Frank: The Voice

TheVoiceSuggested by Brad Nelson • Sinatra made listening to pop music a more personal experience than it had ever been. Kaplan reveals how he did it, bringing deep insight into the complex psyche and tur­bulent life behind that incomparable vocal instrument.
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12 Responses to Frank: The Voice

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I’m one-third of the way into this 700+ biography…if it can be called a biography considering it apparently follows Frank only until he turns 38. The book ends in 1954 according to reviews I’ve read.

    The disappointing aspect of this book is that it is very gossipy. Did I really need to know that Frank’s private parts were apparently huge? (“Big Frankie” he apparently called it.)

    Anyway, in order to cleanse my palate, I may have to switch to reading a biography of Mister Rogers or Mother Teresa. Frank’s life is full of self-inflicted drama. He was another liberal who loved humanity but seemed to go out of his way to be nasty to people.

    He was a sexual hound of the first degree. I can’t help but imagine that there must be dozens of Little Frankie bastards running around out there. The challenge of reading a book such as this is that you are immersed in this crud. And I don’t foresee myself finishing this book, which is why I’m reviewing it now.

    He was a tremendous talent. And the most fascinating parts of the book are the story of how he got his start and how he developed that talent. He wasn’t destined to become Frank Sinatra. He had to work at it. For the longest time, he was trying to be Bing Crosby (just as other groups tried to be Elvis or tried to be the Beatles, etc.). Eventually, around the age of 30 or so, he unmistakably becomes Frank Sinatra.

    He had a keen emotional ability to read people and read songs. He was a son of a bitch much of the time — mostly when there was absolutely no reason to be. But regarding music, he was ahead of his time. And a certain amount of bare-knuckles brawling is necessary to make it in the entertainment business. But Frank seemed to go out of his way to brawl.

    It’s also arguable, as one reviewer noted, that the books consists of “tons of pages that do not add to the understanding” of Sinatra. So far, I’d somewhat concur with that. This biography also brings to light that so many myths were created about Sinatra — quite a few by Sinatra himself — that it’s difficult to know the truth of various stories that have circulated.

    The odd thing is, at least as described in this book, Frank had a train-wreck of a life…but it all miraculous seemed to work out for him. This is not an introspective biography. Details are often thrown at you in a jumble. And perhaps that, more than anything, shows you the kind of active, often turbulent, life he lived…and loved living. The guy hated to be alone and always wanted to be surrounded with friends and to be doing something.

    I went into this biography with very few illusions about the man. I can’t say I wasn’t surprise a time or two by his depravity or ill treatment of people. I didn’t expect an angel. But I did walk away with the conclusion that if I had a time machine and go back and meet anyone in history, I would have no interest in getting anywhere near Sinatra. I think he defined a time. His talent and public entertainer image of elegance and class are almost unmatched. He is a warm glow of nostalgia in a present age of third-rate vulgarity.

    But he’s one mess of a man. Even his friends called him “The Monster.”

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    “Big Frankie”? You may recall that there was a book about Clinton (I think fiction) involving both him and Willie, his penis. Perhaps at that time people could have had some fun with the old “Little Willie” poems by D. Streamer (which, unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of, and have to purely on memory).

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Frank had a number of odd things, including a bit of OCD behavior. According to this bio, he might wash his hands twenty times or more a day. And I just got done reading a section that described him changing his underwear every 20 minutes. I forget where he was (likely at home or in the studio). But he’d just drop his drawers, flick his underwear away with his foot (wherein some flunky would go grab them) and put on another pair.

      But he loved trains. In his Palm Springs compound he had an entire building dedicated to his model trains…with a sign on the door that said “Whoever dies with the most toys wins.” Frank was a complex character. People, quite rightly, loved him. He was the alpha male. But along with that went some difficult times.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Frank was born on December 12, 1915. So this year marks the centenary of his birth. Mark Steyn is doing a somewhat verbose countdown of his songs as is Pundit & Pundette.

    Sinatra is a category where you just have to choose what you like and ignore the rest. I’m continuing my way through this biography. He’s just gotten a divorce from Nancy and has married Ava Gardner. And there’s no way to describe the behavior of Frank and Ava than trailer trash. Oh, they were rich, talented trailer trash. But they were trailer trash all the same.

    So I urge one and all to skip these biographies of Frank on his centenary and just concentrate on the music. You’ll be glad you did.

    Here’s a nice little version of They Can’t Take That Away From Me by the incomparable Billie Holiday.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Glutton for punishment that I am, I’m now two-thirds of the way through this biography. It’s like sitting in a dirty bar where you feel on your skin the muck that’s accumulated on the floor, where you’re elbowed-in by lots of sad and inebriated people, and the conversation is all meaningless and loud. Want a quick primer for why Hollywood is such a noxious influence? Just read about the lives of the stars, producers…just about everyone involved in the business. It makes Sodom and Gomorrah look respectable.

