Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Unified Shock

I guess this is how news travels in 2013.

I was at the Yankee-Dodger game in the new Bronx ball yard last Wednesday night.  Sometime in the first inning, my friend was looking at his phone and suddenly exclaimed.

"Oh, my God, James Gandolfini died!"

The people around us heard him.  They, too, started to look at their own lifelines or whatever device they use to connect to the world.  I did the same.  I already had two e-mails with the news.

This was happening all over Yankee Stadium.  You could feel it.  You could see almost 41,000 folks suddenly looking at their mobile connections.  I learn later that, in a luxury box downstairs, actor Stephen R. Schirripa, who played Bobby Baccaleri on "The Sopranos" was doing the same thing.  He was getting texts from the likes of Lorraine Bracco and other cast members from the HBO show.  Close friends with their fallen comrade, they were getting the news like the rest of us.

And you could hear the wave cascade across the arena.

Murmur, murmur, murmur, murmur.

This was news traveling at the speed of light.  Or 4G smart phones.

It became all anybody could talk about for several innings.  It's the closest I have felt to other breaking and shocking news that has whacked us all behind the knees over the years.

The explosion of the Challenger.

The shooting of President Reagan.


History buffs will likely recall similar feelings. 

The Dallas motorcade.

The shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald.

The deaths of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

The somewhat sudden death of President Franklin Roosevelt.

In all those cases, it was radio and television breaking in with the details.  You had to be tuned to one of those media to be part of that information thread.  Today, it's almost instantaneous.

It is truly a different world.

And, from what I could see, hear, and feel, it consumed all into a sense of palpable grief.

Here was a guy who was just on TV last week.  Well, not really.  But I just finished re-watching the entire Sopranos series on HBO.  There was a New York connection to the guy as I sat in the warm summer night air that wafted through Yankee Stadium.  He was one of them.  Us.  The memories of this guy were still very fresh.  And, now at the untimely age of 51, he was gone.

And Yankee Stadium, as well as lots of other public places, was feeling it all at once.  A sudden and gripping shock, unexpected as all get out.  I mean, there would be no such crowd murmuring if our phone had told us that Nelson Mandela had just croaked.  That guy's been a favorite bets on death pools for the past ten years.   But, Gandolfini?  He was just here.  Now he's gone.

I was a fan of his work on the Sopranos.  Having just seen the series again, I now was viewing it not for the stories, but the acting choices by the cast.  They were all remarkable, but heads above them all was Gandolfini.  He enveloped the role like it was a tailor-made Hugo Boss suit.  The scenes he did with his two female co-stars, Edie Falco as Carmella and Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi, were acting clinics.  Realistic and organic.  Lives spread out before us.

The news coverage of James Gandolfini's death eventually and almost predictably went over-the-top in our worlds now governed by TMZ cameras.  For Pete's sake, CNN devoted almost all of their on-air time to his passing on Thursday.  New Jersey Governor Chris "Krispy Kreme" Christie announced that the state's flags would fly half-mast.  A bit of an extreme honor, especially since he did the same for drug-addled Whitney Houston and the notoriously adulterer Clarence Clemons. 

It was almost as if a President had died.

We get a little too crazy over celebrity in America these days.  Isolated in our own worlds, we develop uneasy and way-too-close alliances with movie stars, musical icons, and TV characters.  We fail to put them all into their most proper perspective.

But, fittingly, a shock to our systems can transcend all logic.  And, for about an hour last Wednesday night, our unified grief for a guy who was simply a terrific working actor made total sense.

Dinner last night:  Lots of liquid.  It's colonoscopy time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had a slight connection with him. Two years ago, I found him on Facebook and asked him to read my script which has a good part for him.

He replied that he'd read it and thanked me for thinking of him.

A short and gracious note from a talent I'll never get to work with, someone many of us will miss.