The problem with Americanaland, begins with its subtitle: Where Country & Western Met Rock 'n' Roll. It's catchy and marketable, this idea that a diverse genre represents a meeting of two great streams of American popular music. But it's also reductive and misleading, and worse, racially obtuse. To be clear, I am not imputing any bigotry, intentional or otherwise, to the author. It's just that the limitations of the "country meets rock 'n roll" rubric —and the scant attention paid to Black music throughout the book—results in an incomplete and skewed account that avoids confronting some of Americana's pertinent and challenging issues.
Aaron S. Lecklider's revelatory account of a relationship that was "never easy"
Mauro Durante, the leader of the Italian modern roots band Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (CGS) and Justin Adams, the British guitarist known for his work with Robert Plant, Tinariwen an Sinead O'Connor, discuss making the new CGS album Meridiana, under Covid-19's challenging conditions and suspended time.
The quotidian experiences of those forced to leave their homes and families to seek better lives, or just to stay alive, are at the heart of 4:00 AM, the new album by Delgres, the Paris-based, blues-rock trio led by guitarist and vocalist Pascal Danae. The follow-up to their 2018 debut, Mo Jodi, the band's sophomore outing offers a cohesive and moving response to the ongoing crises of displacement and forced migration experienced mainly by people of the Global South
Enzo and Lorenzo Mancuso talk about their album, their work in theater and film, and other milestones of their more than three-decade career -- and their own experience as emigrants
A short story about an aspect of Sicily that may surprise, published in the literary journal Ovunque Siamo
A short story I published in the May 2020 issue of Ovunque Siamo, a new online literary journal
New Orleans' two great Louis, Armstrong and Prima, were formed by their hometown and its culture; though both left the city, it never left them or their music. They were both artists and entertainers, gifted musicians, and unabashed crowd-pleasers. My PopMatters report from New Orleans about the annual Satchmo Summerfest and the New Orleans' Jazz Museum's Louis Prima exhibition.
PopMatters feature article about Sicilian author Andrea Camilleri, internationally known for his series of Inspector Montalbano novels, who died in July 2019.
In Which Side Are You On? 20th Century American History in 100 Protest Songs, James Sullivan sets out to "tell the story of modern American democracy" through 100 songs that "span a century of petition in the name of social progress." In nine chapters, the author explores the connections between social movements in the US — nonviolence, labor, civil rights, feminism, environmentalism, free speech, gay rights, immigration rights, and anti-nuclear activism — and songs that either emerged from or came to be associated with those causes.
My interview with author Christopher Castellani about his novel Leading Men (2019), a speculative fiction about Tennessee Williams, his lover Frank Merlo, and some of the famous people in their lives.
This essay is my contribution to The Routledge History of the Italian Americans (2018), a major work of historical scholarship about Italian immigration and the history of Italians in America.
My short story, "The Kingdom of Two Sicilies," published in the online literary journal Ovunque Siamo
New Orleans' huge gay Labor Day bash began as bohemian bar crawl. It is now New Orleans' third-largest festival, after Mardi Gras and JazzFest. My Gay City News article explores the history of Southern Decadence and chronicles the 2018 edition.
Sicilian saxophonist Francesco Cafiso talks about Sicilian immigration to New Orleans, his experiences in the Crescent City, and jazz as democracy
Bettye Lavette's new album offers supremely soulful renditions of 12 Bob Dylan songs.
Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans, documents a heretofore obscure but significant piece of Crescent City culture. Howard Philips Smith, who began writing about New Orleans gay life in the '80s, brings a journalist's attention to detail and a social historian's focus on lived experience to his account of "gay Carnival", from the '50s to the present.
In 1995, I interviewed the great saxophonist Joe Lovano for the journal Voices in Italian Americana (VIA)about his career in jazz, and how his Sicilian background has influenced his music.
Mafia Movies encourages mafia aficionados to explore the rich variety of classics and rarities within the genre with provocative analyses of over forty films. The essays in this volume provide a comprehensive exploration of the myth of the mafia onscreen, identifying key features and connections to styles such as film noir, thrillers, and even westerns. Mafia Movies also questions whether there are uniquely American or Italian ways of depicting the mafia, exploring how filmmakers from both countries have approached the subject in divergent ways.
