People may find it strange, but I’m a big Frank Sinatra fan. There is no reason for it especially. He is mostly just a ripoff of Billie Holiday. But in his defense, he was very open about that. And there is nothing about his persona that I especially care for. In fact, it is usually when he is pushing against that image that I most like him. For example, check out his wonderful version of Send in the Clowns.
But since this is Christmas week, I figured we would listen to the holiday song that Frank Sinatra is most associated with, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The lyrics are really upbeat. The implication is that things are not great now, but they are looking up. The music, however, is not upbeat. That’s probably a function of it being originally a Judy Garland song. Coming from her, it seems like a pleasant lie that everyone is too polite to contradict.
It reminds of the Woody Allen short story “A Guide to Some of the Lesser Ballets,” where he writes of one of them, “The ballet opens at a carnival. There are refreshments and rides. Many people in gaily colored costumes dance and laugh, to the accompaniment of flutes and woodwinds, while the trombones play in a minor key to suggest that soon the refreshments will run out and everybody will be dead.”
Frank Sinatra’s version is different. It implies — like so much of his work — that he has seen too much to be upbeat or to think that things will really get better. He’s seen things in his life that have made him wise but sad. So he’s telling us all to make the best of a bad situation. And it’s not bad advice. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become less tolerant of people who want to wallow in their own unhappiness. I know, I know: I hear the trombones too.