Although it certainly can’t hurt when your father owns the record company, Nancy Sinatra wouldn’t have sold millions of records in the 1960s if she wasn’t putting out great pop music. In fact, had Sinatra not met songwriter/producer Lee Hazlewood, she might’ve been dropped, even by Reprise. Nepotism only goes so far (just ask her brother) and Sinatra’s early attempts at the pop charts went nowhere. Hazlewood had her sing in a lower key and tailored her material for a straight-talkin’ sassy “hip” image that was closely associated with go-go boots, eyeliner and miniskirts. Together they had a long string of chart-topping hit records, most sung by Nancy, but still some were duets they recorded together.
1967’s NBC TV special Movin’ With Nancy was produced at the height of Sinatra’s career and featured guest appearances from her father, his pals Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., as well as an onscreen appearance by Hazlewood. Written by Tom Mankiewicz (who’d go on to the James Bond films and the Superman franchise of the 70s) and directed by Jack Haley Jr. (son of the “Tin Man” actor, one-time husband to Liza Minnelli and future producer of That’s Entertainment!), as far as variety specials went, Movin’ With Nancy was considered quite “different” for its time. For one thing, it’s not shot in a studio, but mostly outdoors, on various locations like a travelogue. The set pieces simply drift from one to the next and each is like a music video. Haley won an Emmy for his directing.
The show was sponsored in its entirety by the Royal Crown Cola company (“It’s the mad, mad, mad, mad cola!” as you will be reminded over and over and over again) and their commercials are in the video below, so we get to see Movin’ With Nancy exactly the way it aired on December 11, 1967. Of special note is the premiere of that classic oddball psych number “Some Velvet Morning,” which made about as much sense then as it does today. If that doesn’t send a special thrill up your leg, I don’t know what would. Also, at the very end of her bit with Sammy? That innocent peck on the cheek was apparently the very first (non-scripted) interracial kiss on network television. This proved to be controversial, but was done spontaneously as Davis was actually saying goodbye to Sinatra in that shot and leaving the set for another job. There wasn’t a second take.
Steve McQueen was one of several Hollywood celebrities placed on a “Death List” allegedly compiled by Charles Manson. The other names were Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones.
On August 9th, 1969, members of Manson’s “Family” carried out the brutal murder of Sharon Tate and 4 of her friends.
McQueen had briefly dated Tate, and had planned to visit the actress the night of her death.
In December 1969, Manson and the killers had been arrested.
When McQueen heard he might be targeted by Manson’s followers, he started carrying a gun. In October 1970, a still cautious McQueen wrote to his lawyer to find out if any “Family” members were still active, and to have his gun license renewed.
A SOLAR PRODUCTION
October 17, 1970
Mr. Edward Rubin
Mitchell, Silberberg & Knupp
6380 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, California 90048
As you know, I have been selected by the Manson Group to be marked for death, along with Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones. In some ways I find it humorous, and in other ways frighteningly tragic. It may be nothing, but I must consider it may be true both for the protection of myself and my family.
At the first possible time, if you could pull some strings and find out unofficially from one of the higher-ups in Police whether, again unofficially, all of the Manson Group has been rounded up and/or do they feel that we may be in some danger.
Secondly, if you would call Palm Springs and have my gun permit renewed, it was only for a year, and I should like to have it renewed for longer as it is the only sense of self-protection for my family and myself, and I certainly think I have good reason.
Please don’t let too much water go under the bridge before this is done, and I’m waiting for an immediate reply.
The other day I was having a conversation about the price of concert tickets “back in the day”—in this case, that would mean the early 80s when I first started going to shows.
Back then you could see acts like The Clash, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Elvis Costello, PiL, Suicide, Devo, Joe Jackson, B-52s, Gang of Four, The Residents, etc., for between $8-12! When I moved to London, it got even cheaper: You could see anyone, save for a superstar act for about three to four pounds.
But, the best price I ever got on a concert ticket was when I went to see Frank Sinatra in 1984 at the Royal Festival Hall. I didn’t have a ticket, but I figured that there would be touts outside of the venue hawking them. I was confident enough that I’d get tickets to take a date. If it didn’t pan out, we’d do something else.
When we got to the Royal Festival Hall, there was no one outside except for the ticket scalpers. It was an older crowd, of course, so everyone was in their seats at the appointed time. 100% of the folks outside were touts, save for us.
