Sinatra, Old and Alone, with Hope and Remembrance
I guess the 14th and 19th discs of the Reprise Recording (chronologically arranged) are probably some of the last that Frank Sinatra ever recorded. God, all those interpolations and extrapolations on his life, all those introspectives and retrospectives on his philosophy are the mark of the man Sinatra, as he approached old age, voice cracking and way past his prime, and utterly conscious of his own mortality, of time running out, and of booking on his last flight, delayed but inevitable. Few great men ever lived long enough, or matured enough to do this. Bing Crosby and Irving Berlin, old in years, were still young in heart when the old ticker gave out. Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, fathers of the atom bomb, matured enough to realize the enormity of what they unleashed into the world, and they became part of the conscience of humanity. Sinatra did mature enough to be such a man.
But it sure makes it tough on the transcriber of his songs.
The Sinatra introspectives are unveiled in two sets of songs, “A Man Alone” (12 songs) written by Rod McKuen, and “The Future” (6 songs) composed by Gordon Jenkins.
In “A Man Alone,” (1) I’ve Been To Town; (2) Empty Is; (3) The Single Man; (4) Lonesome Cities; (5) The Beautiful Strangers; (6) A Man Alone; (7) Love’s Been Good To Me; (8) Out Beyond The Window; (9) Night; (10) Some Traveling Music; (11) From Promise To Promise; (12) A Man Alone (Reprise) – Sinatra says he has lived a full life and speaks of not of loneliness, but of being alone. In his life so full of wonder and excitement, he speaks instead of Emptiness. For a man married four times in his life to vibrant and beautiful women, he speaks of himself as a single man, always alone, at home or in a crowd, thinking of better times, when the house was filled with love. In four memorable songs, Sinatra does not even sing, he whispers, he muses, he speaks to himself. He speaks of promises never meant to be kept, and of strangers with kind words who muddle up his thinking. He longs for more lonesome cities and more pretty women, still yet to be seen, and remembers “beautiful strangers” who shared his pillow in afternoon shack-ups, “learning to live with midnights that fell apart at dawn.” And the background music soars to heavenly heights.
I have been a rover, I have walked alone. / Hiked a hundred highways, never found a home. / Still in all I’m happy the reason is, you see, / Once in a while along the way, love’s been good to me.
My window looks out over the park, / And every year I move another story up. / So now I’m almost close enough / To the roof of the sky to touch it. / There must be a highway somewhere, roads I’ve missed, /Something more than sky out beyond the window.
But the night makes me nervous / Not for any reason. / Except maybe that it catches you unaware, / And follows you the way a woman follows / When she wants something..
One day, I’m gonna find me an island, a think place, / Go there with a mess of records and a ukalele, / Just sit strumming, I might even do some thinking, / About the women and the towns that I left behind.
In “The Future,” (1) What Time Does The Next Miracle Leave?; (2) World War None; (3) The Future; (4) I’ve Been There; (5) Conclusion: Song Without Words; (6) Finale: Before The Music Ends – Sinatra approaches middle and old age, remembers the past, and hopes for the future. He imagines leaving with the next miracle on the Satellite Special, leaving for Venus, Pluto, Saturn Neptune… coming back to earth he asks to be set down on the desert where he contemplates the future. He wants to build a bonfire seven hundred feet high, right up to the sky, feeding the flames with “unkind deeds, our sins, lies, false suspicions and un-neighborly feelings,” so that we may be ready for a peaceful world, for World War None.
Given a choice I would choose to have a magic wand that I could use, / To draw a melody, from that enchanted blade of grass / And cheese and wood and wind and sea. / I would stand there, dig a grave, and quietly say, / Ladies and Gentlemen, play for me, play for me.
When I see a young couple walking slowly through the trees, / I don’t have to follow them to know how far they’ll go, / I’ve been there. / I’ve been there when the music played old songs, / Young songs, good songs, bad songs, sweet songs, sad songs. / So to all of you in the throes of early love, / Where delightful confusion reigns supreme, / Let me try to help you rearrange your dream, / Let yourself live, let yourself love, let yourself go. / I’ve been there, and I know.
I wish I could write a song everyone alive could understand, / A song that a Frenchman could sing to a Spaniard, / A song that a German could sing to a Russian, / A song that if ever you’d sing, you are king. / Wouldn’t it be wonderful, won’t it be grand! / To write a song that the whole wide world could understand.
In a moving Finale that moves us to tears, he says that a different song must be sung when one is no longer young. Before the music ends, he must do what he must do, visit the scenes of his childhood, in Hoboken, down the street, to the school, to the pool hall, even when there are no more friends there. He must thank life-long friends he never met: the other Frank (Franz Liszt), Beethoven, Giuseppi Verdi and Giacomo Puccini for “taking turns delivering sunrise a little sooner to his window.” He asks for plain and simple Time, Time to record one more song with the best musicians in the world, so that when Death comes knocking, before the music ends, he’ll be singing as he leaves this earth.
And so we pay our last tribute to Frank Sinatra, the universal singer, the man for all our seasons. He was there for us in the morning of our youth, in his Dorsey years, a great voice sharing our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows. He was there for us in the high noon of our lives, in his Capitol years with an even greater voice, a grand master with all stops out, sharing our loves and our triumphs in the sunlit uplands of our middle years. And he was there for us in the evening of our lives, in his Reprise years, his pipes rusty, his thoughts turning to last hopes and remembrances, wishing as we do for a better and more peaceful world for our children and our children’s children.
William Faulkner once wrote that “Man is immortal simply because he will endure. When the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from that worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice still talking.” Still singing too, and The Voice will be that of Frank Sinatra, an inexhaustible voice, “because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”
In broadcasts over DWBR-fm, April 26-27, 2001