October 31, 2014

A Stranger in the NIght (Part II)



Frank Sinatra at the United Center October 22, 1994


This post is the final installment commemorating Frank Sinatra's last concert on October 22nd, 1994 in Chicago's brand new United Center (home to the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks).

My Grandmother 'Dodie' at far left (with her 4 sisters) who as a young bride and mother chaperoned her sisters to see the very first Pop Idol Frankie Sinatra at the Paramount Theatre in NYC in 1939-40 as part of the original "Bobby-Soxers"
At far right is their baby brother "Bunny".
While it was a crisp October evening in Chicago, everybody knew it was late December of Frank Sinatra's Years. Along with many in the crowd, I had also attended  a performance during Frank's previous 3 show Chicago engagement at the Civic Opera House in May 1993 where I did hear he was in fine form on opening night but it was painful to witness him stumble during his Saturday night performance where fatigue exacerbated by old age made him forget lyrics and occasionally mumble incoherently between songs.  At the time, I didn't think he'd ever perform live again let alone come back through Chicago yet when the next concert date was announced I pounced on 4 tickets as I knew my buddy oDutch would like to go and we'd take a couple of English au pairs from the neighborhood who also hung out with us at Ranalli's (along with our mutual friend King mentioned in previous 2 posts).  I forewarned the nannies of how Frank was now only a relic of the performer they heard on the Ranalli's jukebox and this concert was only to be looked upon as paying our respects.  Ordinarily, I prefer to attend cultural events by myself rather than having a date whose presence far too often distracts and diminishes the evening often leading to post performance tensions.  These two nannies had become genuine Sinatra fans and I knew they would also view this evening as quite special and always treasure.



Longtime Chicagoans like to think of Frank Sinatra as our own even though he's more often associated with New York.  Frank spent a great deal of time in Chicago over the years particularly during the 1950s and '60s when he frequently made movies or did extended engagements at Chicago Outfit associated nightclubs.  Everybody older than 70 has a Sinatra story to tell.  One I've heard frequently was when he got in a fight at Chicago's famous rib joint Twin Anchors. At every sporting event in Chicago they wait to play the Sinatra classic My Kind of Town during a pivotal moment to rouse the crowd to a fever pitch as everybody knows the words and sings along.


While I was careful to tamp down expectations on Frank's performance, the United Center was another vexing issue. The brand new home of the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks had only been open a couple of weeks and had just hosted a Billy Joel concert.  The acoustics were so bad that attendees were demanding their money back.  We all were wearing our best suits and outfits and were prepared just to look at the evening as paying tribute to a once great performer and American icon.

Frank with the smoking hot Barbara Rush in Robin and the 7 Hoods filmed in Chicago.
The crowd was unlike any other I've ever attended a concert with. The whole Sinatra Rat Pack scene was making a big comeback in the major cities with the movie Goodfellas dialog often overheard and cigar bars on nearly every block downtown and the North Side.  I was afraid there were going to be a lot of these poseurs littering the crowd but thankfully that was not the case. We were among the youngest there with many looking like the crowd at Johnny Sac's daughter's wedding on The Sopranos.  These were people who fell in love while listening to Frank on the radio and cried when their daughters took their first dance to that same song at her wedding. The general mood was we were all there to say goodbye.

Johnny Sac & wife from The Sopranos.  Over 20,000 people looking like their siblings were at Frank's last concert
Don Rickles was the opening act. Rickles has always said that Sinatra was the making of him since when he was a complete unknown performing in Miami Beach in the late '50s, Frank came in to watch his act, liked what he saw, and gave Rickles gigs opening for him in Vegas and soon became a household name. I've always liked Rickles and he was sensational that night perfectly setting the stage for what was to follow.
The Paramount Theatre in NYC where my grandmother Dodie took her sisters to see the very first Pop Idol 1939-1940.


