31 January 2009

The New Britain Symphony Orchestra

On Tuesday, 3 February, from 8 AM -10 AM,
tune into "Frank, Gil, and Friends"
on the air on WFCS 107.7 FM (New Britain/Hartford)
to win tickets to
An Enchanted Evening
A Valentines Pops Concert by the NBSO
Saturday, 7 February, 2009 at 7:30 PM
at Welte Hall on the campus of Central Connecticut State University

30 January 2009

My Super Bowl Prediction

Final score: 23-19

But, Senator, it's RESEARCH!

From today's Inside Higher Ed
  • Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican who is leading several probes of higher education and research agencies, has a new target: National Science Foundation officials who view pornography while on the government clock. Grassley is demanding documents from the NSF that relate to its own findings about porn use on the job. Politico reported that the foundation had found that a number of employees were engaged in these activities and that one “senior official” was found to have spent 20 percent of his working hours over a two-year interval “viewing sexually explicit images and engaging in sexually explicit online ‘chats’ with various women.”

29 January 2009

I, Robot


I never liked Star Trek, any generation.

I never watched Battlestar Gallatica.

Dr. Who? My question exactly.

I've only seen the first and third Stars Wars movies (when originally released) and so have yet to actually see the movie, or even the scene, in which Darth tells Luke, "I am your father," although I laughed heartily at the allusion to it in Toy Story II. Heck, I don't even remember when that Hamill guy messed up his face.

But Lost in Space? Now we're talking! Slimy Dr. Smith. Spunky Will Robinson. Cute-as-a-button Angela Cartwright, fresh from escaping the Nazis in Sound of Music, rocketing her way into my house every week. Sweet!

But let's face it, the Robot was the star. "Danger! Danger! Will Robinson! Danger!" I had a battery-operated Robot when I was young. Like Will, a boy and his Robot.

And now he is gone.

As Thomas Gray wrote:

Large was his bounty, and his soul sincere,
Heaven did a recompense as largely send:
He gave to Misery all he had, a tear,
He gained from Heaven ('twas all he wished) a friend.

I see him now as he was whenever Dr. Smith got tired of his chattering and pulled out his energy pack -- slumped over with arms dangling down.

Requiescas in pacem, Robot.

28 January 2009

Inclusion need not mean verbosity

From today's Inside Higher Ed:

The University of Alberta has reached a compromise with atheist and agnostic students who have been pushing to charge the convocation for new graduates. Canwest News Service reported that while God will remain in the charge, the wording is significantly different. The old charge asked graduates to work “for the glory of God and the honor of your country.” The new charge, being praised as more inclusive, asks graduates to work “for the uplifting of the whole people; to inspire the human spirit; for all who believe, to serve your God; and to pursue more steadfastly whatsoever things are true.”

As I commented on-line:

More inclusive, far less stirring. If they must change it, it behooves them to be less wordy.

Tradition deserves that much.

26 January 2009

A Chairman's "First Day of Classes Blues"

So, I now know I've been a 12-month Chairman too long (as opposed to holding a 10-month teaching position).

When I drove into the parking lot early this morning -- with PLENTY of spaces still available -- I was insulted that there weren't AS MANY spaces as there were during break.

It was as if I was the regular churchgoer who wonders where all these Easter Mass attendees were on the second Sunday of Lent!

When I taught full-time, I always viewed the new semester (no matter how briefly, perhaps) with the joy of starting anew. No matter how bad teaching might have been the previous semester, all was possible again.

Now I sigh that I only have a choice of 50% of the parking lot at 7:30 AM instead of 85%!

Luckily my terms ends August 2010.

25 January 2009

My father, who would dress up to go to the barber shop, is spinning in his grave

Sign of the ties: '21' Club changes dress code

Associated Press Writer

It's the 21 Club for the 21st Century.

In a concession to changing sartorial norms, the storied Manhattan restaurant known for its traditional atmosphere and powerbroker clientele has stopped requiring men to wear ties at dinner. The change took effect Friday, spokeswoman Diana Biederman said.

The management realized standards of proper dress have changed, and the economic downturn has made the 79-year-old establishment more conscious of encouraging business, she said.

Neckwear became optional at lunch years ago. "Why should we say no to somebody who wants to have dinner with us (for lack of a tie)?" Biederman asked. "Times change. ... We have to move forward."

The past has always been prized at the former speakeasy off Fifth Avenue, at 21 W. 52nd St., owned by Bermuda-based Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. A row of 1930s cast-iron jockey statues - originally symbols of patrons' private stables - flanks the front door, and antique toys and sports memorabilia line the Bar Room's walls and ceiling.

Presidents have dined there since Franklin D. Roosevelt's day. Forbes magazine once wrote that "more deals are done at '21' than on the stock market floor."

John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway and Frank Sinatra had favorite tables at 21, and Humphrey Bogart proposed to Lauren Bacall there. It has appeared in films ranging from the 1950 Bette Davis classic "All About Eve" to 1987's "Wall Street."

Through it all, the restaurant put its foot down about neckties, more or less. Sammy Davis Jr. once arrived wearing a turtleneck under his jacket and looped the tie the restaurant lent him around his head, according to the eatery.

Some patrons lamented the end of the tie requirement as a sign of ever-scruffier times.

"When you lower the standards, people act accordingly, and this formality is one of 21's appeals," retiree Irene Blazey told the New York Post.

But others saw the tie rule as stuffy and applauded the restaurant for being flexible.

"It's great that they are open to new things," banker Shirley Cou, 23, told the newspaper.

Still, 21 is hardly going casual: Men still must wear jackets, and jeans and sneakers are out for everyone.

I know the figure means little...

...but when my 2002 book, A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit, was mentioned in the big Sinatra and cultural studies article published last week in The Chronicle of Higher Education Review (and posted on this blog on 1/20/09), its "Amazon.com Sales Rank" jumped from close to the 3,000,000 mark to under 200,000.

