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A 'Song of the Day' Sinatra Tribute Begins 'From This Moment On' Today, Tuesday, November 24, 2015, I begin a tribute to Francis Albert Sinatra, which will culminate on Saturday, December 12, 2015, the day on which we will mark the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth.

But his enormous artistic gifts have been preserved forever in film, vocal recordings, and concert performances, allowing future generations a glimpse of the ever-lasting impact he made on American culture, art, and music.

in the early years, he battled his self-destructive tendencies, and it would take years for him to truly find himself, reinvent himself, giving new meaning to the Koehler lyric, 'I've got the world on a string, sittin' on a rainbow, got the string around my finger.

In the 1993 film version of 'Jurassic Park,' John Hammond, the creator of the park, played by Richard Attenborough, characterizes Dr. Ian Malcolm (played by Jeff Goldblum) as a person who suffers from a 'deplorable excess of personality.'

But it is also true that many great artists throughout history have created magnificent works of art that either gave expression to the demons within, or provided a cathartic means by which to exorcize them.

By acknowledging his excesses and failures, Sinatra, in his vocals, became ever more expressive of a raw honesty, which came through whether he was singing of lost love, or of the joyous possibilities of life.

His ability to entertain on the home front, and to film such extravaganzas as the 1945 musical comedy, 'Anchors Away' (in which he worked like a 'prizefighter' behind the scenes to keep up with the gifted choreographer, dancer, singer, and actor Gene Kelly), made him a bona fide star, and uplifted many spirits in a world consumed by war.

But his liberal FDR-friendly politics, his embrace of a 'progressive' New Deal agenda, and his public stances against racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry at the end of World War II (as expressed in the 1945 short film 'The House I Live In,' which won an Honorary Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Film Promoting International Good Will), provided fodder for his tabloid critics.

There is a touch of irony in all of this red-baiting: despite being a virtual cheerleader of 'High Hopes' [YouTube link], the very song Sinatra adapted for the 1960 Kennedy presidential campaign, the singer was marginalized by JFK, given his connections to mobster Sam Giancana and others.

In the years after filming 'The House I Live In,' the McCarthy era press became increasingly suspicious and hostile toward anyone suspected of left-wing views.

behind him, he overheard the voice of his chief newspaper nemesis, the columnist, Lee Mortimer, who questioned Sinatra's patriotism in print, and who, on this night, referred to Sinatra as a 'dago' and 'guinea bastard.'

This was overheard by an overheated Sinatra, who recalls: 'I tapped him on the shoulder, and I hit him so fucking hard I broke the whole front of his face, and he banged his head.'

(These priceless stories are from the terrific HBO two-part documentary, 'Sinatra: All or Nothing at All,' from which I've drawn quite a bit for this essay.) There is no doubt that this period in Sinatra's life took its toll;

For indeed, the melodrama of his life dredges up the old debate about whether one can appreciate art apart from the artist, who might very well be a suicidal (or homicidal) maniac.

I cannot for a single moment imagine a world where I'd never had the opportunity to see and hear him live, on stage, in a series of utterly brilliant concert performances.

He was the quintessential 'song-and-dance' man of my generation who touched the lives of millions of fans worldwide, which explains how deeply shattered we were by his own tragic death in 2009.

and so it is with everyone from jazz guitar legend Joe Pass (who emerged from Synanon), or rock legends Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin or even to those classical philosophers, composers, musicians, painters, scultptors, writers, artists, etc., of whose flaws many of us are perenially unaware.

And here's the irony: a tortured artist (and there are plenty of them throughout history) might create a work of sublime beauty that speaks to those aspects of his own soul, crying out for objectification.

It is no accident that Sinatra was a consummate story-teller, for the way he delivered a lyric of heartbreak elicited responses from his fans, who, as part of the human family, had suffered through feelings of similar grief, loss, and regret.

