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Sopranos

My Very Italian Dad from Jersey Can't Wait for 'The Sopranos' Prequel

He's mad about other things.

by Alex Norcia
Mar 14 2018, 5:30pm

I've only seen my father, Carmine, a handful of times since my parents divorced when I was 18, about a decade ago. He lives in the South now, and I have no idea what he does for a living. He's never told me, and I've never asked. One of the last times we hung out, I picked him up at a Courtyard Marriott in Central New Jersey and drove him to my brother's graduation. This was in 2013. He kept telling me to slow down for fear I'd get pulled over—he had warrants out for his arrest. (For what he never told me, and I never asked.) He didn't have a ticket for the commencement ceremony, and instead of getting one, he "snuck" in by climbing a chain-link fence on the opposite side of the assembled stadium crowd and onto the football field. After it ended, his friend drove him to the train station. Two years later, he was randomly in New York City, where I had moved, and we got drunk at a dumpling place in Chinatown. I haven't seen him since.

We don't often speak, either. When we do talk on the phone, it's usually him ranting, almost always sparked by some major life event. For example: We had an hour-long chat about six months ago, when he called to say my grandfather had died. The talk dovetailed nicely into a story that involved an old friend of his and a prostitute on Craigslist. This is fairly typical: a serious discussion followed by his lengthy tangents.

These conversations—for better or worse—always bring me immense joy. So when I learned David Chase, at long last, officially had plans to make a Sopranos prequel called The Many Saints of Newark, I knew Carmine Norcia would have a lot to say about it. For one, he fucking loved the show. More importantly, he was born in Newark to Italian American parents, and for most of my life, worked at the scrapyard on Malvern Street between Adams and Jefferson that my mom's family has owned since the 70s.

Chase's film reportedly takes place in Newark during the 1967 riots, when the African American and Italian communities feuded for five days after it was believed cops had murdered a black cabdriver inside a precinct house. It was just one riot among hundreds across the nation during what came to be known as the Long, Hot Summer of 1967. This was the season my grandparents left Newark for the suburbs with my father and the rest of the family.

So I called my very Italian father from Jersey up and asked about his experiences watching the show and his predictions for the movie—plot, casting, setting. I tried my best to keep him on topic.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

VICE: What was watching The Sopranos like when it came out?
Carmine Norcia: Everybody in Jersey was watching it. I watched the first episode, and I was like, I'm going to watch this fucking thing until it ends. It just grew. I remember when they were doing the promotions. At that time, I was still working down in Newark. You remember like the seventh episode of the first season? Tony's playing catch with Uncle Junior when he's a kid.

Yes.
And they were Down Neck*. They were on like fucking Walnut or Elm Street. Right near Jefferson Street. At that point, I couldn't tell where they were, and then they were on Oliver Street, right by the bridge to the Ironbound, there is this company—I recognized the awning on the fucking building. I got up off the sofa, and shouted to your mother, "They're Down Neck!" I passed that place going to work all the time.

[*The Ironbound is a working-class neighborhood in Newark's East Ward, also known as "Down Neck," because of the way the Passaic River curves. The term "Ironbound" is said to come from the area's metalworking industry. In the 60s, it was predominantly Portuguese and Italian. The North Ward was also largely Italian.]

And then later on in the episode, Tony's father is on the bus, riding somewhere—he's on a diagonal from Nasto's ice cream. You know that place?

Yes.
Good, cause it has great fucking ice cream. But they're in front of Palumbo's, the hardware store, right by Amelia's, an Italian restaurant I used to go to all the time. She's long out of there, too, Amelia.

I guess that's really the only time the show flashed back.
Yeah, that's a good one, for the prequel. That's why I'm bringing all of this up.

What do you think this film is even going to be about?
It's probably going to be about Tony's father, and Uncle Junior, and Tony's mother—especially how controlling she was. I think that's it—that's what I would do. Explore how much control Livia had over her husband. Like, he never grew in the ranks because Livia was pulling the fucking strings on everything. Behind the scenes, doing fucking this, that, and the other. I mean, James Gandolfini can't be in it. He's dead. Remember that photo I had?

The photo he had. From left to right: Christopher, Tony, Paulie Walnuts, and Silvio. Signed by each.

