| August 5, 1998
And Now, the End Is Here
Thursday, May 14, 1998. A day so long dreaded and so frequently predicted that one couldn't help but feel numb upon learning that Francis Albert Sinatra was dead.
Frank was all things to all people: a saint, a thug, a soft touch, a tough guy, a gentleman, a swinger, a prince, a prick--all of it and a few yards more. He pissed on the grave of columnist Lee Mortimer--one of the numerous men who had the honor of being slugged by Ol' Blue Eyes--while screaming "I'll bury you all!" But when pianist Bill Miller's house was wiped out in a reservoir collapse, it was Sinatra who salvaged possessions, paid hospital bills, relocated the family, and spared Miller the task of identifying his wife's body. She had been in the water for some time and even such a tough paisan as Frank admitted he couldn't get the memory out of his head.
It was likewise musically--and I don't mean in the sense that the same man who did the appalling Rod McKuen collaboration "A Man Alone" also did the unbelievably swinging "Sinatra at the Sands" with Count Basie and Quincy Jones. But Frank had the gift for conveying the many facets of human experience in his music. When it came to happiness, he could soar through the chorus of "Come Fly With Me," or play out the comedic samba of "Brazil," or somehow pull out the swinging nihilism of "I Got Plenty of Nothing." And pain, oh the pain. The consummate, we've-all-been-here world-weariness of "One More for My Baby." The wistful--almost childish, but definitely masochistic--"Glad to Be Unhappy." And "Angel Eyes," a lament painful enough to beat your head against the wall, the heartbroken host crying "drink up you happy people," realizing any room without her in it might as well be empty, and disappearing into the night.
So what to do in homage to this great talent? Well, there's the barrage of TV shows, the university symposium, or you could do what Frank would do--have a drink. There are but a few places left in this town where Frank used to romp and ring-a-ding-ding--Jilly's, the Stork Club, Toots Shorr's, sites of many a gasser, are all gone. Among the few remaining are "21" and Patsy's restaurants, as well as the bar at the Waldorf-Astoria, where El Dago used to keep a pad, and to which Patsy Grimaldi's used to deliver pizza. He also tilted a few glasses at Mare Chiaro while filming "Contract On Cherry Street" in Little Italy.
And what would Frank want you to have? Jack Daniels, of course--two fingers Jack, the rest water, with three or four ice cubes in a cocktail glass. Failing that, a Stoli martini, straight up in a chilled glass with two olives. Raise it high and, as the man himself used to say, may you a live a hundred years and may the last voice you hear be his.
Frank and Ava
Behind every great man is a great woman and perhaps no one proves that axiom better than Frank Sinatra. There was a period in the late forties when Ol' Blue Eyes hit bottom, when he could walk through Times Square unrecognized, and it looked as if he'd play out his hand as just another washed-up crooner singing to half-full houses. What changed all that? Ava Gardner.
Ava was a sharecropper's daughter who, thanks to her truly astonishing beauty, became one of the great screen goddesses. Far from another vacant-eyed, lip-glossed MGM product, she was a hard-drinking, trash-talking, hot-tempered earth mother who served as a muse to both Ernest Hemingway and Robert Graves. She was best pals with Lena Horne, who describes her simply by saying "Ava was down. As one can imagine, the Sicilian and the Southern Belle didn't mix easily.
They were as volatile as Bonnie and Clyde from the beginning. On one of their first dates they got loaded, hopped in Frank's Cadillac and headed for the desert. They landed in the town of Indio, where they began shooting out streetlights and store windows with a pair of .38s they'd brought along, accidentally nicking one of the citizens in the process--it took $30,000 in hush money to clean up the damage. When director John Ford asked her to tell some local dignitaries what she saw in the "120-pound runt you're married to." Ava shot back "Well, there's only ten pounds of Frank, but there's 110 pounds of cock!"
The fights were legendary, and jealousy over some starlet or matador was almost always the cause. Police were called, diamond bracelets were hurled from hotel windows, possessions were moved out and back in and out again within an hour. Frank would punch photographers, Ava would run off into the New York City night, barefoot in an evening gown, and not return for hours. What kept them together? "We were great in the sack," she said, "the trouble usually started on the way to the bidet." They hoped marriage would change things--no more running around on the sneak, begging Nancy for a divorce--but it didn't.
When Frank was at his above-described nadir, Ava went to studio head Harry Cohn and begged, begged, pleaded with him to test him for the role of Maggio in "From Here to Eternity," which resurrected his career. But Ava's real impact was on Frank's music. She was the woman who made him the "Chairman of the Board" of the brokenhearted. Who had him overdosing on sleeping pills in Lake Tahoe and sticking his head in an oven in Palm Springs--imagine the kind of woman it would take to get a cocky bastard like Francis Albert Sinatra to try to end it all. Repeatedly. Frank's arranger Nelson Riddle once said, "it was Ava who did that, who taught him how to sing a torch song. She was the greatest love of his life and he lost her."
It is Ava we have to thank for those twin masterpieces of sorrow "In the Wee Small Hours" and "Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely." Frank's legendary recording of "I'm a Fool to Want You" is his greatest testament to their doomed romance. He went into the studio, agonizing over their most recent trial, and did the song in one take, adding lyrics, venting his emotions until he was so ravaged that he bolted and disappeared into the night immediately afterward, unable to do another take. He didn't need to--the song is a testament of unbearable suffering and the performance is soulful on a par with Otis Redding himself. If you doubt me, just listen to the end, the break in Frank's voice before he whispers "take me back, I love you/Pity me, I need you"--the man who ruled the world lying broken on the floor.
Even their divorce didn't end it. Years afterward, he would call Ava and she flew from movie sets, parties, anywhere in the world to be by his side. Yet, within a few days, the drama and the trauma would begin again and she would flee once more--until the next time. At the end of his days, Sinatra may have described his fourth wife Barbara as "the love of my life," but up until the day he married her, Frank and Ava were still trying to work it out.
So weep not for the loss of Frank. While we all loved the Chairman and hate to see him go, there's a lady waiting for him at a table upstairs....
And remember kiddies--next week brings a whole new round of rants, featuring the mandatory "Elvis Is Still Dead" diatribe and the inevitable "Why the Beastie Boys Suck Now"--hoist that middle finger at complacent critics everywhere and be the first to join in the backlash!
Brooklyn hip-hop, Detroit techno, mermaids, zombies, lounge singers, the "Wonderboy Preacher," and full frontal nudity.
Horoscopes for the week of June 22nd.
Courtney Love sucks and some of the reasons why.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Lounge Lizards, and Afrika Bambataa & the Soul Sonic Force.