May 19, 2008
I realize my title sounds like an album from the 1950's, but that's the danger you run when you start to write about Frank Sinatra. I attended a book signing party for the new collection of poems Sinatra...but buddy, I'm a kind of poem, at the Hoboken Historical Museum yesterday and I'm still in kind of a 1950's album kind of orbit. The poetry ranges from wistful and smoke-filled to hard-edged and envious, and the talk was of what the many myths of the man mean to the many sides of all of us. The book is a great read, edited by Gilbert L. Gigliotti, and published by Entasis Press.
Frank had a big week. First, his stamp came out, and I hope you went to the nearest P.O. and picked up a page of them, although I can't imagine sticking one onto my next utility bill or the one to the exterminator for my house in Alabama. A stamp is a small, utilitarian object, and Sinatra was never that. A Sinatra stamp causes a dilemma. It is to be used on mail that has an other than prosaic purpose -- a letter to a grandmother, a thank you note, an invitation to a party for the ages. And my grandmother is dead. I'll have to think of something.
Hoboken is still occupied by, if not obsessed with the man. Frank Sinatra's picture is in just about every restaurant. His voice is piped into the boutiques and Italan delis. People of a certain age have stories.
My friend Slezak (he has asked me to dispense with the "Mr.") writes: "I met his dad once ...I knew Sinatra’s godfather, Frankie Garrick. We used to go to his candy store he had on 7th street...I was at his 90th birthday party in the Elks Club in Hoboken...Sinatra was invited...he did not come but sent a case of champagne...Sinatra was supposed to be named Martin after his dad but the priest did not like it at St. Frances church ..SO they named him after Frankie Garrick ...I seen Sinatra only once in my life in 1948 riding on the back of his dad’s fire truck on a drizzly night with about 50 bobby soxers running after the truck. Sinatra lived on the next block from me as a kid . I lived between 9th and 10th. Sinatra lived between 9th and 8th." As a matter of fact, that would have to have been in 1947, when Hoboken proclaimed Sinatra Day, some 20,000 fans crowded City Hall and Washington Street -- and Frank rode on his dad's fire truck in the rain.
I told Slezak that I had asked some women of approximately Sinatra's age what they remembered and one of them said, "Frank Sinatra hated Hoboken, and he hated the people in it."
My nephew, Frank Sinatra buff and writer of books on popular music Will Friedwald, responded to this saying that most people are ambivalent about the town they grew up in. Will, I know, seldom if ever visits his home town of Brooklyn.
But Slezak adds this: "You are right ...YES Sinatra did not like the people. His old friends, I mean – they haunted him for money and had no respect for him. He had enough of that and slammed the door on Hoboken, promising never to return...but he did, to receive an honorary degree at Stevens.
"As I said, he lived on the next block from me. In the 1940s he would always pass my wife’s house and stop to see my wife’s aunt, Dolly Protomastro...he was crazy for her, but she did not like him. He was too skinny but always well dressed. She did not even know he could even sing. He was not famous then, but in later years she would go to the RUSTIC CABIN in Fort Lee to see him sing. (Everybody in Hoboken has a story to tell about Sinatra. Most of them are not true.)"
I have posted about Sinatra here before. Browse the archive for posts from the past if you're interested. Or pick up a copy of Will's book Sinatra: The Song Is You , or Gil Gigliotti's collection of poems, or go to those albums you saved and play track or two from In the Wee Small Hours or Only the Lonely -- or, if you want to lighten the mood, A Swingin' Affair or Songs for Swingin' Lovers. Pick your mood; Sinatra can match it. I learned yesterday the first two are known as the Suicide Albums (I always thought they were known as the Teen-Aged Makeout Albums). And the upbeat ones, well, they just taught us all how to have fun.
And one more thing I learned yesterday. Although there was initially a lot of resentment of Frank Sinatra by the men returning home from World War II, they mellowed toward him over the years. The most interesting thing Gil Gigliotti said was that Sinatra sang love songs, and women loved that, but just as often he sang songs to men, about women. Think about that. His songs outlined his own complex and conflicted life and articulated it for all of us -- without preaching -- in an easygoing, easy listening kind of way.