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All Or Nothing At All:
A Life of Frank Sinatra

Chapter 8

Stand-up comics used to make jokes about Sinatra's comebacks, but he felt he hadn't really gone anywhere in the early 1950s; when he looked like he was down and out, he was still earning more money than most of the comics ever did. There was really only the one retirement, in 1971-3, until age finally caught up with him 20 years later. He recorded two duets with Nancy in November 1970, and did no more recording for over two years.

He had always been a Sunday painter; now he spent a lot of time in his studio in Palm Springs, and presumably had more time to play with his model trains, a hobby he had acquired from Tommy Dorsey. He looked after his business interests, and he admitted to being bored. His old friends Mike Romanoff and publisher Bennett Cerf died in 1971, which no doubt reminded him of his own mortality. He sang at a fund-raiser for the Italian-American Civil Rights League; and he returned to politics, making friends among a new class of gangsters. Republicans.

Lyndon Johnson should have been the greatest President in American history, but his hubris had brought him down. To quote Kitty Kelley on Sinatra and Johnson:

Both men needed to be the focus of other men's eyes, and they dominated their own worlds by the sheer force of their personalities. Both were unscrupulous, admirable, treacherous, devoted, and mean. Both were adored by their mothers ... the thirty-sixth President of the United States and the country's most popular singer were so alike that they circled each other warily. Both were naturally attracted to the ebullient Humphrey, who flattered each of them unashamedly.

Hubert Humphrey, Johnson's Vice-President, was an old-fashioned liberal from the era of Franklin Roosevelt, a supporter of civil rights since his days as mayor of Minneapolis. It was partly Humphrey's insistence on a civil rights plank in the Democratic party's platform in 1948 that split the party that year (the only reason Harry Truman beat Thomas E. Dewey was that Republicans were so confident they didn't bother to vote.) This was Sinatra's kind of politician, and furthermore, Humphrey was a loveable man. Johnson wasn't running again in 1968, but Bobby Kennedy was, so Sinatra had campaigned for Humphrey. His daughters and his estranged wife hated the Vietnam War; all the liberals in Hollywood were supporting Kennedy or Eugene McCarthy for the Democratic nomination, and it was one of the most tempestuous years in the history of American politics. Bobby Kennedy was murdered during the campaign; Humphrey was nominated at the convention in Chicago, while Mayor Daley's cops rioted outside, the heads of anti-war demonstrators attacking their clubs. The nation was split by Vietnam, perceived to be Lyndon Johnson's war, while Humphrey was too decent a man for politics and could not repudiate the war (one campaign button read, 'Hubert Humphrey: Boy, did you become a schmuck'). Richard Nixon, the man from whom nobody wanted to buy a used car, made his own comeback, winning a very close election, and Sinatra, like the rest of the country, began to turn to the right. Liberalism was seen to be tottering, and Americans all wanted to be on the winning side.

In 1966 Sinatra had interrupted shooting of a film in England to campaign in California for Pat Brown for Governor against Ronald Reagan, and all his friends knew that he couldn't stand Reagan, a washed-up actor of whom Sinatra observed, 'The trouble with Reagan is that no one would give him a job.' In 1970 Sinatra shocked everyone by supporting Reagan for another term as Governor instead of Jesse Unruh, the extremely competent speaker of the state legislature. Unruh had been a Bobby Kennedy supporter in 1968, and did very little for the national Humphrey campaign, which had rankled Sinatra: the only thing Sinatra seemed to understand was loyalty, yet in the America of the 1970s he discarded his own life-long political identity. The truth was that the Democrats were tired and demoralised after the disaster of the Johnson presidency and the Vietnam War, and Sinatra had always been a hawk anyway when it came to foreign policy; he probably thought that if the Vietnamese couldn't do as they were told they deserved to have bombs dropped on them. Like a lot of people, he was frightened by the divisions in the country, and voted to paper over the cracks.

Sinatra's support for Franklin Roosevelt broke new ground in the 1940s, when he was just a young pop singer, but his political affiliations would be boring nowadays, when every squirt in Hollywood volunteers his or her political opinions and Barbra Streisand's endorsement is probably a liability. What is interesting is the way Sinatra mirrored what was going on in the country as a whole. He suddenly seemed not to have held any real political opinions at all, throwing everything overboard and grasping at straws; yet the whole nation was drifting. Hollywood has always been overwhelmingly left-liberal, and once again Sinatra was a more typical American than he seemed to be at the time.

Spiro Agnew, a politician from Maryland, had been selected as Nixon's running mate in 1968 because he was perceived at the time as moderate, from the liberal wing of the party. But there was trouble from the beginning. During the campaign he said in Detroit, 'If you've seen one city slum you've seen them all.' As Vice President, in New Orleans the following year, he thought that 'A spirit of national masochism prevails, encouraged by an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.' As Nixon and Agnew presided over the decline of the American economy Agnew complained about 'the nattering nabobs of negativism'. Sinatra liked all this, and Agnew became an intimate, spending holidays at the Sinatra compound in Palm Springs, where the food and drink was available free around the clock, and where Agnew played tennis and other games with Barbara, Zeppo Marx's erswhile wife.

As late as 1970 Sinatra still didn't like Nixon, but then the Agnews and the Reagans became regular guests in Palm Springs. While agreeing with Agnew about the 'hopeless, hysterical hypochondriacs of history', Frank Sinatra (of all people) worried publicly about amorality. When Nixon was thinking of dumping Agnew from the ticket at the following election, Sinatra raised money and campaigned for him, singing 'The Lady Is A Tramp' with new words: 'The Gentleman Is A Champ'. Agnew was neither. In 1972 Sinatra campaigned for Nixon and Agnew because he thought Agnew should become president in 1976; when it was discovered that Agnew had been taking bribes from contractors in Maryland since 1967, Sinatra's lawyer, Mickey Rudin, began planning his defense, but Agnew was forced to resign the vice-presidency in October 1973, and disappeared from history.

