David Chase's Rock & Roll Fantasy
Credit: Photograph by Mark Seliger
Chase's first cut of 'Not Fade Away' was nearly three hours long. Over the past eight months, he's been whittling it down, and now, finally, he has a final cut (seven minutes shorter than the version I see), which debuted in October at the New York Film Festival. But, as usual, he doesn't seem to be in an especially celebratory mood. "Happy and David wouldn't be words I'd put in the same paragraph," says E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who played Silvio Dante on 'The 'Sopranos'' and also served as producer and music supervisor on the new movie.

It doesn't help that Chase is suffering from writer's block for the first time in his life – one of the reasons he's been back in therapy lately, an awkwardly meta-complicated experience, post-'Sopranos.' "It came in the wake of finishing the movie," he says. "It's probably also in the wake of finishing the show. It's in the wake of something. My own wake." He laughs.

Chase doesn't trust writers who don't agonize. He once called a new 'Sopranos' writer who had been working on his first script for a week, and the writer cheerfully informed him that he was finished. "Are you sure?" Chase asked him, suggesting he take more time. "That's awfully quick." The writer said it was as good as he could make it, and he turned it in. "It was awful," Chase recalls. "Something about that attitude annoyed me, so I got rid of him."

Chase says his reputation for firing writers is overblown. But as Weiner recalls, the writers' nickname for the Queens-based 'Sopranos' production office was "Survivor: Long Island City." "Everyone was disposable," says Weiner, who joined the show's fifth season. "People don't become friends with you. It's that trench mentality where they're like, 'The new guys come and go. We try not to get attached.' I was always terrified when I was going to get the next script."

As the writers batted ideas around at a table, Chase would often lie on a couch, and sometimes even close his eyes. "He would sort of go into a state," says Weiner. "He was always mulling over, bearing the brunt of the story work. And then all of a sudden, he would be visited by something, hit by a beam, and he would get up and start writing a story on the board one beat at a time. And you would see joy, the glee of aha!"

Chase's vision is precise: He'd reject prospective strippers for the Bada Bing! club for being too pretty, not Jersey enough. While shooting a diner scene for 'Not Fade Away', he realized they were missing the specific variety of egg-cream glass he knew would have been used. Production halted while the crew ran out to other diners to find it. "There's certainly a comparison to Bruce Springsteen," says Van Zandt, who would know. "They're two very visionary, uncompromising guys, and you can't compare them with anyone else. You can't really learn from them, either, because I would not suggest other people attempt what they do. There's a very deep instinct as to what greatness is, and they're not going to stop until they get it. They may occasionally act normally and speak normally, but they're not normal – they're a different species."