The Voice

Ten years ago I was woken up in the middle of the night by the phone ringing. I rolled over, looked at the clock, and silently cussed out whatever idiot was calling a wrong number at three in the morning. I wasn't in the practice of answering at that hour of the day, and I wasn't about to start. A minute later the phone rang again. This time my cussing wasn't so silent, but I still didn't answer. It took two more calls before I finally decided that maybe it wasn't a wrong number, and I stumbled downstairs to find out what was so important that it necessitated calling when most rational people were sleeping. It was my best friend calling from the west coast to tell me that Frank Sinatra had died two hours prior. He figured I'd rather hear it from someone I know than be caught off guard finding out at work that morning. I thanked him for calling, hung up the phone, and as weird as it sounds, I cried.

I've been obsessed with music since I was old enough to walk. I started making weekly trips to the local record store to buy 45s when I was eight. I probably owned more albums by the end of high school than most adults own at age 40. Of all the artists in all the genres that I've been a huge fan of in my life, I've never connected with anyone's music the way I connected with Francis Albert Sinatra. I'm definitely not an overly emotional person. It takes a lot to get me to tear up. But Frank's death really did feel like losing a friend.

I've often wondered if I'd have become such a huge Sinatra fan if the timing had been different. As I've mentioned before, the first thing of his I owned was a Christmas album. After listening to that for a year or two, I decided in 1994 that I dug it so much that I'd pick up a couple of the other albums he did with arranger Gordon Jenkins. Those ended up being No One Cares and Where Are You, two albums of torch songs recording during his golden age in 1950s. At the time I was recovering from a fairly devastating breakup, and hearing these albums was either just what the doctor ordered, or the worst thing that could have happened at the time. Inspired by Sinatra's doomed relationship with Ava Gardner, the songs were chalk full of heartbreak and despair. Finding solace in those, I moved onto harder stuff... the "suicide songs" of Only The Lonely. Frank Sinatra Jr. once described that album as being so bleak and emotionally draining that it should be sold by prescription only. It's an apt description. After a couple of months of wallowing in self pity, I decided it was time to cheer up, so I broke from the ballads and bought Come Dance With Me, an album upbeat swing under the baton of Billy May. From that point on I was hooked. Every time Tower Records had a catalog sale, I picked a couple more Sinatra CDs. Within five years, I owned every album Sinatra had ever commercially released. And considering the guy's career stretched over seven decades, that's a lot of CDs (I quit counting several years ago after I passed 250).

What made me love the guy so much? He had a lot of nicknames over the years. Ol' Blue Eyes. The Chairman of the Board. Dago Wop. But I think the one that describes him the best was the one he had first... The Voice. The guy had a way with words like no other singer in recorded history. Most of my favorite artists are songwriters as well as singers. Sinatra only had a handful of songwriting credits in his career, and his actual contributions to those songs is debatable. But his performances could get to the essence of song like no one else. Somebody else may have written most of his material, but I wouldn't even say he made the songs his own. They were his songs. He lived them. From the moment the words fell out of his mouth, he owned them.

So here are my second and third favorite Sinatra songs of all time (the number one spot is occupied by a
Christmas song). In both of these cases, I think it's one specific moment in the song that makes me love it so much. For the downer, it's the last line, which even after hearing it roughly a thousand times still sends shivers down my spine. For the upbeat one, it's the pause before the first chorus. There's just something about that break that makes me smile every time.

Frank Sinatra - "Angel Eyes" (mp3) from Only The Lonely
Frank Sinatra - "Let's Fall In Love" (mp3) from Ring-A-Ding-Ding!


I was at MP's tonight and was thinking about that night back in 1998. Most people remember it as the last episode of Seinfeld. I just remember watching the TV at LJ's sports bar and seeing all 32 tv's fade to black at the same time... and then all fade back in with Sinatra's photo. But hey, his postage stamp just came out and Frank made sure the Post Office raised the price!

Frank has been dead for 10 years? I don't have to believe that.
Your obsession with music started BEFORE you could walk (and you walked at 10 months) were getting into the record albums as soon as you were mobile (which meant crawling at 4 1/2 months). By six months you were standing at the record stand.

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