Nixon and Sinatra understood each other: they both valued personal loyalty above all else. Sinatra sang for the Italian prime minister at the White House in April 1973; there were protests at a man with his known associations performing in the White House, but Nixon paid no attention, toughing that out just as he was hoping to tough out Watergate. Sinatra sang 'The House I Live In' while Nixon beamed; it apparently didn't bother him that Nixon had begun his career as a young Congressman on the House Un-American Activities Committee when it was smearing Sinatra in the late 1940s. And finally, during the Nixon and Reagan years, Sinatra achieved the status of White House insider, which was what he'd wanted all along. Jack Kennedy, for all his faults, at least had some style and wit; Sinatra now joined the court of one President who eventually had to resign in disgrace and another who took advice from astrologers.

Bruce Bliven wrote a good piece called 'The Voice and the Kids' in The New Republic in 1944, which included this: 'He earns a million a year, and yet he talks their language; he is just a kid from Hoboken who got the breaks. In everything he says and does, he aligns himself with the youngsters and against the adult world. It is always "we" and never "you".' But it was with his own generation that he aligned himself, and he was still doing that when he switched (with his generation) away from the Democrats to Nixon and Reagan.

Apparently Nixon also urged Sinatra to go back to work as an entertainer. There was one short recording session at the end of April 1973 which was aborted; and then in June he began making the album called Ol' Blue Eyes Is Back. This was produced by Don Costa, who arranged some of the tracks; most of it was arranged and all of it conducted by Gordon Jenkins. It is good to hear that nut-brown voice again on the first track, 'You Will Be My Music', one of the least bad songs on the album, and certainly heartfelt; the next three songs are so dumb that Sinatra clearly doesn't know what to make of the banal soft-rock melodies, and nearly every track on the album has that dismal soft-rock beat, ubiquitous in elevator music, effectively eight beats in a bar for people who don't know where the beat is, or for drummers who need something to do to keep them awake on the gig. 'Dream Away' is a film song, a Hollywood hack's stab at folk-rock. The two best songs on the album are Stephen Sondheim's 'Send In The Clowns' (if you like it; some people hate it) and 'There Used To Be A Ballpark', one of three songs by Joe Raposo (the other two are awful; Raposo also wrote 'This Way To Sesame Street'). Both these should have been dramatic set-pieces and right for Sinatra; instead they are too slow and lugubrious. The Sondheim at least eschews the twinkling soft-rock rhythm section.

Some Nice Things I've Missed the following year was similar, but a lame concept: they were songs that had been hits while he'd been retired. 'Bad, Bad Leroy Brown' was a genuine folk-pop song, a hit in 1973 by Jim Croce, and ludicrously wrong for Sinatra; covering other people's hits was something Sinatra had never done before, and in the 1970s it meant imitating Neil Diamond or Elton John. There was no point. On Sinatra's best albums, Nelson Riddle had provided a setting for a Sinatra vocal, pointing at harmonies but rarely underlining anything; but the folk/pop stuff Sinatra was covering on these albums wouldn't have been worth that kind of treatment. He seems to have felt that Costa would provide a way into the ears of the younger generation, and Costa was highly skilled at what he did, but paradoxically the reason that none of Costa's later work with Sinatra was as good as Sinatra & Strings of 1962 is that the material wasn't right to start with. It comes as a shock to remember that Ol' Blues Eyes Is Back and Some Nice Things I've Missed were almost all the studio albums of the 1970s; in retrospect it is as though the real Sinatra never came back at all.

But this begs the question: who was the real Sinatra? All he had wanted to do was be Bing Crosby, and in this he succeeded beyond even his expectations; we even have to admire the sincerety with which he approached some of the soft-rock stuff. But he does not appear to have had much judgement or ambition beyond the three- or four-minute length of the 78rpm sides he started out with, and we have to ask whether his interpretive ability was a separate thing from the quality of the songs themselves. It's true that Sinatra reached back to rescue songs from old movies and shows that might otherwise have been forgotten, especially in the 1940s on Columbia, but it is also true that he made a lot of records, and the largest number of songs he recorded in those years were more or less contemporary. He had grown up listening to the radio, and it is not unlikely that he simply wanted to record contemporary songs, to be up to date, to be in touch with the current generation, even after the quality of the songwriting had changed dramatically.

The reason Jimmy Van Huesen and Sammy Cahn wrote so many songs for him in the 1950s and 1960s was that they were at least bringing with them the values and the working methods of the golden age; Van Heusen used a piano rather than a guitar, and he used both the white and the black keys. But Sinatra's choice of contemporary material for his albums in the mid-1970s forces speculation about his judgement. It is entirely possible that Sinatra's ability to interpret a song, and often to make a song sound better than it deserved, was always more a function of his exposure of his own vulnerability in the act of singing, rather than coming from the quality of the song itself. He took his art seriously and gave it full measure, and that self-expression no doubt compensated for a lot of things in his life, which would be one reason why he could not retire. But he had started out when the golden age of American songwriting was still fresh, and his later choice of unsuitable material is startling. There was also a measure of danger in his interpretations: at his best, the way he made a song come alive, often convincing us (at least while we were listening) that his version was the only one we needed, was like a challenge; and he could not accomplish this with the Hollywood-cowboy soft-rock of the 1970s. On his post-retirement albums Sinatra appeared to have outlasted his art.

But it was an entirely different story on the road.

After his retirement Sinatra became a concert artist, and he damned near succeeded in reviving the Swing Era after all. Those of us who did not bother to go see him live because his albums were such stinkers missed the point, and missed more than that. Sinatra had started out performing live on stage, in an era that was still a mixture of films, vaudeville and the Swing Era; then he performed in nightclubs where he did at least three shows a night because there wasn't room for everybody who wanted to get in; then he worked in Las Vegas, where those who couldn't pay for an over-priced hotel room were excluded. For most of this time he was extremely busy making films and albums every year; yet for three decades Sinatra had continued to need a live audience, so that he could somehow contrive to sing to each member of it. And then in the last stage of his career, despite a few lousy albums, he remained one of the biggest live acts in the world: in less than a month in 1975 he performed in eleven American cities; in a two-week period he sang in nine European capitals, and later the same year in Israel; at the end of the year his press office said that in 105 days he had given 140 performances to more than half a million fans. It is possible that more people saw him in the flesh in those two decades than had seen him in his entire previous career.