I offered the first guy who approached us ten pounds for a pair of tickets, less than cost. He said twenty, I said no, ten. I gestured to his fellow scalpers and asked “You gonna sell them to one of these guys? I’ll give you ten pounds, and if not, I will see what one of them has to say to that same offer. Up to you.”
He was furious at my appalling American cheek (in my defense I was 18, broke, and living in a squat) but saw the logic in what I was saying and we exchanged tickets for money, he with bitter reluctance and me with great delight.
The opening act was already onstage—if memory serves it was Buddy Rich—and we were seated, in the first balcony, right next to actor Gregory Peck and his wife. When I whispered who was seated beside us to my date—and this is probably as good of a time as any to tell you that she was dressed from head to toe like Elton John at the height of his 70s flamboyance (including a glittery silver cap, silver platform boots, diamante-encrusted sunglasses and a cape made of feathers)—she replied (loudly): “Gregory Peck? Who the fuck is Gregory Peck?”
That was a little bit awkward, as you might imagine. Though the Pecks took it in stride, I shrank into my seat for a while, but when Sinatra came on, I recovered. I think he was 68 years old at the time and still in very, very fine voice, although he had to sing with sheet music in front of him and made a joke about forgetting the lyrics.
There actually aren’t all that many concert documents of Sinatra in his prime and in the below video, shot 13 years before I saw him, in 1971, but in the same venue, he was just 55 and would soon announce his retirement (which obviously didn’t last that long).
Sinatra was introduced by Grace Kelly, who had sung with him in High Society (Noel Coward was to have introduced both Sinatra and Bob Hope, who preceded him on the bill, but had fallen ill). The event was a fundraiser for the National Association For The Prevention of Cruelty to Children.
The set list includes mostly Sinatra standards, and his magnificent take on George Harrison’s “Something,” which the Chairman of the Board called “the greatest love song of the past 50 years” even though he often described it as a Lennon-McCartney composition. You’ll notice that he was flubbing lyrics back then, too.
A letter from Frank Sinatra to his daughter Nancy—which she kept framed in her house—penned around 1969.
According to an article in the Toledo Blade dated April 19, 1969 “keeping the faith” for Nancy included “a refusal to take alimony from her husband, because she considered it ‘unfair’ when she is perfectly capable of working.”
from the desk of
Chicken — a thought.
Strange, but I feel the world we live in demands that we be turned out in a pattern which resembles, in fact, is a facsimile of itself. And those of us who roll with the punches, who grin, who dare to wear foolish clown faces, who defy the system — well, we do it, and bully for us!
Of course, there are those who do not. And the reason I think is that, (and I say this with some sadness) those up-tight, locked in people who resent and despise us, who fear us, and are bewildered by us, will one day come to realize that we possess rare and magical secrets, and more — love.
Therefore, I am beginning to think that a few, (I hope many) are wondering if maybe there might be value to a firefly, or an instant-long roman candle.
If ever there was a hidden masterpiece by a titanic musical artist of great multi-generational consequence that is virtually unknown to the general public, it’s Frank Sinatra’s heartbreaking 1970 concept album, Watertown. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching albums of all time, right up there with Lou Reed’s infamously depressing Berlin or Torment and Toreros by Marc Almond, another great soundtrack for slitting your wrists to. Watertown is every bit Sinatra’s Berlin, a bleak, bleak ravaged soul of an album that, in my interpretation at least (for there are several the narrative lends itself to), offers NO redemption at the end for the broken narrator.
Watertown‘s main composer was Bob Gaudio, who wrote hits like “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You,” “Walk Like a Man,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” for his group The Four Seasons (Gaudio was an original “Jersey Boy.” When he was just 15 he wrote “Short Shorts” for the Royal Teens).
Gaudio’s first creative partner in Watertown was Jake Holmes, who wrote “Dazed and Confused” (read about that here), and later the US Army recruitment jingle “Be All That You Can Be” and the “Be a Pepper” song for Dr Pepper. Together they demo’d the songs and took it to Sinatra, who was looking for material that was more contemporary. He told them he wanted to do all of the songs, and in the same order.
Watertown‘s orchestral tracks were recorded in New York during July of 1969, a month before Sinatra added his vocals overdubs in Hollywood (the sole instance in his career when he recorded an album to prerecorded tracks). It was his deepest foray into “rock pop” territory.
Here’s a succinct description of Watertown via Wikipedia:
In a series of soliloquies, the nameless narrator tells his heartbreaking story of personal loss and unrealized redemption. His wife has left him and their two boys for the lure of the big city, and her absence hangs palpably in the air. While it is altogether understandable why someone would flee the stark and dreary landscape of Watertown, empathy rests with the eloquent everyman left behind. He is a desperate man, the personification of all that is pedestrian in a small town, a solitary figure who suffers unbearable torment and despair. But, in expressing timeless sentiments to a love that is hopelessly lost, he finds salvation in the written word and an extraordinary transformation takes place. In his grief, he achieves a deeper understanding of himself, and a transcendent awareness of what he has lost and why.
I’ll get back to that interpretation in a moment…
“Goodbye (She Quietly Says)” tees up the ball like a great novel would, when the narrator’s wife informs him that she is leaving him. The song is set in a coffee shop and the other customers do not notice what has taken place. No anger, just grief, quiet unbearable grief stoically absorbed amid the clatter of plates, coffee cups and the conversation of others.
The sparse, poetic power of the lyrics is as good as it gets. So much is implied here.
If that number didn’t turn on the waterworks, try Watertown‘s “Michael & Peter” on for size as Sinatra’s narrator transparently tries to manipulate his wife with a description in a letter, of how their sons have grown:
Michael is you, he has your face
he still has your eyes remember
Peter is me ‘cept when he smiles
And if you look at them both for a while
you can see they are you, they are me
This spring we had some heavy rain
by summer it was dry again
the roses that we planted last fall
climbed the wall
I think the house could use some paint
you know your mother’s such a saint
she takes the boys whenever she can
There’s a fantastic essay about Watertown at the Frankosonic blog that first turned me on to the album. I read this and was like “I have to hear this.. NOW.”
Upon first listen it’s the story of a man who has been deserted by his wife and left to bring up their two kids alone. Pretty much every song is addressed directly to the absent partner and the simplistic style of lyric reads like a series of letters. As the story develops, the Father receives news that she is coming back to them, but ultimately he’s left stranded at the Railway Station as it becomes apparent that she was never aboard the train and won’t ever return.
Admittedly I have listened to this album far too much and I started to think about the bits of the story that didn’t add up.
Firstly, she has not only abandoned him but also the two kids - I know this DOES happen but is not exactly common behavior among women. Secondly, he mentions that her Mother still comes by to help with the children and along with other friends they encourage him to move on and find a new love. Surely any mother would concentrate on getting her wayward daughter back on track and try to orchestrate a reconciliation? But he’s not ready to move on, he’s not over her and he can’t understand why nobody sees this. Lastly I just don’t get why she would say that she is coming back and then just not turn up, breaking his heart a second time. Then it dawned on me…
She’s not coming back because she’s dead.
This seems the most likely explanation to me, but Watertown is left open-ended. One thing seems incontrovertible about the ending and this is that she is never, ever returning to him. I don’t agree with the final line in the Wikipedia synopsis, not in the least. When “The Train” comes and goes without his wife on it, the image of Sinatra’s narrator standing in the rain on the platform, far from being a guy “finding a deeper understanding of himself, and a transcendent awareness of what he has lost and why” I see as an image of pure, unadulterated GRIEF and DESPAIR.
And maybe that grief has pushed him over the edge. Maybe all of the letters he wrote and never sent were written to a dead woman to begin with?
It’s interesting to note that this was the great Frank Sinatra seemingly coming in to lend his voice to what would appear to have been more Gaudio and Holmes’ project than his own (they wrote the material for him) but Sinatra’s vocal performance is so off-the-scale magnificent on Watertown, that it’s nearly impossible to imagine this material being sung by anyone else with the same unflinching depressing conviction that Sinatra does. I think it’s one of his greatest performances, ever.
It’s impossible to pick a “favorite” song from such a sad, sad song cycle, but “What’s Now Is Now” ranks with the very, very best of Sinatra’s material.
Watertown used to be nearly impossible to find. A CD could sell for $150 but you can get an import CD at Amazon. When I was looking for a good image of the cover, I noticed that there is a great new site totally devoted to this little-known, unsung masterpiece called Watertownology.
His first assignment for Esquire was to interview Frank Sinatra - no easy task, as Old Blue Eyes had knocked back such requests from the magazine over several years. But Gay Talese wasn’t so quickly put off. He spent 3 months following Sinatra and his entourage, racking up $5,000 in expenses. Not common then and unthinkable now in these days of Google and Wikipedia.
