Our editor-at-large marvels at the usage of the Drifters' 1960 hit, ''This Magic Moment,'' to set the scene for a murder by Bobby Bacala. Plus: Elliott Gould's finest role, the awesome nerdiness of Fountains of Wayne, and more!

By Ken Tucker
April 10, 2007 at 04:00 AM EDT
Ben E. King: Ivan Keeman / Redferns / Retna

5 Reasons to Live: murder music on ”The Sopranos”

1. The music on The Sopranos
(HBO, Sundays at 9 p.m.)
The season opener concluded with the Drifters’ 1960 hit ”This Magic Moment” rising up from the silence following the reluctant murder committed by Bobby Bacala. Ben E. King’s soaring voice, as Bobby holds his little daughter and gazes out on calm waters, may first have seemed a little too on-the-nose for the subtle Sopranos, but in fact, like that water, its surface beauty also implied a bottomless depth. Eloquent silences that swell into crude noise have always been creator David Chase’s way of pacing episodes (last week, it was the Monopoly game that turned into a brawl; this Sunday, wait for the inevitable moment a bathrobed Tony pads down his driveway one more time for the morning paper). ”This Magic Moment,” like so many of The Sopranos‘ music choices, reminds you of the sometimes-evanescent gorgeousness of pop culture, and the raw life from which it springs.

2. April Is ”National Poetry Month,” So Read Waterlight: Selected Poems
(By Kathleen Jamie, Graywolf Press)
The Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie describes ordinary things — a puddle, a brooch, some frogs — with the rhythm of plain speech made starkly dramatic. Let this bit of startling casualness hit you, from the poem ”Pioneers”:

their remains now strewn
across the small-town
museums of Ontario;
the axe and plough, the grindstone,
the wife by the cabin door
dead, and another sent for.”

3. Elliott Gould in The Silent Partner
(1978, on DVD)
The ’70s were Gould’s decade: yeah, sure, I’ll give you M*A*S*H, but even better were his radical professor in Getting Straight, his shambling Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye, his coolly desperate gambler in California Split, and, closing out the decade, his mild-mannered bank-clerk-turned-thriller-protagonist in this tightly wound Canadian film written by Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and directed by Daryl Duke. (And can we please get Duke’s 1973 country-noir Payday on DVD, for heaven’s sake?) After this, Gould was headed for the ’80s hell that commenced with The Devil and Max Devlin, but in The Silent Partner, he was still in blissful command.

4. ”Hotel Majestic” on Fountains of Wayne’s Traffic and Weather
(Virgin Records)
I get the feeling FoW have already passed from cult darlings to unhip strivers among cool-cat tastemakers, but the hell with that: We need the duo of Adam Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood. They put word-power in their pop, composing taut couplets with frequent interior rhymes, name-checking Costco, light blue Dockers, and The King of Queens as their way of keepin’ it real. On the great ”Hotel Majestic,” they make their Steely Dan move, going all jazzily discursive on the subject of cranking out music while holed up like hermits. ”Hotel Majestic” is Schlesinger and Collingwood’s version of Becker and Fagen’s ”Do It Again.” American Idol-schmidle — these guys win all the votes for American songcraft.

5. Sex and Panic in Gil Brewer’s The Vengeful Virgin
(Hard Case Crime paperback)
In this new reprint of Brewer’s 1958 variation on Double Indemnity, a callous salesman falls for a babe who’s virtuous on the outside, poison on the inside, and hot all over. (”I knew I’d never get enough of her. She was straight out of hell.”) They plot to kill her ailing old stepfather for his money… but — you know — things go wrong. Brewer is good at capturing the panic that sets in when criminal acts go awry; exactly halfway through the novel, our narrator confides to us, ”I guess maybe it was right about here that the whole thing turned into a nightmare,” and then the momentum never stops.