13 January 2009

Bono on the 78-year-old Sinatra

In his op-ed piece on Sinatra published two days ago in the NY Times, Bono argues:

1) that at the end of Sinatra's 1993 recording of "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)" the singer "sobs."


2) that his 1969 and 1993 recordings of "My Way" show the singer's capability of expressing the duality of life: the hubris and the defeat -- despite using the very same arrangement of the song.
As much as I appreciate the Irishman's interest in keeping the Sinatra flame burning brightly, his reading of the Sinatra recordings are either wrong or, at best, overstated.

On my radio show this morning (WFCS 107.7 FM New Britain/Hartford, CT and www.Live365.com/stations/wfcs), we listened to the unadulterated Duets sessions, released as Solos, and, I'm sorry, Mr. Bono, no sobbing at the end of "One for My Baby." Yes, his 78-year-old voice cracks, but, no, he's not in tears. If, as you say in your piece, Sinatra's strength is his utter lack of sentimentality, you, sir, fall prey to that very sin by hearing something not there.

(Besides, for my money, my favorite "Sinatra-in-tears-at-the-end-of-a-recording story is the early-1950s "I'm a Fool to Want You" on Columbia Records -- at the end of which he was supposedly so moved by his desire for Ava Gardner that he had to run out of the studio! Legend has it, but not my ears, that, if you listen closely, you can hear the door slam on his exit!)

As far as his comparison of the two "My Ways," Bono is right in that the "feel" of the two performances is decidedly different. The second clearly displays a more vulnerable Sinatra whose original boasting is tempered by age and experience.

Bono's error, I think, is his suggestion that this was a conscious choice by the older Sinatra.

My contention would be that, while in 1969, Sinatra made a conscious choice to record the song as the ultimate "kiss off," by 1993 no such option was available to the singer. The bravado, the "hubris," of the original simply is not in his voice any more. Instead he does what good singers do -- he uses his instrument as well as he is able. Since he can't do what he did 20+ years before, he'll do it differently.

More interesting to me is the several-measure pause that Sinatra inserts late into the song -- emphasizing his age and exhaustion. He's still not admitting defeat, but he demonstrates how near the end really is.

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