The result of Talese’s hard work was “Frank Sinatra has a cold”, possibly the best profile written on the singer and certainly one of the greatest pieces of New Journalism written at that time. As writer and broadcaster Michael Kinsley has since said, “It’s hard to imagine a magazine article today having the kind of impact that [this] article and others had in those days in terms of everyone talking about it purely on the basis of the writing and the style.”
What’s great about “Frank Sinatra has a cold” is what’s best about Talese as a writer - his ability to make the reader feel centered in the story by reconstructing the reported events using the techniques of fiction. You can see this technique in another of his essays, “Joe Louis: The King as a Middle-aged Man”, which begins:
“ ‘Hi, sweetheart!’ Joe Louis called to his wife, spotting her waiting for him at the Los Angeles airport.
She smiled, walked toward him, and was about to stretch up on her toes and kiss him, but suddenly stopped.
‘Joe,’ she said, ‘where’s your tie?’
‘Aw, sweetie,’ he said, shrugging, ‘I stayed out all night in New York and didn’t have time.’
‘All night!’ she cut in. ‘When you’re out here all you do is sleep, sleep, sleep.’
‘Sweetie,’ Joe Louis said, with a tired grin, ‘I’m an ole man.’
‘Yes,’ she agreed, ‘but when you go to New York you try to be young again.’”
The article has its own symmetry and ended with one of the boxer’s ex-wives, Rose, watching home footage of Louis’s fight against Billy Conn:
“Rose seemed excited at seeing Joe at the top of his form, and every time a Louis punch would jolt Conn, she’d go ‘Mummmm’ (sock). ‘Mummmm’ (sock). ‘Mummmm.’
Billy Conn was impressive through the middle rounds, but as the screen flashed Round 13, somebody said, ‘Here’s where Conn’s gonna make his mistake: he’s gonna try to slug it out with Joe Louis.’ Rose’s husband remained silent, sipping his Scotch.
When the Louis combinations began to land, Rose went ‘Mummmm, mummmm,’ and then the pale body of Conn began to collapse against the canvas.
Billy Conn slowly began to rise. The referee counted over him. Conn had one leg up, then two, then was standing - but the referee forced him back. It was too late.
But Rose’s husband in the back of the room disagreed.
‘I thought Conn got up in time,’ he said, ‘but that referee wouldn’t let him go on.’
Rose Morgan said nothing - just swallowed the rest of her drink.”
It’s a clever and poignant ending, revealing as much about Rose and her relationship with her husbands, as it does about Talese’s talent as a writer. It also signals his need to record everything, which is all the more impressive when you know Talese never used a tape recorder when working on these profiles.
Gay Talese was born into a Catholic, Italian-American family in Ocean City, New Jersey in 1932. It was an upbringing he would later claim made him “not unfamiliar with the condition of being an outsider”:
“Indeed it was a role for which his background had most naturally prepared him: an Italo-American parishioner in an Irish-American church, a minority Catholic in a predominantly Protestant hometown, a northerner attending a southern college, a conservative young man of the fifties who invariably wore a suit and a tie, a driven man who chose as his calling one of the few possessions that was open to mental masqueraders: he became a journalist, and thus gained a licence to circumvent his inherent shyness, to indulge his rampant curiosity, and to explore the lives of individuals he considered more interesting than himself.”
His father was a tailor and his mother ran a dress boutique, it was here the young Talese learned his first journalistic skills:
“The shop was a kind of talk show that flowed around the engaging manner and well-timed questions of my mother; and as a boy not much taller than the counters behind which I used to pause and eavesdrop, I learned much that would be useful to me years later when I began interviewing people for articles and books.
I learned to listen with patience and care, and never to interrupt even when people were having great difficulty in explaining themselves, for during such halting and imprecise moments (as the listening skills of my patient mother taught me) people are very revealing - what they hesitate to talk about can tell much about them.”
In his brilliant “Frank Sinatra has a cold” Talese created a portrait of the singer that captured his over-bearing “mood of sullen silence”, his capricious nature, which made him at times both cruel and aggressive; or kind and overly generous. Talese revealed the background of Sinatra, the only child from Hoboken, who was scarred at birth by forceps, considered a weakling, reared mainly by his grandmother, his father a Sicilian who boxed under the name of Marty O’Brien, his mother worked at a chocolate factory, was strict and ambitious, who originally wanted her son to become an aviation engineer.
