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The-Sopranos-wallpapers-The only non-book on my bookshelves is the Sopranos DVD collection. Apropos that it sits among some of the most compelling stories ever told because, as Gary Shteyngart says, The Sopranos isstorytelling for the new century.” And, a good story lasts forever.

Every night at 8PM my husband asks me, “So are you ready for Tony and the boys?” and we tune in to HBO to watch, again, a re-run of an episode we have seen before, knowing what’s going to happen but nonetheless lured in by James Gandolfini’s charisma. So it was surreal to watch his Tony Soprano fight about money with Edie Falco’s Carmela on Wednesday night, knowing he had died in Rome earlier that day.

Before Tony Soprano had even been created, James Gandolfini was playing the part. As he says in a 1999 interview, he was playing thugs, gangsters, murderers,

the roles you’d expect a guy who looks like me to get.

Brilliantly. I saw the makings of Tony Soprano in Eddie, the hitman hired to keep an eye on Demi Moore’s character in The Juror, and Gandolfini may as well have been auditioning for The Sopranos as Virgil in True Romance. In the latter, Gandolfini’s performance crackles with the kind of murderous intensity that makes Tony Soprano the perfect villain. Vicious and violent, I could barely watch the scene with Patricia Arquette where Virgil meets his end – quintessential Quentin Tarantino. Still, even though I know Tony’s capacity for unimaginable brutality, I have been charmed over and over by his playfulness, the smiling eyes, the sheepishness – duped, like many of his victims, by a relatable and likable vulnerability. Tony Soprano remains invincible and untamable. Immortal. Is that what makes it so difficult to accept that James Gandolfini was with us for the briefest sojourn, dead at 51?

The actor and what he leaves behind for his baby daughter, has me thinking about my mortality. My daughter does not read this blog. Not yet. So young and wise, she tells me that because we are here for only a short time, her plan is to save my writing for later.  When I am gone, she will open the jar. This beautiful strategy to counter the missing of people likely to go before her, reminds me of the frail yet fervent 83-year old Maurice Sendak‘s final interview. Illustrated in this animated film by Christoph Niemann, is the purest expression of mortality I have ever heard, Sendak’s impassioned entreaty:

Live your life, live your life, live your life.

Hearing Maurice Sendak tell the interviewer, “Almost certainly I’ll go before you go, so I won’t have to miss you,” is especially poignant knowing that he died just over a year before James Gandolfini left us. I think Maurice Sendak would have missed the man with an appetite for life, the actor whose best and most heartsome performance may have been as the voice of Carol in the film adaptation of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, the story of Max whose punishment for behaving badly, is being sent to bed without any dinner. Subsequently, he sails across an ocean to a place where wild things roam. When he returns home, it is to a happy ending, with dinner waiting and still hot.

As the disembodied Carol, the range and inflections of Gandolfini’s voice, are as masterful and nuanced as hose that flutter across his face as Tony Soprano or any of the other wild things he has portrayed. Like grace notes. As Carol, however, he is a different kind of monster,  the very embodiment of the complex figments of a child’s imagination, those of Max who has run away from home. I suspect that every child knows where the wild things are. In my case, I remember my mother telling me not to let my imagination run away with me when I fretted about the dark, or death, or disappointments big and small. Fueled by these wild things, I sailed off by myself many times, but always found my way back home. Just like Max.  

And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all

1016636_640475832646822_1236994437_nBitterly disappointed, raging at Max for not being king, for wanting to leave, Carol chases him, lunges at him in one of the scariest scenes of the film, “I’ll eat you up!” he roars. Carol loves him so, but Max must go.  Thus, the heartbreaking farewell as Max sails away from the solitary giant on the shore, howling its grief in the voice of James Gandolfini, a voice silenced too soon.

May he rest in peace.