By the mid-1970s one of the biggest problems facing live music was where to play. Since the war people had stayed home to watch television, so that the smaller venues closed down, so that more people stayed home to watch television; and anyway the economics of it were such that the biggest acts could not afford to play smaller venues. By the 1970s the only places Sinatra could play and make it pay were huge auditoriums and sports stadiums, the sort of places the big rock acts played, and nobody knew whether or not it would work. Jerry Weintraub, a promoter who had worked with the rock acts and knew all the stadiums, started planning Sinatra's new concert career, and it was immediately successful.

In fact it began with a bang. In July 1974 he went to Australia again, and had his biggest run-in with the Australian press, when a chauffeur was supposed to deliver him to a rehearsal hall, and instead let him off where a gaggle of journalists were waiting. There was a mêlée, Sinatra was subsequently insulting from the stage at a concert, and the politicians and labor leaders got into the act. Sinatra couldn't get his plane refueled; labor leader Robert Hawke said he could only leave if he could walk on water, unless he apologized. Australians are not the kind of people to have the wool pulled over their eyes; according to drummer Irv Cottler, there were people marching in the streets in Sydney waving placards: 'We want Sinatra! Down with the press!' But none of that was reported at the time. Robert Hawke later became Bob Hawke, a comic-strip Prime Minister, famous for his alcoholism and his ability to weep in public: Australia is a place where the winds of freedom still blow, where the sense of the ridiculous still lives, and where nobody wants to take any nonsense from anybody, and Sinatra's willingness to allow his goat to be gotten made headlines all over the world. He later said, 'I used to blow whole countries. Now I blow continents.' But it didn't matter, because there was no doubt about his artistic success. The Sydney Daily Mirror reflected the sort of reviews Sinatra's concerts would get for many years to come:

Too much booze, too many smokes, too many long, long nights have taken the glow from his voice, but no one gave a damn ... For Sinatra still has the phrasing which cannot be surpassed, the timing, the splendid arrogance of remarkable talent.

In October that year a tour of nine East Coast cities, with Woody Herman's band of the period, called the Young Thundering Herd, ended with several concerts at Madison Square Garden, where Sinatra had watched many a fight in his youth. He joked from the stage, 'As they say in Australia, "Ol' Big Mouth is back".' It was Jerry Weintraub's idea to record the whole thing for television, and in December The Main Event Live was released, an album put together from the highlights. It was the best Sinatra album for many years (even to a more convincing version of 'Bad, Bad Leroy Brown'), evidence that Sinatra was now at his best live; even so, reviews of the album were mixed. The concerts at the Garden had to be interrupted constantly by a TV crew, and people on the tour said that the rest of it was even better, without the interruptions. It is a mystery why more of the live concerts of the 1970s and 1980s have never been issued commercially, but tapes exist of some of them.

The big venues worked, but the Woody Herman band could not be a permanent solution to the other big problem, which was finding musicians. The people Sinatra had been used to working with in the recording studios were getting old themselves, had plenty of studio work and didn't want to go on the road. He had always had a hard time in Las Vegas, which is probably why there were not more live albums issued from that period; the musicians in Vegas were often frustrated jazz musicians, sore at themselves for having ended up there and too world-weary to give what they were capable of; when he played there Sinatra had to bring key men from Hollywood at great expense. When he began his post-retirement concert career, he had Bill Miller, Al Viola and Cottler, who'd done the world tour with him in 1962; Emil Richards was still around on vibes for awhile; Sinatra's long-time bassist Ralph Pena had been killed in a car crash, replaced by Gene Cherico; section leaders often included Billy Byers on trombone, Marvin Stamm on trumpet and Bud Shank on alto sax (who all went to Australia in 1974), and Charlie Turner was another featured trumpeter. Miller quit for a while in the late 1970s, and Viola retired around 1980, replaced by Tony Mottola, a long-standing Sinatra acquaintance who hadn't played for several years and had to be persuaded to unretire. But Cottler was Sinatra's backbone on the road for 35 years.

During the 1940s, Swing Era veteran Johnny Blowers had become a studio musician and was Sinatra's drummer of choice; by the mid-'50s, working for Norman Granz at Verve and on most of Nelson Riddle's sessions at Capitol, the wonderful Alvin Stoller had played with Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Frank Sinatra and many others; but then Irv Cottler, another veteran who'd played his first pro gig in 1938, became Sinatra's favorite drummer of all time. Live music is different from studio work, demanding in a different way: when Sinatra started over as a concert artist Cottler joined full time, giving up studio work entirely because the music had gone to hell anyway, and he was a rock in the drum chair: he put the tempo where he knew Sinatra wanted it, and Sinatra could know that it would stay there.

Even with the key men, putting together the rest of an orchestra on location was a headache. An unoffical New York band would be put together by a contractor, playing all the concerts in the East and many of the overseas ones; the New York musicians were not necessarily better players than the West Coast ones, but they were more professional, not such wise guys: post-war California had become Lotus Land to the extent that the musicians found it too much trouble to to play together in ensembles, and everybody wanted to be a leader. Wherever the bulk of an orchestra was drawn from for each tour or concert, a pattern was established: the key men would rehearse with the locals; in the early years Sinatra would turn up for a final rehearsal, and the playing of the locals invariably improved as soon as he appeared. Later, after the routine was well established, Sinatra would appear only for the concert itself.

Pianist and conductor Vince Falcone had given up a good job managing a chain of music stores to play in Las Vegas, and hated it; but he first worked with Sinatra in 1973 at Caesar's Palace, and in 1978 joined full-time as conductor, or playing piano when Bill Miller was conducting. Falcone knew the music inside out, and turned out to be a born conductor. Though Sinatra found him in Vegas, he was from New York state originally, and was one of those who appreciated the professionalism of the New York band; he had some important coaching from Gordon Jenkins, mainly not to take his eye off Sinatra, so that he was as reliable as Cottler at the drums. Sinatra was looking after himself, and would quit smoking and drinking before a concert; Falcone remembered going with him to see Pavarotti at home for advice on how to keep his pipes burnished. (Sinatra also went to see Robert Merrill, the Metropolitan Opera baritone; he mentioned this somewhere, and Merrill, who had never been a teacher, was bemused to have people calling him for voice lessons.)

