Tag Archives: It Was A Very Good Year

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.