Ooh, baby, somebody must've bought it!

(Too bad the author didn't mention my 2008 Entasis Press anthology Sinatra: But Buddy I'm a Kind of Poem ...HINT HINT)

US Women's Figure Skating: Feel good now, but it won't end well

Let me, as Richard Nixon used to say, make this "perfectly clear": I like competitive figure skating. I find it entertaining to watch; I recognize both the difficulty in doing it well and the inherent athleticism that it requires to do it at all.

I also freely admit it's not a sport.

It's not a sport because winners can be declared due to intangible factors (reputation, maturity, order of performance, etc.) and silly scoring rules (did someone actually mention on the air last night an opportunity for late-in-the-program "bonus" points?!!!).

In true sports, sometime the "lesser opponent" wins ... consider the 2008/9 Arizona Cardinals. If reputation had any role in the decision, they wouldn't be in the Super Bowl. And what would anyone think if a run scored in the 9th inning was somehow worth more than a one scored in the 4th?

I am inspired to write this since the US has a new women's figure skating champion, whose performance was not as clean as the second or third place finisher. She fell once (!) and did lesser jumps, but she was more "mature" and "radiant" and "shook off those mistakes." From my viewing, she didn't shake off nothing -- only the judges did!

Hey, I know it's her 8th trip to the Senior Nationals; she was the local favorite; she has Brian Boitano as an advisor; but she simply wasn't as good a skater last night as the runner up.

In two months when she falls again (as she has done in the big competitions throughout her career) and loses in the World Championships, remember how "warm and fuzzy" we all feel for her now -- and realize that few true sports, and even fewer champions, are warm and fuzzy.


24 January 2009

A letter to the editor from the 1/24/09 edition of Hartford Courant

Poetry on Page 1

January 24, 2009

Hooray! Poetry back on Page 1 of The Courant [Jan. 20, "Labor Of Joy; State Poet's Narrative Poem Celebrates Obama Inaugural"].

There's a return to tradition that can only improve America's "oldest continually published newspaper" — back to the days of the 18th century, when periodicals and poets depended upon each other to build readership and literary reputations.

Bring back columns like "The Poet's Corner," "The Parnassiad," or "The Seat of the Muses," throw in a little Latin satiric verse on events of the day for good measure, and watch readership soar.

Now, many readers might think I'm being facetious, but I'm not (well, except maybe for part about the soaring readership.) Anything that brings poetry to us in our daily lives should be encouraged and embraced. It puts us in touch with what makes us all human.

Gilbert L. Gigliotti, New Britain

The writer is a professor and chairman of the English department at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain.

Quick Takes

1) Kennedy bows out of NY Senate Race
Caroline, We Hardly Knew Ye!
2) Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma Finger-Sync at the Inaguration
The New Milli Vanilli?
3) Obama to Close Gitmo and Find New Home for Prisoners
50 States unanimously shout "NIMBY!"
4) 4.1 Billion Dollars in Bonuses at Merrill Lynch
Yeah, but, remember, they have to pay for their own parking
5) Disgraceful 100-0 Girls Basketball Rout
Winning coach explains he was simply aiming for
a "year-end bonus at Merrill Lynch"

21 January 2009

That's what makes the State of Connecticut the GREAT State of Connecticut

Word came down from our Dean that the Governor of Connecticut, M. Jodi Rell, in order to help with the huge deficit that we're facing, has prohibited all future purchases of periodical subscriptions (what possibly could academic departments need with such things?), promotional materials (pens, t-shirts, et al.), and window cleaner.

That should shave off millions!

20 January 2009

In this week's Chronicle of Higher Education Review


From the issue dated January 23, 2009

Ol' Blue Eyes, in Focus

Cultural studies considers Sinatra

Scholarly books with "identity" and "culture" in the title have loomed large on academic publishing lists for quite a few years. Scholarly books with "Sinatra" in the title are a more recent phenomenon. Despite his six-decade career as the Voice (the 1940s), the Chairman of the Board (the 50s and 60s), and Ol' Blue Eyes (the 70s through his death, in 1998), academic interest in Sinatra long lagged behind the fascination with, say, Elvis or Madonna.

It's a matter of no small interest, then, to come upon an efflorescence of works like Karen McNally's When Frankie Went to Hollywood: Frank Sinatra and American Male Identity (University of Illinois Press, 2008) and two edited volumes, Stanislao G. Pugliese's Frank Sinatra: History, Identity, and Italian American Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) and Leonard Mustazza's Frank Sinatra and Popular Culture: Essays on an American Icon (Praeger, 1998).

Three other recent books are more plainly titled but belong on the list anyway: Jeanne Fuchs and Ruth Prigozy's anthology Frank Sinatra: the Man, the Music, the Legend (University of Rochester Press, 2007), because it includes essays like "Singing in the Moment: Sinatra and the Culture of the Fifties" and "Sinatra in (Lyrical) Drag"; Chris Rojek's Frank Sinatra (Polity, 2004), because Rojek, a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University's Theory, Culture & Society Center, is fascinated by celebrity; and Gilbert L. Gigliotti's A Storied Singer: Frank Sinatra as Literary Conceit (Greenwood Press, 2002), because it assesses the various ways that writers "have created and employed the several personas of Frank Sinatra as a literary construct in their texts."

Almost all of these authors like Frank Sinatra — that's text, not subtext. "I remain a true fan," writes McNally, who teaches film studies at London Metropolitan University. Fuchs and Prigozy anoint Sinatra "our champion." Mustazza, who teaches English and American studies at Penn State's Abington College, declares his "affection and gratitude toward the greatest popular performer that this century has produced." Pugliese, a historian at Hofstra, brags that his two small children "have become Sinatra aficionados."

Most of the authors and editors seem to have been fans forever. (I'm one of those, with a chapter in Pugliese's book on Sinatra and presidential politics.) But others have conversion stories to tell.

Rojek recalls that when he was young, in the 1970s and 80s, he thought Sinatra was "a passé superstar who uncomfortably tried to remain hip and relevant when the times had transparently left him." He was converted by his students. When Rojek announced in class that he'd been asked to write a book about Sinatra for Polity's Celebrities series, they surprised him by saying that Sinatra's "music is classy, his films are often cool, ... and, above all, he is a powerful symbol of masculine authority [and] ... uncompromising individualism." After listening to all the records and watching all the movies, Rojek decided that Sinatra was more than just a celebrity "constructed for us" by "a long chain of cultural intermediaries." He was "a great artist."

Students' growing attraction to Sinatra (more on this later) is one part of why scholars in a variety of disciplines — film studies, literature, history, sociology, ethnic studies, political science — have taken an interest in him. The expansion of ethnic studies to include white ethnics is another; a remarkable number of the scholars with essays about Sinatra in these volumes are Italian-Americans. And then there's the simple venting of long pent-up fascination with Sinatra among scholars when studying him as an academic subject became even a little bit respectable.

When Paula Marantz Cohen, a humanities professor at Drexel University, issued a call for papers for a panel on "the semiotics of Sinatra" at the Modern Language Association's annual meeting in 1996, she expected a handful of proposals from scholars wanting to write about him harshly, as "a symptom of our culture." Instead she received 15 adoring proposals, including one from a professor who said he'd waited all his life for an MLA panel on Sinatra. Two years later, Hofstra held a conference called "Frank Sinatra: the Man, the Music, the Legend" that attracted 120 scholarly papers and widespread media coverage. The Pugliese and Fuchs-Prigozy books came directly out of that conference.

For the most part, scholars have avoided writing about Sinatra the performer, as distinct from Sinatra the icon. Legions of musicians, filmmakers, and critics have appraised Sinatra's artistry on stage, screen, and in recordings for nearly three-quarters of a century. Instead the most interesting contributors to the recently published Sinatra books have worked hard and, often, successfully to explain how Sinatra managed to evoke what Rojek describes as "emotions that were otherwise passionately mute or inchoate in the hearts of his audience."

Sinatra's audience, these books reveal, has varied over the years. When he hit it big, in the 1940s, his main appeal was to the teenage daughters of white working-class families — the "bobby soxers." (Their older brothers, cousins, and boyfriends, off fighting in World War II and resentful of all the swooning over Frankie that was going on back home, were another story.) The New Republic and The New Yorker sent correspondents to try to figure out what caused 30,000 girls to line up to see Sinatra at New York's Paramount Theater on October 12, 1944, and then riot when nearly 90 percent of them found out they weren't going to get in.

The theory that emerges most persuasively from the recent books is that the girls liked Sinatra because when he sang he seemed so much like them. The few who did get into the Paramount may not have been able to hear Sinatra over one another's screams, but they knew the songs already from records and, especially, the radio. Philip Furia, a professor of creative writing at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, with chapters in both the Mustazza and Fuchs-Prigozy volumes, points out that Sinatra built his reputation by reviving many forgotten songs from old Broadway musicals: the Gershwins' "Someone to Watch Over Me" and "But Not for Me," and Rodgers and Hart's "My Funny Valentine" and "Bewitched," to name just a few. Know who sang those songs in the original shows? Women. Know why? Because, Furia writes, such "ballads of longing or lament were assigned to female characters on the conventional assumption that women were more given to wistful or melancholy effusions."

Sinatra's early singing underscored his 1940s persona: sweet, shy, slight, light-voiced, and — to use a favored word of the scholars represented in these books — androgynous. The attorney and TV writer Patric M. Verrone, in a chapter in the Fuchs-Prigozy collection, notes that of the seven Sinatra-inspired characters that appeared in big-screen animated cartoons of the period, four were cute animals. In movies, McNally writes, Sinatra usually played "physically and emotionally vulnerable characters." As Rob Jacklosky, an English professor at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, points out in Pugliese's volume, in The Kissing Bandit Sinatra is the "bandit who won't kiss," and in Anchors Aweigh he's "the sailor who can't score." Francis Davis, writing in the September 1998 Atlantic Monthly, observed: "Often what young girls want in a boy is another girl, and the girls who swooned over Sinatra pressed him to their hearts as a young man who was as sensitive and, on some level, as self-conscious as they were." Think of the early Leonardo DiCaprio, before he buffed up.

Sinatra's early appeal wasn't confined to teenage girls. Musicians dug his extended, almost conversational phrasing (the product of extraordinary breath control harnessed to deep lyrical intelligence) and his in-the-pocket sense of rhythm. By 1941 the 25-year-old Sinatra had already bumped Bing Crosby out of first place as the jazz magazine Down Beat's best male singer.

Left-wingers were drawn to Sinatra's ardent public passion, unprecedented in a mainstream entertainer, for civil rights and various Popular Front causes, such as Henry Wallace's 1948 Progressive Party campaign for president. As Gerald Meyer, a historian at Hostos Community College, shows in a 2002 article in Science & Society, nearly all the people involved in making Sinatra's 1945 pro-tolerance movie short, The House I Live In, were "committed leftists." The song of the same title that he sang, which declares that America is not "a name, a map, a flag I see" but rather "the worker by my side" and "all races and religions," is a "veritable hymn to the Popular Front." Even Sinatra's politics, though, were sometimes perceived in halfway feminine terms. Pellegrino A. D'Acierno, a comp-lit and Italian professor at Hofstra, notes in the Pugliese volume that some critics of Sinatra's political activism called him "Mrs. Roosevelt in pants." Sinatra even added the line, "And Franklin Roosevelt's looks give me a thrill" to his 1941 recording of "How About You?"

The post-World War II, early-cold-war backlash against all things leftist helps to explain the tailspin that Sinatra's singing and acting career experienced in the late 1940s and early 1950s. His political involvement had attracted the attention of the FBI, which fed rumors and innuendo about his associations with mobsters to the ultraconservative Hearst newspapers so that the chain's columnists could discredit him as a hood. Jon Weiner, in a 1986 New Republic article called "When Old Blue Eyes Was 'Red,'" uncovered this jarring entry in The New York Times Index for 1949: "Sinatra, Frank: See US — Espionage." Sinatra didn't help his own cause by abandoning his wife in public pursuit of the actress Ava Gardner. Even his continuing commitment to perform and record emotionally and musically rich songs hurt him when the public taste turned to novelty numbers like "Woody Woodpecker" and "Too Fat Polka."

Sinatra's comeback — his Academy Award in 1954 for From Here to Eternity and his series of stunningly successful Capitol records with the arrangers Nelson Riddle, Billy May, and Gordon Jenkins — is an ofttold tale. What several scholars in these books add is a keen sensitivity to Sinatra's changed persona in the 1950s and how it helped to broaden his audience by replacing girls with grown-ups, including men. The Sinatra who climbed out of the hole into which he had both stumbled and been pushed was tough and rakish — a 50s-style swinger, not the frail girlie-man of the 40s. But, as was the case with many men in this period, unsettled as they were by their new lives as suburb-dwelling organization men with mortgages, Sinatra's toughness and rakishness barely masked a bundle of doubts and insecurities. In music and on film, Sinatra bared his vulnerabilities. And men, reluctant to do so themselves, appreciated his doing it for them.

The Cornell English professor Roger Gilbert, in an essay in the Mustazza volume, observes that both Maggio in From Here to Eternity and the heroin-addicted drummer Frankie Machine in The Man With the Golden Arm, "who start out as cocky, street-smart toughs, are eventually emasculated and made to undergo unspeakable torments." Gilbert also marvels at Sinatra's ability to simultaneously express "contrasting registers of desire and fear, outward bravado and inner doubt" in songs like his 1956 recording of Cole Porter's once-chirpy "I've Got You Under My Skin." In nearly all his music, Gilbert argues in a separate essay in the Fuchs-Prigozy book, "Sinatra enormously expanded the emotional palette of his art, incorporating shades of self-pity, longing, rage, bitterness, panic, and despair that no popular singer had previously touched." And he continued to mine the musical past for excellent material. The average age of the songs on Sinatra's superb 1956 album Songs for Swingin' Lovers is almost 20 years.

The 1950s also witnessed a deepening of Sinatra's appeal to Italian-Americans, who felt as slandered as he by the wider culture's broad, facile assumptions about ethnicity and organized crime. It meant a lot to them, McNally points out, that Sinatra didn't change his name the way Anthony Benedetto (Tony Bennett), Dino Crocetti (Dean Martin), and other Italian-American performers did. At the start of Sinatra's career, when the bandleader Harry James suggested that a name like "Frankie Satin" or "Frankie Trent" might broaden his appeal, Sinatra famously replied, "No way, baby. The name is Sinatra. Frank F — king Sinatra."

McNally and several other scholars cite The Urban Villagers (Free Press of Glencoe, 1962), Herbert Gans's classic sociological study of working-class Italian-Americans in Boston's West End in the late 1950s. Sinatra "was almost worshiped" in this neighborhood, Gans found, partly for his "rebellious roles" in movies but mostly for two qualities that were tied more squarely to their shared ethnicity. One was that Sinatra had not abandoned his "early supporters even though some may be racket figures and though the association may hurt his career." The other was that his rise, fall, and rebirth as a star "prove that downward mobility is not inevitable, that the 'bum' can return to even greater heights than he achieved before" even though "he has not given up the old values."

Sinatra remained active in politics as well as music and movies in the 1950s and 60s, moving rightward across the spectrum from left to liberal to conservative. Craving respect commensurate with his wealth and fame, he did everything in his power to help elect John F. Kennedy president in 1960. (Everything in his power ranged from singing at fund raisers to persuading the organized-crime leader Sam Giancana to rally Teamsters' union support in the crucial West Virginia primary.) In 1968, Sinatra worked almost as hard for the Democratic presidential candidate, Hubert H. Humphrey.

Sinatra's hope was that political involvement at the presidential level would cause people to associate him with statesmen rather than mobsters. Instead the opposite occurred. Both Kennedy, after he became president, and Humphrey, after he was nominated, heeded warnings from their advisers to avoid potential controversy by distancing themselves from Sinatra. In each case, the news media explained his exile by rehashing every ugly incident, association, and allegation — real and imagined — in their Sinatra clip files.

In the early 1970s, Sinatra marched right into the welcoming arms of the Republican Party. Unlike the Democrats whom Sinatra had supported, Richard Nixon in the 1970s and Ronald Reagan in the 1980s seemed to understand loyalty the same way he did: Nixon invited Sinatra to sing at a state dinner for the Italian prime minister, and Reagan helped him get back his casino license in Nevada.

Sinatra's move to the right reduced his appeal among the rapidly growing ranks of college students, many of whom were moving left. Indeed, everything about Sinatra seemed wildly out of step with the 60s: Vegas instead of Woodstock; booze instead of weed; tuxedos instead of jeans; "broads" and "chicks" instead of "women"; strings, winds, and brass instead of electric guitars, and so on. More than anything else, Sinatra music was "parents' music" at a time when everything about parents seemed annoying to their college-age children. And when Sinatra did try to appeal to the young — recording a swing version of Simon and Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson" or wearing a Nehru jacket on a television special called "Francis Albert Sinatra Does His Own Thing" — he seemed just as clueless as their dads did when they put on bell-bottoms and grew sideburns under their comb-overs.

Sinatra retired in 1971, at age 55, and when he came back, a couple of years later, he recorded much less, made hardly any movies, and went out on the road: hundreds of live performances, every year until 1995, in stadiums and sports arenas, around the country and the world. His target audience was the people who had loved him in the 1940s and 1950s — but a strange thing happened. Young people began showing up at the concerts, buying his records (Nothing but the Best, a just-OK compilation of old Sinatra hits, peaked last spring at No. 2 on the Billboard chart, replicating the success of his Duets album in 1993), and watching the original Sinatra versions of remade movies like Ocean's Eleven and The Manchurian Candidate.

