Bono on "My Way" Forty Years Later
Today's New York Times featured an op-ed piece by singer Bono which argues,
delightfully, that Frank Sinatra's voice got better with age.
This is in sharp contrast to many music critics and pop culture wonks who insist
that Sinatra's voice deteriorated into an embarrassing, bumbling caricature in the last
ten to fifteen years of his life. The rock singer honors the jazz singer by
calling one of Sinatra's most popular tunes a timeless anthem: to life lived on
one's own terms, and to hope.
This writer was present in May of 1994 for Sinatra's second-to-last
performance at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut (USA).
The singer was either intoxicated or tired and indeed failed to live up to the
technical quality of prior performances. He had an excuse, however; he'd been informed of
the passing of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis
and would cancel the shows booked for the following days; opting instead to fly
to New York to be with her family.
Some members of that Ledyard audience were quick to criticize the singer's
reliance on a teleprompter for lyrics. Others criticized his exaggerated
swagger, blaming his staggering on the whiskey he consumed on
stage and off (despite the fact that he didn't slur a word). Overall, however,
no one could accuse him of failing to put "the Sinatra touch" on the audience.
The audience's roaring response to the singer said it all. Nobody in the
audience knew that 1994 would be Sinatra's final year of performing publicly.
Jazz is about the moment you’re in. Being modern’s not
about the future, it’s about the present.
— Frank Sinatra
The Sinatra quip above came from a discussion Bono had with the singer
shortly after they cut the tune "I've Got You (Under My Skin)" for the smash
success album Duets (Capitol B000002USN). Sinatra critics submit that
Duets (and 1994's Duets II) suffer artistically because the
participants were asked to sing over recordings of Sinatra and the orchestra.
Sinatra proponents rightfully come to the rescue by submitting that the albums
were over-produced. Indeed, producer Phil Ramone failed to
rein in Sinatra's partners in song at many points. Bono's decidedly uncool
falsetto, wailing and screaming over the trombone solo in "Under My Skin," is a
prime example. Sinatra, I guess, didn't seem to mind. And that's all that
Just a few days before the publication of Bono's piece, I was talking with a
well-respected jazz bass player about how well a lot of songs written in the
1930s were standing the test of time. Of course, the conversation came around to
Sinatra, who'd recorded many of the most popular readings of those songs. This
individual was hyper-critical, dismissing all of Sinatra's work in the last ten
years of his life as second-class. I argued that emotion, delivery and style was
a big part of what Sinatra conveyed and that we must certainly forgive him the
ravages of age on his voice (a reviewer of Duets on Amazon.com asks why
Tony Bennett should be excused from such criticism).
Like Bob Dylan’s, Nina Simone’s, Pavarotti’s, Sinatra’s
voice is improved by age, by years spent fermenting in cracked and whiskeyed oak
barrels. As a communicator, hitting the notes is only part of the story, of
Bono accuses Sinatra's voice of breaking (perhaps purposely) at the end of
the Duets cut "One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)" and
he's right. By the time Sinatra recorded it for the final time, it had indeed
been a long long road. Sinatra passed away four years minus five days from the
date of the Ledyard concert mentioned above. Bono has added his voice to the
legions who're of the opinion that Sinatra remains timeless and inimitable.
UPDATE: In the interest of fair and even reporting, Bono was skewered by his peers at the blog "Struggling Writers" the day after publication of his column. Moreover, pop culture/gossip watchers gawker.com featured the Struggling Writers piece and entertained comments from their member bloggers. One of the more delicately worded comments about Bono's piece was "he's no James Joyce."