Frank Sinatra and His Many
Nights & Days Left Inside Us
Frankie was the singer baby boomers loved to hate. But then along came maturity, and the recognition of his maverick spirit, and they finally connected with the Chairman of the Board. By then, he’d already earned the nickname that the so-called Greatest Generation had given him: The Voice. Still, he never seemed to care much about that sort of stuff.
That’s part of the allure of Frank Sinatra, who’d be 100 this Saturday: first he grew on the very people who grew up with him. They were enthralled and disgusted, at times sympathetic and repulsed about every one of his ups and downs. And he had many, collected as sobriquets, each marking a distinct moment of his trajectory. And then, he got to you.
The great swinger was a reference point to the popular music that animated and chastised the many revolutions of the 20th century, with two world wars to boot. He also added a few deep sulks of his own to its history. Like sex, for instance, arguably his greatest contribution as an interpreter, and the differential between his art and that of other crooners of his time.
It permeated his whole carrier, from the screaming teenage girls, anticipating Beatlemania by decades, to the virile enunciation and graceful phrasing of his maturity, to the weariness of his final years of artistic brilliance, in the early thunders of the rock and roll explosion. He faced the decline of his vocal chords prowess with the stoicism of a fallen hero.
As Sinatra progressed towards irrelevance, a man who’d conquered one too many heartbreaks to count, he could no longer understand the primeval beat that had replaced the precise jazz syncopation he used to excel at. The urgency and straightforwardness of rock lyrics offended his American Standards-educated sensibility. Even his political sympathies were out of step with the times. (more)
* The Standards
* 50 Summers
The assassination of JFK was his rupture with a liberal bent he’d developed until them, and his re-embrace of the mob culture from which he’d spent many a decade trying to runaway from. Sinatra became a war supporter and hated ‘those damn long-haired freaks’ (our quote) who looked as if they wanted to burn the idyllic America that had finally crowned him a king.
The final insult from this ‘foreign’ country came in 1994, when the Grammy cut short his Lifetime Award acceptance speech, marking with disrespect his last appearance in front of millions worldwide. By then, it was clear that his legendary wrath was feared by no one in the industry anymore; the old lion got the emasculating treatment reserved to the frail and the elderly.
In the cynical, epistolary canon of American culture, his sin was to have survived to old age, unlike that other icon run over by the revolution he had helped create: Elvis Presley. While the Pelvis had an undignified and as far-from-his-prime death as practically few other gargantuan idols had, compared to Sinatra, he was actually spared at least two decades of embarrassment.
Both had significant moments in the 1960s, one in the beginning, the other near the end, no small feat for a decade that never belonged to either of them. But while Elvis peaked in the 1950s, Sinatra had many early career high points, a few plateaus between the 1930s and 40s, and an impressive middle age, still swinging, and oblivious to what was supposed not to last.
The most curious confluence between them was a none-too inspiring Paul Anka song, which they both turned into competing signatures: My Way sold millions but was neither an accurate epitaph, nor a high point of their artistic achievement. Their rich catalogs would’ve stood out better without its overwrought operatics and cliche romanticism.
Speaking of achievements, no one interpreted America’s highest contribution to music, the classic Standards, as Frank Sinatra. He recorded almost all the great composers of popular song this country has ever produced, and each of his interpretations encapsulated a moment in time, the context of an entire era, and the spirit of the century.
The generation that awoke us from the Vietnam nightmare, fought for a sexual revolution, and believed in an impossible dream, went on to hate the ‘wrong’ Sinatra, the one past his prime, cranky, misogynist, and ultimately retrograde. The opposite of the youthful boy from Hoboken who crossed the Hudson River to became a titan.
The 1960s has receded now as far from the present as the prewar music felt like then to 20-year olds, and not nearly as visceral. It’s just as easy to cast an eye back to that era as it is to what came before. Rock and roll is now a fading memory, no longer as incandescent as it once was. Suddenly, that old pal’s soothing moaning begins to make sense to baby boomers.
They’ve got reacquainted with the arch of Sinatra’s life and found redemption with the man who sang about solitude, despair, lost dreams, and longing with a voice steeped in resilience. That’s how he grabs you: by the throat and by your heartstrings. It’s the kind of hold no one is built to resist. That’s how Frank Sinatra gets to you.
Here’s to you, Frankie; here’s for the memories.