We often heard the term “Ol' Blue Eyes” without any consideration for what it meant. But think about it now. Millions of people have blue eyes. What made one man known for his? They were astonishingly blue, that’s what. Unforgettably, piercingly blue. What else could they be on one of the most unforgettable men of the 20th century? The person who coined the phrase “go big or go home” was probably listening to a Frank Sinatra song at the time.
He was born big, over thirteen lbs. A great big baby with shocking blue eyes; destined to become one of the biggest men of his generation. Physically, Sinatra was a big baby, but he did not grow to be a big man, except where it counted, in his voice, and perhaps if the rumors were true, a certain elsewhere...
Sometimes he had a chip on his shoulder about people who didn’t see his bigness right off the bat. He was demanding from the start, and nobody likes that from a young punk, or wants to take it seriously. But sometimes the reason we don’t like it is because we see in that guy something we don’t see in ourselves. And then he convinces us we were wrong not to listen to him. He wasn’t perfect, but he knew perfection when he heard it, and he learned how to create it for us to hear, too.
Frank Sinatra’s heyday coincided with, as well as helped form an extraordinary period of time for the recorded music industry, but I don’t know if anybody knew it then. Maybe they did, and maybe they thought they were creating something that would last forever. Well, part of it has at least lasted into a new century, only not in a way anyone could have imagined back then.
With a few keystrokes or voice commands we can all access a Frank Sinatra recording. The bulk of music history is now at our fingertips. And we can read about when he had a cold, or about his near destruction after his breakup with Ava Gardner. We can infuse ourselves with an overwhelming amount of material, eventually rendering it less special because it’s so easy to fill up on it, oversaturating our senses.
Recently, I stopped listening to Sinatra recordings for nearly three whole months because I stopped having to look for them, and it’s been so long since I hoped for one, I wanted to relive the sensation of one Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg at Easter instead of year-round multi-packs. Honestly, it wasn’t just Sinatra; it was everything I had access to through the internet. That's a topic of its own to discuss soon.
So let's envision...
You earn the minimum wage in 1952; 75 cents an hour. For $2.50 or $3.00, you could buy a 10 inch long-playing record that held 35 minutes of music, but that’s assuming you have a player for it. You’re renting an apartment for $65 a month, which is half your wages before taxes. A radio is a better investment for you, so what they play is all you hear.
You’ve seen only a few color photographs of Frank Sinatra, but you know that he has the bluest blue eyes in his movies with Gene Kelly; those photos aren’t lying. So when you hear this on the radio—before his voice disappeared and came back, before he revived his career by
demanding begging for a serious role in From Here to Eternity, before the post-Ava wreckage he climbed out of by launching the concept album into view and jerking our tears with In The Wee Small Hours, but you didn’t know the days of future past the way we do now—you hear this and all you know is that he seems to be saying what he is singing. And he makes you feel just the same way he does.
You don’t know the story of this final Columbia recording or that it was chosen to make a statement about who Frank Sinatra intended to be. You just hope you’ll hear it again tomorrow night and often, and in the meantime, you look more closely into every masculine pair of blue eyes you meet, hoping to see what you might see if you could look into his. You imagine it would be quite a rarified view...
Today marks the beginning of 100 Earth rotations around the Sun since that big baby was wrenched free of his mama’s tiny womb. I expect to be over-saturated with Sinatra presentations and celebrations. I’d be disappointed if I wasn’t. I might even add something to the crowded picture myself. But tonight I’m going to put an old record on the turntable and let the man sing For Only the Lonely to me alone. Let it be like that for you, too. There was magic behind those ol’ blue eyes.