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Saturday, December 12, 2015

Frank Sinatra, the saloon singer at 100

On May 23, 1940, Tommy Dorsey gathered at the RCA Victor studios in New York his orchestra, his chorus -- the Pied Pipers -- and his lead singer, a 24-year-old Italian-American from Hoboken. They recorded a song written by Canadian pianist Ruth Lowe, who was in grief after her husband of one year, publicist Harold Cohen, died during surgery. Her words were painful. Francis Albert Sinatra took her words and turned them into a hauntingly beautiful record. It topped the charts for 12 weeks.
I'll never smile again
Until I smile at you
I'll never laugh again
What good would it do
For tears would fill my eyes
My heart would realize
That our romance is true.
You have to read the full lyrics and hear Sinatra's rendition to appreciate fully what he, Tommy Dorsey and the Pied Pipers did with that song.

The song did not launch his career, but certainly it served as a booster rocket. His career was actually in plural. The bobby soxer favorite had a bipolar career with many lulls and many heights, any single one of which would have sated the appetite for fame of any entertainer -- and many of those valleys would have crushed a lesser man. But he was Sinatra. He had many heights, many downs, and much to give to his people.

Much has been written about him and I am a novice. All my life he was someone my mother listened to, although I did enjoy hearing the banter of his Rat Pack in Vegas with Dean Martin ("It's Frank's world. I just live in it") and Sammy Davis Jr. Sirius XM has brought Sinatra into my life. I love the Rat Pack banter. Martin and Sinatra trading jabs and doing parodies, which ended with a spoof of "Have You Ever Seen A Dream Walking?" with Martin singing, "Have you ever seen a Jew jitsu, well I have."

And Davis comes on stage protesting that it insults his Jewishness and he asks, "How would you like it if I sang, 'Have you ever seen a Wop sicle'?"

Martin and Davis trade barbs, before Sinatra gets the last word, saying Davis got on a bus and the driver said he should move to the back, and Davis said he wasn't black but he was Jewish.

"The driver told him 'Get off'," Sinatra said.

Their jokes were racist, sexist, homophobic, and everything else that is outlawed today. And they were funny. Sinatra was the chairman of the board. Davis was the jester. Real life -- the marriages, the politics, the physical fights, the Mafia rumors and the like -- are for biographers. His audience did not care. He was their singer. He represented a generation that grew up in the Depression, fought World War II (he was notably 4-F) and transformed America into the world's only superpower. Over the years he won an Oscar, a Peabody, and tons of Grammys. He worked with everyone. Count Basie. Duke Ellington. Ella Fitzgerald. His daughter, Nancy.

In later years, he described himself as a saloon singer -- a fellow whose job was to sing to all the depressed men who went to the bar to drown their sorrows. If they went home even more depressed, then he had done his job. It's true. His mother had a tavern, where he sang as a child.

He joked that his father may not have been born in America, but he made damned sure I was.

He pushed for integration and in 1972, Israel awarded him its Medal of Honour. He has three stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

Today is his 100th birthday. Lots of people on the Internet are celebrating as well they should. There are lists of his best 100 records and the like. I have no such list because I have not heard enough of his songs. But I plan to hear more. Through the gifts of technology developed largely by a host of exceptional Americans, I can listen to his old records which are as fresh to me as Adele's music.
Within my heart
I know I will never start
To smile again
Until I smile at you
They don't write them like that anymore -- and they sure as hell don't sing them like that either.

1 comment:

  1. Compare that with what passes as music now: rap "music"