Paul Bryant's Reviews > Sinatra: The Life

Sinatra by Anthony Summers
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Dec 27, 10

bookshelves: popular-and-unpopular-music
Read in December, 2008

I Listen to Dead People

I grew up thinking Elvis was strictly for dead people and Frank, Bing and all of those guys were beyond dead, even zombies thought they were too dead. All those guys were The Enemy, but us young generation were off their radar, we were free of all of those crap songs for swinging misogynists. Then years later I discovered actual old music, by which I mean stuff from the 20s and 30s. It was a kind of revelation - pre-Beatles music could be great. Well, I was young, I had to find this stuff out. Nobody was handing it to me on an ipod, I had to chisel out the carter Family and Mississippi John Hurt from the sheer rockface. So I kind of inched my way back through the 20th century, musically, thinking I'd probably written off a lot of good stuff in a sneer from the arrogance of youth. I encountered a few difficulties, one of which is that I dislike 90% of jazz and 101% of swing.

So of course I got to Frankie.

Frank Sinatra thought rock & roll was strictly for morons, a cretinous three chord racket played by juvenile delinquents. He wasn't alone in that view. If you set Nice Work if you can Get It or Night and Day beside Get a Job and Twenty Flight Rock you can see his point. It took rock music years to attain the kind of sophistication and wit which was standard in the 1920s. (Great exception to this rule, lyrically anyway : Chuck Berry). Frank lived to see rock and roll eat up his swing music and spit out the bones. Naturally, after a few years Rock became another hideous bloated corporate beast, but that's how it goes.

Frank was pretty good, I guess. His ring-a-ding stuff still sends me hurtling for the remote control but he had a way with the slow miserable ballads with his mournful foghorn of a voice. He's a bit too self-regarding a singer. You can hear it in the records, there’s a subtext that chimes out like a bell which says it just don’t get any better than this. I don't care for him very much. But when it comes to towering icons, that's not important.

History Lesson 1 : panty throwing

By 1944 Frank had left the Tommy Dorsey Band and was solo. The girl-fan hysteria had begun in earnest:

On October 11, opening night at the Paramount in New York, Frank triggered a frenzy unprecedented in the history of music... the police estimated that 10,000 kids were queued up six abreast on 43rd Street... and another 20,000 were running wild in Times Square.

Swooning, panty throwing, the whole shooting match. Summers then comments:

The adulation of Elvis Presley ten years later, or of the Beatles in 1964, perhaps came close. The furor over Frank, though, was the first eruption of youthful idolatry in the twentieth century, and as great as any that has come since.

I take the point that Frank was the first but maybe Anthony Summers had forgotten the total craziness of the Beatles' arrival in America.
Their popularity, which was global, marks a peak of lunacy which I think no one will ever reach again. Tens of thousands of kids used to go to airports just to see the Beatles get off a plane. Now that's insane you know. And also that's the facts.

History Lesson 2 : Frank was a liberal Democrat!

I didn't know that in the mid to late 40s he was such a strong campaigner for racial equality, putting a lot of his own dough and time into various anti-racism projects. This at the same time as making all those endless Sammy Davis Jnr jokes. Man of contradictions for sure. So he followed Winston Churchill's well-known political trajectory - the man who is not a socialist in his youth has no heart, but the man who remains a socialist has no head. Something like that.

Frank’s Busy Member

By the late 50s Frank was embodying two very popular myths. On the one hand he appears to be the very acme of the male version of the Good Life – he’s rich, he wears good suits, he drinks and drinks and drinks and drinks and drinks and drinks and he just doesn’t give a flying fuck, he shags and shags and shags and shags and shags and he gives even less of a flying fuck, he gets and spends, he ducks and dives, he makes vastly popular records and films – it gets to the point where he can leaf through a movie magazine and spot a new starlet, decide he wants to shag her, and he knows that in two or three days after two or three phone calls, he will. There are various versions of this particular male fantasy – Hugh Hefner marketed it quite successfully, as did and does James Bond. On the other hand – the other Popular Myth - according to this bio, he’s miserable and lonely, because the Great Love of his life, Ava Gardner (of whom I could never get the point) is even more of a petulant pouting martini-glugging shag monster than Frankie – touche! Haha! have at you, Frankie! One for the girls! So God does have a sense of humour after all.

So that’s all quite romantic then – he’s has everything but his life is essentially empty. Phew – I was just on the point of envying him – now I can see as I gaze upon my wife of 17 years and my 2 point 3 children that my meagre looks and income have brought me a much more fulfilled life than Frankie with his Italian cool, his millions, and his allegedly sizeable male member. Okay, I feel better already.

Actually, reading about all this boozing and chasing tail gets to feel like you’re having a bath with snails instead of water, very slimy indeed. And unfortunately the reason I was reading this thing – the music and the movies – is confined to the margins.

Summary : The first hundred pages is Frankie in bed with the Mafia, and the second hundred is Frankie in bed with a cast of thousands.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Cookiesue9x (new)

Cookiesue9x I was a pre-teen who sat and screamed when Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan show. I would love to deny this ever happened , but there were 3 generations of Antoniello's in my friends living room that long ago summer night ,who never let me forget.


message 2: by Melody (last edited Nov 18, 2008 06:17AM) (new)

Melody I've learn to appreciate Frank Sinatra. And this is the song that helped me: Summer Wind

One of the best of all times.

Wonderful review Paul.


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