Frank Sinatra Has a Cold


Arguably the best magazine profile ever written (that’s a big argument, but what the hell) Gay Talese’s 1965 portrait of the 50-year-old, top-of-his-surly-charm Frank Sinatra is always worth reading, re-reading, re-re-reading and then some.

First, a few words from the piece. You’ve got to read the rest.

Sinatra with a cold is Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse. For the common cold robs Sinatra of that uninsurable jewel, his voice, cutting into the core of his confidence, and it affects not only his own psyche but also seems to cause a kind of psychosomatic nasal drip within dozens of people who work for him, drink with him, love him, depend on him for their own welfare and stability. A Sinatra with a cold can, in a small way, send vibrations through the entertainment industry and beyond as surely as a President of the United States, suddenly sick, can shake the national economy.

For Frank Sinatra was now involved with many things involving many people — his own film company, his record company, his private airline, his missile-parts firm, his real-estate holdings across the nation, his personal staff of seventy-five — which are only a portion of the power he is and has come to represent. He seemed now to be also the embodiment of the fully emancipated male, perhaps the only one in America, the man who can do anything he wants, anything, can do it because he has money, the energy, and no apparent guilt. In an age when the very young seem to be taking over, protesting and picketing and demanding change, Frank Sinatra survives as a national phenomenon, one of the few prewar products to withstand the test of time. He is the champ who made the big comeback, the man who had everything, lost it, then got it back, letting nothing stand in his way, doing what few men can do: he uprooted his life, left his family, broke with everything that was familiar, learning in the process that one way to hold a woman is not to hold her. Now he has the affection of Nancy and Ava and Mia, the fine female produce of three generations, and still has the adoration of his children, the freedom of a bachelor, he does not feel old, he makes old men feel young, makes them think that if Frank Sinatra can do it, it can be done; not that they could do it, but it is still nice for other men to know, at fifty, that it can be done.

WaPo to the Beatles: You suck!


The argument: The Beatles are old news; they’re overrated — the Doors were just as good; popular culture has stagnated; the Beatles are sort of to blame.

And it’s right there in the opinion section of the Washington Post — or it was a month ago, only I think I was on vacation that week and didn’t hear anything about it til today. No matter, the piece retains its power to astonish and angrify. The latter because it’s just right enough (regarding the stagnation of pop culture) to not dismiss and absolutely wrong enough (regarding the ongoing significance of the Beatles) to take seriously.

But then you sort of have to take it seriously because there it is (or was) in a major metro daily, written by a guy, Justin Moyer, who seems really interesting (b. 1977; plays in indie bands, sometimes in Bowie-esque makeup; worked as a private detective). Though of course he also  knows how to get attention and has the intricately detailed  Wikipedia page (already updated to include news of how his Beatles piece “drew fire from Fab Four fans.”) Also interesting: Moyers closing in on 40, which kind of tears at his own au courancy. Assuming you measure hipness chronologically. Which he seems to do.

I get Moyer’s impatience. I think he’s correct that mainstream culture is far, far too wrapped up in what was cool as opposed to what IS cool and especially what WILL be cool in the not-distant future. My city’s pop radio dial is so archeological that even the alternative rock station plays 30-year-old songs. On heavy rotation. Some of which I love (The Clash!) but most of which is the Red Hot Chili Peppers who I really, really don’t.

But Moyer misses a lot. He divides the Beatles’ catalogue into songs about love and songs about drugs, which is so dimwitted it’s pointless to argue. (And indicates no knowledge of, say, “Eleanor Rigby” and “A Day in the Life,” which contains one oblique mention of being ‘turned on’, but if that’s all you hear in that tune, well, listen again, perhaps). He constructs an entire tribe of straw men by cherry-picking ludicrous quotes from observers (the Beatles helped topple Communism! The only communicator with the same power was Hitler!).

He also seems aggrieved that 21st century media (fragmented) and music industry changes (no publicity/distribution/reliable revenue streams for less-than-enormous acts) all but requires aspiring indie artists to keep day jobs. Of which writing for the Washington Post would seem a particularly excellent one. And apparently doesn’t require you to acknowledge that the thing that’s really bringing you down is a culture that evolved beyond your own expectations.

Or so says a 50-year-old Beatle fan. Consider the source.


Bruce Springsteen’s greatest songs…the exciting climax!

Dec20-1978rexRystedtAnd now we reach the Top Ten.

Not of Rolling Stone’s actual Bruce Springsteen’s 100 Best Songs list, but of the jury ballot I sent into the mix of opinions.

