Let’s Be Frank

If there’s anything better than watching an artist at work, or a an athlete at play, I’m not sure what it is.  These are my joys.  If you have 7 minutes, check out this video of Frank Sinatra singing It Was A Very Good Year in the studio, with his (and his producer’s) side commentary.  This has always been my favorite Sinatra song.

And speaking of Frank, if you’ve never read Gay Talese’s essay from Vanity Fair (April 1966, the same year this song won a Grammy), give yourself a treat.  Talese was sent to do this interview, but Frank had a cold and wouldn’t talk to him.  So Talese tailed him, shadowed him, took notes.  For days.  The interview that never was turned out to be one of the best essays of the century.

If you have even the slightest fear of writing nonfiction, this will help to cure it.  The essay itself is off-the charts fabulous, but the rhythms of the writing — the shifting of perspectives, the complexity of emotions it evokes, the smooth movement through time — is a writing lesson.  I’ve read it no less than 10 times and I still want to read it again.

Here’s an excerpt:

Sinatra had been working in a film that he now disliked, could not wait to finish; he was tired of all the publicity attached to his dating the twenty-year-old Mia Farrow, who was not in sight tonight; he was angry that a CBS television documentary of his life, to be shown in two weeks, was reportedly prying into his privacy, even speculating on his possible friendship with Mafia leaders; he was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra — A Man and His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.

Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.

11 thoughts on “Let’s Be Frank

  1. Sandra Bell Kirchman

    I love the way you spot what is a jewel in your opinion. You treat it tenderly and reverently and offer it as a treasure to your readers. Lovely.

    The excerpt was enticing. I have mixed feelings about Sinatra, but there is no question in my, or anyone else’s, mind that he was larger than life and a legend in his time.

    Thanks for sharing that.

    1. Teri Post author

      Sandra, I too have ambiguous feelings about him. But that voice. It especially hits me at Christmas.

      And this essay is to die for. I don’t say that lightly. I really mean, to die for. It’s that good.

  2. erikamarks

    He is a fascinating man, no doubt. I know so little about him so I’m intrigued by this article. I recently watched Rosemary’s Baby (John Cassavettes, be still my heart…) and the reference to Mia was timely–wasn’t that when she and Frank were together, during that movie?

  3. Les

    Great clip from a great recording, and one of my favorite Sinatra songs as well. I *love* his phrasing, like how he clips the end of, “And now the days are short–” Because they are! Good stuff.

    1. MacDougal Street Baby

      P.S. You were right. Mentor was fantastic. It warmed my heart to learn that Conroy was such a good father, too.

      Have you heard of Man in a White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado? I heard it’s one of the best memoirs EVER.

      1. Teri Post author

        In MENTOR, I loved how Conroy was still there for Tom Grimes, and that letter from his son was incredible. You can tell he was well-loved by his children.

        And of course now I’m off to look up the Lagnado book — because we all know I don’t have enough books! Ha! I bought 2 more about the used bookstore on Friday. Where to put them?!?!

      2. MacDougal Street Baby

        I’m about to start Stop-Time. The person who recommended the Lagnado book put her hands to her heart and looked to the Heavens when I mentioned Conroy. I would be remiss if I ignored that.

  4. Sherry Stanfa-Stanley

    I adored this song when I was seventeen and twenty-one and even thirty-five. But I have to admit it depresses the hell out of me now.

    The man sure could sing, with a style all his own.

  5. Lyra

    I came across this article years ago and am so happy to see it again. What a feat to interview someone without them. This really is a feat of writing well and how it’s done.

Comments are closed.