Saturday, September 12, 2015

“Why Sinatra Matters”– Book Review



My final book of this year’s summer reading is “Why Sinatra Matters” by noted journalist Pete Hamill.


For decades, journalist Pete Hamill was friends with the legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra.  While never the closest of friends – which Hamill readily admits – they nevertheless spent a considerable amount of time together whenever the singer was visiting New York City; occasionally, whenever Hamill was in Las Vegas, Los Angeles or anywhere else where coincidence might have found the two simultaneously, he would meet Sinatra for dinner, or to attend a sporting event or simply to spend a night out drinking with the coterie of Sinatra’s hangers-on at the time.

With this as his perspective, Hamill draws upon years of personal experience – both before and after meeting Sinatra – to attempt to provide an explanation as to exactly what the singer’s importance and relevance was to society.  Despite being significantly younger than Sinatra – he recounts times when he was growing up that he would hear young “Frankie” on the radio – the two were able so somehow form a bond even though Sinatra hated and distrusted most reporters.  Based on his relationship to Sinatra, Hamill maintains that the singer matters for two reasons:  Immigration and Culture. 

Regarding immigration, the early 20th century saw America maintaining immense distrust and prejudice towards Italians; many – whether or not they were in the entertainment business – wound up changing their name so that no one would know the truth about their heritage.  As far as culture is concerned, the author explains that Sinatra – particularly during the 1950’s and 1960’s – showed America what it meant to be “cool”; in fact, Hamill seems to imply, Sinatra defined “cool” for a generation.  While John Wayne may have been a symbol for macho, Sinatra taught men how to be men. 


This was by no means my first read of this book; it was my second pass at it – I originally read it over 16 years ago when it was first published, just a matter of months following Sinatra’s death.  In this, the year of The Sinatra Centennial, the reason why I re-read this book at this particular time is because it comes on the heels of my recently having read an early history of Sinatra (reviewed here) in which it was frequently cited and because it is such a short book, making it a quick read; I literally re-read it in a day.  Since summer is rapidly drawing to a close, I wanted to finish with something I knew could be completed relatively quickly.

After reading many biographies about Sinatra over the years, it is my personal opinion that in order to understand Sinatra, you must first understand the history of America in the 20th century; likewise, to understand the United States of the 20th century is to also understand Sinatra – and not just to understand who Sinatra was, but also to understand why he was relevant and to appreciate his impact on modern society at that time.  Sinatra was a fighter because he had to be; he was brought up during a time when bigotry was less subtle than it is now – to put it simply, intolerance was tolerated (if not expected). 

Lastly, understanding where the nation was in the 1950’s is to realize that it was an America that was putting behind it memories of World War II.  In that joyous post-war time, men and women were encountering relationships that were more sophisticated – some would argue complex – than what had been experienced in the simplicity of previous decades.  What Sinatra brought our society during that time – aided in part by technology combined with new social and sexual mores – is how the two sexes would relate to and interact with each other. 

Hamill writes with great passion about his old friend, whom he honors by making the subject of this book. “Why Sinatra Matters” is not so much a biography as it is a personal memory.  In a sense, it somehow feels more like the protracted eulogy the author wanted to give his old drinking buddy rather than a biography of any sort.  But the author does not whitewash matters in any way; he acknowledges Sinatra’s unpredictable behavior and his cruelties without excusing them.  Instead, Hamill tries to explain peccadilloes by reasoning that such conduct is not entirely uncommon among artists as great as Sinatra. 


Why Sinatra Matters: Pete Hamill: 9780316347969: Books

ISBN: 0316347965
ISBN-13: 9780316347969


No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak Your Piece, Beeyotch!