Why Frank Sinatra still matters

_ George Schlatter, a friend

Let’s get one thing straight.


There can’t be another Frank. These days, you don’t operate on that plane and get away with it. Was he in the Mob? Was he an informer? Did he ruin Ava Gardner, sleep with Marilyn, throw a plate against a restaurant wall just because they cooked the pasta too long? Come on, al dente!

Act like that today and you’d be TMZ’d faster than you can tweet Alec Baldwin. But that’s just behavior. Flip on your TV and you’ll understand the other reason nobody can match Sinatra. In this age of the media megatropolis, of over-saturated, over-exposed, over-everything, competition is just too fierce for one figure to so dominate the spotlight. If Milton Berle were starting out now, he wouldn’t get a 30-year deal from NBC. He’d be cross-dressing on Comedy Central to beat out Guy Fieri on a Wednesday night.

With Frank’s 100th birthday approaching, I’ve been talking Sinatra over the last week, on the phone, at neighborhood barbecues, with other music fans. I’ve been throwing on his records, from the classics (“Come Dance With Me!”) to the spottier (“Trilogy: Past, Present, Future”), sifting through good books and that Kitty Kelley paperback and scouring YouTube for every scrap of visual data.

Truth is, celebrity anniversaries are nothing more than dates and dates nothing more than marketing opps for album reissues, tribute concerts and related product. But for me, an unrepentant fan, it’s a great time to remind everyone why Frank still matters.

It goes well beyond the tough-guy themes, torch songs and “Duets” albums that, while sterile and disappointing, launched an entire industry of songbook-styled projects. Some of them are even quite wonderful.

What’s most startling, when you focus on Frank, is how ever-present he is 18 years after his death, how regularly he bullies his way into your living room.

There he is, on David Letterman’s “Late Show” farewell week, channeled through Bob Dylan, the greatest songwriter of our time, who decided to croon a classic made famous by Sinatra. There’s “The Theme to New York, New York,” played 81 nights a season, without fail, after the final out at Yankee Stadium. Even in death, Frank can insert himself into the middle of a nasty domestic squabble. Third wife Mia Farrow taking a swipe at Woody Allen by suggesting that Ol’ Blue Eyes, not her film-directing ex, may have fathered son Ronan. And his staying power is undeniable, even as the icons of yesteryear — Ray Charles, Liz Taylor, even Hemingway — fade away.

“As far as touching him goes, nobody touches him,” Dylan said in a surprisingly personal interview earlier this year, explaining why his new record featured 10 songs made famous by Sinatra. “Not me or anyone else.”

“The word ‘icon’ is much overused, but if it applies to anyone in American popular culture, it is Frank Sinatra,” critic Terry Teachout said in the Alex Gibney documentary that aired on HBO in April, “Sinatra: All or Nothing at All.”

Let’s play a quick parlor game. Try to come up with a contemporary equivalent of Sinatra. I tried. You can at least take a good stab with Jimmy Stewart (Tom Hanks), John Wayne (Clint Eastwood) or Jackie Wilson (Bruno Mars.) With Sinatra, you’ll need to combine superpowers, taking Robert Downey Jr.’s swagger, Beyonce’s Forbesian reach and Justin Timberlake’s triple-threat skills. And that still doesn’t fill out the man.

“He conquered every medium — television, recording, films,” Tony Bennett said after his death. “He was just born for what he did.”

The “fully emancipated male,” Gay Talese called Sinatra in his famous 1966 Esquire profile, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”

Then take on that other quote, the one that sounds, at first blush, like enough jive to knock your DeSoto out of second gear.

This, to me, is about authenticity. It’s a word often tossed around but rarely practiced. It is about being real in everything you do, on or off stage. Remaining authentic is no small feat when you’re hanging around presidents and movie stars, selling millions of records, and when your very identity comes from singing songs written by others.

