Saturday, December 12, 2015

Speaking Frankly

Today would be Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday if he was still alive - and it's interesting how reactions to Sinatra define one's age.  When I was a teenager, growing up on the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, Sinatra was the epitome of unhipness (though 20 years earlier he had been the very epitome of hipness).  A liking for Frank's records then would have guaranteed the ridicule of one's classmates - though plenty of older people were still buying them.  Yet over time I came to appreciate his art and enjoy his recordings - or at least his earlier ones.

I think part of the problem was that in his later years, Frank tried too hard to keep up with the changing times.  This led him to record material - like Hey Jude, and probably Paul Simon's worst song, Mrs Robinson - that were simply not right for his voice and style.  The result was somewhat embarrassing, like seeing one's grandmother twerking.  But within his own comfort zone, Sinatra was unmatchable.  No one making the transition from youth to middle age can fail to be moved by the album September of My Years, Sinatra's meditative musical reflections on turning 50.

As a young man, I saw my musical hero Bob Dylan and Sinatra as standing at opposite ends of the musical spectrum.  yet Dylan's most recent album, the Sinatra tribute Shadows in the Night, did not come out of nowhere.  Dylan sang at Sinatra's 80th birthday celebration, and probably grew up on his music the way I did on Bob's.  We all tend to remain most attached to the music of our youth.

I will have more to say about music another time, but for now, let me just echo Bob's words: "Happy Birthday, Mr Frank".  And if you want to deliver that message musically, you may be interested to learn that the ubiquitous song Happy Birthday to You is finally out of copyright.


PCCHK said...

Unfortunately, the myriad stories of Mr. Sinatra's boorish and bullying ways permanently discolour his impressive musicality.

Private Beach said...

It is always an interesting question to what extent an artist's personal failings negate or compromise the value of their art. Leni Riefenstahl was a brilliant film maker, but put that talent at the service of the odious Nazi regime. Ezra Pound is generally regarded as a great poet but was also a Fascist sympathiser. Philip Larkin, another great poet, was a curmudgeonly misanthropist. Charles Dickens was an awful husband who cruelly dumped his devoted wife. (And let's not even mention Gary Glitter!) Does their behaviour invalidate their artistic achievements?

Private Beach said...

Just came across this: