Sunday, December 20, 2009


It’s only taken about 40 years, but finally – finally – I have sorted out my thoughts and feelings about Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

In short, Sinatra may be the greater artist, but I’d rather listen to and watch Tony any time.

Here’s why.

KCTS has been running a number of their all-time favorites during their recent pledge drive, including “Sinatra at Carnegie Hall.”

I taped the 90-minute piece and watched it in several sittings between bites of food, Seinfeld re-runs and other mindless diversions.

Sinatra, about 55 or 60 at the time, was terrific.

So were the orchestra, the arrangements and the worshipping audience.


There were three big buts.

And one of them was a butt.

A cigarette butt.

There was a time not so very long ago in Magic Land when most of us smoked cigarettes and many of us developed certain styles and nervous tics with our habits that we believed spoke of sophistication, urbanity, hipness and cool.

We were wrong and deluded, of course, but it was great fun while it lasted.

A bit of an anachronism to witness therefore, the Chairman of the Board dragging the last possible hit out of his filter job – whilst singing up a storm no less – and then, before our very eyes, flicking the damn thing onto the hallowed parquet floor of the stage of Carnegie Hall and then grinding the thing in with the heel of his many-lacquered tuxedo slipper.

A cultural oddity I realize, forgivable by the relativity we call Time.

But the second offense was not a passing fancy.

It was essential core Sinatra.

Sinatra has always been famous for, among many other things (just ask Ava Gardner), crediting the great songwriters and tunesmiths just before he opens his pipes and delivers what is usually the defining version of a given melody.

In the concert I was watching he did just that with a song by Carol Bayer Sager.

Then for some inexplicable reason, he began riffing on her name, ending in a dreadful disrespectful insult, which he clearly thought was funny and clever.

It was neither.

“Carole Bayer Sager. Or, Carol Sager Bayer. Or, Bag Lady…”

Bag Lady?

I have never heard him do this with the names of Gershwin – George or Ira – Irving Berlin, Jimmy van Husen, Sammy Kahn, Rogers & Hart or any other of the great contributors to The American Songbook, which is Sinatra’s stock and trade.

But of course they are all men.

I would suggest that this odd and not amusing little sideways outburst has a lot to do with Sinatra’s great love for and fear of women.

Women have always been Man’s kryptonite.

Men adore the fairer sex and knowing at the deepest level our dependence on them, we fear them mightily.

It was Sinatra who insisted on calling them “broads.”

Finally, there is a palpable sense when one watches Sinatra that we are witnessing a guy who is oh so very in love with himself. He is so hostile and angry with you and you and me and so pleased with his own very wonderful self, that much of the potential for communication is cut off by the glory of the performance.

He was a marvelous actor, possibly the best pop singer in living memory, a pretty fair Sunday painter, a complete entertainer and a fascinating complex character.

He has left us much to cherish.

But you know what?

I’d still rather listen to the straight ahead and much less complicated voice of Tony Bennett.


Anonymous said...

I believe smoking gave a lot of the old singers their unique voice.
They all smoked, though I am not sure about Tony Bennett.
Maybe that is why he is still kicking.

Anonymous said...

Hey David...

What's with the appearing all through the article?

Jeff Taylor said...

Very interesting take on Sinatra David. I'll take him over Tony, 8 out of 10 times because I know for me personally, I've always been fascinated by the 'bad boys' of the entertainment world. The Beatles ? Nope, the Rolling Stones for me.
As for Sinatra's ego, I'm sure if people told me every day how great I was, I'd have self-absorbed issues as well. I think some of his 'image' was produced by management, hus record company, and hangers on just as much or more than by the man himself.
Having said all that, Tony bennett is one cool dude himself - classy. And, man can he sing.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. The personalities are so different - singer/singer & actor, etc. I have always loved Tony's voice and personality and actually didn't much care for Sinatra when I was young (Golden Ager here - HehHeh). I swear that Sinatra sang just a tad off key on the occasional note...once in a while. Chastise if you will but I am not the first to say this. I enjoy his tunes more now but still prefer Tony - and when he gets together with K.D. Lang - wonderful!


Anonymous said...

anonymous asks what's with the appearance of the article.
I am assuming anonymous is viewing the page using Internet Explorer which makes a mess of the presentation.
The answer is switch to Firefox for your web browser, and it's FREE!