Yet Sinatra, with all of his qualities and flaws, remained completely authentic. As a singer, he didn’t just adapt, he crawled into each phrase. On those rare moments were he chose poorly — listen to his corny take on the Beatles classic “Something” — the singer still feels 100 percent committed. As a public figure, he never hid, whether accused of having ties with the Mafia or playing out his marital splits in public. There would be no joint press releases on a “conscious uncoupling” with Gardner, Farrow or anyone. To the end, Frank confessed that he knew nothing more than the average galoot.

“I’m supposed to have a Ph.D. on the subject of women,” he is quoted in Bill Zehme’s wonderful “The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin'” “But the truth is I’ve flunked more often than not. I’m very fond of women; I admire them. But, like all men, I don’t understand them.”

He came from a different world. Frank Sinatra was born in 1915, before TV, before radio, to a pair of Italian immigrants. He grew up in Hoboken, dropped out of high school and then, after working an odd job or two, scored a recording contract with bandleader Harry James. That led to the Tommy Dorsey band, fame and the first stage of his career as the baby-faced big-band crooner.

Eventually, everything came apart: his first marriage, to Nancy Barbato; his singing career (Columbia Records cut him loose in 1952); and his confidence. In the early ’50s, Sinatra tried to kill himself, once with sleeping pills, a second time by slashing his wrists. (He denied the attempts.) It wasn’t until his Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1953’s “From Here to Eternity” that Sinatra’s luck seemed to change. He signed with Capitol Records and reinvented himself. He sang in a lower register and his material stretched, from winks and highballs to smoky, dark confessions.

“At times, the lowest note of a melody becomes almost spoken, giving him a much greater sense of intimacy,” Elvis Costello wrote in Mojo.

These days, we marvel at the entertainers atop the Forbes list, Dr. Dre raking in hundreds of millions from headphones, Taylor Swift defying all with her Spotify grab. Frank Sinatra did this 60 years ago, at a point when artists were usually too busy being ripped off to become corporations. Yet Frank had “his own film company, his own record company, his private airline, his missile-parts firm, his real-estate holdings across the nation, his personal staff of seventy-five,” as Talese wrote.

(Sinatra also, the writer revealed, had a woman on his payroll at $400 a week to follow him around with one of his many hairpieces.)

As far as he got from New Jersey, as much as he reinvented himself — there was the second “retirement” in 1971, before a return two years later — Frank never forgot his roots. He took pride in his Italian heritage, even if part of that pride came from feeling mistreated because “my name ends with a vowel.”

How much was true, how much was simply who he hung out with? The FBI had more than 1,000 pages on Sinatra, but never charged him with anything. Mario Puzo created the fictionalized Johnny Fontane in “The Godfather,” a crooner whose career is saved multiple times, in ways mirroring Sinatra’s life, by the Corleone family.

There are a lot of Sinatra albums and a lot of people who have pontificated on them. Most start by praising 1957’s ode to pathos, “Only the Lonely.”

But to me, the greatest Frank record is from a June show in 1962. He’s playing with his sextet in Paris, and it’s as loose as a show can get. “It’s obvious what his trouble is — girls,” Frank tells the audience as he introduces the saloon ballad “One for My Baby. “Cherche la femme. Which in French means ‘why don’t you share the broad with me?'”

At other moments, he coughs, clears his throat and apologizes. “I’ve gotta stop sleepin’ in the park.”

Jokey or not, his performance is impeccable, whether swinging through “Goody, Goody” and “Without a Song” or breathlessly roaming through the verses of “My Funny Valentine” and “One for My Baby.” More than anything, this performance — stripped down from his orchestral heft and captured in its entirety, unlike the other live recordings released during his lifetime — gets to the essence of what made Sinatra Sinatra.

It is how a man takes a song written by somebody else, performs it for decades, and it still sounds as fresh, pained and passionate as the first time it emerged. It is a special gift and one we don’t need a special birthday to recognize.

4. The Song

3. Reinvention

2. Beyond imitation

1. Presence

Mideast allies ask U.S. ‘What’s going on?’ after Iran deal

“Sometimes it’s difficult for us to know what the U.