"This collection offers a fresh re-reading and re-imagining of Italian Americans in film, from actors to directors, from subject to agency. The trans-Atlantic discourse that emerges from these keenly insightful essays offers a guidepost for future analyses. As we come to understand the evolving paradigm of Italian Americans, whose cinematic representation has long been object of discussion and debate, Mediated Ethnicity constitutes a prismatic lens through which the contemporary viewer/reader may re-discover the cultural positioning of Italians in America." - John Tintori Associate Arts Professor and Chair, Graduate Film Program New York University Tisch School of the Arts
(Faber and Faber/Farrar, Straus, Giroux)
"For years, Italian antidefamation groups have denounced "The Sopranos," as well as such films as "The Godfather" and "GoodFellas," for reinforcing stereotypes ... De Stefano elevates this argument beyond a routine diatribe into a thoughtful, thorough analysis tracing the evolution of these vexing pop-culture icons, why their "dangerous allure" remains an enduring attraction, and how they impact perceptions about Italian-Americans."
A whip-smart meditation on the power of ethnic myth, in this instance the one that supposes that to be an Italian American is by definition to walk among the dons and the goombahs. The Mafia, some say, is fading away. But "if the mob indeed is dying, American popular culture tells a different story," writes cultural critic De Stefano. Thanks to The Sopranos, organized crime has been restored in the popular imagination to its proper role as heart and heart" of italianità. So culturally accurate is the show, De Stefano allows, that it may not be possible to correct that perception; even as the mobsters surrounding Tony Soprano take their cultural cues from earlier Mob classics—particularly The Godfather, the touchstone of it all--there are few pop-culture pieces that do not echo The Sopranos, few that depict Italian Americans as being, well, just plain folks without conniving, murderous streaks to wrestle with. De Stefano writes elegantly of self discoveries: As a bearded radical (à la Al Pacino's Serpico, one imagines) just beginning to be aware of being gay, he was still thrilled by Don Corleone, only to wonder later whether there weren't more to the story. He examines the rise of the mobster in popular culture, tracing its origin to the 1930 film The Doorway to Hell (and not, as many histories do, to the following year's Little Caesar), and follows its course through the thick stereotypes of the Untouchables era, to the pensive doings of Martin Scorsese's rebel gangsters and, finally, to David Chase's current depictions, which have anti-defamation groups at a constant boil. Should they be so bothered? De Stefano is sympathetic, but he wonders whether an unlinking from the mob and all its symbolism might not mean "the end of the Italian American as a protagonist in American popular culture." What's worse, to be seen in a negative light--or to not be seen at all? A good question, and a very good source for those who like to scratch below the surface. Kirkus Reviews
“De Stefano knows the gangster genre inside out, making it a pleasure to follow his thoughts on favorites like ‘The Sopranos,’ ‘Donnie Brasco,’ ‘Goodfellas’ and the ‘Godfather’ trilogy, as well as lesser-known films like ‘A Bronx Tale.’"
Marilyn Stasio -- New York Times Book Review
“…De Stefano takes a careful look at the appeal of the Mafia in popular culture: how the image of the Italian gangster developed and how it affects Italian-Americans. He traces the evolution of the gangster in film, from the "roguishly charming" Irish gangster (James Cagney in Public Enemy) to the sinister Italian who replaced him (Paul Muni in Scarface). Southern Italian immigrants, who came to the U.S. in unprecedented waves, were seen as "unassimilable... irreducibly foreign" (according to an 1883 New York Times editorial), and De Stefano presents their history and the history of the Mafia, debunking some commonly held ideas, especially the myth that the Mafia is rooted in a centuries-old Sicilian tradition. De Stefano meticulously documents books, TV and films, especially the Godfather series, the work of Martin Scorsese and The Sopranos. He cites Italian-American writers and academics on how the perception of Italians as mobsters affects the community and contributes his own responses. And despite his conclusion that the Mafia "is now the paradigmatic pop culture expression of Italian-American ethnicity," De Stefano allows that Italians have succeeded in mainstream America. The book lacks a narrative arc, but the author has done a fine job with a complex and provocative subject. -- Publishers Weekly
“Not a history of organized crime but a study of how we think about organized crime, more precisely about Italians and crime. . . Valuable and interesting.”
Elliott J. Gorn -- Chicago Tribune
"Finally, a book that helps to explain America’s enduring fascination with the mythology of the Mafia." -- John Turturro