Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sinatra Fan, Coming Home

November 18, 1007

I’ve never lived in Hoboken, but in some ways moving there seems like coming home.

It didn’t take much for me to connect with the struggling little city when I first found it last spring. I was seeking proximity to Manhattan and a certain ease of lifestyle. I also wanted a sense of history and connection.

Probably the principle connection between me and Hoboken is Frank Sinatra, who was a presence in my life just because of his unavoidable position as rock star (without "rock" as we know it now -- but with a certain sound) for my generation and those that went a little before. Of course I never knew him; I never even saw him in person, but the existence of Frank Sinatra permeated life in the United States for all the decades of my growing up.

From the movies, I remember the youthful Frankie in his sailor suit, in Anchors Aweigh, seeming like a kid not all that much older than I. (I was five.) He was childlike, innocent, and a little goofy. As I grew up I watched Betty Garrett attempt to seduce him in On the Town. By the time I was 12, along came From Here to Eternity, in which Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr stirred my childlike body in unexpected ways as they kissed horizontally on the beach with waves crashing over them; yet I was more at home with Frank as the feisty outsider, Maggio -- who, late in the film brought my tears by dying in Montgomery Clift’s arms.

All during the 1940's, '50's, '60's and 70's, it seemed, on some jukebox somewhere, Sinatra was singing. His voice was the standard by which all popular music voices were measured. Young Eddie Fisher tried to represent my generation, but Sinatra was clearly the model. Vic Damone was smooth but not dangerous. Someone named Matt Monroe sounded eerily like him, and even aped the gestures, the hat, the finger snapping. Bobby Darin had the swagger and came close to the style, and least in up tempo tunes. There were slews of imitators, would-be’s, but Frank Sinatra transcended them all.

As a teenager, I saw him in the movies: The Tender Trap, with its pre-feminist message of girl-gets-swinger-to-settle-down – and one of my favorites, Young At Heart, a sparkling remake – with an irresistibly sappy-happy ending – of the old John Garfield vehicle, Three Sisters, with Frank reprising Garfield’s role as the ne’er-do-well who steals Doris Day from Gig Young. Frank, then in his prime, accomplished this just by being himself – sensitive, hurt, smart and funny, and a shade too vulnerable.

He did the same to you with his singing: he projected heartbreak and hope along with an antic, quicksilver quality that assured you that love was fun too. His insouciant attitude told us growing up was going to be a hell of a ride.

In my teens I bought a Sinatra album: “A Swingin’ Affair,” which has a cover I still look at with wonder -- the same three couples superimposed all over the picture, giving the effect of a crowded room, and Frank looking out into the distance, his hat askew and his grin direct. Friends owned “In the Wee Small Hours” (Frank with cigarette, pensively thinking either of lost loves or loves to come) and “Only the Lonely” (Frank with a touch of clown makeup, still looking attractive albeit wistful).

By the 1960’s, I had “Sinatra fan” written all over me, I suppose. I looked like a conventional girl who had grown up in the 1950’s, and we were pretty much all Sinatra fans. He was the gold standard. Soon I was to start dating a man who, upon our second meeting, arrived at my door with “Strangers in the Night,” which I hadn’t asked for -- except by my looks, I suppose: Sinatra fan.

Frank continued to get into trouble, marrying the wrong women and frolicking with the wrong playmates, but he was doing it his way and I hardly paid attention. I was making my own mistakes by that time.

One afternoon in the 1970’s my nephew Will Friedwald, a precocious adolescent with a few obsessions including comic books and cartoons, dropped in to my Upper West Side (before it was chic) apartment. I had been a little concerned about Will and his comics. The kid was bright and witty, and I felt he was ready for bigger things. Specifically, I had been wanting him to hear the lyrics of Lorenz Hart, so I took this opportunity to expose him to the song “I Wish I Were In Love Again,” as sung by Frank Sinatra on the “Swingin’ Affair” album. It was a casual choice, but it turned out to have great significance.

Will was transported. We laughed at the song, and he made me play it over and over for him. He lay on the floor, trying to commit the words to memory. He left my apartment a changed man. But not in the way I’d anticipated. Instead of becoming an aficionado of the lyrics of Lorenz Hart, he began collecting Sinatra albums, Mel Tormé albums, jazz albums; he also began reading about, writing about, and listening to jazz and singers.

Now Will is a leading expert on popular music, jazz and Frank Sinatra.

And I’ll be seeing a lot more of him now that I’ll be living in Hoboken. The weekend I arrive we’ll celebrate his marriage to the beautiful Pamela Luss, a jazz singer who no doubt has an appreciation for Sinatra.

I expect to get a lot more from Hoboken than Frank Sinatra – but moving there is like visiting the haunts of an old friend. It may be more than a little pretentious to take the screen name Nightstranger, but maybe I can get away with it. I don't think Frank would mind.

1 comment:

John Sweden said...

As one Sinatra fan to another, what a great start to your Hoboken blog. Let be the first to congratulate you on your move back to civilization.