There were occasional half-hearted or private recording sessions from which nothing was issued; an album with Riddle was started in 1977 called Here's To The Ladies ('Linda', 'Laura', 'Nancy', etc) but it was never finished. Sinatra kept trying to find new songs to record, and there here were good songs around. Admittedly, the 1970s seems in retrospect to have been a desert when it came to saloon songs, but Cy Coleman had been writing with Carolyn Leigh since 1957; Alec Wilder was still around in the 1970s, and words were still being written to his tunes; and cabaret singers were still reviving good old songs all through Sinatra's late career. The good songs that Sinatra had not already recorded, most of them, would have sounded obscure to the audiences of the 1970s and 1980s, but that hadn't stopped him recording anything he liked in the 1940s, and anyway the last two decades of Sinatra's career proved that people would have stood in line to hear him recite the phone book. But the man who had created markets and practically invented the 12-inch long-playing album seemed to have forgotten how to do it, and kept looking for songs that already had a commercial track record, which in the 1970s meant shlock. But in his concerts the classic Sinatra material amounted to more than half of the repertoire, sometimes in the good old arrangements, sometimes in new ones which were fun to hear; and the contemporary stuff, which kept changing anyway, was easier to take in that context.

It wasn't all fun and games: everybody liked Don Costa personally, but a lot of Sinatra's people didn't like the soft-rock stuff, especially Cottler. Yet Sinatra had an edge. In the last few years of her life Billie Holiday was reduced to singing the same dozen or so songs, partly because her health was so poor, and she had trouble learning new songs anyway; but Sinatra had already recorded hundreds of the best songs of the century, and was still in good voice. The magic still worked on stage. Musically, the late 1970s and early 1980s were in some ways the best years of Sinatra's life.

But the studio recordings were dodgy. In 1980 came Trilogy: Past, Present and Future, a three-LP set that reached the top 20 in the Billboard chart. Conceived and presented as an idea by Sonny Burke, Sinatra's favorite producer during the 1970s, Trilogy was almost his last gasp as a recording artist, and an utterly peculiar souvenir.

Past was arranged and conducted by Billy May and recorded in Hollywood; it was a triumphant success, better than most of the Capitol or Reprise albums that tried to recreate the Swing Era, perhaps because more time had gone by: the songs are well-chosen, the huge orchestra plays like a smaller group, and everybody is just having a ball, with no self-consciousness, no ego-tripping, no uncertainty. May outdid himself in the sheer integrity-with-flavor of the charts. Superbly recorded (the engineer was Lee Herschberg), Past sounds today like one of the better Sinatra concerts must have sounded. 'The Song Is You' is a splendid opener, while 'But Not For Me' and 'I Had The Craziest Dream' recapture the feeling of the Dorsey years better than anything on I Remember Tommy: Sinatra sings in unison with a chorus, almost like he's standing at a microphone with the Pied Pipers, and the murmuring of a woodwind choir is also profoundly evocative. What makes these ten tracks so successful, in fact, is that we are reminded that a great band was a team, with everybody on the same side. 'It Had To Be You' includes the verse, which makes consummate musical sense. 'Let's Face The Music And Dance' picks up the tempo, and has a surprise at the end: no Billy May record would be complete without some wacky humor, and Sinatra was delighted to hear five notes of mariachi fanfare ending a song about paying the piper. 'Street Of Dreams' has a swinging medium tempo and is faded out at the end, suiting a sort of fairy-tale saloon song. 'My Shining Hour' is the album's weakest track, because it's the weakest song (even if it is by Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen): the chorus seems superfluous, the arrangement a bit overdone and the tempo too slow. Cole Porter's 'All Of You' is a quick swinger in more senses than one -- it's less than two minutes long -- but it solves a mystery: 'All Of You' was recorded two days earlier than 'Let's Face The Music And Dance', but programed later on the album; the mariachi fanfare drives you nuts at the end of 'Music' because the fragment is hauntingly familiar: later you realize it's a phrase from 'All Of You'. On 'More Than You Know' Sinatra proves that he could still sing a slow one when the song is good enough; and 'They All Laughed' is a fine closer, again in more ways than one: at the end, the whole band breaks into sarcastic haw-haw hilarity. It is as though we have been visiting the nicest part of Sinatra's neighborhood; this is what his world is supposed to be like.

Unfortunately, Past having done the best job of capturing Sinatra's world since the heyday of Nelson Riddle, the other parts of Trilogy are thrown into rather sad relief. It was thought at the time that a lot of people were buying a three-LP set just to get one of them.

Present was yet another wad of soft-rock, recorded in New York, arranged and conducted by Costa. 'You And Me (We Wanted It All)', by Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen, is one of those banal 1970s cabaret songs with a twinkling guitar, a minimalist piano and a melody line that never seems to stop descending; a couple of almost-clever rhymes in the lyrics only betray the rest of it. Billy Joel's 'Just The Way You Are' gets an arrangement in the style of Past, which doesn't do enough to raise its boredom threshold. George Harrison's 'Something' works better, because the arrangement and Sinatra's delivery turn it into a show tune, leaving you curious to hear the rest of the show; and in fact there is something familiar about the arrangement: the solo violin cannot be Felix Slatkin, because he died in 1963, but it comes as no surprise, perusing the small print in the CD booklet, to discover that 'Something' was arranged by Nelson Riddle, and conducted by Vince Falcone, the only track on Present that had nothing to do with Costa. But Jimmy Webb's 'MacArthur Park' is rubbish no matter who does what. 'New York, New York', by Fred Ebb and John Kander, is the strongest track on the set, and in fact doesn't fit with the rest of it; the theme from Martin Scorcese's movie, (which was beautifully observed but flopped because it was too long and too earnest), the song was already becoming a staple of Sinatra's concerts, and as a single was his first top 40 hit in over 10 years (and his last). 'Summer Me, Winter Me' and 'Song Sung Blue' are paeans to a generation that was effectively illiterate, jingles that would insult an intelligent child; Falcone and Cotter hated Neil Diamond's 'Song Sung Blue', which was apparently a big hit single in 1972, for those who hadn't stopped listening to the radio by then.

