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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

My regular readers know I write this column almost a week and a half before it actually appears. Should the topic be current, it's no longer current when it hits the street. I may be behind the time curve on this one, but I'm going to write it anyway.

The death of Frank Sinatra created an outpouring of retrospectives of the singer's life and career that was rare even for today's super-hype-driven media. Media goes into a frenzy if Madonna buys a new pair of shoes. Today's singers are considered over-the-hill after two hit records or they reach the age of 21 whichever comes first.

Why the massive coverage of the death of an 82-year-old singer? The answer is fairly simple. Sinatra was an icon who touched everyone, even members of the media, perhaps. I suppose some teenagers don't know who he was, because his records aren't played on the radio stations they listen to. But I'll bet that everyone reading this, regardless of age, has a favorite Sinatra song, one they associate with a special time in their lives.

I have a favorite Sinatra song: "Angel Eyes." It was written by another favorite of mine, singer-songwriter Matt Dennis. Sinatra took this interesting melody and lyric, and surrounded it with his remarkable vocal control, transforming it into a masterpiece. He artfully nudged listeners toward the climax, the greatest exit-line ever written into a song: "Excuse me while I disappear."

The mere thought of it causes shivers down the spine of an old geezer like me. Frank Sinatra was more than a great talent. He was a living link to another time, a time when giants strode the world of entertainment. His career began in the 1930s at the height of the big band swing era. The great band leaders Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey are gone. The Hollywood giants Clark Gable, James Stewart, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart are gone. The great radio comedians Jack Benny, Red Skelton, Fred Allen, George Burns and Gracie Allen all are gone, except for Bob Hope.

Until his death, Frank Sinatra remained a reminder of a long-lost time when greatness was determined by one's talent. No one had more talent than Frank Sinatra.

I'm old enough to remember when Sinatra was a young singer with the Tommy Dorsey Band.

He survived the numerous changes in musical tastes over the next 50 years due to an enormous talent and his ability to reinvent himself. He realized that the big band era wouldn't last forever; he went out on his own to become the idol of teenage girls. Long before young girls went bonkers over Elvis Presley, and later the Beatles, they swooned over Frank Sinatra.

As would have been expected, his career appeared to be over by 1950. None of his singing competitors survived the the end of the big band-crooner era. He reinvented himself once again by becoming the world-weary singer of the 1950s, who could tear out your heart with a ballad of lost love "In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning," for instance. Or he could set your toes tapping with an up-tempo, street-smart, swinging number like "The Lady is a Tramp."

When Elvis Presley, the Beatles and rock and roll took his young audience from him, Sinatra re-emerged as the "Chairman of the Board", the middle-age, hard-drinking, Las Vegas show-stopper with the great voice, who partied with his pals, the Rat Pack.

In the '70s, Sinatra retired, but soon returned, reinvented as Ol' Blue Eyes, the elder statesman, who packed concert audiences and held them with his voice. He more or less maintained this persona until a heart ailment finally silenced his remarkable voice.

It was always the voice the one constant. Regardless of who we are or where we've been, his voice likely was with us somewhere along the way. His was the voice of the 20th century. When the greatest this or that of the century is named, if he isn't the greatest entertainer of the 20th century, I'll demand a recount.

We shall never see the likes of Frank Sinatra again. No entertainer will come close to matching his longevity in the spotlight. He was an American original. Thankfully, he left literally thousands of recordings behind for listeners who appreciate real talent.

Excuse me, Frank. You'll never disappear.

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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