BUCKET LIST ITEM achieved: Shake the hand of the man who wrote the best TV episode ever.

The man turns out to be David Chase, so you think this is another genuflection from some "Sopranos" groupie.

Not so. Chase, in his younger days, also wrote for "The Rockford Files," another great show, though less exalted. Turns out Chase, as I sort of suspected, authored my favorite episode.

PI Jim Rockford gets stuck with a hippie client on the run from a fraudulent New Age cult. She frustrates the detective by answering questions with far-out non-sequiturs: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"

Later she's slapped by the cult's exposed leader, prompting Jim to wonder if THAT is the sound of one clapping.

Do you detect the Chase sensibility?

I think it's there, and also in his first movie, the coming-of-age-in-New Jersey drama "Not Fade Away," steeped in the '60s, when Chase grew up, and in rock-and-roll, his first love.

It's the story of a Jersey teen (John Magaro) whose interest in music takes him from a proscribed suburban life to Los Angeles, looking into the void of a wide-open future. The movie's ending has struck some as enigmatic, and I asked Chase if "Sopranos" fans might find stylistic clues in it to help them with the series' infamously abrupt ending.

"I think the ending of 'The Sopranos' is different. What people seem to care about is that they don't know if Tony lived or died. After years of living with Tony Soprano, they needed to know what happened to him," Chase said. "I have a different viewpoint on it, obviously. Certainly he's going to die at one time or another, and that's really the point."

He continued:

"I think this ending is different. [This character] is younger, and you have a much better idea of what might happen. Tony was living under the threat of violence all the time. In six years of programs, we'd seen so many people suddenly killed, it's different. I don't know that this ending will help you understand 'The Sopranos.' "

The lead character in "Not Fade Away" has Chase's career trajectory - he was an artistically-minded kid who left the East Coast for Los Angeles, where he wanted to attend film school.

It was there that Chase, who'd grown up on an American diet of westerns and war movies, started seeing foreign films.

"I saw this movie, 'Cul de Sac,' by Roman Polanski, just four or five people in this drafty old castle. It was so simple. A movie could be that? No armies, no plane crashes? If it's that simple, maybe I could do that," he said.

"That was also the first time I got the feeling it had been created by someone, by an individual. I knew Polanski from 'Repulsion,' I saw that it could be a personal thing."

It's that auteur sensibility that Chase brought to "The Sopranos," one of the reasons so many critics and fans regard it as ground-breaking. "I don't want to sound grandiose," said Chase, "but, factually speaking, I think 'The Sopranos' is the first time in a drama series people had used their own lives as source material."

Chase mines his past also for "Not Fade Away," rooted in his love of rock and the Rolling Stones in particular.

I asked him if '60s-era Chase would have imagined the Stones would still be touring 50 years later.

"I think it's great. These are musicians. It's what they do for a living. They're showmen and musicians and itinerant bluesmen."