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Tony Grist

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Ol' Blue Eyes [Aug. 5th, 2005|10:33 am]
Tony Grist
I always disliked Sinatra, even as a kid. It wasn't because he performed my parents' music- I liked Bing Crosby and Doris Day well enough- no, there was always something about Frank that uniquely turned me off. The sleazy, twilit, hung-over world his music evoked was a place I just didn't want to visit. It sounded- OK, I know it's melodramatic, but I can't think of a more apposite word- it sounded evil.

Now I understand. If Frank's music sounded evil it was because Frank himself was an evil man. The guy wasn't just friendly with the Mob, he was owned by them, acting as front man for their businesses, carrying their money in his private jet. Last night's TV documentary- Sinatra, Dark Star- gave us the dots and tittles.

Maybe he never actually pulled the trigger on anybody, but there are plenty of stories to suggest that he made full use of his wise-guy contacts. Jackie Mason once got his hotel room sprayed with bullets after being told not to tell any more jokes about Frank and Mia. And then there are rumours about a cop whose wife Frank was schtupping who got killed when his car came off the road in mysterious circumstances. Most famously, there's the story,lightly fictionalised in the Godfather, about how Frank landed the part of Maggio in From Here To Eternity after the Mob's man in Hollywood had a quiet word with Harry Cohn.

At the heart of the documentary was an account of the time Frank acted as intermediary between his pal Sam Giancana, Mob boss of Chicago and his other pal, Jack Kennedy. Frank brokered a deal and Sam kept his side of it by delivering the Illinois vote. Once in power Kennedy ratted on Sam, appointing his brother Robert Attorney General, with a brief to go after the Mob. Sam blamed Frank and took a contract out on his life. The film director Murray Shavelson told how he went to Sinatra's hotel to discuss a movie, only to find the lobby full of heavies and Sinatra locked in his room refusing to see anyone. Outside the hotel door was a dish that had been sent up from the kitchen. Shavelson lifted the lid and inside was a lamb's head, shaved- the Mob equivalent of the Black Spot.

I don't get the glamour of the Mob. Or, by extension, the glamour of Sinatra's Rat Pack. That culture of shiny-eyed men in tuxedos, of money, fear and blow-jobs. It has no soul. If there's a Hell- and I don't suppose there is- I can imagine it being a whole lot like Vegas in the 50s.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: airstrip
2005-08-05 04:33 am (UTC)
These are the same sorts of reasons why I don't (but do, if that makes sense) understand the glamor and popularity of gangsta rap.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 05:13 am (UTC)
Maybe it's no coincidence that the rise of gangsta rap has coincided with the cultural rehabilitation of the Rat Pack.
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[User Picture]From: airstrip
2005-08-05 10:10 am (UTC)
Good point. It would also explain why a show about the a mafia underboss was such a cultural icon. Perhaps it's about recreating the street cred of white people in broader society?....
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 12:18 pm (UTC)
You mean the Sopranos?

I watched an episode or two and that was it. I just didn't want to spend any more time with those people.

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[User Picture]From: zen_punk
2005-08-05 05:39 am (UTC)
Oh....my. That's a perspective on Frank I've never heard before. The whole post seems a bit melodramatic to me, not just the one word. After all, how do you know Frank was such a bad apple? His countenance (in film, etc. not in person, mind you)? Some second-or-third hand stories about him? Of course, I'm not trying to change your mind about him. I don't know anything more about him than you(even less, I imagine.) And I admit, I see a the seediness in him too. But it's hard for me to think of him as such an out-and-out villain. Of course, that can only be because I absolutely adore his music; I'm quite jealous of that wonderful voice, and I like the lyrics to a good bit of the songs too.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 06:07 am (UTC)
Well, the stories about the Mob connections are pretty well documented now. Associates feel free to talk. And along with those stories are all the others about him throwing his weight around and threatening people and abusing women.

But then I really don't like the music and never did, so I'm not cutting him any slack on that score....
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[User Picture]From: zen_punk
2005-08-05 06:28 am (UTC)
I didn't mean to refute your portrayal of him, but I must admit I was taken aback a bit. It seems that there's all sorts of people who know better than I what a nasty man he was. Well then, I'm glad I didn't know him. But I'm also glad that he recorded those lovely songs for me to enjoy. After all, since he's dead, I can imagine the man behind the voice to be anything, can't I? (Although appreciating music in the moment usually doesn't involve much about the personal history of the musician.)
Are there any men/women whose work you admire who were probably less than pleasant people?
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 12:09 pm (UTC)
"Are there any men/women whose work you admire who were probably less than pleasant people?"

Yes, lots...

Peter Sellers treated people abominably.
Van Gogh was the sort of nasty drunk you'd cross the street to avoid.
Caravaggio was a thug.
Ezra Pound was a fascist.
Leni Riefenstahl worked for Hitler.