Eileen Farrell was one of the few opera singers who could handle good pop songs, and made two or three albums with Robert Farnon; but singing a duet with Sinatra on Kris Kristofferson's 'For The Good Times' she is completely wasted, and it is this track which convinces me that Sinatra never could have made an album of country songs. At its best, Kristoffersons's world-weariness is valuable, but wholly different from Sinatra's: it is working-class rather than Hollywood. Sinatra was either lonely or he was flying, he was up or down, but the music of the American prairie requires the willingness to allow time to pass, and an entirely different kind of phrasing. 'Love Me Tender' was a nineteenth-century campfire song with new words when we heard Elvis Presley sing it on television in 1960, and we knew that something terrible had happened to him; what the hell was Sinatra doing recording it nearly 20 years later? And so we come to the last track on Present: all the world's bishops, rabbis and ayatollahs should have combined in a fatwa on whoever convinced Sinatra to record tosh like 'That's What God Looks Like To Me'.

Yet even worse was to come. Composed, arranged and conducted by Gordon Jenkins, Future is more than half an hour of tosh: with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, alto and soprano soloists and a chorus, it begins with the orchestra tuning up (a bad sign), and goes on to celebrate sentiments about space travel, world peace and living in the desert, without a single bar of memorable music. 'The future will almost certainly be/ Whatever you want it to be', it says here; the past is now an unbelievable place, where Sinatra made Past and Future in the same year; where Jenkins composed Manhattan Towers and went downhill from there. There can be few who have listened to Future all the way through, let alone more than once. This and Watertown is what Sinatra did in the way of commissioning original music drama, and we have to be grateful that he didn't do any more. The Future is inexplicable.

She Shot Me Down the following year was made in New York, and was at least a more interesting failure than most of the post-retirement sets. The nine songs included a Sondheim, a Gordon Jenkins and two co-written by Alec Wilder and pianist Loonis McGlohon, the kind of interesting obscurities Sinatra should have been seeking out. But he sounds uninvolved, as though he hadn't decided how to phrase them, and his pronunciation of certain words is as though the first run-through was issued by mistake, or as though he was finding it more difficult by 1981 to learn new songs. Most of the album was arranged by Gordon Jenkins, who was in failing health; it was his swan song, after the critical roasting he had got for his work on Trilogy. There's a lovely 'Thanks For The Memory', and a medley Sinatra had been doing in concert, 'The Gal That Got Away/ It Never Entered My Mind', arranged by Costa from Riddle's charts and conducted by Falcone. And there's the title track, 'Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)', by Sonny Bono (Cher had a hit on it in the early 1960s). I am reliably informed that Sinatra's 'Bang Bang' is moving if you're stoned; it's not entirely out of place on an album of saloon songs.

In 1982 Sylvia Syms, an old friend from the great days of 52nd Street, made an album for Reprise. Allegedly, Sinatra and Syms were introduced in the early 1940s by Billie Holiday, who then took them both across the street to hear Mabel Mercer, a song stylist who influenced everybody; and Sinatra and Syms became mutually admiring friends. After Syms had both legs broken in a car crash, Sinatra sent her a pair of roller skates; when he next opened at Caesar's Palace, she sent him an antique silver ear trumpet. Once when she was a guest at his home in Palm Springs and the entourage went out to a lounge after dinner, Sinatra asked her to sing, but she could not bring herself to sing in front of him; his response, she said, was 'Sylvia, you're nuts.' Syms had a million stories and some of them were suspect, but this one rings true: Sinatra was never slow to express admiration for another artist, and as fine a singer as Syms was, cabaret or supper-club singers in the 1970s seemed to be a disappearing breed. He conducted the orchestra on her Reprise album, Syms By Sinatra; the arrangements were by Costa, the last he ever wrote. The album has not been reissued on CD, because nobody in the shopping mall record shops has ever heard of her.

In 1983 a duet album with Sinatra and Lena Horne was planned, a star-studded extravaganza, perhaps a three-disk set to follow Trilogy, but the planning bogged down, complicated by a temporary illness on Horne's part. Quincy Jones was going to be involved. The trumpeter and bandleader had become a vice-president at Mercury Records in 1964, one of the first African-Americans to hold such a post in the record business, and had gone from strength to strength; he wrote the arrangements and conducted Count Basie's band on two Sinatra sets in 1964 and 1966; he had produced the album of Lena Horne's Tony-winning show The Lady And Her Music in 1981. Jones was always a highly regarded arranger, but had become an even more valuable producer, and finally quit arranging because the kind of music he'd started out in had pretty much disappeared anyway. He became one of the most famous producers in the world with Michael Jackson's Thriller, a number one album for 37 weeks in the USA and still the biggest-selling album in history.

Jones and Sinatra went on to make L.A. Is My Lady in New York in 1984. The title song, credited to Jones and Marilyn and Alan Bergman, was not written for Sinatra, but it was his idea to use it as a title track. The concept albums he and Riddle had invented never needed a title track, but ever since 'Come Fly With Me', 'Nice And Easy' and the rest over 20 years before, this was the kind of concept he'd been used to, so they used a corny geographical hook, the irony being that 'New York, New York' was recorded in Los Angeles, and 'L.A. Is My Lady' in the other place. Otherwise it was a good album of songs he mostly hadn't recorded before, such as 'Teach Me Tonight' (co-written by Sammy Cahn and Gene De Paul in 1953, with one of Cahn's best lyrics), 'How Do You Keep The Music Playing (by the Bergmans with Michel Legrand, a song that Tony Bennett had been doing in concert) and 'Mack The Knife', which was becoming a staple of Sinatra's concerts. Jones farmed out the arrangements to Frank Foster, Sam Nestico, Torrie Zito and Joe Parnello; the album made the top 60 in Billboard on Jones's Qwest label (part of Warner Brothers), the first album for over 20 years not to come out on Reprise, and Sinatra's last album for a decade.

There can be no doubt that much of the credit for the excellence of Sinatra's best work should go to the arrangers, especially Nelson Riddle. Maybe this is partly why Sinatra and Riddle were not on speaking terms for much of Sinatra's career. They made it up before Riddle died in 1985, but unlike Stordahl and Jenkins, Riddle never had his last hurrah; Sinatra could not even finish Here's To The Ladies, which should have been his last album with Riddle. When a benefit honoring Riddle was scheduled in 1978, Sinatra canceled, and when it was rescheduled for Sinatra's convenience, he canceled again.

