BesserFernsehen, Medien, Musik, Inspiration & Wellbeing

At the Captain’s Table

In my new song „At the Captain’s Table“ New York meets „The Sopranos“ and the real New York Mafia history:

At the Captain’s Table 
Video & Audio
https://youtu.be/diYzzP9uKO4
www.besser-fernsehen.ch/songs.html

„Try to remember the times that were good“ – one of the last remarks of Tony Soprano, before our TV screens went black. „Try to remember the times that were good“ – likewise the motto of the long-time (real) Mafia Boss and inofficial „Prime Minister“ of New York, Frank Costello. Tony Soprano was to some degree a mixture of the legendary Godfather of New York and the Mafia Boss of New Jersey, Vinny Ocean (next to other „role models“ and fictional elements, of course). With Vinny, there were many obvious parallels – with Frank many subtle ones. Costello was a somewhat modern mobster and went to see a shrink on a regular basis for about two years back in the 40s. He had a hard time standing all the violent & blunted Mafiosi in his surroundings. And he sure missed a decent talk. The psychiatrist recommended making acquaintance with other people outside the mob: politicians, architects, designers, writers, actors etc. … And lo & behold, it helped – at least partially. Had this been made public at the time, it would have costed life & limb. But that happened only much later in various Hollywood films – where other Cosa Nostra motifs have been picked up as well. Uncle „Junior“ in the „Sopranos“ sure isn’t the only senior in the Mafia! And so many mobsters had a soft spot for ducks, pigeons and so on (by the way: we often see „real“ Mafiosi & part-time Mafiosi on screen – almost a tradition in Hollywood, including the Sopranos).

An English farmer once told writer W.G. Sebald: „I have always kept ducks, even as a child, and the colours of their plumage, in particular the dark green and snow white, seemed to me the only possible answer to the questions that are on my mind.” Poet Mary Ruefle later found among the multiple definitions of the word „speculum“ „a medieval compendium of all knowledge” and „a patch of color on the secondary wings of most ducks and some other birds.” Did the „Garbage Disposal Consultant“ Tony know that a compendium of all knowledge and the ducks’ plumage were one and the same? He must have felt it somehow …

Heading south from New York City / Driving down „Soprano Lane“ / Thinking back of Chris & Tony / Playing one more bloody game / Living always on the wild side / Living always on the run / In the „Family“, that monster / That both bites & hugs the son …

How could a tough Mafia Boss like Tony Soprano become one of the most popular figures in TV history? Well – he sure had good & sweet sides, too. And moreover all sorts of problems & difficulties like all of us. He was tangible in his inner conflicts & vulnerability. And in times of vagueness like ours, the Capo stood up for what he believed in – for better or worse. He was a villain, arrogant & ignorant. But he also was a kind & generous man, a loyal friend, a patriot. „I guess you learn to love the good & bad in everyone“, his wife Carmela used to say. And she had a lot to learn …

Tony was an extreme example of the many different sides of life, of something Rainer Maria Rilke and many others told us so accurately: For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror – and vice versa – which we are barely able to endure. 

Beauty and terror / Just keep going / No feeling is final … so Rilke. And beauty & terror just keep going in this song, too … constantly converging … like black clouds & silver linings in the New York sky …

Nothing ever is just black or white, just good or bad, enlightened or damned to all eternity – there is Star Wars out there, there are so many forces out there which we can only guess vaguely. Tony, Chris, Junior and so many others have tried to contrast the dark sides of life with a little poetry. And sometimes Uncle Jun might have sang in company the old Bennato song of the island that does not exist, the „Isola che non c‘è“: „Seconda stella a destra / questo è il cammino / e poi dritto / fino al mattino / Non ti puoi sbagliare perché / quella è l‘isola che non c’è.“ Second star to the right, and then straightforward ‘till the morning comes ...

The island that does not exist – that’s what they all have been looking for: Chris, Tony, Carmela, Junior, Mama Livia and all their ancestors, who had always raved about America being a country where you can be whatever you wanted to be, back in Italy a long time ago. But after finally having emigrated to the United States, they almost exclusively spoke about the old country. Or Feltrinelli – born with a silver spoon in his mouth and not with a plastic fork in his butt, unlike many others – who bled to death as a terrorist with 15 dynamite sticks attached to his body. Or Che Guevara, „Jesus with a gun“, as they called him, who started out to change the world with plenty of idealism – but eventually realized that with a doctor’s bag, good intentions & good slogans alone he would never be successful. And maybe, on a warm summer evening, he reached for his gun and fired for the first time ... Who can tell ... And somehow, somewhere, at some point it all went terribly wrong ...

