A Century’s Voice

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)
Read Also:
* The Standards
* 50 Summers
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The Standards

Songs That Make You Long For
What You’ve Hardly Experienced

For the generation that grew up during the cultural turmoil of the 1960s, a lot of what it was determined to break free from was the placidity, conformity, and political conservatism of the U.S. in the 1950s. The rock’n’roll explosion only made that rupture more visible.
But there was a world that preceded it, marked by two wars, where ideological conflict, social hardship, and technological impact, helped shape a musical tradition that proved itself as one of the greatest cultural achievements of our era: the American Standards.
2015 may turn out to be a landmark year, as milestone anniversaries are bound to shed light on such a rich tradition and its main protagonists. Billie Holiday, Billy Strayhorn, and Frank Sinatra, are just but three of such luminaries who would’ve been 100 this year.
And so would Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Les Paul, all giants on their own, whose association with early country, blues, and jazz insert them, permanently, into the mainstream of American music. But it was the deceptively lowly popular song format what helped usher the Standards into an art form.
To many, the addition of Eastern European Jewish melodies, the Klezmer and other Gipsy traditions, to rhythms and syncopations of African tribal beats, converging for two centuries to the U.S., was what created the two main streams of American music, Blues and Jazz. The Great American Songbook is a worthy heir to those two.
It was also a rare combination of a few generations of extremely talented composers and musicians, with race and immigrant blood running in their veins, that took advantage of a nascent record industry, and offered the perfect antidote to the bleakness and economic despair of the early 1900s in the just industrialized world.

Armed conflicts helped spread that sense of urgency – French songbird Édith Piaf would also be 100 this year – with vaudeville, music hall, variety theater, and a general cultural miscegenation of sorts, all fit snugly into 3-minute songs that encapsulated a badly needed sense of hope for the era.
Even though such gems were not exclusively American, it was in the U.S. that the genre thrived and produced some of the most memorable and enduring melodies and lyrics ever written in English. Then, they were supposed to be about escapism and romance. Now, they can be enjoyed for their distilled wisdom and artistry.
Which is odd, since those Tin Pan Alley composers were working overtime to meet an inflated demand for hits. But what their produced then, under pressure, now betrays none of the rush with which they were writing them at that time; the craftsmanship of some of these songs still has few peers compared with much of those that came after.
The songwriters created an alternative universe, where longing, redemption, and the allure of romance is always within reach, even when they refuse to concede the singer the grace of happiness and fulfillment. At times, the world these songs promise or allude to was the only world worth living for, even if only for a few minutes.

Lovers who wished to be reunited with their dears, warriors whose losses made them cry silently for the first time, common people who saw their world coming apart right in front of their eyes, found comfort in these lyrics that invite them to dance, to dream, and to remain hopeful for another shot at life.
Thankfully, the great majority of American Standards stayed clear of any exacerbated patriotism or xenophobic Continue reading

New Orleans Reborn

The Pain Is Still Big &
It Hasn’t Got Any Easier

It’s been five years since Hurricane Katrina slammed the Louisiana coast, drowning New Orleans, killing over 1,800 and leaving more than $80 billion worth of damage on its wake. It was one of the darkest hours among so many dark hours of the Bush administration.
Before any help was at hand, wave after wave pummeled the Big Easy and leveled some of its poorest neighborhoods. Entire city blocks were destroyed beyond recognition and remain covered in debris. A lot of what’s been known about the place may have disappeared for good.
Residents who could not flee the city in time sough refuge in the ill-prepared Superdome and Convention Center, where soon enough they ran out of food, water and minimal hygiene. In fact, conditions were so unsanitary that the corpses of many who died there remained for days side by side with the barely living.
The reputation of federal agencies such as FEMA, which up to then had a clean record of efficiency, was ruined under the president’s personal friend Michael Brown, whose only prior professional credential was his past as a rodeo booker, and who’s still to take full responsibility for his omissions and mismanagement during the disaster.
The Coast and the National Guard, other government agencies, and countless anonymous volunteers, all put up heroic efforts but lacked crucial resources needed in the aftermath of the storm. Bureaucracy and a misplaced sense of pride prevented equipment and tools, such as portable toilets and water treatment systems, sent by other states and foreign nations, from ever reaching the victims.
And so on and so forth. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was more a consequence of insensitiveness of a president who refused to cut short his vacation time to show up at the scene of the devastation and lead the efforts, than any amount of rain which wound up drenching New Orleans.
48 hours before landfall, every meteorologist and weather expert in the U.S. suspected the city’s floodwalls and water levees would be under too much stress and risked being breached; evacuation of the Lower Ninth Ward should’ve started then, not two days after the storm was already upon the city.
Today, thanks mostly to independent efforts, New Orleans seems to be experiencing a qualified recovery. The noble resilience of its communities, driven by the cultural vibrancy their city was always known for, are the main factors in the commendable accomplishments achieved. But it’s still far from what it once was, and let’s face it: the Big Easy was already being plagued by poverty and indifference from federal authorities even before Katrina.
Whole lower-income housing projects, which were evacuated during the storm and whose management prevented its residents back years after that, were quietly demolished to give away to big speculative real estate developments that are sitting mostly idly.
This time, the collapse of the U.S. housing market was the culprit du jour to justify thousands of square feet funded and built in part by public money, but still unoccupied.
It also remains to be seen whether the rebuilt levees are capable to withstand another surge similar to Katrina’s. Many studies point to vulnerabilities in the Army Corps’ approach at fixing the broken walls and the new floodgates that were just installed around the city, as Harry Shearer’s documentary “The Big Uneasy,” for example, seems to show.
Whether the Obama administration will make good on its promises to help New Orleans come back economically remains to be seen. But the city also needs help preserving its cultural diversity, supporting its aging and poorest neighborhoods, and restoring its status as one of the most original and unique cities in the U.S. and the world.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?
I miss it both night and day.
I know that it’s wrong… this feeling’s gettin’ stronger
The longer I stay away.