As the movie entered common film-buff conversation, talk persisted that David Chase’s directorial debut “Not Fade Away” was autobiographical. The creator of “The Sopranos” had crafted a nostalgic tale set in the era in which he came of age, with a young group of mavericks dreaming of stardom from their garage band setups, and many claimed we were watching the life story of the TV legend. Speaking to the New York Film Festival audience upon the film’s premiere, Chase was quick to squash that talk immediately.
“I read that too that it was autobiographical!” Chase said with a smile. “It’s personal, sure, but to call the organization I was in a band is already mixed up. My friends were really good guitar players, and I was an ok drummer. But when we had this band I never even bought a set of drums, I played on cardboard boxes. We never got on stage, we never played one gig, paying or otherwise, no one ever saw us, we were way to good for that. We were a super group in my town.”
It’s that sense of self-deprecation that fueled many of Chase’s comments regarding his film, which he hoped would speak for itself. His is an attempt to take the pulse of an era first and foremost, stating, “I was trying to capture what a strange time it really was. Towards the end of that era, it seemed like something major was happening every day. An assassination, invasion, constantly. And I was interested in doing the backstage version of that.” Though he demurs, noting of the headier topics in the film, “As I was developing the script, I realized there was stuff I wasn’t paying attention to when I was young, because I was just a spoiled suburban kid.”
To capture the feel of the music, Chase sought his “The Sopranos” collaborator Steve Van Zandt. Of course, that didn’t necessarily mean Chase would listen to all his suggestions. “I begged David to find musicians who could act,” laughs Van Zandt. “He said, ‘Forget it, the acting must come first.’ Of course he’s right, but that meant that we found people with no musical talent whatsoever.” That inexperience yielded a three-month boot camp, and Van Zandt exclaimed, “It was amazing to watch, because it took me ten years, and it took them three months.”
Actor Will Brill reveals, “David would come and hang out with us while we were playing. And it was really fun, because we were terrible, we were so bad at the time.” Brill jokes when he says, “We would eke out a song just horribly, and then we’d feel guilty and look at David and he would say, ‘You’re fired.’ No, he would say, that was amazing, you guys were perfect.”
The search for authenticity also meant the actors would provide their own vocals, which initially gave Van Zandt pause. “It’s very rare in a movie where an actor can sell that thing about singing,” he says. “I don’t know why. So it was really important that the actors were able to sing. It’s totally real when you see the film, they literally can play and sing, there’s nothing fake to worry about.”
And while Chase sought serious actors for the roles, “For me it began and ended with the music,” he said. “Rock and roll comes out of the most dramatic time in life. All that intense self-scrutiny, self-loathing, self-glorification, being in love, discovering your freedom. That’s it, that’s the feeling.” And that involved the cast not only learning pre-established songs, but also performing a single original tune from Van Zandt.
“I wish I wrote ‘em all!” Van Zandt says of the songs covered by the band. “Most bands are cover bands in the first couple of years of their lives, or they should be, actually. These days, not so much, and it’s actually a bad thing. But most of the big bands, Beatles, Stones, E Street Band, spent their first few years playing cover songs. That’s how you find your identity, and learn to write songs, from analyzing and absorbing those songs. In the end, we decided they would be developing as they went along.”
Chase, who was candid about his love of the film’s music, disclosed, “The only reason I did this movie was because my favorite part of doing ‘The Sopranos’ was putting the picture and sound together. And I wanted to continue that, I missed that. So this is really a compilation album of my favorite songs.” And what songs they are. “Not Fade Away” has an extensive back catalog of hits from the era’s biggest bands. Shrugs Chase, “I just tried to remember when I was interested in learning how to play.”
He reflects honestly, giving credit not to himself, but to the very rich musical history which he utilized for the film’s unique sound. “I don’t wanna do this thing where I’m bragging about the ’60s, because I don’t feel like that,” Chase said. “But the music was good, and I was lucky to be that age at that time. I was living through one of the best musical periods. Music was my way into art, poetry, fashion, humor, film. Rock and roll was my first glimpse into art… And it’s been years since I’ve had this stuff in my head.”
“Not Fade Away” opens on December 21st.