears an uncanny resemblance to Dylan in his early electric glory in the film — and he ends up dropping out of college to pursue his dream. “I was in this half-assed rock and roll band for three or four years,” says Chase of that seminal and fertile period in the mid-to-late ’60s. “That music gave me the first indication that I could be creative.”
Chase likens the importance of Stones’ “Aftermath” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to such literary masterpieces as “Moby Dick” and “The Scarlet Letter.” But he also knew that he was “asking for trouble” by using the ’60s and its tapestry of Top 40 radio as a backdrop for his story, since so many members of that generation have their own personal relationship with the era, along with attendant preconceptions about how it should be portrayed.
One way Chase tried to avoid cliche was to use lesser-known songs on the soundtrack, including such tunes as the Stones’ “Tell Me,” “Go Now” by the Moody Blues and Van Morrison’s “T.B. Sheets.”
Even the use of “Satisfaction” didn’t break that rule in the opinion of Steven Van Zandt, one of the stars of Chase’s “The Sopranos” who acts as the film’s exec producer and music supervisor.
“You’re more likely to hear ‘Miss You’ or ‘Start Me Up’ or something new. But almost anything before that now has started to become quite obscure, so it kind of opens all that stuff up again in a funny way and makes it more available to filmmakers because they’re not being heard on the radio all day.”
A soundtrack with the Beatles and the Stones is likely to cost a pretty penny, and Van Zandt admits approximately 10% of the film’s $20 million-$25 million budget was spent on the music, a much higher ratio than the norm, which is closer to 2%. Still, other filmmakers looking to get the same deal for vintage classics are likely to be in for a rude awakening.
“We have a lot of goodwill out there,” says Van Zandt with a laugh. “People love David Chase; they loved the fact that he used music so well on ‘The Sopranos.’ Everybody rose to the occasion, realizing nobody’s going to get rich from this movie.”
Van Zandt also lent his talent as a musician, not only putting the actors through a three-month boot camp, but also playing as a stand-in for the film’s fictional group alongside fellow E Street Band members Max Weinberg on drums and Garry Tallent on bass, as well as Jersey guitarist Bobby Bandiera.
So, in essence, these seasoned pros had to sound like novices.
“That was the challenge,” says Van Zandt. “You want to walk that line between credible and accurate and believable, and yet, you want it to be attractive to the audience. You don’t want to be distractingly out of tune, you want to be slightly out of tune.”
In the meantime, Van Zandt is prodiucing a reunion of The Rascals, a Jersey band that hasn’t performed in more than 40 years. He calls the endeavor a “hybrid of a concert and a Broadway show.” The event, scheduled Dec. 13-15 at the Capitol Theater in Worcester, N.Y., is already sold out. “They were the first blue-eyed soul band,” says Van Zandt. “It’s the biggest project of my life.”