Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Getting sentimental….compliments of Sinatra and Mark Steyn

Never thought I'd fall but now I hear the call
I'm getting sentimental over you….
Things you say and do just thrill me through and through
I'm getting sentimental over you….
As you well know, Side’s most prominent characteristic, aside from the flat spot at the top of his head, is a somewhat dogged, cantankerous attitude about a whole lot of things.  It’s why certain Town Councilors of your referred to us…to our face….as “Mr. Grumpy.”  So be it; a merit badge of sorts.

But there are other less prominent aspects you probably aren’t aware of; hopefully you will be after we publish this little missive.

For one thing, we have become increasingly aware of a sentimental streak that lurks inside us.  It can pop up at the strangest times.  We suspect that advancing age has a way of expanding and refining this trait.

Next, we consider ourselves patriotic in way that term used to mean.  It was once a completely inoffensive term, but the grand cultural revolution of the last 20 years or so has rendered it somewhat passe’, offensive, and even an embarrassment in many settings.
We well remember the frequent parades of our younger days – Memorial Day, Independence Day, and even the annual Firemen’s Parade.  I can remember decorating the spokes on our bikes with red, white, and blue crepe paper so we could ride in the bike section in those parades….and proudly so.

We still choke up at all sorts of events that evoke a sense of patriotism and National pride.  Precision military flyovers at major events; watching the Marine Corps Silent Drill Team; seeing our grandson in his West Point Cadet finery; and occasions that honor our heroes….living and dead…such as the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Both Side and Mrs. Side are devoted fans of Frank Sinatra.  We recall becoming so in our High School years, when the jukebox at our favorite “luncheonette” had a number of Sinatra tunes available for a nickel each.  Somewhere during that phase, I had my first serious “crush,” and I loved playing Frank’s “You Make Me Feel So Young,” ironic as that sounds for a teenager.  Would you believe that to this day I can pretty much recall all the words of that song?

Somewhere in this time frame, I became aware of a radio personality called William B. Williams at WNEW in New York City.  He had a fabulous radio voice, and his show was all Sinatra, and he knew Frank’s library like the back of his hand.  He coined the term “Chairman of the Board” to honor Sinatra, and he was instrumental in reconstructing his fan base.  It was glorious to listen to that show.

In the mid-60’s (best we can recall) and subsequent years, after the Sides were wed, Sinatra began his comeback on TV in a series of well-done specials and a brief series of his own, and the name “Old Blue Eyes” came into being and stuck to him.  We became devoted fans and collected most all of his best LP Records.  Today, we have most in digital form, including on a USB drive so we can listed to them in our vehicles.

It just so happens that we recently read a book called “Why Sinatra Matters,” which is semi-biographical quick read by Pete Hamill.  Frank was born 27 years before Side, but he grew up no more than 10 miles from where we did in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan.  As I read it, I was amazed by how many details of his early growing up were similar to those I heard about from my parents; the culture, the political machines, just the feel of life in that area.

Along the way in this long journey, Side became a devoted fan of “The Great American Songbook.”  Tunes like “Call Me Irresponsible,” and lesser known standards like “The Folks Who Live On The Hill” and “A Blossom Fell,” both of which Diana Krall interprets superbly.

This decades long love for this music made me regret that I had never learned to play the piano that sat in our living room in my growing up years.  It also got me to read about the composers and lyricists of the golden sonwriting age, and to this day I long to be able to write just one song that is as “smart,” creative, stunningly beautiful, and eminently singable.  So many of them pop up as “earworms” for me fairly regularly.

Last of the interests we want to tell you about today is our appreciation of Mark Steyn.  He is an author, radio and TV personality, and wouldn’t you just know it, a scholar of the American Song Book.  He is witty, urbane, articulate, funny, and does it all with one of those marvelous british accents.

He also has a web page, and sends out weekly missives on things that interest him enough to expound on.  And there in lies the item that unites all of the foregoing into what we hope is a coherent wrap up that you will enjoy.

A few days ago, we received this e-blast from Mr. Steyn.  As you can see, it centers around “The House I Live In,” especially as sung by Sinatra.  The words “What is American to me?” are repeated throughout the song.

The entire message is very long, so we are going to edit it down.  At the very least, we hope you take the time to view the two items referenced below.  Each is a Sinatra performance, the first in his early, young days, the second in his more mature, more perfected performing days.