S. strategy is,” General Mashal al-Zaben told Carter in remarks overheard by reporters during a photo opportunity Wednesday evening in Amman. “What’s going on?”

Carter is traveling through the Middle East this week trying to demonstrate the U.S. commitment to traditional allies, including Israel and Saudi Arabia. His tour, however, only underscores the depth of discontent over an accord that is upending an already tumultuous region.

“Despite our best efforts, most of the region sees this deal as a glass half empty for them,” says Vali Nasr, a former senior adviser to the State Department. “There’s a very clear disjuncture between the way we see it and the way the rest of the region sees it.”

With much of the Arab world mired in conflict or chaos, the prospect of an Iran unfettered by international economic sanctions and exercising greater regional influence explains the disquiet that greeted Carter Wednesday in Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Al-Zaben’s confusion is shared across the Arab world, though it’s felt perhaps most acutely in Saudi Arabia. Forces aligned with the Saudis confront Iranian allies in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Carter visited Iraq on Thursday, as his spokesman said that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces may be ready to retake the town of Ramadi from Islamic State terrorists within weeks.

The regional contest has both sectarian and historic overtones — pitting the Sunni Muslims of the kingdom of Saud against Iran’s Shiites in a battle that recalls the ancient rivalry of the Arab and Persian empires.

“We feel targeted,” says Jamal Khashoggi, former media adviser to Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal. “Iran’s campaign and expansionism is aimed at us.”

Carter arrived in Jeddah, the Saudi kingdom’s second- largest city, after getting an unfiltered dose of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition to the deal during talks in Tel Aviv.

“The prime minister made it quite clear that he disagreed with us on the nuclear deal with Iran,” Carter said later.

In Jeddah, Carter met with King Salman and his defense minister and son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss improved military cooperation, including on counterterrorism, special forces, cyber security, and air and missile defense.

U.S. officials argue that by preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, the agreement will make Israel and the Arab states more secure. In the U.S. view, the allies’ fears that the sanctions relief encompassed in the pact will unleash Iran to provide additional support for terrorism — and eventually replace the Arab states at the center of the U.S. Middle East strategy — are exaggerated.

“Even with this deal, we’ll continue to have serious differences with the Iranian government, its support of terrorism, proxies that destabilize the Middle East,” President Barack Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars this week. “So we can’t let them off the hook.”

Likewise, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to continue opposing U.S. policies, which he described as “180 degrees” away from those of Iran.

Despite such talk from both Washington and Tehran, Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, says the Iran agreement is forcing Israel and much of the Arab world to recalculate long-standing balance-of-power assumptions.

“Bringing a country the size of Iran, and with its broad regional ambitions and broad regional purview, out from the cold is a seismic event,” says Nasr. “It completely rearranges the chessboard.”

In Iraq, Iranian and American military forces already operate in a tacit partnership in the fight against Islamic State. A broader U.S.-Iranian rapprochement could facilitate a political settlement of the Syrian civil war, which has killed more than 210,000 people and made refugees of an additional 4 million.

The nuclear accord, which begins to reverse more than 35 years of open hostility between the U.S. and Iran, comes as the Middle East already is immersed in multiple armed conflicts and profound historic change.

Century-old borders have been erased by the rise of Islamic State, leaving open the question of whether Iraq and Syria will stay intact. Elsewhere, largely ungoverned spaces in Libya and Yemen offer sanctuary for terror bands.

While congressional opponents of the nuclear deal focus on the prospect of Iran cheating, “the region is worried about what happens if Iran abides by it,” said Suzanne Dimaggio, director of the Iran Initiative at New America in New York.

A primary focus for critics is the more than $100 billion in Iranian funds held in restricted accounts outside the country. As Iran complies with provisions of the agreement, that frozen money will be returned to the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu says Iran will use the added funds to arm regional proxies. The U.S. has branded Iran a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984 and just last month described Iran’s support in 2014 for groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Jihad as “undiminished.”

