He was a “joisey boy” born in New Jersey 1961 the midst of Vietnam War. When James Gandolfini was three years old, JFK was assassinated, many believing that loss of that President prolonged the war and its carnage beyond the beyond. James would have grown up seeing television and newsreels of the napalm and deforestations and war protests re the Vietnam of his time, one of the most contentious of all “military engagements” that often was both ground war and guerrilla war underground, in the swamps and caves, in the huts of citizens. James would have been about 14 when Saigon was made to fall. He would have seen the desperation of the citizens handing babies into heliocopters that would rise with mothers and fathers clinging to the runners unable to board, and dropping away to their deaths.
James Gandolfini would have been one of the most pre-eminent young people who grew up in a nation torn apart by drugheads, refusniks, patrician senators, death hawks, martyr doves … a time when it wasnt hair length or free love as some called it, that was divisive. Some fad or other has always been present about presentation and sexuality since the beginning of time. Instead, it was the in your face questioning of authority by kids whose fathers often worked with shovels and tractors or went to daily grind in narrow ties and identical hard sided briefcases.
Yet Gandolfini came from the working class. His mother, named by her mother, Santa… meaning Saint, was straight from the old country, Naples, Italy. She worked in the lunchroom of a high school in Jersey. James’s family was not from the trope of ‘lady stay home, gentleman husband bring home the bacon.’ The latter comfortable reality was a trope of a higher economic class that most often had forgotten or didnt want to remember its long ago farmer/ditch digger/ lunchlady/roots. But the immigrant families, if anything, were never without everyone working, working hard, often for little pay, and in unjust conditions.
James’ father, James Joseph Gandolfini, Sr. born in Bogartaro Italy, came to Jersey, and was a bricklayer. A cement mason. A man with muscles that had muscles. But what mattered more was that James Jr’s father was awarded a Purple Heart in WWII battle. His father in other words had lived through that heartbreaking time of not just war, but war against his own countrymen in Mussolini’s Italy… the dictator of Italy allied with Hitler, whilst the Italians themselves on both sides of the oceans lived and died, often cousin against cousin –that caused the old women and old women to cry out to God for all to be saved.
In this family that spoke Italian blessings over Italian foods and held old Italian traditions, this boy, James Jr. grew up ‘in the old country of Italy whilst in America.’
Although James’obituaries will be filled with tropes about this film and that tv series, this stage debut, and this other thing over here… I sense as much if not more meaning to his life, knowing his life and its influences early on as an ethnic Italian from a family of patronos newly arrived, and the terrors of war right in one’s living room… that these came from that…
In 2007, he produced an HBO documentary on injured Iraq War veterans “and their devotion to America, while surveying the physical and emotional costs of war. Ten surviving soldiers were interviewed by Gandolfini, who revealed their thoughts on the challenges they face integrating back into society and family life. They also reflected on the memories of the day when they narrowly escaped death, and what life may have been like in other circumstances.”
Gandolfini also produced the documentary in 2010, “which analyzed the effects of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) throughout American history, from 1861 to 2010. It featured interviews with American military officials on their views of PTSD and how they are trying to help soldiers affected by it. Letters from soldiers of the American Civil War and World War I who were affected by PTSD are examined, along with interviews with soldiers affected by PTSD and their families.”
This part, this sacred part of his life, of he himself choosing to ask, and then tell the stories of those from war usually silenced, I believe was as great a contribution as his Soprano series and other of his consummate acting venues. For he was born during the fire of war played out daily within his purview. He comes from the generation of kids whose war veteran fathers went silent about what they saw and what they did in war… not because they were heroic, but because they were suffering massive effects of PTSD that at the time, was considered a sign of weakness in men, instead of the heart and souls PROPER reaction to being ordered to do various:see/hear/smell/ bury/watch helplessly… as old men ordered the young to their graves.
Gandolfini, of the venerable ancient name, was in Rome, Italy, land of his blood, when he died yesterday at age 51. Though he’ll be remembered for his stage and small screen and large screen acting, the spirits that be of the men and women and children who died in the wars of his and his father’s time, the wars and mayhem during and after that James was steeped in, no doubt so thank him and greet him warmly now, for his having told the stories they themselves could not tell… stories that cannot and should not remain buried so old men can blithely continue to demand the youth of the young be taken from them by fiat.
Resquiat in pacem James Joseph. You did good.