There has been much debate in recent years about the end of the TV series „The Sopranos“. What happened at the restaurant after our screens went black in 2007? Well – I gladly let you know:

„The Sopranos – Episode 87 – The Final Countdown“
http://www.besser-fernsehen.ch/blog/entry/the-sopranos-episode-87-the-final-countdown.html

Back in school, daughter Meadow once had to read a German story – a story that takes place in the Fairy Tale Land. One day the „evil“ characters were fed up with their parts and left: „That’s it, we‘ve had more than enough of being the bad & ugly ones all the time.“ They were tired & frustrated of being blamed for everything, from the simplest of issues to the big ones. So the „good“ characters could show themselves in the best light possible. And so one day they left for good. At first the „good“ guys in the Fairy Tale Land were quite pleased, everything was peaceful & good. But when everything is good, nothing is ultimately good anymore, because it can’t no longer stand out against something. It can‘t make a pleasant contrast, can’t play trumps. And as time went by, the „good“ characters became more & more annoyed & angry … as they could not flaunt their „being oh so good“ anymore. And it got worse & worse & worse … until finally one day the „good“ ones got all together at the edge of the Fairy Tale Land, went on their knees and begged & whimpered that the „evil“ characters would please, please, please come back …

Tony liked the story – it reminded him of some smug females from New Jersey’s high society, wives of wealthy men with too much money and not enough to do, or not enough attention, no longer young and not yet old, the modeling career far behind, the „Champagne Supernova“ within reach – in other words the perfect setting for an upscale employment therapy called Charity. A playground for ladies who like to grab the microphone – and an audience that doesn’t mind that the voices are worse than the problems.

Well, I couldn't deny a little remark in this regard at the end of the song ... 

Meanwhile Tony’s next door neighbour / Is working with her Vocal Coach / For the Charity this evening / And the love & peace approach / The Lady‘s into New Age teachings / Enlightenment, a mindful way / And thanks to „Champagne Supernova“ / She makes it somehow through the day …

But back to the New York Mafia …

The American Mafia has Italian roots and was organized for decades in so-called „Families“. However, the American organization never called itself „Mafia”, but „La Cosa Nostra“ (= „our thing” or „this thing of ours”). In New York there were five traditional „Families“ with Boss, Under-Boss, Consigliere/Consultant, some Capos/Captains and various Soldiers/Members, working together with a variety of Associates. These „Families” controlled many important business sectors & unions. Down in New Jersey (the New York mob called the New Jersey locals somewhat condescending „The Farmers” …), at the beginning of the „Sopranos” TV broadcasting, there were three Capos. One of them had soared up to an „Acting Boss” – without officially taking over the „Family“ – just like Tony Soprano. So he was Capo and Boss at the same time – just like Tony. And, moreover, the two of them were operating in quite the same „business fields”. The name of this mobster was/is Vincent Palermo, called Vinny Ocean. He later on disappeared into a witness protection program – like so many mobsters in the last 25 years. Others sit in jail, were shot dead by former companions or turned towards new activities. The „Families“ in their old structures – with their enormous power, influence & wealth – no longer exist. Of course remainders of the American Cosa Nostra Crime Families still exist and are still active somehow – but the good old days are over.

In the 80s the New York Mafia still had a lot of attraction & „glamor“ – quite some people wanted to be part of the „Life“, wanted to be as cool & rich as John Gotti or Michael Franzese. And hang out every now & then in the notorious „Ravenite Social Club“ …

And they all wanna fly much higher than the Empire State / And look down on the others, all those tiny little lights / Of course we take Manhattan – and you bet we take much more / The „Ravenite“ is history – but sure not blood & gore / They’re walking down the „High Line Park“ as light begins to fade / Just basking in that splendid feeling of „I‘ve got it made“ / And they all wanna sit / At the Captain’s Table …

At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, lots of poor Italien immigrants came to the United States, the land of opportunity. Many ended up in the slums of Brooklyn or Harlem, ruled by bitter poverty & crime. To escape this misery, a lot of kids & youngsters joined criminal gangs. And so many Italien immigrants sooner or later came in touch with the Italo-American Mafia, the „Cosa Nostra“ (= this thing of ours). Their thing(s) were bootlegging, drug dealing, car burglary, manipulation of the gasoline prices, illegal gambling, racketeering, corruption, infiltration of unions and more. 

Frank Costello for example, the later „Prime Minister“ of the mob, came to America as a little boy with his parents – spending the Atlantic crossing mainly in a huge cooking pot. Early in his life he urged to escape the poverty of his family & environment. 

Francesco growing up in Harlem / In a Gangsta neighbourhood / Could have been a Prime Minister / Way beyond the Mob, for good …

All his life Costello was seeking education & knowledge, success, elegant suits, prosperity & recognition – he wanted to be a real, respected American. The intelligent boy would have loved to enjoy a good education. Others have been sent to Harvard or Yale, he stated later in life – but I grew up like a mushroom. However, the „fungus“ didn’t want to stay in the rain forever. Francesco Castiglia took on the Irish version of his name, Frank Costello, and conquered the New York underworld at the side of renowned companions such as Arnold Rothstein or Lucky Luciano. 

