Wednesday, January 23, 2008

World on a String

Hey, Sinatra fans: It's here.

To be sure, Sinatra, an exquisitely complicated man, was doggedly committed to racial equality long before it was a fashionable cause. He was also a consistently generous artist and capable of astonishing grace and thoughtfulness. But—aside from consorting with killers; procuring for the doped-up, mobbed-up, and coarsely exploitative JFK (if anything, Camelot sullied Sinatra, not the other way around); and regularly displaying a potentially murderous temper—he perversely made sure that his ardent listeners grasped that his juvenile, vulgar, and increasingly pathetic Rat Pack antics couldn’t be reconciled with his carefully wrought musical reinvention. This was made clear on his 1966 album Sinatra at the Sands, which contains both his lovely and swinging renditions of “Angel Eyes” and “Luck Be a Lady,” accompanied by the Count Basie Orchestra, and his notoriously cringe-inducing monologue that combined yucky corniness and mean-spiritedness. If this was mature urbanity, who needed it?

Sinatra gave Sammy Davis Jr. his career, and his fiercely loyal, public embrace of Davis, often in the teeth of bigotry, was principled and heroic. But in their Rat Pack shows, he made Davis the butt of race-oriented jokes, and Davis knew a Sinatra both vindictive and considerate, both scummy and courtly.

Just in time for ... I dunno, St. Cadoc's Day, I guess. I'm sure you can persuade your loved ones to buy you the book, anyhow.

P.S.: This may be anathema, but as an ego-anthem, I prefer Davis' "I've Gotta Be Me" to the turgid "My Way," but then I prefer Sinatra's "Live Till I Die" over both.