    Ava Garner, pretty as she was, was trash through and through. Sinatra wasn’t much better. The amount of alcohol these stars and others consumed must have kept several distillers in business.

    And now that pop culture entertainment culture is arguably the first or second most important influence (Hollywood, if you will), we’re getting the expected results. My God, reading this book makes me want to find a little monastery (and old-fashioned one, not a modern one where they’re all buggering each other) to just get away and be near decency, solitude, and a world of beauty.

    Want to become like a celebrity (that is, superficial and trashy)? Just immerse yourself in today’s pop entertainment culture. I’ll give Frank his due as a singer. But, Jesus, this book is an unintentional warning about the corrosive affect of the Hollywood lifestyle. And now with cheap drugs, cheap sex, and cheap mass-marketed music, anyone can live the trashy, anarchic life of an Ava Gardner or Frank Sinatra. Have at it.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Another aspect of why Hollywood is the way it is: the movie business is dishonest and vicious. (Winston Groom received no royalties for the movie Forrest Gump because it officially lost money, and his royalties were a percentage of the net.) So the anti-business attitude in most movies represents their attitude (generally justified) toward their own business.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I should have taken the words of Frank Morgan to heart:

        Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

        Add “music” to “the law” and “sausages” to the things you never want to see being made.

        I think Frank’s later life was much more reformed than his early life. And my message is not that I expect our stars (especially our true artists) to live immaculate lives. But, good golly, I think this group was the one to pioneer the idea of living like an adolescent forever. One gets the feeling this was the Cult of Anti-Middle-Class values. And now that the middle class has adopted those same values, I’d hate to know what the Hollywood crowd is into now.

        According to this author’s description, there’s barely a commendable person in the book. Lana Turner was a particular piece of work.

        And I wouldn’t have had sex with Ava Gardner if you paid me. Much like Madonna, you don’t know who else had been there…or was still in there.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          What the heck, he ended up as a Reagan friend instead of a Kennedy friend. One would like to think that meant he’d had a change of political philosophy, if nothing else.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Frank was being seriously considered for the part of Terry Malloy in “On the Waterfront,” a part eventually played by Brando. Lucky thing. Brando is great in it. Not just good. Great.

    You all know my love for Frank. He’s the tops…when it comes to singing. And I’ve found from this biography that he had a deep sense of musicality. He was not just a glib singer. Perhaps that could describe Perry Como. But with Frank, he really knew the essence of music.

    But I still don’t think he was much of an actor. I watched his last movie last night, “The First Deadly Sin.” You can see one-take Frank written all over this. He puts very little into this movie. I guess he had enough popularity and authority to get away with mediocrity while many others (including his friend on “Eternity,” Montgomery Clift) worked hard to master a scene.

    Well, the perks of bluster, I guess.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    [As I write this, I’m listening to Sinatra’s album, In the Wee Small Hours.]

    Woo boy, where to start? Well, where the book finishes is when Mr. S wins the Oscar for his role in “From Here to Eternity.” And all is looking up in the Sinatra universe. He doesn’t even need his shrink anymore after this. (But one supposes he will still be pining for Ava. Frank won the Oscar in 1954 and his marriage, at least legally, continued until sometime in 1957. I’ll have to do more reading if I want to find out what happened. And I assure you that I will do no such thing. I’ve had all the Frank/Ava for a lifetime.)

    Let’s just say that there is probably a very good reason that, historically, entertainers were considered almost the lowest of the low. These guys drank, were generaly awful to people, arrogant, womanized to the extreme, and all around acted like adult children. Yeah, I’ll take their money, but I wouldn’t want their fame or their celebrity.

    At the end of the day (at least up until 1954), I can pronounce Frank as a not very reputable or nice man. And he seemed a bit of an adult child. The way he pined for Ava was downright embarrassing. I think he grew up after this but it was pretty pathetic for a while there.

    The best parts of the book were about the music. The rest is just trashy details about trashy behavior. I can’t really recommend this book, and yet it’s like an accident at the side of the road. You sometimes can’t help but slow down and be a looky-loo.

    But the musical side of Frank is much more noble. The guy had not just a great voice but a real musical touch. Having trained under the best (Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and others), Frank could get up in front of a studio band and fix the myriad flaws in a pinch until they were playing at or near Class A. He knew what the instruments should sound like and how they should be played.

    But as for his private life, it’s hard to think of one truly decent person who is mentioned in the book. There are a couple, but just a couple. My recommendation is to stick to the music and don’t dig any deeper. Still, it’s what they pay me here to do so that you don’t have to.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      An interesting look at the reputation of entertainers can be seen in the movie Goodbye, Mr. Chips (the version I’ve seen is the 1960s version with Peter O’Toole and Petula Clark). Chips probably would have been headmaster of the school a lot sooner if he hadn’t married an entertainer (and, in fact, after she’s killed by a German bomb — a V-1 or V-2 — he finally becomes headmasster at the movie’s end).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I loved that movie. I think it was only last year (or the year before) that I saw it for the first time. A real treat.

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