He could move you to dance (in the 1955 film of 'Guys and Dolls'), to laugh (in the 1960 heist film starring all of his Rat Pack cohorts, 'Ocean's Eleven'), to cry (playing a heroin addict, with chilling film noir scenes of detox, in the 1955 film, 'The Man with the Golden Arm'), to take notice, when his character depicted intense realism (in the 1962 film, 'The Manchurian Candidate,' and the 1968 film, 'The Detective') and, finally, to suffer profound grief just when you thought you were on the precipice of glory (the 1965 World War II POW film, 'Von Ryan's Express').

In any event, I so wanted to walk Becky the Beagle, so, as a precaution, my best friend's mom tied Becky's leash to my wrist so that she would not run away, while I walked her.

And [SPOILER ALERT!], in the final scenes, as the prisoner train is just about to cross into Switzerland, Ryan is running frantically behind that last train car, trying desperately to escape the Waffen-SS troops in pursuit.

We were vacationing in Tucson, Arizona, and went to the De Anza Drive-In, where, fortunately, I did not rip open my knee, but I do admit to crying again, as I watched the last heartbreaking moments of the sinking 'Titanic' on a huge 70mm screen!

But we can't forget some of those magnificent live concert recordings such as 'Sinatra at the Sands' (with Count Basie), and those utterly remarkable sessions with artists who transcended global boundaries and eras, men such as Duke Ellington and Antonio Carlos Jobim (check out this brilliant clip with Jobim and Sinatra, from the third installment of his TV specials, 'A Man and His Music').

The liner notes are absolutely priceless, as they tell the story of the meeting of two giants from different parts of the world, who had vastly different personalities: Sinatra, a veritable 'fearless' Lion in the studio or on the stage;

One thing that the two artists worked on, over and over again, was to find just the right balance between the louder instruments and percussive sounds and the quiet, tender melodies that required near silence.

He could swagger his way through the swinging orchestrations of some of the best arrangers and conductors in the business, from Nelson Riddle to Billy May to Quincy Jones, incorporating the American jazz idiom with a fluidity that enabled him to sing above and behind the beat.

He and his Rat Pack, with guys like Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop, single-handedly turned around the struggling casino town of Las Vegas, making it a tourist attraction that offered some of the greatest musical and comedic entertainers in the business (one of those comedians, Don Rickles, had a ball roasting Sinatra, Davis, and even Ronald Reagan;

He is an artist whose influence spreads into genres as diverse as jazz (he was selected in a 1956 poll of jazz musicians, with affirmative votes from Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Gerry Mulligan, Oscar Peterson, Billy Taylor, and Carmen McRae, among others, as 'the greatest-ever male vocalist') and rap;

Charlton Heston, the Oscar-winning actor who knew one or two things about 3- and 4-hour epics, once said that every single song that Sinatra ever sang was the equivalent of a 4-minute movie, so good was he at telling a story.

Clearly, I have always celebrated the talents of Sinatra, the self-confessed 'saloon singer,' who became the epitome of cool, the essence of musical class, and, as Bono once suggested, perhaps the only Italian Francis (with apologies to the Italian man from Assisi and the humble Argentinian Pope of Italian immigrants) to provide genuine proof that God is a Catholic ([YouTube link;

was asked by a few people if I could possibly select a Top Ten List of Sinatra Favorites, and I find it virtually impossible to rank, but I'll try a knee-jerk Top Ten, literally off-the-top of my head, in alphabetical order, rather than a ranking: 'The Best is Yet to Come,' 'Come Fly with Me,' 'Fly Me to the Moon,' 'I Concentrate on You,' 'I Get a Kick Out of You,' 'It Was a Very Good Year,' 'I've Got You Under My Skin,' 'One for My Baby,' 'New York, New York' (heard at the end of every home game played by my New York Yankees), and 'That's Life.'

As I have noted, not one of these songs has ever appeared on the illustrious list assembled above, which, in itself, is a testament to the breadth and the depth of this man's magnificent artistic legacy.

Posted by chris at 12:02 AM |

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