"The familiar voice..." ~ Jane Eyre
(the opening to my phone conversation with my grandmother this past Sunday:)
"Amy, darling, how are you?"
"I am good. I was just listening to Frank and was thinking of you."
"Ah, yes...remember when we saw him together?"
Yes, I shall always remember.
I was no more than twelve years of age the night mom drove us to Nassau Colisseum. A few months before this night I had cut out an ad from the Part 2 section of Newsday which indicated that Steve Lawrence and Edie Gourmet would be the opening act for Frank Sinatra. I really wanted to go see him, and I asked my grandmother if she would go with me.
My grandmother was one of those young girl's who used to cut school and wait on line to see Frank Sinatra at the Paramount at MSG. She, herself, was a singer and sung on the radio before World War II. We still have two of her recordings. Her "stage name" was Alice DeLane, and my favorite song of the two is called, "No Mama No." My grandmother became my inspiration to take tap dancing lessons after she and I watched Fred Astaire movies together in the basement of her house in Astoria. It is the voice of Fred Astaire in Swing Time that is my first memory of the song, "The Way You Look Tonight."
On the eve of the Sinatra concert, I remember hopping out of my mother's mini-van and finding myself admist people who created the baby boomers. I was, of course, the youngest person there. There were very few people who were even my age now attending the show. During my community theatre days, we used to joke that the Sunday matinee crowd were the "q-tips" because of the sea of white hair. Indeed, that night Sinatra sang, it was the same kind of q-tip crowd (except for my grandma, who refuses to go grey and has dark curly hair like I do).
Of course being at the concert with her landed me quite a bit of attention at the time. I think people were happy to see a young person going to enjoy music that got them through the Depression and World War. I was told by many strangers how sweet I was to be taking my grandmother to the show. Sweetness aside, life back then and now can't get any better than my grandma Alice and Sinatra together in the same room. Of course these days he is on a cd, but its still lovely. I felt like she was the one doing me a favor that night.
Sinatra set his stage up in the round. His son conducted the orchestra, and each part of the stage had prompts for him. It never bothered me that the lyrics were there for him. What mattered was the sound of his voice, and his sound enveloped me that evening. I remember at times he had his Chevis Regal in one hand and a cigar in the other, but neither affected those amazing croons of his. He was witty and energetic and commanding and romantic all at the same time.
There are two songs that stay with me from that night. He did "My Boy Bill" from Carousel and it was just beautiful and sweet and heartfelt. Of course the other was his final song of the evening, "New York, New York."
There is no other voice that defines New York but Sinatra's. Sixteen years after that concert, he is still a voice that signifies so many important things in my life, including my grandmother and my city. "New York, New York" has at times become overplayed at bar mitzvahs and weddings, and even at karaokee bars in Italy according to D.R., but lets face it: there is no other song that lends itself to the majesty and beauty of the skyline. When I ride the L.I.E. into the city and that skyline is encompassing the entire night sky, that song's big, brass booming is the only one that can do it all justice. Its not just the skyline which makes me never want to leave New York, it is the love for it in Sinatra's voice.
Sixteen years after seeing Sinatra in concert, I have grown to understand what a comfort he is. He is right. Being in love and having those emotions is comprable to flying to the moon. He makes it ok for me to want to push for love when he sings "Lets Fall In Love" and he makes me feel special when he sings "My Funny Valentine" because, for Frank, it is the inside that matters even when your figure is "less than Greek." The quintessential potrait of romance for me is a couple walking down the streets of New York City at night and stopping at a corner for a kiss as a street musician plays "Come Rain or Come Shine" on his saxaphone.
And when it hurts, when it really f-cking hurts, I put on his version of "I Get Along Without You Very Well" and I feel as though I am not alone because he is there for me and he understands. I know he understands. I hear it in his voice. It is all I need.
We all know that Sinatra is synonomous with romance. There is that great moment on an episode on Sex and the City where Big is crooning "My Way" to Carrie. Carrie is just beaming in that moment. I think deep down every woman wants to fall in love with a man while listening to Sinatra. Because his love is the only love worth singing about. And when that love is gone, Frankie doesn't leave you flat. He helps you make it through. Yep, who knew Sinatra was a bona fide therapist?
When Frank Sinatra died on May 14th, 1988, my grandma Alice sobbed all morning. What he means to her he couldn't mean to me, because she was of a generation that needed him for different reasons. I know that when my Grandpa John was in the Infantry during World War II and gone for four years, Sinatra helped my grandmother through that very difficult time. He was her friend, her support system. Sinatra has also become mine, two generations later, in a different context.
Sinatra on a Sunday is almost essential. When Chaz and I cooked together all Sunday afternoon in my kichen, Frankie was singing. Talk about romantic! Each moment was as delicious as the food we were making.
Each Sunday, WNYC airs Jonathan Schwartz at noon. Check your local NPR station for the listening schedule and listen. Schwartz heralds Sinatra for four hours on his broadcast, and it is, by far, what I look foward to each Sunday afternoon if I am home. I have over half a dozen Sinatra cd's, but I still love listening to Schwartz because his love for Frankie is as passionate as my grandmother's (of course sadly he is a Red Sox fan and I hate him for that). Still, tomorrow I shall be listening to Schwartz and Sinatra...
Reader, welcome to my life.
- Name: ThursdayNext
- Location: New York, United States