June 26, 1998


Every performer would like to be as good as his press agents say that he is.

On March 14,1998 Frank Sinatra died. The way that it was covered by the media, you might have thought that Sinatra was the most important human being in the United States. Most important people don't get that treatment. The only person who might come close would be a first string athlete like Magic Johnson or Michael Jordan. More likely, by the time those two gentlemen go, few people will remember who they were. Sinatra, on the other hand, left lots of recordings. Some young people liked his stuff almost as much as their parents do.

I was in high school when Frankie was in his prime. He was the first of the pop stars who had a claque of hebephrenic girls screaming at every performance. I went to see him at the Paramount theater, where he played to a packed house. With all of the screaming, it was hard, if not impossible, to hear his singing. There wasn't the spectacle, as now, of singers gyrating on a stage full of flashing lights. Frankie stood behind his microphone and crooned. As I recall, I was not very impressed. In his league, there were a number of pop singers who were at least as good and a few who I thought were better. Among female pop vocalists were a few who were so much better as to be in a different class.

His appearance wasn't much. The joke at the time was that it was hard to tell the singer from the microphone; both were so skinny. With the passage of time, he developed a good deal of stage presence and bulk, but in the early '40s he was a heavily hyped young man with a pleasant voice. When I hear the exaggerated praise for the man, I wonder if we are thinking of the same singer.

To do a good job on a popular song you need a talented and skilled lyricist and a composer(who may be the same person), an orchestra and a vocalist. In my opinion, the least essential player is the vocalist, yet he gets almost all of the credit. Sinatra deserves a good deal of credit for his ability to pick songs that became hits. He didn't write them, he just sang them.

Yes, I enjoy listening to most of the songs that Sinatra has recorded, just as I enjoy watching a good actor in a good play or movie.

I suppose that every performer would like to be as good as his press agents say that he is. If he really believes it, he's a fool. What does that tell you about the reporters who hype a man as if he was someone of cosmic significance?

Once someone gets to be as popular as Sinatra was, everything that he touched turns to gold. So, when Hollywood made a movie of the musical Guys and Dolls, Sinatra, who was a big draw, got the starring role. This, despite the fact that there were other singers who could, and have, done a better job. The same could be said for his acting, which was good even though there were others who could do a better job than Frankie.

So, goodbye Frank Sinatra. The memory of you will probably remain for about a generation. Some of the songs that you sang may last for a much longer time.

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