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Desert Island CD
, January 12, 2005
This review is from: Concert Sinatra (Audio CD)
A friend asked today, "If you could keep only ONE of his albums, which one goes with you to the proverbial desert island?" The short answer is, "This one." But a big ocean of memories will surround that island.
Back when I was just six years old, I attended my best friend David Pearce's birthday party, and his mother -- a widow, who I can remember thinking was so beautiful -- took out a picture of little David's late father and told us boys how she'd married on the "Day of Infamy." (Much later I'd learn that was the term used by President FDR for December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was hit, launching American involvement in WWII). Then Mrs. Pearce told us that "Frank Sinatra, you don't know him, was always our favorite singer." I remember feeling honored, at that moment----in some way that my six year old heart could never express in words---that she would share with us that photograph, and her memories of David's late father. And then, speaking to me alone (as the other boys at the party gravitated towards David's new toys) Mrs. Pearce told me in a soft voice: "Frank Sinatra is the greatest singer, Mark. Maybe someday you'll agree with me." Then she put on one of his records---something from the first Capitol album of 1953 (how I wish with all my heart that I could recall which song she selected---but I do remember listening, dutifully, and feeling very much like a big man who was seeing eye-to-eye with this beautiful woman who was treating me like an adult.
I grew up in a musically literate home, with loving (and very musical) parents who once saw a live performance by Frank Sinatra with Tommy Dorsey's band in July of 1940 (at Toronto's "Canadian National Exhibition"----a sort of glorified `state fair' in Canada's largest city). My parents had no Frank Sinatra LPs from the 1950s (only one or two old "Columbia" 78s from the late 1940s). Dad gave Mom two Nat Cole LPs in the 60s, including one arranged by Gordon Jenkins---my Mom's favorite singer and her favorite arranger, right up until her death three years ago.
My parents always took us to see "Broadway" musicals as performed locally, (in my hometown of Ottawa Canada) and eventually---in 1960---they took us to see the "real thing"----I remember being told that the theatre house lights were being dimmed all over Broadway that very night because Oscar Hammerstein had just died. Mom told me "He's the greatest lyricist, Mark" suggesting (like Mrs. Pearce) that one day, perhaps when I was older, I might agree with her.
On that same visit to NYC I remember stepping off an elevator in the Plaza Hotel, and my father immediately telling me "that man there, you just rode in the elevator with is Richard Rodgers" (who would one day be my favorite composer). But as with beautiful Mrs. Pearce trying to introduce me to Frank Sinatra, I just "wasn't ready" to appreciate greatness.
It was on a January day just this one -- twelve years ago -- that I returned home from work to hear words from my wife that I'd been aching to hear: "You got a letter from Frank Sinatra."
I remember taking off my winter coat and boots, and stumbling into another room where I could be alone, making sure my hands were clean, and getting a bright reading light, and carefully opening the envelope and reading the note and re-reading it (ten times? twenty times?).
I remember being overcome with emotion, saying to myself, "Do you realize what an honor you've just received? This is from someone who, early in his career, received letters like mine numbering 3,000 a week! Do you appreciate that he took the time---perhaps ten minutes of his life---to read your two-page letter, and then compose this signed response-you-hold-in-your-hands? Do you realize what this is? The greatest musical entertainer of the Twentieth Century is telling you personally--- "I greatly appreciate your interest in my music" and "it was so nice of you to take the time to write."
With an extra decade of immersing myself in Frank Sinatra's greatness, I'd have to say that only a "religious experience" --- and a glimpse of Eternity---could ever surpass what I feel in my heart, the sheer exhilarating joy I experience, when I listen for example, to "My Heart Stood Still" (my favorite of these). There is the high plateau where the singer and his great collaborator Nelson Riddle have their true, "shining hour." At that defining moment in 1963, the arranger conducts his finest orchestrations, with the largest symphony orchestra ever assembled in Hollywood---as the singer on a mountain peak of vocal greatness, performs his favorite songs by his (and my) favorite composer. For me personally that is the `coming-together-of-a-lifetime,' ----all the peak emotions of memory, from Mrs. Pearce, to Rodgers & Hammerstein, to Nelson Riddle---a lifetime's worth of emotion, bringing me tears of joy each time I hear it. (These days, the experience is rationed to perhaps once a month, and then just a cut or two at a time, so as to preserve the experience----I want to `spread it out' over the rest of my life, if I can.)
In the final paragraph of my letter 12 years ago, I told Frank Sinatra how I'd "discovered your enduring greatness somewhat late in life. But perhaps that's why I appreciate you the more now.
"Thanks then, for being you, is all I want to say. The world would be a poorer place if you'd never passed this way. And I think, after six decades of your work, without anyone surpassing your greatness, I guess it's safe to say `We'll never know your like again.' Best wishes for a long and healthy life.
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