Joe Piscopo and Phil Hartman made Sinatra a regular character on Saturday Night Live, and in 1991, David Letterman offered a not-bad-for-a-75-year-old-man list of "Top 10 Signs Your Wife Is Seeing Frank Sinatra." (No. 1: "She comes home smelling like a sweaty tuxedo.") Gilbert Gigliotti, who teaches English at Central Connecticut State University, found that exactly half of the 50 songs written from 1945 to 2001 that mentioned Sinatra came out in the final 10 years of that period, including songs by Bon Jovi, Smash Mouth, and DJ Eddie Def. In his essay in the Pugliese volume, John Gennari, an English and ethnic-studies professor at the University of Vermont, quotes Bonz Malone's identification of Sinatra in the rap/hip-hop magazine Vibe as the original gangsta. Malone marveled that Sinatra "used his voice, not a gun."

How to explain the recent appearance of young people in Sinatra's fan base? (Don't believe it? Go to your college's Facebook site, type "Sinatra" into the search box, and see how many students include him in their list of "Favorite music.") "Old school" is a phrase that one hears constantly from college students today, almost always as a term of high praise. It seems to encompass some mix of longevity and authenticity — the way things were back when life was, if not better, then definitely cooler. Sinatra passes muster on both counts. Longevity? Here's a measure of how long Sinatra's career lasted: When he started singing "The House I Live In," it had a line describing America as "a dream that's been a-growing for 150 years." When he sang it for the Duets II album in 1994, he had to update the line to say: "more than 200 years."

As for authenticity, one of Sinatra's gifts was to let us see him age. He didn't die young, like Kurt Cobain and Jim Morrison, and he didn't keep trying to look young, like the aging Elvis. Instead his voice got deeper and grittier, with all the cracks showing; his hair faded from piled up and brown, to flat and steely, to wispy and white; and his manner evolved from winsome to brash to sweetly doddery.

Another manifestation of his authenticity was what the Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, writing in Pugliese's book, describes as Sinatra's "fusion of perfect style and imperfect behavior." During his long career, writers wondered how the same man could sing like an angel and act like a devil. Young people, inured by all they have seen and heard about the private shenanigans of JFK, FDR, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, and Bill Clinton, don't see the problem. They seem totally comfortable with the idea that, as the jazz pianist Marian McPartland once said admiringly of Sinatra, "It all melts together, his experiences. I can't imagine a guy singing like that who's going to be a quiet, well-behaved, normal guy." Urbandictionary .com, the netroots-based dictionary of modern slang founded in 1999 by Cal Poly student Aaron Peckham, lists seven definitions for "Frank Sinatra," ranging from "n. God" to "v. To do a particular activity however you damn well please, your way."

And now academics — some of them from the generation that once rejected Sinatra but that, like Chris Rojek, has caught up with their students and embraced him — are weighing in. In the aftermath of Hofstra's Sinatra conference, the Manhattan College English professor Rocco Marinaccio worried about "what will happen to Frank Sinatra as he becomes academia's pop text of the moment." He especially fretted that, caught in the clutches of cultural studies, Sinatra would "be assimilated into academic discourse ... parallel[ing] the practice of 'the melting pot' by undermining the very identity it wishes to explore and delegitimizing the interpretive authority of the popular audience." Judging by the recent flurry of scholarly books on Sinatra — serious, respectful, and insightful to a one — Marinaccio can safely put his worries aside. n

Michael Nelson is a professor of political science at Rhodes College. His essay "Frank Sinatra: The Loneliness of the Long Distance Singer" ran in Virginia Quarterly Review in 1999, and his "New Sinatras: Swing, Swagger, and Sadness" appeared in Popular Music and Society in 2004.

Section: The Chronicle Review
Volume 55, Issue 20, Page B13

Inauguration Day 2009 Playlist

On "Frank, Gil, and Friends" today on WFCS 107.7 FM New Britain/Hartford, we saluted the new president with a "Sea-to-Shining Sea" musical celebration plus the "Obama Suite" medley.

Here's the state/city/region play list:

Maine John Linnell
Moonlight in Vermont Frank Sinatra
Weekend in New England Barry Manilow
Spring in Manhattan Tony Bennett
Lullaby of Broadway Bing Crosby
Delaware Perry Como
Georgia on My Mind Matt Monro
Peachtree Street Frank Sinatra and Rosemary Clooney
Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve Cast of 1776
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Bing Crosby
You're in Kentucky Rosemary Clooney
(Back Home Again in) Indiana Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer
Stars Fell on Alabama Frank Sinatra
My Kind of Town Frank Sinatra
Moonlight Mississippi (A Whistlestop Town) Rosemary Clooney
St. Louis Blues Jo Stafford
Natchez Trace Dusty Springfield
Way Down Yonder in New Orleans Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong
Houston Dean Martin
East of the Rockies Bobby Darin and Johnny Mercer
Shenandoah (Across the Wide Missouri) Bing Crosby
By the Time I Get to Phoenix Frank Sinatra
Wedding Vows in Vegas Was (not Was) with Frank Sinatra Jr.
San Fernando Valley Frank Sinatra
City of the Angels Tony Bennett
California Frank Sinatra

The Obama Suite

Yes, I Can Sammy Davis Jr
Blue Hawaii Frank Sinatra
Thin Man Boogie Pat Longo and his Big Band
Chicago Tony Bennett and Count basie
The Father of Girls Perry Como
Walking Happy Frank Sinatra Jr.
We're Gonna Change the World Matt Monro

17 January 2009

Nothing disturbin' here, Ms. Durbin!

