(Editor’s Note: When Frank Sinatra died [May 14, 1998] I was a sports writer for The Trenton Times. I immediately called the paper and asked if I could write an op-ed. After it was published I framed it and gave it to my father for Father’s Day that year. Here you see the shelf he kept it on in his music room, among his treasures. It’s the room I sleep in when I visit. Dad died on April 27, 2021. At some point I’ll feel ready to write a column about him, but in the meantime I want to share this one. I think he’d like that. I re-typed it so it can live on the internet.)
A guy I used to date asked me once why Italians glorify Frank Sinatra. I can’t speak for all of us, but with his recent death, I feel compelled to share how he has touched my life.
When I still lived in Hamilton Square a decade ago, I used to wake up on Sunday mornings to the heavenly aroma of garlic and tomato and to the sounds of Frank Sinatra on the stereo. My mother would be at the stove, my father listening to “Sunday with Sinatra,” the Sid Mark radio program out of Philadelphia.
No one warns you as you’re growing up that these kinds of moments are the ones that will stick with you. That’s probably because you’re too busy being a know-it-all, trying to tell your parents how outdated their music is.
And music was huge in our home.
On family trips in the car, my brother, sister and I would beg my parents to let us listen to our music. It’s scary, but to this day my father actually knows some of the words to Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” because of our persistence. One of our favorite memories is the day Dad brought us to Great Adventure to see K.C. and the Sunshine Band. The man who whiled away hours listening to Big Band-era music sat through, “That’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it …”
So I guess it’s his just reward that slowly a transformation took place. I think it was my brother, John, who first “defected” and started listening to Sinatra. It made my father beam. Then I started coming around. My sister, Sue, was the last holdout. She called John and me brown-nosers. But guess what? Last year I walked into her house and she was blaring “That’s Life” while she was cleaning.
Now my father just shakes his head and smiles.
When I found out Friday (en route to Baltimore on an assignment for this newspaper) that Sinatra had died, I was moved to do two things – call my father and play the cassette tape he had made for me a few years ago.
As I drove down Interstate 95 and listened to it, my eyes filled with tears. In a way, I was surprised at how strong my reaction was, yet I think I understand it, too. My father makes tapes for people all the time; it’s a hobby of his. I had requested he put together a Sinatra tape that “swings.” The more uplifting, the better.
The first time I listened to it, I was happily snapping my fingers when the tape suddenly slowed down. He had put “Nancy with the Laughing Face” smack in the middle. Let me tell you, Old Blue Eyes may have been singing that song to his daughter, but my father used to sing it to me when I was little and it felt like mine. It still does.
When I’m feeling particularly up, there’s nothing like that tape to feed the mood. I usually enjoy driving, so the right tape just makes the journey better. If “I’ve Got the World on a String” doesn’t get your feet tapping and “New York, New York” doesn’t make you want to lead the band as you’re rolling along the highway, check your pulse.
Since Sinatra died Friday, there has been so much about him broadcast and written and discussed, both positive and negative. Some think it is to his eternal credit that he lived the good life his way, so to speak. Others decry his lifestyle. One gentleman told me about the swooners who were paid to swoon and the lack of tonal quality to Sinatra’s voice. (I’m curious, were those same swooners also paid to buy his records and sell out his concerts through five decades?)
The idea here is not to sway anyone to love or even like Sinatra. If they didn’t get his mystique, his charisma, his talent when he was alive, they’re not likely to see it now.
All I know is on September 5, 1960, John and Lucille Colasurdo tied the knot. The groom sang Sinatra’s “Day by Day” to the radiant bride.
Little did they know, they’d brainwash three offspring into treasuring that music.
(Originally published in May, 1998)