January 11, 2009

Bono is "struck by the one quality [Frank Sinatra's] voice lacks: Sentimentality."

Quaff a pint glass of the velvety blackness of the rock star's prose.

***

Things Frank said to Bono:
“I don’t usually hang with men who wear earrings.”

“Miles Davis never wasted a note, kid — or a word on a fool.”

“Jazz is about the moment you’re in. Being modern’s not about the future, it’s about the present.”

IN THE COMMENTS: Bill White says:
Sinatra's voice was the most selfish I've heard, which makes his Christmas songs hilarious or unlistenable depending on your mood.
And Original George links to this movie clip of Sinatra singing "Someone to Watch Over Me" — which has that line "I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood," which is surprisingly unmasculine, and in fact, the song was written for a woman:
Wedding photographs of the "Bride and Groom" are being taken, and Kay, still disguised as a maid, tries to convince Jimmy she would be a better wife than fussy Constance. She tells her rag doll that she needs "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Now, I think the song is sentimental when a woman sings it, so how can a man sing it — especially with that "lamb" line? Yet, the song is better sung by Sinatra. It's a mystery. Does it have to do with selfishness?

We're also talking about lambs this morning over on the "Macho Jesus for men" post: "Paintings depict a gentle man embracing children and cuddling lambs." We're exploring masculinity today, and I propose reconciling the macho with the lamb.

35 comments:

Original George said...

Someone to Watch Over Me

Bono don't know.

heywoot said...

Frank wasted a word on a fool, from the looks of it.

ricpic said...

It Was A Very Good Year is full of smirky sentimentality.

Not Frank's best.

downtownlad said...

Bono has already proven himself 10 times more qualified to write for the Times than Bill Kristol. I thought it was a great column.

Michael H said...

That Bono can't hear the sentimentality in Sinatra's voice says more about Bono than Sinatra.

Sinatra's voice had a man's sentimentality - a sentimentality taken from a time when men were manly, when 'being a man' meant that emotions were kept close, perhaps hidden, and revealed only when the substance of the moment (or phrase of the lyric) required a glimpse.

Bono's voice carries sentimentality and emotion in every phrase, so much so that the effect is lost by overuse. This is the bane of most pop music lyric: noise replaced sentiment.

Tony Bennett, arguably Sinatra's equal (some, including Sinatra, thought better) so deeply admires Sinatra that the Tony Bennett Foundation is the lead fund donor for the Frank Sinatra School of Performing Arts being built in Queens. Interview.

Sinatra's take on Miles Davis is exactly spot on. Turn off the lights and listen to the CD Kind of Blue. Not one note wasted. The album was cut in one take; Davis was exhausted from a long concert tour in Europe, probably strung out on heroin. He had no charts. He brought descriptions of each piece to the studio and gave them to his band. The entire album is a brilliant improvisation by a master.

Bissage said...

I am completely unqualified to express a well-considered opinion on this topic as decades have passed and yet I have never stopped referring to the man as “Boner.”

Bill White said...

Sinatra's voice was the most selfish I've heard, which makes his Christmas songs hilarious or unlistenable depending on your mood.

Lawgiver said...

In the mist of uncertainty in your business life, your love life, your life life, why is Sinatra’s voice such a foghorn — such confidence in nervous times...

Why? Because he championed High hopes.

EDH said...

Bono calls it duality.

I was lucky to duet with a man who understood duality, who had the talent to hear two opposing ideas in a single song, and the wisdom to know which side to reveal at which moment.

I agree. Under a previous Althouse post I commented that as a small child I detected an "inconguity" between the literal and tonal in Sinatra's voice.

Sinatra’s vocalization didn’t necessarily follow the story line. Indeed, that meant sometimes "sentimentality," as Bono terms it, was expunged from a song despite it’s lyrics. What that did, I suppose, was give the rendition depth. Here was a man singing on one level about one facet of his life, but to assume that that would explain the complexity of the man himself, well, kid, I got chucks of guys like you in my stool!

(Sorry about the commercial, but worth it to see the classic sketch and cast.)

