Two things to know up front about this definitive oral history of The Sopranos: (i) I read John Robb’s Punk Rock An Oral History a few years back and it remains my definitive view of what an oral history should be (all of the players discussing everything from multiple angles simultaneously); (ii) I’ve not listened to the Talking Sopranos podcast that Imperioli and Schirripa front. Both of these things are relevant in their own way.
Clocking in at just north of 500 pages, Woke Up This Morning takes you through the history of The Sopranos from inception to completion. You may learn things that you did not know before (eg they wanted Lorraine Bracco for the Carmela part, she fought for the role of Dr Melfi). But – and it’s a big but – your enjoyment of this book will largely be predicated on your enjoyment of the back and forth between Imperioli and Schirripa (or should that be Schirripa and Imperioli? Schirripa disputes the implications of alphabetical order at one point) because they carry a lot of the weight here.
Which isn’t to say that you don’t hear from some big hitters (Steve Van Zandt is in here, Edie Falco, Dominic Chianese – who play Silvio, Carmela and Uncle Junior, respectively) as well as the likes of series mastermind David Chase and a fair few of the crew (we hear from casting, we hear from stunt men, we hear from directors of the show). There’s a range, is what we are saying, but they are introduced very much as guests of the rolling Imperioli and Schirripa double-header.
There are running jokes (Imperioli was unfriendly to Schirripa on his first day), there are glimpses of more interesting avenues that don’t tend to get explored (Gandolfini struggled with being Tony Soprano as the show got more famous) and there are glaring omissions (obviously we don’t hear from Gandolfini because he is no longer with us but an oral could include quotes from interviews he’d given previously etc, but there’s no Tony ‘Paulie Walnuts’ Sirico either, and it would have been good to turn the volume up on a whole host of other players.
There are chapters about the music of the show that get a bit click bait-y (we are treated to Michael Imperioli’s top 10 music moments), chapters about how both Imperioli and Schirripa made it to the show (and what they did after – there are a fair few plugs in here for what Imperioli and Schirripa have done since the show, as well as what a handful of others have done too – like, did you know that Meadow and Anthony Jr have their own podcast?), chapters about the writers room etc. Credit is due to Philip Lerman who was no doubt taxed with actually taking all of the conversation and crafting an actual book from it all.
So – it’s fun, for the most part. You will, as we said, likely hear some stories and learn some things you didn’t know before. It’s irritating in places too (there’s no getting around that) – in large part because it does feel like a podcast in book form rather than an oral history, and we’d quibble with the ‘definitive’ because we’d hope that there’s a better book out there than this. The Sopranos deserves better.
Any Cop?: We’d say this is an essential read for fans of the Talking Sopranos podcast, and ever so slightly less essential for Sopranos purists (we’d steer the purists towards Difficult Men, a much more insightful read).