A quick follow-up to my earlier Deanna Durbin post:


From the NYC sports pages

PSAL girls' basketball round-up (FiveBoroSports.com January 16, 2000)

Grover Cleveland 56, Frank Sinatra 36:

Analiz Fernandez had 17 points to lead Cleveland (10-1 Queens B West). Frank Sinatra is 4-6.

It's not the 4-6 record that's troublesome, ladies; it's losin' to a mediocre ex-President. C'mon!!!!

Speaking of historically named high schools...in Connecticut, I always look forward to when Enrico Fermi plays Joel Barlow! When else can a physicist go toe-to-toe with an early American poet?

Aside from the lotsa free travel on US Airways...

..I suspect that the passengers on Thursday's safely crashed Airbus A320 will be offered a bevy of compensatory items, including:

Goose Down Jackets
Goose Down Comforters
Goose Down Pillows
Roast Goose with Prune and Chestnut Stuffing Dinners
Goose Gossage autographed paraphernalia
frequent employee visits to passengers' homes to play "Duck Duck Goose" with the children.

Great rhyme, questionable activity

I was listening to a variety of things today and came across "I'd Rather Be with You," recorded by Doris Day (formerly Doris Mary Anne von Kappelhoff of Cincinnati, Ohio) when she was with Les Brown and his orchestra in the early to mid-1940s.

It's a catalogue song of the many activities one might wish to do with a variety of stars (Tracy, Gable, Grable, Garson, Russell, et al.), but how, nevertheless, the singers would rather stay with each another.

For example, Doris sings:

I could fly to Sumatra
with Frankie Sinatra;
I'd rather be with you.

The male singer, whose name I can't recall right now, ends with:

If I could say what's disturbin'
to Deanna Durbin,
I'd rather be with you.

Now, I'm not sure "saying what's disturbin'" to most folk, much less Deanna Durbin, would rank as an enjoyable activity even in the abstract, but I'm fairly certain that, in these more progressive times, whispering disturbing "nothings" into anyone's ear could bring a lawsuit (or at least a restraining order)!

Don't try this at home, kids!

15 January 2009

Of course, "Come Fly with Me" improved their mood, but what about "Something Stupid"??



January 15, 2009

Andrea Scavelli, 17, of East Williston, New York's Wheatley School, researched the effects of playing nostalgic background music for elderly patients with Alzheimer's. What she found was that songs such as Frank Sinatra's "Come Fly with Me" improved patients' moods and increased their ability to perform mental tasks, such as identifying pencils and other objects. Scavelli was not too surprised: she favors music of the 1940s and '50s herself: "My iPod's full of it." Scavelli was one of five semifinalists at Wheatley, the largest number in the small school's history.

14 January 2009

Favorite Self-Description by a Poet

Abraham Cowley (1618-1667):

"The Muses' Hannibal"

What could be better than that?!

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.

12 January 2009


The national news ended, and before I knew what was happening, the entertainment "news" program EXTRA! came on. Suddenly former Saved by the Bell "star" Mario Lopez started recounting his "coverage" of the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday night....meeting the celebs on the red carpet as they entered the auditorium...

and THEN his getting to "interview"every one of the winners.

My god, I thought, what kind of humiliation do they inflict upon the losers!?

I guess it depends on what the meaning of "fiction" is

As reported in Insider Higher Ed (1/12/09):

The reading of fiction is on the rise. A study to be released today by the National Endowment for the Arts reports that for the first time since the NEA started analyzing this type of data in 1982, the proportion of adults reporting that they read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the last year increased over the previous survey, The New York Times reported. In 2008, the proportion reporting that they had read a work of fiction was 50.2 percent.

I'll be gladdened officially, if the following aren't being counted as "fiction" (even if they, in fact, are fiction):

most governmental reports,
some recent holocaust love stories,
not a few memoirs,
many newspaper stories,
almost all football coaches' press conferences

11 January 2009

Earlier Bono on Sinatra (1994)

Frank never did like Rock and Roll. And he's not crazy about guys wearing earrings either. But he doesn't hold it against me And anyway, the feeling is not mutual.

Rock and Roll people love Frank Sinatra because Frank has got what we want: swagger and attitude; he's big on attitude. Serious attitude, bad attitude. Frank's the Chairman of the bad. Rock and Roll plays at being tough but this guy, well, he's the boss. The boss of bosses. The man. The big bang of pop. I'm not gonna mess with him, are you?

Who's this guy that every city in America wants to claim as their own? This painter who lives in the desert, this first-rate, first-take actor. This singer who makes other men poets. Boxing clever with every word. Talking like America Tough, straight-up, in headlines. Comin' through with the big stick, the aside, the quiet compliment. Good cop, bad cop, all in the same breath. You know his story 'cause it's your story. Frank walks like America -- cock-sure.

It's 1945, and the U.S. Cavalry are trying to get their asses out of Europe, but they never really do. They're part of another kind of invasion AFR -- American Forces Radio (sic). Broadcasting a music that'll curl the stiff upper-lip of England and the rest of the world. Paving the way for Duke Ellington, the big band, Tommy Dorsey And right out in front -- Frank Sinatra. His voice as tight as a fist. Opening at the end of a bar. Not on the beat, over it, playing with it, splitting it like a jazz man, like Miles Davis. Turning on the right phrase and the right song. Which is where he lives, where he lets go, where he reveals himself .His songs are his home and he lets you in/ But you know that to sing like that you've gotta have lost a couple of fights. To know tenderness and romance you've gotta have had your heart broken.

People say that Frank hasn't talked to the press, they wanna know how he is, what's on his mind. But you know Sinatra's out there more nights than most punk bands. Selling his story through the songs. Telling and articulate in the choice of those songs. Private thoughts on a public address system. Generous.

This is the conundrum of Frank Sinatra: Left and right brain hardly talking. Boxer and painter, actor and singer, lover and father, bandman and loner. Troubleshooter and troublemaker. The champ who would rather show you his scars than his medals. He may be putty in Barbara's hands. But I'm not gonna mess with him, are you?

Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to welcome a man heavier than the Empire State, more connected than the Twin Towers, as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty, and living proof that God is a Catholic!

Will you welcome the King of New York City, Francis Albert Sinatra!

(Not Sonny) Bono on Sinatra

U2's Bono on Sinatra in today's NY Times:


More about this later!

10 January 2009

Happy Birthday, Frank, Jr.!

Frank Sinatra, Jr. is 65 today.

To celebrate, check out his 2006 That Face cd, with a very nice version of a great Cahn and Van Heusen song "Walking Happy."

I'm fairly certain that, if Frank, Jr. had any other name, he'd be far better respected than he is. An excellent musician, great bandleader, and a fine singer, he is in an entirely different class than a Harry Connick, Jr. or a Michael Buble. If you really listen, you'll understand that.

His problem, however, has always been twofold:

1) He sounds, thanks to genetics, more like Frank than is beneficial to anyone because you can also clearly tell he's not his father. Before you hold this fact against him, of course, remember that NO ONE is another Sinatra (and certainly not the aforementioned Connick or Buble).

2) From the beginning of his career in the early 60s, he's been rabidly anti-rock-music. (And I don't mean just anti-heavy-metal, or anti-rap, or anti-grunge...I'm talking anti-Beatles.) Given his generation, even if he prefers a Rodgers and Hammerstein to a Lennon and McCartney, there's no need to continually condemn it. That ship has sailed, and, by refusing to accept it, his campaign to keep the Great American Songbook alive and well is, in some ways, discredited...especially since plenty of more contemporary artists have acknowledged, indeed EMBRACED, Sinatra as a seminal influence, musical and otherwise.

Anyway, Franklin Wayne Sinatra (not really a junior at all)...Happy Birthday!

09 January 2009

When updating songs become necessary...and what won't happen

Ah, what to do when politics interferes with popular music!

The lyrics of "Let's Get Away from It All," written in 1941, originally went:

We'll travel 'round from town to town;
We'll visit every state.
I'll repeat
"I love you sweet"
in all the forty-eight!

Later on, with the addition of Alaska and Hawaii, the lyric, as recorded byDella Reese, for example, evolved into:

We'll travel round from town to town
We'll visit every state
I'll repeat
"I think you're nifty"
In every state
(and I think they're fifty)!

I guess I need to find a recording of it from the brief post-Alaska, pre-Hawaii period...
How would that have gone?

We'll travel round from town to town
We'll visit every state
I'll repeat
"You are divine/sweeter than wine/one-of-a-kind/really quite fine/a Shakespearean line"
In all the forty-nine!

Which leads me to this bold prediction:

Puerto Rico will never become a state, but not because of any legitimate political reason to exclude it. It will simply be because 50 seems complete. Though they'll never admit it: No one will ever really want 51, 52, or 53... states.

So unless there are 25 more territories out there to make a nice round 75 states, there'll never be more than 50.

It ain't politics, folks; it's aesthetics.

08 January 2009

Call me at the "Ivory Tower"

In my last post, I ventured to guess that the percentage of our population who think that too many of the books we assign in high school and college are irrelevant to their lives has risen meteorically since some 38% agreed with that statement in 1993.

I also sighed.

Here's my current take:

Way too much of current curricula in all disciplines (especially on the university level) has fallen prey to the relevance argument:

"If it's not relevant to our everyday lives, if we can't use it in a job immediately upon graduation, if it's not listed among the qualifications in a job listing, if it doesn't talk directly to my experience as a _________, then why bother?

"Nobody of importance in the real world," they continue, "is ever going to ask me to scan a line of Milton's Paradise Lost, or solve a quadratic equation, or describe the importance of Impressionism in the history of painting, or talk about the Gilded Age, or..."

This attitude is now being abetted by a push from all those who argue that more and more and more learning needs to "engage the community," to help solve the problems of society, to get students out of the ivory tower. "The world has problems," they crack, "but higher ed has disciplines."

The problem with this approach is that educated people solve problems. And people are not truly educated, in the fullest sense, if all they've ever learned is how to do is "this, that, or the other" practical application. And application without perspective -- without discipline -- is busy work.

Believe me, I want (and, indeed, need) Joe the Plumber to know how to install and fix my pipes. But, unless he's spent some time pondering the problem of evil in a philosophy class or learned a little macroeconomics, or read a poem in another language, or heard at some point that "plumbing" comes from the Latin word for "lead," or taken a Chem or Bio or Physics class, I can't imagine he'll remedy any of the larger societal problems that lack as clear-cut and concrete solutions as my septic tank.

I also realize that, just because students have taken philosophy, Chinese, or Chemistry, it does not mean they will be able to solve the big problems that face us. BUT it's a really good bet that, if they never addressed the perennial questions of what is art, evil, humanity, and hydrogen; if they've never been tested in the intellectual rigors of a discipline, they'll be hard-pressed to have the vision necessary for what faces us in the 21st Century.

Training needs to be "relevant" and timely. Education is best when it's timeless.

A more practical concern, of course, is that, if public universities are now being charged with solving society's problems, doesn't that turn them into just another state agency, no different than Family Services, the Department of Corrections, or Transportation?

I sure hope not.

Is a university just another service organization?

I sure hope not.

Will funding (and promotions, etc.) be linked to its success in curing (or at least alleviating) hunger, homelessness, unplanned pregnancy, and illiteracy in its local community?

I sure hope not.

We must actively embrace the ivory tower/real world dichotomy -- NOT run away from it. We can then help students think as broadly and as deeply as possible, so that, when they do venture out into the real world, they have a firm grasp of human history, thought, and accomplishment, which, as educated people, they can then apply to both their own lives and the lives of those around them.

07 January 2009

Relevance Schmelevance

Inside Higher Ed published a brief item today on the findings just released in the Humanities Indicators Prototype, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In it, among many others, was this nugget:

In 1993, 38 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “High schools and colleges make students spend too much time reading ‘classics’ that have little relevance in today’s world.”