Some Israeli national security officials are less alarmed about any potential financial windfall. While more Iranian money may go to helping Iran’s allies, including the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, Ami Ayalon, the former head of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, says “this is not the major issue to believe that the deal is good or bad.”

U.S. officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, note that the Arab states far outspend Iran on defense.

The Saudi military budget alone is almost six times that of the Islamic Republic. The six Gulf Cooperation Council countries collectively outspend Iran almost 10 to 1, according to an April report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“If they organize themselves correctly, all of the Arab states have an untapped potential that is very, very significant,” Kerry said in an interview with Al-Arabiya.

Any financial infusion also will challenge the Iranian government to balance its citizens’ desire for a better life against the regime’s regional ambitions.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was elected in 2013 on an economic reform platform. With parliamentary elections scheduled for February, and his own re-election bid expected one year later, he faces popular demands to boost spending on domestic needs.

Iran will start its post-agreement life in a deep economic hole. The economy shrank by 9 percent over the two years that ended in March 2014. Years of international financial and oil- related sanctions have left gross domestic product 15 percent to 20 percent smaller than it otherwise would have been, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew said in April.

Investment withered under sanctions, falling from about $30 billion annually to roughly $6 billion, said Djavad Salehi- Isfahani, an economics professor at Virginia Tech University.

“We had almost no investment for three years in a row,” he said. “You have hundreds of development projects, government-owned projects that are in a standstill, and the government owes private contractors — the engineers who do all the work — $30-to-$50 billion.”

Rouhani doubled investment in his first year in office, but Salehi-Isfahani says the remaining backlog could absorb perhaps $35 billion.

As Iran’s funds return, officials must keep the 16.5 percent inflation rate from soaring, says economist Heydar Pourian, editor-in-chief of Iran Economics magazine. The central bank will need to sell government securities to avoid an unhealthy expansion of the money supply, a “sterilization” process it lacks experience with.

Whatever eventually happens inside Iran, the Middle East is undergoing a slow-motion earthquake. For the U.S., the challenge is how to balance reassurance for uneasy allies against preserving the option for a better relationship with Iran.

“That’s the hardest single question for us going forward,” says Ilan Goldenberg, a former Iran team chief at the Pentagon. “How do we balance?”

Strikers end Heat’s BBL finals hopes

Travis Head again pushed his Twenty20 World Cup case by helping Adelaide Strikers reclaim the Big Bash League top spot and end Brisbane Heat’s finals hopes with an eight-wicket win at the Gabba on Friday night.


Dropped twice, Head rode his luck to thrash four sixes in a 25-ball 50 to help guide the Strikers to 2-179 in front of another record crowd.

Openers Tim Ludeman (57 not out) and man-of-the-match Mahela Jayawardene (53) set the platform for Adelaide to eclipse Brisbane’s 6-175 with eight balls to spare.

Chris Lynn (34) mis-fired for Brisbane but national selector Mark Waugh said the Heat captain and Head were in the mix for March’s World Cup.

“You can’t bat as well as they are and not have your name up in lights,” Waugh told Ten Network.

The left-handed Head was dismissed for the first time in three BBL innings, a run that included 201 runs and a match-winning ton on New Year’s Eve.

Lynn tops the BBL run-scoring with 321 runs at 64.20 with a 169.84 strike rate.

Brisbane had to win the match to keep alive their finals hopes.

Their fifth loss in six games ensured a Gabba domestic T20 record crowd of 33,783 – eclipsing the old mark of 32,969 in 2013-14 – went home disappointed.

Adelaide’s only concern is Sri Lankan great Jayawardene who suffered a suspected quad strain.

He pulled up lame after a quick single and tried to save his legs by striking five fours and three sixes.

He was eventually trapped in front by Windies spinner Samuel Badree (1-23 off four), ending an 86-run stand with Ludeman.

Jayawardene, 38, hoped he would be available for the Strikers’ run to the finals.

“I think it is a quad. It probably has something to do with age,” he told the Ten Network.

