In his time as the mob’s most vividly ardent chronicler, South Philadelphia-born author George Anastasia has penned the most definitive, and decidedly dramatic newspaper features and non-fiction books on the hard truths, weird myths and blood-filled mirth of the Mafia. “It’s Americana,” said Anastasia of the continuing epic that is the mob. “The Mafia has become a brand like anything else.” Along with laughing about the truthfulness of the Jimmy Hoffa tale behind Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro’s “The Irishman” film (“Hollywood loves that unsolved crime story. … It doesn’t matter what’s real”), Anastasia knows well that all the world loves a bad guy.
Now, the man responsible for “Gotti Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia,” and volumes on the Scarfo family (“Blood and Honor”) and New Jersey capo Robert Previte (“The Last Gangster”), is giving his storytelling abilities an era-appropriate musical twist at Pitman Gallery & Art Center on June 15, with “Mobsters and the Songs They Love.”
Currently working on several concepts that he is not at liberty to discuss, Anastasia can always quench the thirst of those who crave an entrancing spin on the mob, as he avidly keeps track of all aspects and nationalities geared toward criminal group activity. Discussing everyone from the Russian to the Asian mobs in Philly, Anastasia said, pragmatically, that, the most potent crime organization in terms of making money “is one we're not even aware of,” he said. “The idea is to stay under the radar. The groups doing well — we shouldn’t know what they’re doing.” Anastasia goes on to point out that the Philly mob’s undoing came with any-and-all of its self-serving celebrity. “That didn’t happen during the Angelo Bruno days. You couldn’t do that.”
Talking about Joey Merlino’s recent success in avoiding a retrial in a racketeering case that ended with a hung jury in February, we agreed that though not made of Teflon, “Skinny Joey” is indeed coated in ArmorAll. “He did succeed here, and managed to dance away from many serious charges, but he’s done his time in prison. He’s paid a serious price. The Feds are always going to be on him.”
Closer to home, however, is Anastasia’s Pitman, New Jersey event on June 15 with saxophonist Denis DiBlasio and guitarist Brian Betz that finds the author recounting the pulpy realities of the mob throughout the 20th Century with a soundtrack appropriate to each year he’s discussing. “Denis — my wife’s cousin — had the idea for this. We hang out a lot, and one night we’re out for dinner and stop at this art gallery near where we live He walks off, talks to the owner, next thing you know, he says ‘we got a gig.’ Totally on the fly.”
Without glamorizing the mob’s ethos, the concept of “Mobsters and the Songs They Love” — in accordance with Professor DiBlasio’s courses at Rowan University, is to fit music into historical and social context, and vice versa. “I’m going to talk about the mob from the early days in New Orleans up through Chicago during Prohibition through which jazz was heard in the speakeasies of that time — these venues were a great starting place for some innovative music – before moving onto the mob making Las Vegas a platform, which is where the Rat Pack and that sound comes in, “ said Anastasia of mixing the underworld of any given time period to the music of its era. To make an even finer point, Anastasia recounts the time — his time — of growing up and vacationing at his grandmother’s house in Atlantic City during the 1950s. “My parents thought nothing of giving me a dollar and telling me to hit the Boardwalk arcades. I’d always walk down Missouri Avenue past the 500 Club, Skinny D’Amato’s place. When Sinatra or Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis was in town, there was a noticeable buzz. Sinatra’s songs from that era — say, “Fly Me to the Moon” — bring it all back for me.”
Lest you think Anastasia is turning into a spoken word artist, think again, “Mobsters and the Songs They Love” is is but a fascinating sideline for the author (even though he is considering bringing this to the larger stages of Roan U, if June 15 is successful. “Look, some people – some Italians - think we’re glamorizing the crime side of the heritage, and knocking them down because their names end in a vowel,” said Anastasia to Amorosi. “I say any ethic group that gave us Antonin Scalia and Camille Paglia in the same generation is doing all right, You have to know where you’re coming from – the Mafia is the dark side of a bright story.”
If you go
Catch Anastasia's “Mobsters and the Songs They Love” at Pitman Gallery & Art Center, 59 S. Broadway, Pitman, New Jersey 08071. Call (856) 553-7757 for more info.