Riddle was not a good conductor and not a composer, but as an arranger he knew his own worth, and never received his just due. The record industry honored Riddle for the albums he made just before his death with Linda Ronstadt, who has a beautiful voice when she is singing her folk-rock type of material, but had no idea what to do with Sinatra's type of song; just as Sinatra and his cohort could not recreate the Swing Era in the 1950s because they were too close to it, so Ronstadt had no chance of recreating the 1950s, which is what she thought she was doing. 'It takes her a whole goddam week to do four sides, and she thinks she's going fast!' exclaimed Riddle. The music business was not even willing to pay Riddle what he was worth at the end of his career; he had to take a percentage on the Ronstadt albums, but he got lucky: they were big hits, charting in Billboard and charting again when they were compiled in a box. (Popular music was becoming atomized, fragmented; once again there seemed to be room for everything, because the mainstream had got so bad that a lot of people were looking elsewhere: in 1977 there were only nine radio stations in American major markets playing standards; in 1984 there were 173.) An album had to sell a lot more copies to reach the top ten in 1985 than in 1955, and Riddle's estate probably made more money on the Ronstadt albums than on all the work he did with Sinatra.

Sinatra was doing some of the most interesting work of his life in concert the late 1970s-early 1980s, despite the fact that his studio work of the period was disappointing. In concert he was occasionally revisiting his saloon-song persona, doing intimate things, for example, with just Mottola on guitar: 'It's Sunday' is a lovely duet with Mottola recorded in 1984, issued on a single and later in a four-CD compilation of the Reprise years, and it is rumored that there was a ten-minute Porgy and Bess medley for just Sinatra and Falcone on piano. We can only hope that some of this work was recorded and will eventually see the light of day.

For someone who had led such a tempestuous life, Sinatra managed his final decades more or less gracefully. After Spiro Agnew left the scene, Sinatra's steady woman friend had been Barbara Marx. He sometimes treated her as badly as he had treated most of his women, and the relationship was on and off, but she took it like a trouper, and he married her in July of 1976. A blue-eyed blonde, Barbara had been a chorus girl in Las Vegas, where she met her second husband, Zeppo Marx, to whom she was married for thirteen years. Nancy Sinatra has written that she was terribly disappointed that her father did not marry her mother again, and that Nancy Sr still kept jars of his favorite spaghetti sauce in the refrigerator, but all that was wishful thinking; and Barbara seems to have been exactly what Sinatra needed.

While he was treating her like a toy that he could always do without, Barbara may have worried about her future, but she had a few things going for her. She was beautiful, but had no career to give up; she was glamorous, but supportive; she appeared submissive, but was not a fool. She no doubt spent half of each morning putting her make-up on, but that is the kind of woman Sinatra would have wanted, especially as he was still climbing socially. They were married at the home of Walter H. Annenberg, whom Sinatra had known since the 1940s, and who had become old Joe Kennedy's successor as Ambassador to the Court of St James in London during the Nixon administration.

The marriage took a few years to settle down. There were times when they swore at each other in public, and times when friends thought they'd split up, but Sinatra must have known that this was his last chance. For the most part, whatever Sinatra wanted to do was what Barbara wanted to do, yet she was not a total wimp: if he wanted to drink and gamble all night long in Las Vegas, she would fly home and go to bed. Sinatra always had plenty of servants, and all Barbara had to do was give orders and follow them. Jimmy Carter was in the White House in 1976, but it was only a matter of time before Sinatra's new friend Ronald Reagan took over, and when the Sinatras began mixing at that level, Barbara was a definite asset. Interviewed by Jody Jacobs for the Los Angeles Times in 1983, Barbara had been helping with an important benefit in Las Vegas, looking after the seating (a former President, two former ambassadors, a studio head, etc), the decorations and the menu, but not the entertainment. 'There's room for only one star in this marriage,' she said with a smile, and a smile like hers is worth a lot. In 1996 they had been married for 20 years.

Dolly Sinatra had long since decided that she disliked Nancy Barbato (but Nancy, to her credit, always treated Dolly properly). Dolly hated Barbara, calling her a whore to her face. In January 1979, Sinatra was opening once again at Caesar's Palace, and had chartered an airplane to bring Dolly to the opening, and the plane flew into the side of a mountain near Palm Springs. Sinatra was devastated; whatever anybody thought of Dolly, she had been the only benchmark he had all his life, her attitudes the only ones he had ever learned, the only ones he measured himself against. And Nancy Jr gives Barbara credit for helping him through the loss, and helping him back to the Catholic church for consolation.

Before his mother's death, Sinatra had planned to buy himself some kind of membership in the Knights of Malta, which seems to have been a scam perpetrated by his gangster friends. This might have pleased Dolly, but she never knew of it. Then in 1978 he had his marriage to Nancy Sr annulled, so that he and Barbara could be married by a Catholic priest. Kitty Kelley quotes witnesses who say that Barbara was not a Catholic and had to take instruction, but Nancy Jr has written that the whole thing was Barbara's idea. It is impossible to know what the family's feelings were, but Sinatra's obeisance to his mother's memory was certainly a slap in the face to the mother of his children. Some members of the public were outraged at Sinatra's apparent influence in Rome, but it was not widely known that the church had recently changed the rules: it was no longer necessary to apply to Rome, to shell out a lot of money in bribes, or even to get the Catholic spouse's permission.

In 1982 Sinatra mended an old fence, and Barbara probably deserves some credit for that, too. He went to see his godfather, Frank Garrick, in Hoboken, after nearly 50 years. Garrick and Marty had remained friends, but Garrick had not seen his godson since having to fire him from his newspaper job all those years ago; he had not been been invited to his godson's wedding to Nancy Barbato, nor even to the 50th anniversary party Sinatra threw for his parents in Hoboken. But now both Marty and Dolly were gone, and Garrick was the only connection with his origins Sinatra had left. He finally appeared on the doorstep of the humble Garrick home, with his secretary and Jilly Rizzo, his right-hand man. He said that he should have come to make his peace a long time ago, and Garrick agreed. From then on he kept in touch, sending gifts and concert tickets; on another visit he brought Barbara, and it was clear to Garrick that she had been a good influence on him. He'd changed, Garrick told Kitty Kelley. 'In the beginning, he was just like his mom. A real pusher, and tough, tough, tough, but now he's like his old man. Real quiet and calm. That's Barbara that's done that. She's a real lady.' It would no doubt be the sheerest speculation to wonder if Dolly had done it, by getting off her son's back at last.

