Talking ‘Bout My Generation

A friend of Culturebox’s (independent filmmaker Allison “Gas, Food, Lodging” Anders, if you have to know) feels moved to make a few obvious points about Frank Sinatra:

If you were rebelling against the status quo in the ‘50s and ‘60s, no one was more uncool than Frank Sinatra. He was everything I and my friends rejected–the phony suave with fake self-control, the finger-popping slick. Not everyone in Frank’s generation was equally loathsome. Dino and Jackie Gleason, for instance, were all right. But Frank lacked a sense of humor. He took himself so seriously. And nothing makes you more bratty and defiant than a self-important adult.

The advent of Elvis was in large part an attack on Sinatra and his generation, a way of saying no to people sitting on wooden stools under a spotlight crooning insincerely. Rock ’n’ roll wasn’t smooth, like Frank. It was rough and ragged and raw. If Sinatra was the father of rock ’n’ roll, as almost every tribute of the past few days has claimed, it was only Oedipally, as the oppressive father figure you were just itching to slay. A Sinatra biographer was on a TV show the other day saying that every singer nowadays uses some sort of phrasing that Frank invented. That is nonsense. You will hear nothing of Frank in Elvis, the Fab Four, or Sonic Youth. God knows you will not find it in Jimi Hendrix or A Tribe Called Quest. Country and blues are a far more obvious source of rock ’n’ roll phrasing–Ray Charles, Hank Williams, Woody Guthrie, Howling Wolf. For attitude, don’t look to Sinatra. Look to Williams and Robert Johnson.

That Sinatra actually had less of a connection to my generation than other members of my mothers’ generation is perfectly captured in a clip they’ve been showing over and over again on TV. It’s the one with Frank and Elvis doing that dreadful duet, in which both were forced to mimic themselves as respresentatives of The Voice for two succeeding generations. Frank comes off as a clueless fool. Elvis seems embarrassed.

Compare this to the dignified and not at all campy duet of Bing Crosby and David Bowie on the infamous Christmas special in the ‘70s. What the contrast shows is that Frank, even more than Crosby, was a symbol of everything we did not want to be. If you’re under 50 and you groove on Sinatra as much as Elvis or the Fab Four or Phil Spector or Hendrix or the Sex Pistols or Nirvana–or if his death means as much to you as the death of Elvis, Lennon, Sandy Denny, Cobain, Gram Parsons, or Tupac–well, I’m sorry, but you’ve clearly forgotten how cool you used to be.