Sunday, December 20, 2009


The depth of my ignorance is made clear by this simple fact:

I still don't know the names of birds, flowers and stars.


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.


Chairman of the Board