Thursday, September 04, 2008


Exactly what is it about Frank Sinatra that causes some of his fans to obsess so?

I wish I knew -- it would at least help me to understand my own obsession with his music. In part, anyway.

After more than a quarter of a century since graduating college, I still keep in touch with an old school friend of mine. Although we haven't actually seen each other in nearly a decade despite living not too far away, we mostly keep in touch via the telephone; our conversations usually consist of either one of two things: Sports or Sinatra. We're big fans of both.

During one such phone conversation, we happened to be talking sports; I was bemoaning how poorly my teams were doing compared with the ones for which he rooted. He was amused by the fact that I was so negative about my teams, rather than confident that they would win. After hearing me go on for this a bit, he took the conversation into an abrupt detour.

"Now I finally understand why you're such a big Sinatra fan!", he observed. "It's always been said that Sinatra had a sadness to his voice. You always sound so sad when you talk about your teams, it's that sadness you're connected to".

Was he right? Maybe -- it sounded right, that's for sure. In general -- not just with my sports teams -- there's something about the despair in Sinatra's voice that's apparent and I can instantly relate.

The late singer Mel Tormé once said, "Sinatra doesn't just sing
to us, he sings for us". I couldn't agree more. To me, Sinatra is not merely a singer -- to call him that is almost an insult. Instead, he is an interpreter of songs -- often, an interpreter of great songs ... or songs that he could make seem great through his vocalizing.

Speaking of the sadness in his voice, some of his ballads were occasionally referred to as "suicide songs" -- if you were drinking while listening to them, it's best to stay away from sharp objects. One of the great examples of this was the version of "Everything Happens To Me", which he recorded in the early '80's. I know this is going to be my choice of songs to play once I finally get the courage to off myself. Although Sinatra recorded this song four times throughout his illustrious career, the final version which, appeared on the album of the same name,
Everything Happens To Me , is without a doubt my favorite.
Although he's old at this point and his voice no longer at its best, in its way, this enhances the meaning of the song. His interpretation of the lyric is much deeper to me because he's got that much more life experience behind him. This final recording of the song was arranged by Gordon Jenkins -- whose masterful style can make any ballad sound much more melancholy than even the songwriters probably intended. What adds to the enjoyment of this recording for me is the fact that it's not the standard version of the song -- this has special lyrics written just for Sinatra. I tried doing a search on the Internet for the special lyrics, to no avail; the only ones I could locate were the standard version, which are included below.

The traditional lyrics can be heard in the version of the song (the video coming from YouTube) ...

This version was recorded in 1956 and appeared on the "Close To You" album; it was arranged by Nelson Riddle. In this version, we hear what Riddle characterized as Sinatra's "voice to burn" days; in an interview a couple of years before his death in the mid-80's, Riddle said that during the Capitol Records period where he worked with him in the 1950's, Sinatra had "voice to burn" -- meaning (I think) that he could sing extensively take after take without wearing out his instrument. Yes, Sinatra's voice is better here, but not necessarily his singing; when it comes to this song, his best interpretation would not come for another quarter century.

Another video -- this one of Sinatra performing the song on his TV show from the '50's ...

Everything Happens to Me
Written By: Tom Adair

Music by: Matt Dennis

Arranged By: Axel Stordahl – Nelson Riddle – Gordon Jenkins – Gordon Jenkins
From the Album: Stardust: Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra
Label: Victor – Capitol – Reprise - Reprise
Recorded: 2/7/41 – 4/4/56 – 9/24/74 – 4/8/81
Black cats creep across my path until I'm almost mad
I must have roused the Devil's wrath 'cause all my luck is bad
I make a date for golf and can bet your life it rains
I try to give a party but the guy upstairs complains
I guess I'll go thru life just catchin' colds and missin' trains
Everything happens to me
I never miss a thing, I've had the measles and the mumps
And every time I play an ace, my partner always trumps
I guess I'm just a fool who never looks before he jumps
Everything happens to me
At first my heart thought you could break this jinx for me
That love would turn the trick to end despair
But now I just can't fool this head that thinks for me
So I've mortgaged all my castles in the air
I've telegraphed and phoned, sent an Air Mail Special, too
You answer was "Goodbye", there was even postage due
I fell in love just once and then it had to be with you
Everything happens to me
I've never drawn a sweepstake or a bank night at a show
I thought perhaps this time I'd won but Lady Luck said "No"
And though it breaks my heart I'm not surprised to see you go
Everything happens to me
Everything happens to me

9th Ave. International Food Festival

(Note:  the following review was originally posted May 28, 2008 on The Thursday Night Movie Club Message Board)

Is it possible to get a hangover from food just like you can get a hangover from alcohol?