“When she discovered Bing Crosby pictures hanging on his bedroom walls one evening, and learned that her son wished to become a singer too, she became infuriated and threw a shoe at him. Later, finding she could not talk him out of it - ‘he takes after me’ - she encouraged his singing.”
Unlike other members of the New Journalism group (Norman Mailer, Hunter S. Thompson), Talese didn’t put himself at the heart of his essays, rather he saw himself as a non-judgmental writer, who allowed each subject to speak for him / her self. Nowhere was this more true than in “The Loser”, his incredible profile of boxer Floyd Paterson, which included a shocking admission by the former World Champion:
“Now, walking slowly around the room, his black silk robe over his sweat clothes, Patterson said, ‘You must wonder what makes a man do things like this. Well, I wonder too. And the answer is, I don’t know…but I think that within me, within every human being, there is a certain weakness. It is a weakness that exposes itself more when you’re alone. And I have figured out that part of the reason I do the things I do, and cannot seem to conquer that one word - myself - is because…is because…I am a coward.’”
Non-judgmental, perhaps. But somewhere down the line, Talese makes the decision of what to keep and what to cut out, and by nuance and omission, he shapes our impressions, and gives the reader an intimacy mere facts could not supply.
Another excellent death metal redub by YouTube user Andy Rehfeldt, with a little help from someone called Bördi. Wait for Louis to sing - why wasn’t the connection between Louis Armstrong and death metal more obvious before now?
“Tony Rome” was Frank Sinatra’s hard-boiled detective alter-ego in two films, 1967’s Tony Rome and its 1968 sequel, The Lady in Cement. Bucking the trend of Bond and the sub-Bonds like Our Man Flint (with James Coburn) and the “Matt Helm” series starring his Rat Pack buddy, Dean Martin, the “Tony Rome” movies were much more noirish in their approach, although, natch, this being Ol’ Blue Eyes, there were silly, sexist and “in joke” elements aplenty in the films.
Sinatra was directed in both films by Gordon Douglas (who directed him in Robin and the 7 Hoods) and surrounded by A-list cast members Raquel Welch, Bonanza’s Dan Blocker, Jill St. John, Gena Rowlands and sexy Sue Lyon (who played the title role in Stanley Kubrick’s Lolita).
I have always particularly liked the jaunty theme song to Tony Rome, written and produced by Lee Hazelwood and sung by Nancy Sinatra, you can hear it here.
It’s been a while since anyone’s mined Letters of Note, but this one was too good to pass up: a 1990 letter from Frank Sinatra to George Michael urging the “reluctant pop star” to loosen up and “dust off those gossamer wings.” (!)
September 9, 1990
When I saw your Calendar cover today about George Michael, “the reluctant pop star,” my first reaction was he should thank the good Lord every morning when he wakes up to have all that he has., And that’ll make two of us thanking God every morning for all that we have.
I don’t understand a guy who lives “in hopes of reducing the strain of his celebrity status.” Here’s a kid who “wanted to be a pop star since I was about 7 years old.” And now that he’s a smash performer and songwriter at 27 he wants to quit doing what tons of gifted youngsters all over the world would shoot grandma for - just one crack at what he’s complaining about.
Come on George, Loosen up. Swing, man, Dust off those gossamer wings and fly yourself to the moon of your choice and be grateful to carry the baggage we’ve all had to carry since those lean nights of sleeping on buses and helping the driver unload the instruments
And no more of that talk about “the tragedy of fame.” The tragedy of fame is when no one shows up and you’re singing to the cleaning lady in some empty joint that hasn’t seen a paying customer since Saint Swithin’s day. And you’re nowhere near that; you’re top dog on the top rung of a tall ladder called Stardom, which in latin means thanks-to-the-fans who were there when it was lonely.
Talent must not be wasted. Those who have it - and you obviously do or today’s Calendar cover article would have been about Rudy Vallee - those who have talent must hug it, embrace it, nurture it and share it lest it be taken away from you as fast as it was loaned to you.
Dangerous Minds pal Michael Simmons writes: “This is one of the rarest records in the world, though with the advent of the internet, rare ain’t what it used to be. For Maureen Starkey’s 22nd birthday, someone at Apple arranged to have Frank Sinatra record a private version of “The Lady Is A Tramp” for Mrs. Ringo Starr with new lyrics by Sammy Cahn called “Maureen Is A Champ.” Allegedly only one copy existed—the one Ringo gave to Maureen.”