Frankie With the Snarling Face

What future is there for rock without the Chairman of the Board to kick it around?

You're flying high in April--shot down in May! Ah well, at least Frank squeezed an extra nine months past the Sinatra Death Watch. For 10 months, the National Enquirer, The Globe and The Star held their ravenous vigil waiting for "The Voice" to give out. "Sinatra: The Last Sandwich! The Exclusive Photos!" "Frank's Final Christmas!" How many relatives were caught empty-handed the night before Christmas when not a creature was stirring except Frank Sinatra? Makes you wonder how many last-minute decorative colostomy bags were purchased that hallowed eve.

But Ol' Blue Eyes refused to shut 'em tight. Even while his family was allegedly feuding over his last will and testament, he hung onto his deviled life with both horns. Rockers half Sinatra's age don't know from this kind of lingering. When Freddie Mercury announced he was HIV positive--boom! He died of AIDS the next day. With a posthumous album already in the can! What a lesson in time management that was!

One dedicated Sinatra Web page said it best: "With Sinatra's death, it's the end of the 20th century." Indeed, the 20th century as we've known it to be has long ceased to be, at least where pop music's concerned. Once, every generation had its Voice to champion and a promise that every generation to follow would have its own big thing, too. Rudy Vallee, Bing Crosby, Frank, Elvis, the Beatles, then nobody, and everybody claiming Next Big Thing ownership for moving zillions of units yet not enacting one social change. Sinatra was the Last Big Thing before rock 'n' roll changed the rules forever, which makes him the long-lost Daddy that rockers alternately rebelled against and later tried to win approval from.

Months of seeing a feeble Frank schlepping around in seclusion, preceded by years of Frank singing with TelePrompTers and forgetfully introducing his band leader Frank Jr. over and over again in a single performance--it's almost enough to make you think Gen Xers witnessing Frank's Mild Years might be completely oblivious to what a volatile, kickass punk a fully charged Frank Sinatra used to be.

Back in the '50s, any number of red rags could send Frank's bullish temper flaring. A pushy broad, a dullsville party, a double-crossing pal who'd play the Frontier Room instead of the Sands, an overcooked plate of spaghetti, all acceptable justifications for losing it, bad. But nothing caused Sinatra to detonate like that "deplorable, rancid aphrodisiac" known as rock 'n' roll.

One of the rare times the press-hating Chairman of the Board felt compelled to raise his own poison pen in print was his blitzkrieg assault on rock music which appeared in Western World magazine in 1955.

"[Rock 'n' roll] fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false," he snarled. "It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd, in plain fact, dirty lyrics, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth."

Whew! That, my friends, is one hot and bothered saloon singer. But Sinatra was 40ish by then, not exactly the demographic rock was predisposed to delight. By 1960, it appeared Frank's rock-hating heart was softening somewhat into an "if you can't beat 'em, exploit 'em" stance. Never a TV ratings blockbuster, Sinatra hosted a splashy Timex TV special welcoming Elvis Presley back to civilian life after his stint in the army, and the ratings went through the roof. In Elvis' awkward 10-minute segment/duet, Sinatra tried to swing out on "Love Me Tender" like it was still "Aura Lee" while Elvis tried snapping his fingers and suavin' his way through "Witchcraft." Both crapped out.

Still, Frank even let daughter Nancy kiss the King, a guy Frank and his pals continued to call a "schmendrick" and a "clyde" in private. Unlike Frank and Bing, no friendship ever developed between these two generational icons, especially after the bloated Vegas-era Elvis tried turning "My Way" into HIS signature anthem.

As the '60s unfurled, Frank's newfound rally-round-the-rock credo was put to the test when his custom record label Reprise expanded its Rat Pack roster of Dino and Sammy to include such "sideburned delinquents" as the Kinks, the Fugs, the Electric Prunes, and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Hendrix, by way of tribute, snuck a few bars of "Strangers in the Night" into his Monterey Pop version of "Wild Thing" before smashing and burning his guitar, something nobody in Tommy Dorsey's band ever did. Surely Frank hadda be proud of that, especially since the lewd Troggs hit, along with Tommy James' imbecilic "Hanky Panky," ensured "Strangers in the Night" would only remain No. 1 for a solitary week in 1966.

While one could hardly imagine the Chairman of the Board acting as A&R man for the Voodoo Chile ("Okay, cookie, we sign the spade pronto, but tell him to lose the guitar humpin', coz we run a class joint here at Reprise!"), there is one rock act that Sinatra personally hand-picked for his label, and it only took three songs to convince him this band was for the ages--all ages!

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