Based on my recent experience, I think perhaps so …

Every time I get sick of living in NYC, something comes along to make me glad I’m here. During the weekend of May 17-18, it was just such an occurrence as I spent it at 
The 35th Annual 9th Avenue International Food Festival & Street Fair in Manhattan. It’s a weekend where a diet gets put aside for a couple of days so you can indulge yourself in a cornucopia of foods from around various regions of the U.S. as well as around the world along a 20-block stretch in midtown.

Some folks mark the beginning of summer as Memorial Day Weekend in late May and the end of Summer as Labor Day Weekend in early September; for me, summer is bookended by a pair of street fairs: The 9th Avenue Food Festival in mid-May and 
Little Italy’s San Gennaro Festival in mid-September. With all due respect to Ernest Hemingway, this is my idea of a “moveable feast”, except that the feast is actually stationary and the people have to do the moving in order to partake of the food.

The neighborhood where the 9th Avenue festival is held is known unofficially as Hell’s Kitchen; officially, its name is Clinton. It’s just north of a neighborhood called Chelsea; there used to be a restaurant on the border called Chelsea-Clinton, which got a lot of notoriety when Bill was first elected, as you might imagine.

Why 9th Avenue? That location has a tremendous selection of restaurants of different kinds jammed up next door to each other for that entire stretch – Mexican, French, Afghani, Italian, Argentinean – you name it. Sprinkled in between, plenty of Irish pubs, too. Here’s an example – an Indian restaurant (left) next to a Greek restaurant (right).

In fact, the Greek place positioned a musician outside to attract business.

Saturday had great weather, but it rained on Sunday, keeping the crowds down a bit (it always seems like it rains one of the two days this street fair is held). Here’s a view of the mass of humanity on 9th Avenue Saturday afternoon ...

Passing one of the Irish pubs, I noticed they were selling sandwiches of freshly roasted pig for $5; the pig was being cooked on a spit right there on the street next to their stand.

It looked delicious, but I had to pass it up for now because I was a man with a mission: The Onion Bloom. My tradition with The Onion Bloom at this street fair goes back many years; I would have one of these each day of the fair, among other items. Having gotten older and slowed down considerably, I now find myself unable to finish the entire thing – and at that, I’m pretty much done for the day, as far as eating is concerned. So, my plan was to continue my tradition of eating -- no, attacking -- an Onion Bloom on Saturday, but try other things on Sunday.

Then, as I approached 53rd street, there it was – Shangri La:

I immediately confronted my fate for the day … (Note the big fryer in the background where they cook the batter-dipped blooms) 

They never give enough of that horseradish for dipping.

After consuming that Onion Bloom, I was even more useless than usual, so I just waddled through the fair checking out some of the other booths. In addition to the wide range of foods, there were merchants selling goods and services; they even set up stages for various performers to entertain. For the kids, there are games and rides as well.

Entertainers included dancers – this was a group of senior citizens from Harlem:

Given this was Sunday when it rained, the stage was wet and I expected one of these geezers to take a dive and break a hip; not particularly wishing to witness that spectacle at the moment, I didn’t stay around too long after these shots were taken.

Interestingly, there were booths for several lingerie merchants, including this one: 

I looked desperately for a sign that read, “SALE! Women’s Panties Half-Off!”. No luck.

Sunday’s fare included a variety of seafood – clams, fried shrimp, scallops and soft shell crabs (one stand sold pulpo, a plate of baby octopus). But without a doubt, the most unusual thing I sampled this day was alligator sausage.

Near 48th street was a Cajun restaurant with its booth set up right in front; their sign boasted of gumbo, crayfish, jambalaya and many other southern delicacies, but when I noticed the inclusion of alligator sausage, I just couldn’t resist.

As far as taste was concerned, I didn’t notice much of a difference from pork sausage, however there was a huge difference in texture; I found the casing to be tough, almost leathery and required something of an effort to bite through. Getting past that, however, it was definitely something I’d consider eating again. Dipping it into some spicy mustard really enhanced the flavor.

Just about the only things I didn’t eat at the fair this year were meatballs, haggis and head cheese. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t there, just that I didn’t go looking for them.

So, if you ever make a trip to NYC but can’t manage to schedule it during the food festival in May, at least try to take a walk around 9th Avenue to look for some restaurants to try during your visit. You may just wind up discovering your next favorite dish.