“Hopefully it is nothing serious.”

The 19th century Cherokee leader who paved the way for MLK

Studying the 19th century is like being a parent.


You have flashes of recognition that your children behave as you once did. You wonder if your ancestors acted like you, too.

Similar patterns emerge when researching the political ancestors of modern leaders. The 1820s and 1830s — the era when our modern democracy began to take shape — were full of recognizable figures, such as a Georgia governor who fulminated in 1825 against a perceived conspiracy by Washington elites. (He was paranoid that Supreme Court justices and an untrustworthy president would free his state’s slaves. Today his political positions are outdated, but his rhetoric lives on.)

Even more striking is an early-19th-century civil rights leader. Nobody called him that, of course. But John Ross fought for his rights with tactics that perfectly prefigured America’s 20th-century civil rights battles.

What people actually called Ross was an Indian. Eventually, he was the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, resisting efforts to drive his people out of their historic homeland in north Georgia and the surrounding states. Seeking to influence a democratic society, John Ross of Georgia used tactics similar to those of Martin Luther King Jr. of Georgia. Their parallel experiences say much about what has and hasn’t changed in America.

Ross was of mixed race. His ancestors included Scottish traders who lived among Cherokees in colonial times and married Cherokee women. Born in 1790, he grew up in a changing world. Cherokees had been an independent nation for centuries but were overwhelmed by spreading white settlement in the early 1800s.

Unlike many Indian leaders, who rebelled against the new order, the Cherokees decided to join it. They signed treaties accepting the protection of the federal government. They adopted white styles of clothing, religion and business. Some — including Ross — copied the white use of enslaved laborers.

Ross’s English-language skills and education suited him for leadership during this time of adaptation. “We consider ourselves as a part of the great family of the Republic of the U. States,” he wrote early in his career. He aspired to make the Cherokee Nation a U.S. territory or state.

That was never likely. White settlers wanted Indian land, not the Indians on it. Today, schoolchildren learn the ending of the story: the Trail of Tears in 1838, when 13,000 Cherokees were forced to move west to what is now Oklahoma. Thousands died during that time — the victims of a ruthless, government-sponsored campaign of segregation.

Less well known is the long prelude to this disaster. Ross spent more than 20 years fending off expulsion. His epic battle against Andrew Jackson, the iconic hero of the United States’ emerging democracy, did much to shape the nation we inherited.

As a young man, Ross joined the Cherokee Regiment, raised to assist the United States in the War of 1812. The unit fought in an Army commanded by Gen. Jackson. When the war ended, Ross highlighted his military service. Joining a Cherokee delegation to Washington, he argued that Cherokees had proved their “attachment” to the United States in war, so their rights must be respected. Ross also recruited newspapermen, who described that service in print.

He was pioneering a tactic that African Americans would later use. Frederick Douglass urged black men to enlist in the Civil War and earn the freedom of black slaves (“Let us win for ourselves the gratitude of our country, and the best blessings of our posterity through all time”). A much-decorated black regiment called the Harlem Hellfighters returned from World War I expecting equality. This didn’t always work — African Americans, of course, would wait decades before winning civil rights — but it worked for Ross in 1816. Federal officials handed Cherokee heroes ceremonial rifles to commemorate their service and awarded them a temporary victory: The government blocked a plan to seize 2 million acres of Cherokee land. That plan had been orchestrated by their former commander, Jackson, who was in charge of military affairs in the South.

In 1828, Jackson was elected president. He was on his way to founding the Democratic Party, and he was profoundly expanding presidential power. He was also determined to move numerous Indian nations west to make way for white settlement. He said it would be better for Indians to be “free from the mercenary influence of white men.” Some Indians agreed that they were endangered by white culture, greed and guns, and had already moved. But most did not.

To lobby against this separate-but-unequal scheme, Cherokees under Ross started a newspaper, the first ever published by Native Americans. Just as later generations of African Americans would make themselves heard in the pages of the Chicago Defender, Cherokees spoke through the Cherokee Phoenix. Copies were mailed to other newspapers, and its articles were reprinted widely, spreading Cherokee perspectives.