And meanwhile, Mr and Mrs Frank Sinatra were glittering stars of the social whirl, receiving countless honors and seen at uncounted ritzy functions, and constantly making the news. Their favorite charities were for children. To mention a few highlights: in November 1983, Variety Clubs International threw a star-studded bash, taped for NBC TV, announcing that Sinatra had raised enough money to build a wing on the Seattle Children's Orthopedic Hospital, called the Sinatra Family Children's Unit for the Chronically Ill. Nelson Riddle led the orchestra, and Steve Lawrence and Vic Damone sang a medly called 'Sinatra From A To Z', from 'All Or Nothing At All' to 'Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart'. A few days later he threw his weight around at a casino in New Jersey, insisting that a blackjack dealer break the rules and the state law by dealing from an open deck; the incident was taped by security cameras and broadcast on network television. A few days after that, in early December, he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for Lifetime Achievement, along with actor James Stewart, choreographer Katherine Dunham, director Elia Kazan and composer--music critic Virgil Thompson. The following year, in October 1984, he received the Medal of Honor for Science and Art in Vienna, Austria's highest civilian honor, after performing in a huge concert hall with Buddy Rich's band, paying all the expenses himself, the concert takings going to Austrian children's charities.

The following January he performed at both the Vice-Presidential and Presidential inaugurals, as well as producing Ronald Reagan's inaugural party, the most expensive in history, and which many critics thought was lacking in grace. It included someone called Ben Vereen performing in blackface. Sinatra had always indulged in ethnic jokes, which was typical of his generation and background. There was once a hit song called 'All Coons Look Alike To Me', by a black songwriter, about a girl who is jilting her boyfriend for someone with more money; and 'Sheenies In The Sand', by a Jewish vaudeville comic, about having a good time on Coney Island. There were any number of dialect songs and comedians in the so-called melting pot; as late as 1949 we had 'I Yust Go Nuts At Christmas', by Yogi Yorgesson, a Swedish dialect novelty hit. But the year after that, blackface died with Al Jolson, and today Americans are more polite to one another, despite one of the highest murder rates in the world; and an entertainer in blackface in 1983 at a Presidential inaugural was pretty bad judgement. One of the most acerbic columnists in America, Mike Royko, then of the Chicago Sun-Times, wrote that 'It's possible that this performance offended some black viewers, but it probably made many of the rich Republicans in the audience yearn for the days when you could get good domestic help.' So who ever accused Frank Sinatra of good judgement? He was an American of a certain age.

In May he received an honorary degree in engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, and on the same day his buddy Ronald Reagan gave him the Medal of Freedom at the White House. In September he sold out nine shows at Carnegie Hall. His adoring daughter recorded what one critic wrote: 'Through subtleties of gesture and of voice -- a shift of tone, a way of rushing or delaying the beat -- Mr. Sinatra brought to his songs a sense of hard-fought inner drama that made them character studies as well as musical gems.'

Inevitably, during the 1980s, the clock began slowly to run down. Vince Falcone left the Sinatra group at the end of 1983, having worked for him off and on for a decade; then bassist Gene Cherico left, and there never was another regular bass player. Trumpeter Charlie Turner and Mottola were the next to call it a day. Costa was a workaholic and in poor health; he died suddenly, on tour in South America, where he was a big star, only 57 years old. By the end of the decade Gordon Jenkins, Nelson Riddle and producer Sonny Burke had all died; meanwhile, on the road, Joe Parnello took over the conducting for a couple of years, Falcone came back for a year or so, and in 1988 Frank Sinatra Jr took over.

Unlike his father, Frank Jr was a formally trained musician; he was competent, but not inspiring, and Irv Cottler for one did not get along with him. In 1989 Cottler died, and Sinatra never had another regular drummer. Sol Gubin was just as good as Cottler, but he and Frank Jr despised each other. Gubin was temperamental, but as Falcone told Friedwald, every musician has a temperament, and the conductor's job is to manage them; Duke Ellington rode herd over an unruly bunch of geniuses for nearly 50 years, but Frank Jr was no Ellington. He had led a band of his own in Las Vegas, and hired his friends as Frank Sr's old-timers left, and things continued rolling down the gentle, inevitable slope of time passing.

When Dolly's aircraft hit Mt. San Gorgonio in 1977, Dean Martin's son Dino, who wanted to be a pilot, said that the mountain was a hazard and ought to be moved. Ten years later, in March 1987, Dino's Air National Guard Phantom jet hit the same mountain, and Dean was never the same. In March 1988 Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis began a reunion tour of 29 cities, but Martin left the tour, and left show business, after a week. Liza Minnelli joined in April, the tour subsequently called The Ultimate Event; in April and May 1989 the trio went to Milan, London and Dublin.

In November 1989 Sinatra and Frank Jr tried to mediate between the hotels in Las Vegas and the American Federation of Musicians, but failed because the hotels had made up their minds, and there were no more union contracts and no more house bands in Las Vegas. Another era had ended.

Sinatra had said to Pete Hamill in 1974, 'You think some people are smart, and they turn out dumb. You think they're straight, they turn out crooked.' This was the period when his friends Spiro Agnew and Richard Nixon had to resign in disgrace. 'You like people, and they die on you,' he continued. 'I go to too many goddamned funerals these days.' In May 1990 Sammy Davis died of cancer. (During the 1950s Sinatra had bought Davis a house in Beverly Hills, so that he was one of the first African-Americans to live there; after Davis died, deeply in debt to the taxman, Sinatra reportedly gave his widow a million dollars so that she and her 13-year-old son could stay there.) Davis was followed within a few years by Jule Styne, Jimmy Van Heusen, Sammy Cahn and Swifty Lazar; and Jilly Rizzo, the former New York restaurateur who had not only been Sinatra's right-hand man for many years but a loyal friend to the entire family, was killed in a car crash. At the end of 1995 Dean Martin checked out.

