I’ve been in a pretty big music rut for a while now.
Let’s just say that last year I spent months listening to – and quoting extensively for my wife and kids – the greatest hits of Hall & Oates. By December, so desperate was I to get “Man Eater” out of my head that even my daughter’s boy band CDs started sounding good. One day, without realizing it, I cheerfully drove to and from work, by myself, with One Direction blasting the entire time.
“Why is this playing?” my son asked in shock the next morning when we got into my car to go to school.
“I don’t know, buddy,” I said, nearly breaking my index finger in the rush to turn it off. “Your mother must have been in here with your sister.” I hadn’t been so humiliated since I had to explain to a mechanic a few years ago that the broken CD player in my car had a Depeche Mode album stuck inside it.
There was only one guy who could help me turn around a situation this dismal: the Chairman of the Board himself, Frank Sinatra.
Ever since my wife and I did the first dance at our wedding to “Fly Me to the Moon” – and shocked our guests with several semi-daring spins and whirls – I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Frank and the unparalleled elegance of his music.
Plus he was a thoroughbred Italian, like my Mom’s side of the family. And how could anybody not like those Michelob commercials he did back in the ‘80s?
One of his greatest hits compilations has been playing continuously in my car this week. When my son asked the other day, “Who’s that?” I could say with great dignity, “Oh, that’s Frank Sinatra.”
Ol’ Blue Eyes was the subject of one the greatest magazine articles ever written – “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Esquire journalist Gay Talese, which showed just how complicated and titanic his personality was. Sinatra was Catholic, close to his family, extraordinarily generous to his many friends, an early proponent of civil rights. Still, nobody reading this piece about his multiple marriages, bar fights and high-rolling, hard-partying lifestyle would confuse him with Pope Francis. His life was a messy quest indeed.
And yet there’s definitely something to be said for Sinatra’s philosophy of life, which Talese sums up this way: “He believes you must play it big, wide, expansively – the more open you are, the more you take in, your dimensions deepen, you grow, you become more what you are – bigger, richer…”
It’s fashionable these days to talk about the virtues of shrinking our lives by taking things off our plates, saying no more often, spending less time on our phones. I’m a strong advocate for all those things and try to engineer my life to minimize distractions and overload.
I wonder sometimes, however, if an obsession with efficiency and simplification can infect our spirit in ways we never intended.
In an effort to keep things manageable and moving smoothly, we play it safe instead of big with our careers or our families. We close ourselves off from new people, we take in fewer ideas. We’re more fixated with balancing what’s on our plates than actually chewing any of it long enough to know how it tastes. We lose touch with the present moment and become what we don’t want to be – smaller and poorer.
Sinatra had a lot of problems, but living too narrowly wasn’t one of them. That’s why he had the voice he had, and even 15 years after his death it’s still capable of doing the impossible, like making traffic jams on cold January mornings feel like a pleasure.