The House I Live In
Steyn's Song of the Week

by Earl Robinson and Lewis Allan
July 5, 2020
On our Independence Day edition of The Mark Steyn Show you'll hear "America the Beautiful", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "You're a Grand Old Flag", and other songs that celebrate love of country. Which is just as well, because, on this strangest of Fourths, patriotic songs seem to have joined other once universal phenomena, such as freedom of speech, in the suddenly partisan category. And don't get the lefties started on being "proud to be an American"...
So I thought, in the interests of forming a more perfect union this weekend, I'd rustle up a patriotic song by a man of the left - even though it became most closely identified with a man, at least in his latter decades, of the right. Frank Sinatra sang all the familiar patriotic songs at some point or other over the years but without, it seems to me, really connecting with them: His versions of "America The Beautiful", for example, are perfectly fine, but without finding a way, as he does with his best recordings, to take the material to the next level. His attempts to bend the notes on "amber waves of grain" suggest a man trying to find a way to make the line come alive for him and not quite succeeding. Yet there is one song about America that Sinatra prized above all others: He sang it on screen, on stage, to at least three presidents, and to the Statue of Liberty. And he sang it for not quite half-a-century - for 49 years and some months, all the way to the end. In fact, it's the last track of the last studio album of Frank Sinatra's 55-year recording career. And through all those decades it begins, always, with a question:
What is America to me?
A name, a map, a flag I see
A certain word - democracy!
What is America to me?
The story begins with Frank on stage - not at the Paramount or any other theatre, but at a high-school auditorium in the Bronx. It's 1944, and George Evans, Sinatra's press agent, has been trying to promote his client as more than just a pop singer. The Hearst papers in particular have got it in for Frank, and Evans figures the way to counter that is to present Sinatra as something beyond mere showbiz. So he calls up a friend who happens to be a school principal and books Frank to give a talk to the l'il tykes on juvenile delinquency. Today, celebrity activists are a dime a dozen - Leonardo di Caprio on the environment, George Clooney on everything - but not seventy-five years ago. Sinatra thinks it's a dumb idea and that he's not qualified to give lectures to high-school students. But he goes along to the Bronx, and the story winds up on the front page of The Daily News, with a big picture of Frank talking to the pupils. So Evans puts together some more schoolhouse appearances across the country, and it gradually begins to dawn on Sinatra that there's a real rapport between him and these kids.
Editor’s Note:  We’re going to cut it short here because the total piece is astonishingly long.  Those who want to take in the full measure of the treatment can go here to access it:
Here’s the first item to watch.  Sinatra is 30 years old; the piece is loaded with images and words politically incorrect for this day and age.  Enjoy.
And now the second one, with Sinatra in the latter phases of his career, nearly 60, with a voice richer with age and experience:
This one can evoke in us the sentiments described in the narrative above.
The closing paragraphs of the Steyn piece read as follows:
For that movie of many, many years ago, the first arrangement was by Axel Stordahl, of course. At Capitol in 1957, he asked Nelson Riddle for a new chart. And for a 1976 bicentennial gala at the Jefferson Memorial Don Costa remodeled "The House" for the version that would stay with Frank all the way to the Sands in Atlantic City. But, through all those various versions, one thing never changed:
The church, the school, the club house, the million lights I see
But especially the people...
At that point the orchestra would swell with a musical quotation from "America The Beautiful", and then back to Sinatra:
...yes, especially the people, that's America to me!
I think he meant that. He liked purple-mountain majesties and fruited plains as much as the next chap, but he was never in doubt as to his response to that question he posed at the beginning:
What is America to me?
Across 49 years, his answer stayed the same: Frank Sinatra believed a great nation was its people.
Today the people tear down their own history and vandalize their national inheritance to the approval and enthusiasm of the media, the political class and the corporations. "The house I live in" is falling to the ground.
We read those closing words from Steyn with sadness.  We know that this song would never be played anywhere with public reach in this age.  It would trigger and oppress and otherwise stimulate all sorts of bizarre anti-social behavior.  Anything but what it was meant to do.

And if Side was playing it, we’d be ridiculed, denigrated, and worse; dismissed as a senile old doofus who would be better off dead.
Soon enough; soon enough, we suppose.

No comments:

Post a Comment