Thursday, October 07, 2004

The Lost Art of Livin'

Talking to Margie about her Sinatra review sparked within me the urge to dig up a book I got secondhand a couple of years ago -- The Way You Wear Your Hat (subtitled "Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin',") by Bill Zehme. Not your typical biography, it's arranged more or less according to topic -- "Pallies," "Broads," "Style" and so forth -- and peppered with anecdotes, bits of onstage banter, quotes from FS and family and friends, and lots of great photos: a bygone, swingin' time captured in words and images, in black and white. "Arguably, no man ever lived life more broadly or confidently or stylishly than Frank Sinatra. So I sought his large legacy of mortal wisdom, plain and simple," writes Zehme. Sinatra was amused by his request, and generous with his replies.

How do you get over a broken heart? ~ "You don't. I think being jilted is one of life's most painful experiences. It takes a long time to heal a broken heart. It's happened to all of us and never gets any easier. I understand, however, that playing one of my albums can help."

One of the last mix tapes I ever made -- in the sense that it was an actual cassette, and not a CD -- was for my father, a mix of some of his favorite Sinatra songs. I think he still plays it in his car to this day; it strikes me that he's been listening to FS for maybe half a century by now, maybe more. Growing up, that voice was always there for us, which I suppose made it easy to take for granted. (I remember rewinding and playing a green-colored Sinatra tape to death, as a child; aside from the color, I remember little else about it, except that it had "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown"). The Beatles, my brother and I had to seek out specifically, aware of a huge gap in our music-appreciating knowledge, but Sinatra -- I suppose by the time I hit high school, I figured I had listened to enough Sinatra to last me the rest of my life (I was wrong -- after I made that tape for my father, not so long ago, I made a copy for myself, which I was to play quite a lot in the months to follow).

What is the most important thing a father can tell his children? ~ "Be true to yourself. And stay away from the dark thoughts."

Going through The Way You Wear Your Hat makes one nostalgic for a time and a place one never knew firsthand; for nights out on the town, fighting "a relentless battle against sleeping before sun-up," going to black-tie parties with sunglasses in your pocket, laughing hard and loving recklessly with one's pallies. Not that one wants to be part of that crop of fairly recent Rat Pack wannabes, flashing their borrowed lingo and secondhand swagger; there's something sad and pitiful in that, even if an imitation of style may be better than no style at all. And deep down, no matter how attractive an earlier era may seem, perhaps one senses that the depictions of all silvery ages are just linings on clouds, that the perception of glamour remains where perhaps the reality of pain and cruelty has faded, and that nothing, after all, is better than the present moment, with its stalwart friends and swoon-worthy lovers, these days of fulfilling work and happy-grinned play. And speaking of work, since, after all life can't be all tuxedos and Jack Daniel's:

What is the secret to doing good work? ~ "Never to accept anything without question. Never ignore an inner voice that tells you something could be better, even when other people tell you it's okay."

A good rule for work, and a good rule for livin', in general, I should think. Not that I don't break it all the time. Which reminds me -- it's almost 6 AM, and time to get back to work now. ;)

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