UNDER MY SKIN

by Ross Sharp

Jody Rosen from Slate’s Browbeat column (my bolding) …

What the world needs at this point isn’t a Sinatra dance musical, or a biopic, but a decent book. There may be no cultural figure of comparable stature so ill-served by the vast literature devoted to him. Where is the biography that places Sinatra in the sweep of 20th century history, probes the psychology of the self-described “18 carat manic depressive,” and explains the alchemy by which the broads and the boorishness was transmuted into some of the most emotionally nuanced and musically thrilling pop records ever made? That book won’t arrive until the family realizes it has an obligation to history and places Sinatra’s papers in the care of an institution like the Library of Congress. The greatest singer of the 20th centuryone of the greatest American artists, period—merits more than an action-adventure fable.

Amen.

I’ll nominate Lee Server. After all, he’s practically half way already and his biography of Robert Mitchum is one of the finest biographies I’ve ever read, serving as neither hatchet-job nor hagiography.

But I’ve never read a biography of Frank Sinatra and, until someone can do for Sinatra what Peter Guralnick did for Presley and what Gary Giddins did for Crosby, I never will.

I have just two books on Sinatra – Will Friedwald’s, which is an analysis and overview of Sinatra in song, and Pete Hamill’s short essay “Why Sinatra Matters”.

I can do without shit like this and this and God only knows how many others like them.

Because what these hacks can’t get through their thick fucking heads is that anyone, anyone at all who was even remotely associated with North American nightclubs and casinos in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, if you had a milk bar with a jukebox in it for Chrissakes, you probably had occasion to have dealings with “The Mob”.

Yet that’s the whole story and the most important story of Sinatra’s life apparently, the one that gets all the traction among the legions of creative typists looking for a novel angle to hang their hatchets from …

Sinatra knew some mob guys.

Sinatra knew Kennedy and campaigned for him.

The mob killed Kennedy.

You can draw your own conclusions from there because every other dumb fucker with a keyboard and a literary agent has.

And it shits me. It shits me to fucking tears.

Frank Sinatra was a giant.

His life, his talents, his extraordinary achievements as an artist, his influence, and, yes, his failings and horrible flaws as a human being all deserve far, far better and more serious analysis than what has been afforded him to date.

From Pete Hamill’s aforementioned essay

To be sure, Sinatra was one of those figures whose art is often overshadowed by the life. In the end, it is of minor interest that Lord Byron swam the Hellespont, that Andre Malraux flew in combat during the Spanish Civil War, or that Ernest Hemingway shot lions in Africa. In the end, only the work matters. Sinatra’s finest work was making music.

… He was formed by an America that is long gone: the country of the European immigrants and the virulent America-for-Americans nativism that was directed at them; the country in which a mindless Puritanism, allied with that scapegoating nativism, imposed Prohibition upon the land and helped create the Mob; a country undergoing a vast transformation from a fundamentally rural society to one dominated by cities; a country that passed through Depression and war into the uncertain realities of peace …

In their work all great artists help transcend the solitude of individuals; they relieve the ache of loneliness; they supply a partial response to the urging of writer E. M. Forster: “Only connect.” In their ultimate triumph over the banality of death, such artists continue to matter. So will Frank Sinatra.

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