Thursday, April 19, 2007

Volz on "The Sopranos"

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family, Sam "The Plumber" DeCavalcante

OK, I was the only person in town who missed the opening of the new, and last, season of "The Sopranos."

The SopranosI love the show but I don't have HBO.

I have been watching re-runs every Wednesday at 9 on A&E.

So, do me a favor. Honor the mob's code of silence. Don't tell me how it all ends. I will find out whether Tony goes out with a bang or a whimper a couple of years from now on A&E.

Surely, though, "The Sopranos" is the greatest show on the tube since the early days when classics like "Playhouse 90" used to run live.

I particularly like Tony and his crew because they are from my home state, New Jersey. I almost tear up when I see those opening credits, Tony tooling out of the Lincoln Tunnel and around that highway ramp, past the Weehawken town hall (my first beat as a reporter), on out to his home in the Caldwells.

New Jersey was a Mafia-dependent state. Our economy would have tanked without the mobsters. They made our pizzas, ran our four-star restaurants, built our highways, kept our politicians in pocket money and operated gambling before casinos became legal.

The Mafia was a full-service provider. And an equal opportunity employer who hired black hitmen once in a while.

If you lived in Jersey, you either had a relative in the mob or knew somebody who did. It was just a way of life. But you might ask: "Hey are "The Sopranos" for real? Did mobsters really do those terrible things?"

The answer is: "Yes."

Sure "The Sopranos" are a caricature. No self-respecting mobster would go to a shrink, for example, like Tony does. But mobsters actually talked, in real life, like they were characters in a Soprano episode. I wrote a book, "The Mafia Talks," on the real New Jersey Mafia, the DeCavalcante family back in the 1960s and read hundreds of pages of wiretap transcripts provided by the FBI.

The boss, the late Sam "The Plumber" DeCavalcante, worried about the safety of a couple of hitmen he was sending out to kill someone. "Now be careful," he said. And an unrepentant young kid named Itchie, about to be gunned down, philosophized, "If you gotta do it, you gotta do it."

The transcript was replete with tales of rubouts, arson for the insurance money and bragging about who had the most powerful crime family.

One thing "The Sopranos" show does not do is glorify these thugs. They were murderous with absolutely no moral compass.

They were not men of honor, despite all of their mouthings about having a code to live by. Their code was greed and power and violence. There were no Boy Scouts in that group, no role models. For a year, I covered the Mafia full-time.

I must say one thing in the mob's defense. Its behavior towards reporters was impeccable. Nobody called up and threatened me despite the hundreds of stories I did chronicling their crimes. Nobody sued for libel, although one mobster wanted me to testify as a character witness. He definitely was a character but I turned down his request.

No Mafioso banned me from his restaurant like a Frederick politician threatened to do. And although a number of local pols are constantly moaning and threatening to have me fired for what I write in Frederick, no mobster tried that in New Jersey.

Mobsters realized that no publicity is the best publicity.

Of course, they didn't have to run for political office. They bought, or rented, the best politicians available. In New Jersey, there was an endless supply.

Thanks to Joe Volz

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