A Soprano Sings

How one East Side writer won international acclaim

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There are certain memoirs that can’t be written until you’re sure that your parents are dead. Providence-born Robin Green’s recently published life’s story, The Only Girl, is clearly one of them.

One of Providence’s great writing success stories, Green describes her early years on the East Side, growing up “in the smallest house on Wayland Avenue.” She excelled at Classical High School and earned a scholarship to Brown – but before long we’re taken on a wild, raucous, and often raunchy ride that started right after college and led to a celebrated career as the first woman on the masthead of Rolling Stone magazine. Later, she earned an Emmy award and financial success as the executive producer and lead writer for the The Sopranos, among other TV hits.

Green starts with humorous recollections of her role as an active participant in the sexual revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s – and even drops in a tasteful picture or two to prove it. But she’s equally forthcoming in describing her contentious relationship with her mom and her lifelong battle to deal with it. Though Green reveals more details than we really need to know, it adds texture that will be particularly interesting to those of us who have grown up in Providence. And having mob boss Raymond Patriarca as a neighbor certainly provided some memories that served her well in her Soprano scripts.

She describes in florid strokes what it was like to live through those early turbulent and over-the-top days in both San Francisco and New York On the one hand, it was a time when the options available for women were limited, the glass ceiling seemingly locked on the second floor. Gradually, women’s empowerment took hold, along with a sexual freedom that was embraced by both genders, and Green was right there, perfectly positioned at the epicenter of the both revolutions.

With this memoir, Green also tries to make peace with the disappointments that accrued along the way. She shares the heartbreak of the suicide of her best friend and speculates on what she might have done differently to prevent it.

For those of us who live in Providence, the book works on several levels. In addition to the narrative of her own climb off the East Side, detailed names and places provide plenty of local color.  In addition, she adds fascinating details of the battles that were fought to carve out a successful career in California, how she ended up losing her job at Rolling Stone (for sleeping with the subject she was writing about), and why she chose to leave the Sopranos, despite her awards and the show’s unquestioned success.

Despite her love-hate relationship with her hometown, something down deep still draws her back to her roots. She and her husband Mitch have actually returned here as summer residents, renting fancy digs in Little Compton and Watch Hill. And she remains committed to taking an active role as an alum, happily acknowledging the role Classical High School provided to help her move ahead.

Thomas Mann was wrong. You can come home again, but it’s a little bit easier once you’ve come to terms with your family demons and have the wherewithal to look back on that past from a comfortable perch nearby.