Eddie Jetson said...

Bono must not have the same Sinatra records that I do. Michael H. is exactly right... this article says more about Bono than it does about Sinatra.

Also, Bono is just a different type of singer than Sinatra. He uses his voice to fill a stadium, not captivate a room. It's the difference between a marching band and a combo.

Maybe he's jealous that when we hear Sinatra sing, we all wish we could sing like that. But when we hear U2, everyone knows we can sing like that.

Ralph said...

Doesn't that song George linked also have the lines:
Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome,
To my heart, he carries the key.

How did Sinatra sing that? (the video is NA on my computer).

rcocean said...

I don't understand the charge of "selfishness". Sinatra recorded some great Christmas Music: "Come all ye Faithful" or "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."

Most selfish singer Ever - Streisand.

KLDAVIS said...

"I propose reconciling the macho with the lamb."

Well, here's a start.

Nothing terribly inappropriate, but probably not safe for work.

Ann Althouse said...

To KLDavis: Reminds me of this.

William said...

When I was younger, I thought Sinatra was kind of blah. I just didn't know. Sinatra is to divorce and middle age what Dylan is to acne and alienation....I suppose young people could like Sinatra--they certainly did early in his career--but the way he bites off and doesn't chew the bitterness in certain songs is a quality best appreciated by people of a certain age who have consumed a certain amount of Jack Daniels......The four big singers of the 20th century were Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. Not counting White Christmas, I venture to say Frank Sinatra is the only singer among this group that your readers have purposefully listened to in the past year......Sketches of Spain is as dated, pretentious and derivative as a Chianti bottle with a candle.

EDH said...

rcocean said...

I don't understand the charge of "selfishness". Sinatra recorded some great Christmas Music: "Come all ye Faithful" or "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear."


Hmm, sounds like the Chairman may have had his mind elsewhere, on Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner, perhaps.

What album was that: Sinatra's Christmas Orgy?

rcocean said...

He also did a wonderful rendition of "Little Town of Bethlehem"

Now, I dare you to make a double entendre out of that!

ballyfager said...

Here's a relevant factoid that most people are unaware of. At the height of Sinatra's first wave of popularity, when the bobbysoxers were swooning at the Paramount - even then, Bing Crosby was selling more records than Sinatra.

EDH said...

reocean,

Double entendre, moi ?

Original George said...

"Night and Day" by Sinatra.

With help from Cole Porter...

Total heart throb. Light years past mere sentimentality.

Michael H said...

William -

I agree re: Sketches of Spain. Listen to this regarding Kind of Blue.

Ralph said...

Now, I dare you to make a double entendre out of that!

He had the entire town sent abroad and tortured? I knew he liked to swing his "weight" around, but that's extreme.

dick said...

William,

Hate to disagree with you re Sketches of Spain but it is not derivative. It is what the ones you don't like derived from. It was the original. The same with the Porgy and Bess that Miles Davis did. You may think it is derivative but you are looking from the wrong end of it. Look at it when it came out and it is not derivative at all. The others use it as their base. They are the ones you should call derivative.

rhhardin said...

Sinatra's secret is breath control. He only breathes at the end of sentences, which gives the song a unique quality.

dick said...

What Bono is not hearing is exactly what Sinatra is based on. Sinatra is singing his personal interpretation of the story line. It is just as valid as what Bono and the others are expecting but it is what he sees in the song. That is why he will be very listenable for generations to come while most of the other popular ones will die out. Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday had the same thing. You heard their interpretation of the song. People listen to these singers to hear what they thought the song was saying.

Ralph said...

One thing Sinatra and other crooners could do, which so many recent singers can't, is hold a note. I hate it when they proudly wiggle it around, as if they're Beverly Sills, teenage coloratura.

Cedarford said...

What I didn't realize until my musician neighbor reminded me as we shoveled snow was that the two did some duets together and had a mutual admiration thing going. Sinatra thought Bono a real stand up guy.
In 1994 when the Grammies honored Sinatra with a lifetime achievement award, he called Bono and asked him to do the introduction. Not all the living greats or any of his surviving Rat Pack buds - Bono. Later, Sinatra said it was the best intro he had ever gotten:

Link:
http://www.u2station.com/news/archives/1994/03/bono_introduces.php

blake said...