Sinatra had often claimed that if a book about him were to be done he wanted to do it himself, so it would be done properly; as a publishers' editor in New York, Jackie Onassis tried to sign him up to do an autobiography, but nothing came of it. The first book about him had grown out of a profile in the New Yorker by E.J. Kahn in 1946. Sinatra had cooperated with interviews for a charming book by Robin Douglas-Home published in England in 1962; and there were books by Arnold Shaw in 1968 and Anthony Scaduto in 1976. Also in 1976 came a self-serving book by Earl Wilson, a Broadway columnist who had been Sinatra's friend for many years, but Sinatra hated the book and tried to sue Wilson. Then there were two lavishly illustrated books: Sinatra: An American Classic, a well-written book by John Rockwell, came from the Rolling Stone Press in 1984; and the next year, marking his 70th birthday, came Nancy Jr's first book: Frank Sinatra: My Father, full of anecdotes. The family regarded Kitty Kelley's His Way in 1986 as a disaster; it was over 600 pages of solid reporting of all the punch-ups and business deals that were already a matter of public record, buttressed by copious interviewing. Sinatra had tried for a year ro stop Kelley, and seemed to give up, perhaps resigned at last to the fact that his life was public property. Tina Sinatra produced Sinatra, a five-part TV mini-series on her father's life, starring Broadway actor Philip Casnoff, first aired on CBS-TV in November 1992; it was accurate and honest as far as it went, but it was somehow wooden viewing, too slick and self-conscious. The most moving scenes were those about Marty's death.

In 1993 came Duets, Sinatra's first album in a decade. To everyone's surprise, it was issued on Capitol, who covered the costs and promised a lot of promotion; produced by Phil Ramone, a successful pop producer who'd begun as a recording engineer, it was a technical tour de force. Sinatra was reportedly confused in the studio at one point, unable to remember why he was recording some of the songs yet again; but suddenly, in July 1993, a session was set up like a live gig, with a hand-held wireless microphone for Sinatra: the band was in the groove, and nine takes were laid down in one night. On the CD he sounded good, but any amount of tweaking might have been done to the tapes; none of the other artists actually sang with him on the spot, but phoned in their parts on different dates, using a digital telephone line. And with the exception of Tony Bennett, few of them were suitable for a Sinatra album. The duetees besides Bennett were Bono (real name Paul Hewson, from the rock group U2), Aretha Franklin, Barbra Streisand, Luther Vandross, Anita Baker, Carly Simon, Charles Aznavour, Liza Minnelli, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Julio Iglesias, and most useless of all, white-bread saxophonist Kenny G. This cheesy, pointless farrago reached number two in the Billboard album chart, which made Sinatra very happy, but it is hard to say which was the worst track.

In March 1994 he was given a lifetime achievement award at the Grammy ceremonies in New York, and his acceptance speech was cut off for a TV commercial. A few days later he slowly collapsed while singing 'My Way' in Richmond, Virginia; but he was just tired and overheated, and he waved to the audience as he was carried off. There is an awful Italian bootleg called Sings To The New Yorkers on a phoney 'Capital' CD, said to be from the 'RCMH NYC' (Radio City Music Hall) on 24 April 1994. Somebody must have had a digital tape recorder in the audience, and he should have bought a better seat: the orchestra is miles away and Sinatra sounds like he's off mike. The rhythm section is undistinguished, the drummer apparently hitting rim shots all the way through; Sinatra's warm vocal color is unmistakeable, but the famous phrasing is often wobbly, and at the end of the last track, "I Get A Kick Out Of You', he tries for a bravura ended and is horribly off pitch. The audience was appreciative (the applause near the recordist is particularly well captured) and the sense of occasion is palpable.

In November 1994, Duets II was released, with Gladys Knight (and Stevie Wonder on harmonica), Jon Secada (a Cuban-born Miami-based pop singer and songwriter), Luis Miguel (another similar), Patti Labelle, Linda Ronstradt, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Chrissie Hynde, Willie Nelson, Lena Horne, Jimmy Buffett, Lorrie Morgan, Neil Diamond, Frank Jr and Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. Most of the tracks are as bad as on the first Duets album; the one with Jobim is surprisingly clumsy (an alcoholic, Jobim died soon afterwords). But the tracks with Gladys Knight, Lena Horne and Steve and Eydie are more palatable, proving that it wasn't the idea that was so bad but the execution. The idea behind both albums was to match him with the biggest names in their respective markets; Will Friedwald remarked that there wasn't anybody left from Sinatra's market, but that just isn't true. There should have been room for Marlene VerPlanck and Julius LaRosa. In Carnegie Hall in July 1995 there was a Sinatra celebration featuring Rosemary Clooney, who could still sing any pop star off the stage, as well as Maureen McGovern, Vic Damone, Margaret Whiting, Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and others; why did most of the names on the duet albums have to be big names in pop, rock and country music? Sinatra had become an artifact, an icon, no longer belonging to himself; at the very end of his career he was the victim of the Hollywood values he had spent much of his career struggling against.

And yet, and yet. Maybe the important thing was never the records, but the audience; not posterity, nor even prosperity, but the sea of upturned faces in front of him, to whom he could expose his heart without being threatened. In December 1994, a few days after his 79th birthday, he sang in Japan, but it was announced that there would be no more live shows. In February 1995 he sang six songs for a private audience on the last day of the Frank Sinatra Desert Classic golf tournament, and was said to be in superb form. But he had been reading the words to the songs from a prompter for some time, and was finding it more difficult even to do that. The calendar is the enemy that will not be denied.

Also in February, it was announced that Sinatra's oil paintings of city scenes of New York were being copied onto a range of silk ties.

There had been a Duets TV show, again with the partners in different studios, but enlivened with film clips featuring Dean Martin, Sammy Davis and Elvis; and there were more celebrations on American television to mark his 80th birthday. In 1995 the Sinatras sold the compound in Palm Springs, complete with model trains, which he had owned since 1954; and at the end of the year, two weeks before the birthday, there was an auction at Christie's in New York of many of Frank and Barbara's possessions. There were not only bejewelled knicknacks, but gorgeous works of art: scenes of New York by Leon Kroll, Max Kuehne, Ernest Lawson and Max Wiggins; views of Tuscany by William Merritt Chase. Some years earlier, Sinatra had sold off a few Impressionists to concentrate on collecting American art; but now the Sinatra century was closing down, and his collecting years were over.

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