And like later civil rights leaders, Ross found white and religious allies. He appealed to white missionaries who proselytized to Native Americans. The Cherokees flipped the missionaries, who spread word back to the white population that Cherokees were Christian, civilized and worth defending. They activated a powerful network of preachers, publishers and politicians. One Christian writer and activist wrote two dozen articles against removal in the National Intelligencer, the era’s nearest approximation of the Washington Post. He even encouraged a national movement of women, who could not vote but petitioned Congress.

The agitation was not quite enough. In 1830 Congress narrowly passed, and Jackson signed, the Indian Removal Act, offering transportation and land to natives who “voluntarily” moved west of the Mississippi. Yet Ross refused to give up. Facing pressure from Georgia, which imposed racist laws on the Cherokee Nation, Ross sued, much as the NAACP later sued in Brown v. Board of Education.

Ross scratched together money for a legal team. He personally made a hazardous trip to deliver a summons to Georgia’s governor, fearing that no one else could be relied upon to do it. The Supreme Court threw out the case on a technicality, so Ross pursued another case, Worcester v. Georgia, which succeeded in early 1832. Georgia had imprisoned two white missionaries who supported the Cherokees. Chief Justice John Marshall’s magisterial opinion said the missionaries must be freed: Georgia had no right to impose its laws in the Cherokee Nation, where Cherokees were “the undisputed possessors of the soil, from time immemorial.”

Incredibly, Marshall’s ruling came to nothing. Georgia refused to recognize it. Jackson denounced it and used sharp political maneuvering to make it go away. (His administration quietly arranged for the missionaries to be freed, making the court case moot, and he simply ignored Marshall’s broader finding.) Denied the shelter of the law, Ross steeled his people for passive resistance, in the spirit of the nonviolent civil rights demonstrators of the 1960s. Ordered to leave in the spring of 1838, Cherokees instead planted crops as if they’d be around for the harvest. The government sent soldiers to begin expelling the tribe. In defeat, Ross had one consolation: The Army’s rousting out of peaceful Indians fixed this tragedy in our national memory. “You can expel us by force,” Ross wrote in 1838, “. . . but you cannot make us call it fairness.”

Passive resistance also yielded some practical results. Horrified by the prospect of a humanitarian disaster, federal officials at least improved the terms of removal. Ross’s Cherokee government was promised more than $6 million for its land, probably a fraction of its real value but still a substantial sum. In exchange, Cherokees agreed to organize their own journey west rather than going at bayonet point. Ross billed the government for the Cherokees’ travel, charging every cent he could.

The final departure of Cherokees and other native nations made way for the creation of what we call the Deep South, with its economy based on plantations worked by black slaves. On this same ground, more than 100 years later, a new movement for minority rights emerged.

One reason Cherokees could not prevail is that American institutions were less developed than they later became. Imagine if, in 1954, President Dwight Eisenhower had defied or undermined Brown v. Board of Education.

There was a deeper reason, though. While American democracy was expanding in the early 19th century to embrace nearly all white men, including those from poor backgrounds, like Jackson, it remained an openly racist democracy: government “on the white basis,” as Jackson’s political heir Stephen Douglas later put it during the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In the 1830s, even some of the Cherokees’ political sympathizers saw them as an inferior race whose doom was inevitable. The great Sen. Henry Clay publicly declared that honor required the United States to uphold Indian rights, but he privately said that Indians’ extinction would be “no great loss to the world.”

Later generations of Americans began to confront that underlying racism, recognizing that government “on the white basis” must be wrenched onto a broader and stronger foundation. This made it possible for minority groups to secure their rights using tactics that did not quite work for John Ross. We are indeed repeating the patterns of our ancestors, but we are gradually enjoying different results.

Steve Inskeep is a co-host of NPR’s “Morning Edition” and the author of “Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab.”