Yeah. Where did you get that thing? It's hanging in the bathroom now, in Mom's basement.
Beth Ann got it for me. [Beth Ann is my father's cousin.] Beth Ann worked at Paramus Catholic High School. She used to, not anymore. The head janitor at Paramus Catholic High School was James Gandolfini Sr. So Beth Ann's known—go to her fucking Facebook. She's got all kinds of photos. You know when Phil Leotardo was on the lam? They used Beth Ann's friend's house on Lake Street in Newark, up in the North Ward, for when he was supposed to be in Brooklyn or whatever the fuck. They filmed it all in Newark. All of that shit. All those scenes.

I was living in Kearny around then, for a while, you know. All of that—they filmed at Stewart's Root Beer, all along Kearny Avenue, the fucking ports. They shot on the bridge, near Tops Diner. The Clay Street Bridge. I don't know why I'm saying all of this. You probably don't know where any of this shit is.

James Gandolfini and my father's cousin Beth Ann. I followed his instructions and went to her "fucking Facebook." Courtesy of Beth Ann Del Vecchio

I don't.
It's up off the MacArthur Highway, north on 21, toward Belleville—there's a bridge. It's called the Clay Street Bridge. Uncle Junior walks on the Clay Street Bridge. You want to really know about shit, call Dolores. [Beth Ann's mother, my father's aunt.] She lived in Newark forever. She's old now. Talk to her. She doesn't have shit to do.

I'll call her one day.
Call Cousin Jimmy, too. I wish fucking Uncle Paul and Uncle Jerry [my great-grandfather's brothers/my grandmother's uncles] were still alive. They were mob guys fucking back then, when this prequel shit is supposed to be happening. They lived all through the shit. When I was working in Newark, they were still alive. I'd see them. I'd see them at the fucking hot dog stand. All the social clubs were by the scrapyard, too. The one was across the street from Ralphie [my father's friend, whose name has been changed here for reasons that will soon reveal themselves]—that's not there anymore, though. That used to be the Ironbound GOP. They killed a fucking guy on Van Buren Street in Newark. Look that one up. In front of Ironbound GOP in the car. Google that, too. They shot him. So you had that club right there, and then you had another club on, like, Chestnut and Adams. I forget, exactly. But right around there. That was the Bruno-Scarfo's, and the other one was the Lucchese family's, I think.

You should talk to Ralphie, too, because his father was locked up for years. You can call Ralphie up. Actually, I don't know what happened to him. Do you? Did he go off the deep end?

I haven't heard anything. Wasn't he always on the verge of going off the deep end?
Pretty much, yeah. Fucking wild man. Remember when we would go skiing? He was slamming vodka and smoking weed and never slowing down. He smoked weed going up the lift every run. He'd have two Grey Gooses on the rocks for lunch and a side of soda. He'd have a joint in the morning, too. This is the shit they should be putting in the fucking movie.

What was the Newark this prequel is supposed to take place in like?
You see what happened in Newark was, during the 50s and everything... Just compare the statistics between the black population in the 1950s and 1960s. It probably went up 50 percent. There was a huge "white flight" after the riots, and it had started even before they happened. Let's put it this way: I was born in fucking '62—we moved to Watchung [at the time, a working-class town] when I was five. I just remember these stories from when I was younger. The blacks never came into the Ironbound—they never came into the Ironbound even during the riots, because the fucking Italians were standing on the roofs with shotguns. In the North Ward, you know where like Bloomfield Avenue runs, where The Sopranos basically takes place, they were doing it up there, too.

But the Portuguese and the Brazilians obviously went into the Ironbound?
Yeah. The Portuguese have been in the Ironbound for a long time. That's nothing new. Grandma and Poppy [my grandparents] grew up in the Ironbound with the Portuguese—the continental Portuguese have been in the Ironbound forever. A lot of them, second- and third-generation dudes, they're out in the fucking suburbs now, too. Social mobility. That's a whole other story. People leave.

I mean, you've seen Newark—you saw what I dealt with for 20 fucking years. The drugs, the crime. Shit's still not pretty. Imagine dealing with that all fucking day. Write about that some time. Running the fucking scrap line. [For three months, before moving to New York, I worked at the scrapyard for my uncle.] Get out of that fucking bubble you're in.

You think David Chase is going to get it right?
He's all North Ward. It's going to only take place in the North Ward. That'll probably be a mistake. But David Chase is awesome. He changed TV forever. This'll be great. Get that down.

I thought the TV broke the day The Sopranos ended. That ending, man—this'll be great. I'm glad this is happening.

Who's going to be cast? Isn't James Gandolfini's son acting?
I won't get casted, so who cares.

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Tagged:
new jersey
newark
Mafia
Italian
The Sopranos
David Chase
James Gandolfini
Tony Soprano
the many saints of newark
down neck