You’ll find some quirky choices up here. I did that on purpose, hoping to draw attention to some truly great songs that don’t get nearly as much attention as their more popular brethren and sistren.

It’s not a dark ride, but some of those track repairs we mentioned earlier might not hold as well as we, and certainly you, might wish.

10: The Land of Hope and Dreams – When the E Street Band reunion tour got rolling in 1999 no one knew if it would mark a new beginning for the 11-years-gone band or just one last sweep of the global marketplace. All doubts were laid to rest at the end at the end of the show when earthquake drums, chiming mandolin and guitar amplitude heralded this paean to spiritual connection. First released on the Live in NYC set released in 2000, but also as a rejiggered studio recording on Wrecking Ball. I prefer the former, but do I complain when the latter comes on? No, I do not.

9: The Ghost of Tom Joad – The spirit of John Steinbeck’s Depression-era hero returns to Southern California six decades on and discovers that nothing has changed. The original acoustic version from the 1995 album it named is plenty good but again, the song really discovers itself in the electrified live version released on the Magic Tour Highlights ep released 15 years later. Tom Morello shares the vocals and lead guitar, but it’s Tom Joad’s famous recitation that crowns the piece: Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy/Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries/Where there’s a fight against the blood and hatred in the air/Look for me, Ma, I’ll be there.

8: Lost in the Flood – The scourge of war as experienced on the oil slick roads of the homefront. Still another Greetings tune brought to full life on the concert stage. Great versions abound, but my absolute favorite is the 2000 live recording on Live in NYC.  His body hit the street with such a beautiful thud – I wonder what the dude was saying?

7: Atlantic City – Back to the Jersey shore (and the Carlin family’s ancestral homeland) for some old-fashioned organized crime, in all its legal and counter-legal glory. Pushed to the brink, the narrator prepares to join the underworld with his faith shattered, but still breathing. Barely, and not for very much longer given the song’s original home (on Nebraska) and the outraged snarl in the wildfire live arrangement. Sounds great on the Other Band In Concert release, but temblor-tastic on the ESB’s Live in NYC collection.

6: Backstreets – Innocent love, lust and friendly neighborhood gangs dare speak their names and get torched with the rest of the town. Even the wordless cries at the tune’s climax speak volumes.

5: Incident on 57th Street – Spanish Johnny and Puerto Rican Jane star in an allegorical rock noir tale of love, faith and incipient doom. Even the other side of town (steps from paradise!) offers no guarantees beyond the shakiest promise Johnny can muster: We may walk until the daylight, maybe. I love every version I’ve ever heard, but the one that really kills me is the violin-led acoustic version that opens the Main Point show in February, 1975. If only for the perfectly timed police siren wailing outside the club just as the song, and Johnny & Jane, depart the screen.

4: The Promised Land – Some days I think this is the clearest mission statement in the catalogue. Most days, even. Especially when I’m feeling so weak I just wanna…

3: Racing in the Streets – From the gearhead’s 7-11 parking lot to the Godhead’s purifying waves of the Pacific,Transcendent. Probably my biggest favorite of them all.

2: One Step Up – Possibly an overstatement on my part, but then, this is a pretty fantastic song. For that elegantly simple chord progression (so good it turns up again, more than less, in “Rocky Ground”) and also, mostly, for the lyrics that function both as declarative descriptions (the stalled car; the dead furnace; the birds on the wires) to metaphor – particularly in the chorus when even the lovers’ dance floor reunion becomes another exercise in motion that eventually leads nowhere. As the evening sky turns black, even.


But first, this message:


Hey look, it’s the cover of the about-to-be-released paperback edition of my biography Bruce.  You can buy it then, or else buy it today, and then again tomorrow, and the day after, and so on. If only to get all the domestic and foreign editions, some of which are in completely different languages. You can find them at your fave bookseller, including…

purchase at Amazonpurchase at Indie Boundpurchase at BAM!purchase at Amazonpurchase at iBooks

purchase at Barnes & Noblepurchase at Powell'spurchase at Simon & Schusterpurchase at Barnes & Noble  Better still, check out the audio version of the book, read by great actor and nice guy BOBBY CANNAVALE, available here:  purchase at purchase at iTunes