And so it goes....

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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2005-08-05 06:10 am (UTC)
Read. Everything Tony said is documented. He came from humble beginnings, and I'm sure being part of The Mob gave him a sense of power.

I like his voice in spite of myself, but only to listen, never to watch.

He gave me the creeps in the ORIGINAL Manchurian Candidate, surely one of the scaries movies ever made.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 06:17 am (UTC)
He was good in the Manchurian Candidate. It was totally unnecessary to reamke that film.

I do (rather grudgingly) admire him as an actor. I thought he was pretty terrific as the junkie drummer in The Man With The Golden Arm.
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[User Picture]From: zen_punk
2005-08-05 06:21 am (UTC)
Have you ever heard of "Suddenly"? A little film with Frankie in the lead role playing a gangster. All in all, a rather cheesy little flick that was a vehicle for Sinatra to ham it up and little else. I was rather charmed in an odd way by his steely performance, though.
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[User Picture]From: mummm
2005-08-05 07:51 am (UTC)
Sometimes I wish I had a few strong-arm connections! (joking - REALLY!!!)

I admire the man's talent. I do not admire his life. I think I could safely say that about a lot of movie-stars or music performers.

Vegas in the 50s? Heck... Vegas NOW too, though the movies have made the 50s corruption more visible to us!

Enjoyable friday to you sir!
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 12:15 pm (UTC)
I have to admit I've never been to Vegas.

Gambling is the one vice I can't get my head around.

I used to play slot machines as a kid- with my grandfather's money. There was a rush- sure- but it left me feeling soiled and cheated.
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From: saskia139
2005-08-05 08:57 am (UTC)
I guess the question is, how much of a connection is there between an artist's conduct of life and his art? And how much of an impact does an artist's life have on an individual fan/admirer? For me, it varies. I like Sinatra's music (and my stepdaughter *adores* it, mysteriously), but I have no interest in his life and am sure (even without the details provided by your post) that I would not have wanted to meet or know him personally. I certainly agree that I don't get the appeal of that slick, sexist, morally grey (at least) Rat Pack style.

On the other hand, last night I watched an A & E (U.S. cable, in case you don't know) biography of Johnny Cash. Cash's life and his music are closely entwined, and I find his struggles against addiction and his very genuine identification with the underdog to be inspiring. I'm sorry I only became a fan of his after his death, and that I'll never have a chance to see him perform live. There are a great many artists (writers actors musicians whatever) out there whose work (or whose beauty) I'll enjoy without caring about their lives; very few will touch me personally as Cash does.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 11:53 am (UTC)
Sometimes an artist's work is enriched by knowledge of his/her life, sometimes not.

It does nothing for my appreciation of the Rolling Stones to know that Mick Jagger is now a knight of the realm.

So was that bad boy image only ever a pose?



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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2005-08-05 12:25 pm (UTC)

off topic -

John Cash was an interesting and very complex human being. I got a very large charge out of the fact that he was 'rediscovered' and became a star all over again to another generation of people, although some of us never forgot him or forgot about him. I did see him perform live, just once. It was right after he and June were married and she was JUST pregnant with John Carter Cash. The thing about John was his Faith. He had it. It seems he had it in spite of himself. I"ve seen the A&E biography, and most of it is accurate.

I'm always pleased when I find that he is remembered, or newly discovered.

Sorry to hijack your thread, Tony.

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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-05 11:58 am (UTC)
In the end you have to separate the artist and the work.

I love the work of Peter Sellers- but Sellers was an utterly horrible human being.
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[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2005-08-05 12:20 pm (UTC)
I read his biography on your recommendation, and Peter Sellers WAS a horrible human being. I've never cared for him as an actor, either, but...doesn't the fact that you admire his art mean he was/is truly an artist, because you CAN separate the man from work, the singer from the song...you know what I mean.
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[User Picture]From: jackiejj
2005-08-05 07:09 pm (UTC)
His eyes were cold.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-06 01:23 am (UTC)
Lizard-like.

Lauren Bacall dated Sinatra after Humphrey Bogart died. Asked why she never married him, she said- "when Bogie took you out it was all about you, when Frank took you out it was all about him."
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[User Picture]From: four_thorns
2005-08-06 11:10 pm (UTC)
hmm, i always thought mayor daley had delivered chicago for jfk (with the help of many deceased voters, supposedly).

my only comment on sinatra is that the main commercial strip of my hometown was apparently a pretty happening nightspot back in the day, and the dinner theater where sinatra once performed is now a used furniture store.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2005-08-07 02:00 am (UTC)
Maybe Daley and Ginacana were working in tandem.

I guess old Joe Kennedy had every friend and ally he could muster working on the project.
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