Morning Music: Frank Sinatra

Frank SinatraPeople 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.

11 thoughts on “Morning Music: Frank Sinatra

  1. I saw a PBS special shortly before Sinatra died. He was doing old songs by songwriters he admired, very unknown songs, and talking about why he liked them.

    It blew me away. This wasn’t “The Chairman Of The Board.” This was an artist. Suddenly I heard his voice in a new way.

    Some years later I read a Gore Vidal essay about Sinatra (containing the line, which I love, “not unfamiliar with fiery waters.”)

    Apparently Sinatra was more-or-less blacklisted. Not completely; he was too big a star for that. He could still be in movies, on TV, radio, records. But what he really loved was live performances. And because Sinatra was such a staunch pro-labor guy, he got tinted Red.

    So where could he sing, live? Only places the Mob owned. And that’s how his whole Mafia-connected, Chairman of The Board mythos began.

    That essay introduced me to a really cheesy/moving song, “The House I Live In.” It’s well worth checking out. “All races and religions; that’s America to me.” It’s melting-pot pablum, but for pablum it steers in the best direction.

    (Funniest line: “for 150 years,” as if that means America has any historical justification for existing. 150 years is nothing. Also it means you leave out original contact/genocide, birth of the slave trade, Salem, etc. But 40s optimism is preferable to 2010s hateism.)

    As for wallowing, I do it too much. It’s not healthy. My take is, everyone’s life sucks. We’re all failures (except Herr Donald, naturally, who wins and can’t stop winning.) I have a high propensity for self-doubt and a high tolerance for others expressing their own self-doubt.

    Where wallowing annoys me is when people list off grievances as in, “well, if this thing hadn’t happened, which was totally not my fault, I’d be awesome now.” But nobody’s awesome! Some people have the skills and opportunities and energy to make others’ lives a bit less intolerable on occasion. And when that happens, it is a wonderful thing. It’s a good ideal we should all attempt living up to. Because it’s an ideal, we won’t live up to it most of the time.

    A notion that the ideal is “winning,” and that we’ve only been prevented from doing so by hardship A or misfortune B, is rather nuts.

    • I didn’t know that. I did know that he was a big Democratic supporter throughout his career but then switch to the Republicans in the 1970s.

  2. To be honest yesterday started pretty bad because this past year has been a very tough one for me.

    But I did cheer up immensely when I got my crossbow. So maybe the song is true? I don’t know but I do know it sometimes it is nice to have someone know you pretty well or at least listen to you saying you want something for years on end. :)

    • I’m sorry the year has been hard. But I have confidence that nothing can stop a woman with a crossbow. That sounds like it would make a good television show: Judge Lady With a Crossbow. I’d watch it.

      • I certainly hope so.

        I am not sure if I could make a good TV judge. I have handed down some definite tearing of a new one on people who have treated my staff poorly but I am not very keen on doing it regularly. However shooting a person with the crossbow would make sure no one else misbehaved.

            • I like it. I’ve written a number of puppet plays about the Nixon White House. Maybe I should write a puppet play based upon The Trial of Henry Kissinger. That could be fun!

                • After watching The Trials of Henry Kissinger last night, it’s harder to make light of that vile crowd. But I know what the climactic scene would be: G Gordon Liddy would run into the courtroom with his hand on fire and torch Kissinger’s hair. That’s what happens in all the plays.

                  • I forget, was Kissinger bald? Or did that cause him to become bald?

                    The last play I saw was The Audience with Helen Mirren unless you don’t count watching a live performance being broadcast in a movie theatre. In that case, it was The Mousetrap in London because my friend Case insisted we watch it.

                    I don’t remember anyone setting anyone on fire though.

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