1: If I Was The Priest – Yes, yes, I know. It probably isn’t his greatest-ever song. But it’s still a great tune, from the early-Elton John gospel/folk piano arrangement to its wildly cinematic presentation of Jesus as the itchy-fingered sheriff of a corrupt frontier town where the virgin Mary shoots smack and both runs and serves at the Holy Grail saloon/whorehouse and the Holy Ghost presents the burlesque show. Post-Catholic bitterness doesn’t come any more visionary than this, and yet it’s nowhere close to sounding overwrought. Instead, it’s the second big clue (following “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City”) to where the very young (at 22 years old) Bruce was headed. And me, I got scabs on my knees from kneeling way too long/I gotta take the stand, be the man, up where you belong, he sings, and you can feel his marrow rippling with every syllable. Sheriff Jesus pulls his six-gun but the singer stares him down. He’s not going to spend his life wielding his gun for anyone else’s tawdry justice. He’s striking out on his own…in fact, he’s already overdue in Cheyenne. He got there, eventually. And a good distance beyond, too…

Meanwhile: Faith in humanity begins (again) in Eastern Kentucky

From Stephen Colbert, something like satire, sarcasm and God’s holy light all wrapped up in a 7-minute video. That is also somehow hilarious.


The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Video Archive

Bruce Springsteen’s greatest songs: 11-20


My own personal and arguably perverse but I really don’t think so list of Springsteen’s 50 greatest songs is headed for its dramatic climax! But not today, so hold the livestock of your choice (horses; bunnies; kudu; who am I to judge?) and let’s thrill our way through the bottom half of the top 20!

20: It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City – Another Greetings track that sounds cramped in the mostly-acoustic-band setting of the debut album (they were trying for Cat Stevens’ studio sound, I kid you not!) but exploded to life once the fully electrified band hit the stage. Lots of nice versions from ’73 and ’74 and even early ’75 but my favorite recorded versions always include Steve Van Zandt in the role of rival/supporting guitar-slinger. (e.g., the ’78 Roxy cut on Live 75-85.) But that said, don’t ignore what a wonderfully written tune it is, and how the lyric combines sidewalk realism with the nightmare vision of the subway and, of course, Satan himself rising out of a manhole to reveal the truth of the situation…

19: She’s the One – Love, lust, kick-ass boots and the great Bo Diddley beat. The Born to Run original is perfect, and I can’t think of another recorded live version that disappoints. But is he easy to break or too tough to snap? Bruce seems to change his mind from night to night.

18: Born to Run –  No explanation necessary.

17: Tougher Than the Rest –  Love, renewed faith and the dreamiest of dreams written, played and sung just as straight as the thin, thin line it describes. Kills me every time, just like all the other songs on Tunnel of Love that make clear that real love and commitment can never really be that simple.

16: Your Own Worst Enemy – In which the singer sees into the heart of Magic‘s GW Bushian antagonist and finds sympathy — and maybe kinship — in the terrors that inspire men to remove the mirrors from their walls. Dressed up with bells, timpani and particularly rich vocals, the blend of political commentary and emotional insight seems somehow churchly.

15: County Fair – Speaking of places of worship, what could be holier than a summertime evening that begins on the rides and ends up at an open-air dance featuring James Young, the Immortal Ones and ther two guitars, baby, bass and drums? Recorded on a warm night in his home studio in Rumson, NJ, this swaying little tune features Bruce in an unexpected duet with the neighborhood crickets, plainly audible through the open windows. Struck by the sound, Bruce sent an assistant out to record even more crickets, whose voices were overdubbed onto the finished track.

14: New York City Serenade – Possibly the greatest of the early-career epics, “NYC…” opens in the dark grandeur of David Sancious’s spectacular piano intro, tumbles into Springsteen’s Bowery boy opening verse and heads uptown through the subway stops, street pimps and hookers until finding transcendence in the satin-clad figure of the singing junk man. In a class by itself. Should have been tops on my list — how’d it end up all the way down at 14? Must be some great songs to come…

13: Thunder Road – Like this one. In a whole other class all by itself. If only for the closing sax-and-guitar instrumental piece that sounds like the music the American spirit would write if it owned a guitar and had a friend who could play the sax.

12: The Promise – A requiem to a dream so beautiful and aware that it gives birth to a whole new dream. Best heard in the spare piano version Springsteen recorded for Tracks in ’98, but lovely enough to shine in any circumstances.

11: This Hard Land –  Three chords, a harmonica and America’s once and future frontier. Woody Guthrie could have written it; Henry Fonda might should have sung it. If you can’t make it stay hard, stay hungry, stay alive and meet me in a dream of this hard land…

TOMORROW: The top ten, and the number one Bruce Springsteen song, will be presented in Mary Magdalene’s saloon, with Sheriff Jesus in attendance…