Although he may not be the man some
Girls think of as handsome,
To my heart, he carries the key.

How did Sinatra sing that? (the video is NA on my computer).


Randy Newman (and isn't there a post-and-a-half talking about his singing abilities?) often sings songs in character, like "Texas Girl at the Funeral of her Father" or "Sigmund Freud's Impression of Albert Einstein in America".

But when I sing it, I sing it:

Although I may not be
the man some
Girls think of
as handsome
to her heart
I carry the key


But back then people were less hung up about it. Judy used to sing songs with clearly masculine voices without changing the words all the time.

Original George said...

Right Off

From Miles' "Jack Johnson" album.

The clip above doesn't do justice to it. Story is, he was late. The other musicians started playing without him. He comes in, listens, then blows the walls down.

Ralph said...

Very clever, Blake. Someone to watch over YOU would be kinda creepy nowadays, however.

Bill White said...

Here's a bunch of hand-waving on manliness and Sinatra and fatherhood...

There's a selfish immature thing that passes as manliness; I'd tag it as the bachelor's manliness, some kind of narcissism. Sinatra was full of that, at least in his voice and his public persona, and he used his magnificent vocal technique to exploit it perfectly in songs that called for it. And then there's the father's manliness, a deeper thing that is willing to serve rather than be served; etc. and so on. I don't hear a bit of that in his Christmas songs, where you might expect a more 'humble' singing technique. To my ears it's like he's saying "I'm gonna tell this thing my way" - aggrandizing himself rather than serving the song.

Or something. Note that the father's humble, sometimes gentle manliness has nothing to do with the Sweet-N-Gentle Sky Fairy Jebus.

Kev said...

Sinatra's take on Miles Davis is exactly spot on. Turn off the lights and listen to the CD Kind of Blue. Not one note wasted. The album was cut in one take; Davis was exhausted from a long concert tour in Europe, probably strung out on heroin. He had no charts. He brought descriptions of each piece to the studio and gave them to his band. The entire album is a brilliant improvisation by a master.

I totally agree. I've often told my beginning jazz students (or any other neophytes interested in listening to the music) that if you can only own one jazz album, KInd of Blue is it. And Miles' trumpet solo on "So What" is the first thing I ever have anyone transcribe (yes, the trumpet solo first, even though I teach saxophone; it's much more playable at first than what would follow from Coltrane or Cannonball).

Mark Daniels said...

Sinatra's voice was incredibly expressive and specifically, I feel that his rendering of 'Someone to Watch Over Me' is drenched in the sentimentality of a disppointed suitor/lover. Indeed, he conveys a characteristic not seen in the real life adult Sinatra: vulnerability.

He could display this in his acting too, as in his film with Gene Kelly, 'Anchors Aweigh,' though by that time Sinatra had already had several run-ins with the law and had been around.

I love both Bono and Sinatra. I suspect Bono was reacting to the tough-guy persona Sinatra used with increasing frequency from his 'Ratpack,' 'Oceans 11,' and 'Robin and the Seven Hoods' days.

But any listen to Sinatra's entire body of work will display a full array of human emotions. including sentimentality, I think.

John Salmon said...

Bono is right about Sinatra lacking "sentimentality", which is unearned emotion-tugging. I.e., Hallmark card stuff.

But he's wrong about late career Frank. Those Duet albums are embarassing. Sinatra wasn't a pure song stylist who could still sing credibly after he'd lost his technique. He needed his chops.

John Salmon said...

Turn off the lights and listen to the CD Kind of Blue. Not one note wasted. The album was cut in one take; Davis was exhausted from a long concert tour in Europe, probably strung out on heroin. He had no charts. He brought descriptions of each piece to the studio and gave them to his band. The entire album is a brilliant improvisation by a master.

Accurate descriptionion of the quality of the music, but Bill Evans was responsible for most of the writing, not Miles.