I don't even want to think of what the percentage is today.

Above 90% maybe? Sigh.

I'll come back to this topic soon, I promise.

The original story can be viewed online at

Buddy Greco's "Lady is a Tramp"

In my last post, I mentioned Sammy Cahn's special lyrics for Frank Sinatra to sing while campaigning for Spiro T. Agnew.

On my radio show yesterday I also rediscovered Buddy Greco's swingin' version of the song with such lyrics as:

...She don't know the reason for cocktails at five
She don't like flying, but I'm glad I'm alive

I crave affection, baby, but not when I drive

That's why the lady is a tramp

She flew down to London and left me behind

I missed the crowning, but I didn't mind

She won't play Scarlett in Gone with the Whynd (It's gotta rhyme)
That's why the lady is a tramp...

It's fun. Check it out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2j_XEki3dQ

Loyalty and Innocence

Yesterday, at the Hartford Armory, I gave a talk to a local "Red Hat" ladies club on Frank Sinatra by focusing on songs he recorded and things he did in January. (I always try to have a different selection of songs when I speak -- even if I'm going over the same territory again and again -- and, with Sinatra's long career, it's quite easy to do.)

One song was the Sammy Cahn special lyric for the first Reagan Inaugural Gala (1/19/81), "Nancy (with the Reagan Face)," based upon the Phil ("Sgt. Bilko") Silvers lyric in honor of the birth of Frank's eldest child in the early 40s, "Nancy (with the Laughing Face)."

Sammy was a life-long Democrat (unlike Sinatra who became a Republican in the early '70s during his brief retirement and stayed). Indeed, in 1972, Frank campaigned with the Vice President and actually sang "THAT'S why Spiro is a...CHAMP."


Anyway, Democrats were quite angry at Sammy Cahn for his willingness to aid the opposition by writing this special material for Frank, but he always placed his loyalty to his dear friend Francis Albert over that to a political party. I applaud that sense of priorities...besides if anyone voted for Nixon/Agnew in 1972 because of the really awful Cahn rewrite of "The Lady is a Tramp," then the McGovern campaign must have had real problems!

I also played a brief snippet from the Kennedy Inaugural Gala that Frank produced twenty years earlier (1/19/61) and was struck by the very partisan nature of all the talk by Kennedy and Sinatra alike. Clearly meant as a true victory party in a way that would seem quite unseemly and not terribly presidential now, there was no "now's the time to come together." It was, rather, "We beat 'em!"

Ah, the glories of a time BEFORE 24/7 news coverage -- when not every event had to be played before a world-wide audience, when every emotion had to be played close to the vest.

As I was driving to the talk, I was listening to Sinatra's recording of "(You and Me) We Wanted it All" which contains a wonderful lyric as he recalls the time when he and his lost love were still together and happy. He longs for the days of innocence (and ignorant bliss):

...Back when we were dumb.
How did we become so smart
and learn to break each other's heart?

05 January 2009

"Jobs Loss" Equals Stock Drop (and, no, we don't mean unemployment)

From the NY Times:

The good news:
Steve Jobs isn't dying; he just has a hormone imbalance. (Whew.)

The bad news: "People are spooked by these health reports because he is so important to Apple and is viewed as synonymous with the company by so many people,” said Toni Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company.


The scary news: I'm reading about Steve Jobs' weight loss in the NY Times. Who do we think he is, Oprah?

The money, the weight loss, my disinterest all recall perhaps my favorite cruel, but decidedly smart, one-liner by the once-actually-funny Joan Rivers. In the wake of singer Karen Carpenter's death from anorexia, she cracked:

I'm sorry, I can't feel sorry for anyone who's thin enough to be buried in pleats.

In any case, I guess we can lay to rest (as it were) the old adage, "An Apple a day keeps the doctor..."

THIRD Hand Smoke?!!

Even after my 12/16 post about my envy of smokers, in light of the story about the dangers of "Third Hand Smoke," I can't but recall the Lennon/McCartney lyric from the White Album's "I'm so Tired":

I'm so tired
I'm feeling so upset
Although I'm so tired, I'll have another cigarette
and curse Sir Walter Ralegh
He was such a stupid git!

04 January 2009

After watching two NFL playoff games...

...I have only this to say to the Commissioner:

Bring back the old intentional grounding penalty, PLEASE!

02 January 2009

How DO you hire a hit man?

In bed this morning, I heard the news today (oh, boy) about a woman arrested in Washington state for trying to hire a hit man to kill her ex-husband and his family (bulk rate?). The man she was trying to hire, however, was an undercover police officer. Oops.

Now, call me naive, but how on Earth does one find a killer-for-hire?

I assume Google and the Yellow Pages don't help. Nor would I think that this is the kind of service about which one might pick up a tip at parties, in the way one might learn about an exceptionally good plumber, podiatrist, or landscaper...

"Have you heard about the untimely death of my ex? Tell me if you're interested, I KNOW someone."

May I assume this isn't the way it is?

Readers of this blog, even for as brief a time as I've been writing it, can tell, I'm sure, that I'm no man of the world. I don't have a clue about where to go to buy illegal weapons, or drugs, or stolen property, or even a "good neighborhood" for prostitution or bookmaking (the gambling, not the publishing, kind).

And thus it always has been for me.

When I lived in Washington, DC, while pursuing my doctorate in the mid-to-late 1980s, back when DC was first among US cities in murders committed (mostly due to drugs and gangs), I remember the police regularly raiding "known crack houses," some quite close to the boarding house in which I was living.

"Known to whom exactly?," I would ask myself. "I didn't know it was a crack house. And, if the police knew, why didn't they bust it before everyone else (well, everyone else except me) found out too?"

Since I still don't know what's out there to know, I've clearly got to get out more.

Now, THERE'S a New Year's resolution.