Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frank Sinatra Has A Cold

Frank Sinatra, holding a glass of bourbon in one hand and a cigarette in the other, stood in a dark corner of the bar between two attractive but fading blondes who sat waiting for him to say something. But he said nothing; he had been silent during much of the evening. The two blondes knew, as did Sinatra's four male friends who stood nearby, that it was a bad idea to force conversation upon him when he was in this mood of sullen silence, a mood that had hardly been uncommon during this first week of November, a month before his fiftieth birthday. Sinatra was worried about his starring role in an hour-long NBC show entitled Sinatra—A Man And His Music, which would require that he sing eighteen songs with a voice that at this particular moment, just a few nights before the taping was to begin, was weak and sore and uncertain. Sinatra was ill. He was the victim of an ailment so common that most people would consider it trivial. But when it gets to Sinatra it can plunge him into a state of anguish, deep depression, panic, even rage. Frank Sinatra had a cold.

In 1966, the now legendary Gay Talese published a story in Esquire Magazine about Frank Sinatra that changed the way we think about journalism, and is heralded as ushering in a wave of what is now referred to as “New Journalism.” To be frank, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” changed the game. Never before had we read such narrative in a magazine - that kind of writing was reserved for novels. But now, forty years later, we find that this new narrative style was not the only prescient aspect of that piece. Gay Talese followed Frank (if I can be so bold) around for three months, burning through an expense account on a hunch that this could be a real treat for Esquire’s readers. So much access! So much freedom! So much scotch! And with Frank! All he had to do was write a coherent story about what he learned whilst basking in the warm glow of a legend, and it would be worth every penny. No one could have imagined that this would be the real birthplace of reality TV. Hell, I never thought of it that way myself until recently. Most think of MTV’s “The Real World” as the beginning of the reality movement. But before that, Madonna had cameras follow her around with unprecedented access during her Blond Ambition Tour in 1990. Though there had been documentaries about famous artists before that, none were granted that sort of unconditional access. We know now that even before Madonna’s “Truth or Dare”, there was Frank giving us more than anyone ever had before. As he had been doing his entire career. Gay Talese’s article is a triumph of popular literature and I love magazines.

Considering every magazine piece I have ever read in my entire life, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” is my favourite, easily and by far. Check it out, this story has informed your life if you’ve ever picked up a magazine that was published since 1966. Yes, it's true. It's that important.

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