In the early 30s Charles „Lucky“ Luciano introduced „business structures“ into the Mafia in order to reduce internal problems & violence for the sake of unhindered business activities. This „professionalisation“ shaped the Mafia organisation for decades – although objectives could of course only be met in part. And „Lucky“ himself has been imprisoned already in the mid-30s (and has been deported to Italy in the mid-40s).

A little later Lucky‘s long-time confidant Frank Costello took over the „Family“. Frank was the best networker the Mafia ever had – and will have, I guess. He made contacts with the highest circles of power & arts – from famous politicians & judges all the way to well-known writers & actors. He could have been a big gun in the real world for sure – under different circumstances. All his life Costello was a troubleshooter & reconciler – not really into violence & murder. Already as a teenager & young man he tried to mediate between the Italien, Irish and Jewish „Kosher“ Mafia. Fellows of Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello like Benjamin „Bugsy“ Siegel or financial genius Meyer Lansky (both with Jewish roots) repeatedly were insulted by „Family“ peers like Vito Genovese, calling them unwelcome strangers & intruders. Frank Costello’s clear response: „Shut the f*ck up, we are all immigrants here …“  Later on his English got more sophisticated …

Thinking back of Frank Costello / Trying hard to be much more / Than just a rich & famous mobster / Something well worth living for …

Frank had ideals and he wanted to follow them. He's helped a lot of people – in the US as well as in the old country. He wanted to have a good night's sleep and a little peace of mind. He sure was one of the most interesting figures in the American Mafia history. 

But let me be clear: Frank Costello was not a „guiding light“, but a wily tactician who manipulated & corrupted the New York elite in order to follow his gambling businesses without interruption. He charmingly & cleverly combined the bright sides of life with the dark & abysmal ones. But it still remains astonishing that a comparatively „softy“ could be Godfather of New York for quite a long time. In such a ruthless, bloodthirsty organisation like the Cosa Nostra which took no prisoners. He must have known a thing or two about human beings, human ambitions & abysses. 

To a young banker Costello once said: „See my friend – we are basically doing the same thing: We are gambling with other people’s money – I do so in my Casinos, and you on Wall Street.“ Who on earth could contradict? Allegedly it was the beginning of a long friendship …

Frank said to the boys on Wall Street / We are doing the same thing / Gambling with the people’s money / In the casino – in the ring …

If you want to learn more about the US Mafia history, I especially recommend the lovely videos by „Bloodletters & Badmen“. Here‘s a little taste:

„Gambino Underboss - Thomas Bilotti“
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TnzPS1ikBy8

The Mafia of New York & New Jersey fell apart after the „Gotti Era“: Too many trench wars, too many needless fights, too many personal vanities … and far too many „Family“ members who defected to the authorities, who flipped in droves. The influential „Families“ of New York & New Jersey don’t exist anymore – at least not in the traditional form.

Back in the days „La Cosa Nostra“ / Kept a check on half the towns / But the lines blurred to Big Finance / And the Entertainment Clowns …

The ducks never came back.

Remember Tony in the back yard / Starring at the swimming pool / When all the ducks had left the mansion / And the boss felt like a fool …

Maybe they preceded Tony over the (very) big pond, to the happy (duck) hunting grounds … After all, who can tell …

And maybe Tony, Chris, Frank and all the others have somehow found some sort of peace in the end.

„We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances“ told us film critic & journalist Roger Ebert, before he passed away in 2013. „We must try. I didn’t always know this and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.“ His favorite composer was Nino Rota, whose music embodies "The Godfather".

In Nick Hornby’s book & film „High Fidelity“, the main character Rob says (back in the 80s): “Is it wrong, wanting to be at home with your record collection? It's not like collecting records is like collecting stamps, or beermats, or antique thimbles. There's a whole world in here, a nicer, dirtier, more violent, more peaceful, more colorful, sleazier, more dangerous, more loving world than the world I live in; there is history, and geography, and poetry, and countless other things …” 

Music is indeed a wonderful companion – anywhere. Through summer & all your life.
And yeah: Try to remember the times that were good!
Enjoy & let the music play!



PS: More songs, blog posts & videos: 

„10 Songs for Life & 2 Songs for Summer!“
http://www.besser-fernsehen.ch/blog/entry/10-songs-for-life-2-songs-for-summer.html

„10 inspiring Thoughts & Videos for the Holidays“
http://www.besser-fernsehen.ch/blog/entry/10-inspiring-thoughts-videos-for-the-holidays-1.html

„Sun Deck Song“ & „Falling into Presence“
www.besser-fernsehen.ch/songs.html

Inspiring videos (right column, all the way down, behind German titles mostly English videos)
www.besser-fernsehen.ch

 

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Welcome „At the Captain’s Table“!
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