In [a] later recording [of “My Way’], Frank is 78. The Nelson Riddle arrangement is the same, the words and melody are exactly the same, but this time the song has become a heart-stopping, heartbreaking song of defeat. The singer’s hubris is out the door. (This singer, i.e. me, is in a puddle.) The song has become an apology.
To what end? Duality, complexity. 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.
So there’s Bono and then there’s the unimintable Talese—when I think of Sinatra, I think of him. Gay Talese wrote this famous, widely loved & widely circulated (around creative non-fiction classes, at least) profile of Sinatra in 1965, when the singer had just turned 50 and when he also, as it happened, had a cold. Sinatra wouldn’t talk to Talese, but that didn’t matter:
Frank Sinatra, leaning against the stool, sniffling a bit from his cold, could not take his eyes off the Game Warden boots. Once, after gazing at them for a few moments, he turned away; but now he was focused on them again. The owner of the boots, who was just standing in them watching the pool game, was named Harlan Ellison, a writer who had just completed work on a screenplay, The Oscar.
Finally Sinatra could not contain himself.
“Hey,” he yelled in his slightly harsh voice that still had a soft, sharp edge. “Those Italian boots?”
“No,” Ellison said.
“Are they English boots?”
“Look, I donno, man,” Ellison shot back, frowning at Sinatra, then turning away again.
Now the poolroom was suddenly silent. Leo Durocher [the infamous baseball manager & a close friend of Sinatra’s] who had been poised behind his cue stick and was bent low just froze in that position for a second. Nobody moved. Then Sinatra moved away from the stool and walked with that slow, arrogant swagger of his toward Ellison, the hard tap of Sinatra’s shoes the only sound in the room. Then, looking down at Ellison with a slightly raised eyebrow and a tricky little smile, Sinatra asked: “You expecting a storm?”
Harlan Ellison moved a step to the side. “Look, is there any reason why you’re talking to me?”
“I don’t like the way you’re dressed,” Sinatra said.
“Hate to shake you up,” Ellison said, “but I dress to suit myself.”
Now there was some rumbling in the room, and somebody said, “Com’on, Harlan, let’s get out of here,” and Leo Durocher made his pool shot and said, “Yeah, com’on.”
But Ellison stood his ground.
Sinatra said, “What do you do?”
“I’m a plumber,” Ellison said.
“No, no, he’s not,” another young man quickly yelled from across the table. “He wrote The Oscar.”
“Oh, yeah,” Sinatra said, “well I’ve seen it, and it’s a piece of crap.”
“That’s strange,” Ellison said, “because they haven’t even released it yet.”
“Well, I’ve seen it,” Sinatra repeated, “and it’s a piece of crap.”
Now Brad Dexter [a Sinatra stooge, or ferverent loyalist, or bodyguard who had met Sinatra when he saved him from drowning of the Hawaiian cost two years earlier], very anxious, very big opposite the small figure of Ellison, said, “Com’on, kid, I don’t want you in this room.”
“Hey,” Sinatra interrupted Dexter, “can’t you see I’m talking to this guy?”
Dexter was confused. Then his whole attitude changed, and his voice went soft and he said to Ellison, almost with a plea, “Why do you persist in tormenting me?”
I am off to test a little boy with the improbably Irish name of Sean. (Oh—is that maybe a holdover from Sean John? Does he still make jeans? Or the fellow Daddy refers to as P. Diddly?) I hope you have a good day.
I love you,