Adrenalin is rushing through my veins (does adrenalin do that?), tears are welling up in my eyes, I have just finished reading part 1 of a masterpiece of biographical writing, a work of art, Frank Sinatra, the subject. I have been left hanging….thank heavens I don’t have to wait years for part 2 and that I didn’t read part 1 till part 2 was written!
‘Frank: The Making of a Legend’ (aka, in the US, ‘Frank: The Voice’) is the most moving, incredible book I’ve ever read (I’ve said that before about books but I mean it this time!). I think I feel this way because James Kaplan, the genius, yes, genius, of an author has put into the most beautiful words exactly how I feel about Frank’s music. I found myself reading the book and thinking, “yes, yes, yes, spot on, that is so right!!” – I understand the power of Frank’s music, as described by James, the romance, the beauty, the sensitivity, Frank’s immersion in the songs, the lyrics. Page after page, James keeps striking my chords (excuse the pun). However, James has now taken me further into the magic, into Frank’s breathing, his visualising of the song. I now hear the songs on a different, a higher – or a deeper – level. I can hear Frank’s singing of every letter (though I must admit that I have heard ‘Autumn Leaves’ like that for some time). I can hear and sense his ‘real life’ emotions in the songs, e.g. “I’m A Fool To Want You”. It’s as if I’ve only just been introduced to the music of Frank!!
“Most of our best numbers were in what I call the tempo of the heartbeat. That’s the tempo that strikes people easiest because, without their knowing it, they are moving to that pace all their waking hours. Music to me is sex – it’s all tied up somehow, and the rhythm of sex is the heartbeat. I usually try to avoid scoring a song with a climax at the end. Better to build about two-thirds of the way through, and then fade to a surprise ending. More subtle. I don’t really like to finish by blowing and beating in top gear.”
The effect on me when I read that, for instance, I can’t fully convey it in words. Reading how the genius, Nelson Riddle (I don’t use that word lightly, a mean it!), visualises music, how he gives it life, how he creates the work of art that I can listen to ‘on a loop’, listen to over and over and over again, tears in my eyes every time, I can’t quite digest it. How can I, a mere mortal, fully comprehend the brain, the mind, the mechanics of Nelson Riddle’s, of Frank’s, genius and creativity? I can’t.
“Sinatra was crazy about this arrangement (Nelson’s arrangement of Johnny Mercer’s and Rube Bloom’s “Day In, Day Out”), and his singing shows it. Here he is not only ardent and tender, as he was on the Stordahl record (as originally recorded), but passionate. His emotional and sexual engagement with every syllable of the lyric, every note of the song, every bar of the arrangement, never wavers. This is not just a display of great singing but also a great work of art, rich with autobiographical meaning, shot through with longing and loss.”
THAT PARAGRAPH, LIKE SO MANY OTHERS IN THE BOOK, IS MIND-BLOWING. Watch this, Lord Olivier’s acceptance speech when he collects his ‘Lifetime Achievement’ Academy Award in 1979. See Jon Voight’s reaction to the acceptance speech (Lord Olivier deserved an Oscar for his ‘performance’ that night!) – that’s how I feel when I read this book:
How has this book perhaps changed my life (and the fact that it is 31 December is unconnected but it is a bit ‘spooky’ that I feel like this tonight – I just happen to have finished the book tonight)?
I want to write a book. I have felt a gnawing at my soul for some years. On the one hand, I read this book, I witness James Kaplan’s great talent, and it can lead me to think, “what’s the point, I couldn’t come close to that standard and, if I can’t, I don’t want to even begin”. On the other hand, particularly as I noted that James hadn’t written a book of this nature before this one, I can think, “I guess it can be done….what man has done, man can do…” It seems to me that the key here is to love the subject matter, to be passionate about the subject, perhaps to experience an ‘epiphany’, a ‘born again’ moment, perhaps to feel so strongly about a matter/issue as to become….obsessed….driven??
If I liken Frank’s music to a shoe, it fits perfectly but I’m no genius of a cobbler, I know I could never produce such perfection (no one can – there could only ever be one Frank!). If I liken James Kaplan’s writing to a glove, it, too, fits perfectly, as good a fit as the glass slipper fits Cinderella, but could I produce a glove or a slipper of the same standard? I don’t know but I want to try!! This book, it’s a masterclass in biographical writing…I’m learning and I am inspired!
Onto part 2 of the biography, “SINATRA: THE CHAIRMAN” (2015)…