On the wall in front of me, about three feet away from my desk, hangs a framed Life magazine, issue date June 25, 1971. "Sinatra Says Good-by and Amen: A farewell to 30 very good years," the white Helvetica Bold headline reads. A silhouetted cover shot is of a 55ish-year-old Frank. He wears a powder-blue PGA golf cap and looks just a bit put upon, possibly by the photographer's intrusion.
On the same wall is another frame, holding the printed program from the last time that I saw Sinatra perform, at Radio City Music Hall in the fall of 1992. Two ticket stubs are pasted beneath the program and next to them are four torn pieces of white notepaper. Scribbled onto these, in very precise order, are the titles to each of the 22 songs the man sang, a thoughtful gesture from the fine woman who accompanied me that evening.
I could go on like this for a while, about other things Frank that I possess and treasure, most importantly the vast majority of his music catalog, but you get the idea: I’m a fan. And so this is a time of year that carries some meaning.
It was 98 years ago, you see, on December 12, 1915, that Francis Albert was born to Natalie and Antonino, in Hoboken, New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from Manhattan. Frank, as he became known, did not overstay his welcome on this Earth. He lived to be 82, very respectable for the hard-living sort that he so famously was, but far less a number than many of us hoped the man might attain.
When the news broke that Frank had died, in the spring of 1998, I was exactly where I am at this precise moment. Sitting at my desk, trying to write to a deadline, but all the while lost in the Life cover on my wall that documented the mercifully short-lived “retirement” of the world's greatest-ever singer of popular song. "Good-by and amen," indeed!
For a man who couldn’t manage his way through high school — nor even learn how to read music — this Sinatra fellow did better than all right for himself. In fact, he ran the table pretty much everywhere he went.
Not a day goes by that I do not hear his voice, if only in my mind. It is a fine voice, at once confident and exposed, reckless and deliberate, bullying and good-hearted. “Throughout my career, if I have done anything, I have paid attention to every note and every word I sing,” he once said. And how. Even today much of Sinatra’s music manages to challenge me when I am complacent, exhilarate me when I am unsettled, comfort me when I am most tender.
I hate to get all George Bailey on you here, especially during this time of year, but what do you suppose our lives would be like if Sinatra had never lived? Sure, there would have been no Rat Pack and all that nonsense, probably no Johnny Fontane crying like a little girl at Connie Corleone’s wedding on Long Island either. But a lot more than that would be missing. If you are of a certain age, I know that you know what I’m talking about.
This isn’t just a man we’re talking about. Sinatra is also a way of life. Even today. There’s the swagger, the confidence, the charm, the style. Oh yes, the style. Be honest, guys. You want to be Frank. I want to be Frank. We can’t be, of course, and so we do the next best thing: We act like him. Maybe it’s just a little bit — the way we order a drink or wear our hat or hold a door open for a lady — but we do it. He’s still alive inside of us. And I’ll let you in on a little secret: Our ladies like him being in there, too.
Then, of course, there’s the music that might not have been. There’s “Come Fly with Me” and “Night and Day,” “Summer Wind” and “Pennies from Heaven,” “Fly Me to the Moon” and “Witchcraft,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and, of course, “One for My Baby.”
The truth is, none of my words do him justice, so do us both a favor and just listen to this.