As Sinatra entered, there was a thunderous ovation that he acknowledged and then quickly dissipated by turning and ordering the band to commence with Come Fly With Me which has no musical prelude. I could tell immediately that Frank's voice sounded much stronger and more sure of itself than during the previous year's  performance and the United Center's acoustics issues had apparently been resolved.  The nannies grinned over at me with looks of startled bemusement that said "I thought you said Frank was washed up...". Frank was off and running and while the songs didn't sound like the recordings from the '50s and '60s, his richer, more mature, if less powerful, voice gave those songs a deeper meaning that everybody understood.  As the lights came up for intermission, the crowd noise went from eardrum piercing applause to an intensely animated din of electrified astonishment over what we had just witnessed. Dutch, the nannies, and I raced out as they were all in need of a quick ciggie to calm their overstimulated nerves. Everybody poring into the  Main Floor concourse was abuzz with excitement and not even 5 minutes into intermission with Dutch and the nannies nicotine fix not yet sated we heard noise coming from inside the main floor which we soon recognized as Frank Jr's band striking back up triggering a chaotic stampede of people stomping out just lit cigarettes, abandoning just purchased drinks, and racing to get back inside. I later heard Frank was in his dressing room pacing back and forth like a caged lion and being very conscious of having the now fleeting capacities of his A Game at his full command barked to Frank Jr and the band: "Fuck this...Let's go!!!" and ready or not here 'Ol Blue Eyes' comes adding frenzy to all the commotion.  Frank was every bit as strong after the short break and the night was reaching a crescendo as he did New York, New York, and My Way and he closed, just as we hoped he would, with My Kind of Town...and while there wasn't a dry eye in the house we each now had a sentimental journey to always help our lonely heart find a home.





34 comments:

  1. Love this! I think your grandmother and her sisters (what a bevy of beauties!!) need their own blogpost. What a gorgeous family - what beach was that? with the tow-haired brother.
    Many of those singers of that time deliver a song in a way that is dated. Never Sinatra, his voice and delivery and phrasing is timeless.
    You realise with singers live these days that in fact many of them are pitchy and need the studio back up. Not Sinatra. Bet he could sing without a band and still have not a dry eye in the house. Who is his equivalent these days do you think?
    Think you look like your uncle from that pic you posted in the pub.

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    1. Jody, Dodie and her sisters were great beauties and had an interesting upbringing up in Winnipeg Canada to expat American parents. My brothers and I do resemble Uncle Bunny who went onto to become a WWII Pilot who flew numerous combat missions over Germany. I think this pic is taken in Chicago in around 1937 after Dodie and my grandfather 'Pete' were just married.
      All the old musicians and bandleaders always said Frank was better the phrasing and delivery (as you mention) than anybody else.
      I always tell people to listen to his 'Send In The Clowns' (not generally thought of as a Sinatra song) from his Reprise Album as a great example of his artistry. He was older, wiser, and tells his story in that beautiful Stephen Sondheim song.

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  2. There's really nothing like attending a live concert of your favorite singers. Part of the magic is the crowd and the buzz that comes with it. I felt like I was there reading your wonderful story, thank you. I wonder if a video recording of this concert lurks somewhere on the web. I was surprised recently to discover a clip of a show I attended at a small club in London, over 20 years ago, right there on YouTube. It was strange to relive a couple of minutes of magic all over again.

    Loved the bathing beauties in all of their splendid glory, and how lovely that your appreciation of Ol' Blue Eyes runs in the family. I love his Christmas songs and play them each year.

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    1. CD, I have searched for that performance online and thus far can only find the setlist. I'd love to have a snippet to revisit every once in a while as that performance is etched into my memory.
      I used to love hearing my grandmother Dodie refer to herself as one of Frank's Bobby-Soxers!

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  3. Well GSL, I know very little about Mr S or Chic-ago... but now I know he had a very cute fan club.

    A Bunny Boy?

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    1. Uncle Bunny was quite a character and a highly decorated Bomber Pilot in WWII along with being a very wild and adventurous prankster who flew his plane home from Europe and on a lark landed it in the Saugatuck River. It was this and other stunts that caused the Westport police to banish him and he lived out his days in Napoleonic exile on Block Island.

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  4. I love this story and yes I feel like I was there, thanks so much for sharing it with us. That was an event of a lifetime that you attended G but I am sure I don't need to tell you.
    Love that photo and please do a post on Uncle Bunny, he sounds like quite the character.

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    1. Dani, my Patrilineal line is quite interesting with Uncle Bunny and others that runs all the way back to the House of Stuart...I've got a good mind to go back to Scotland and collect some overdue rent...

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  5. What a rich spell you weave with your words,G! I, too, felt like I was there with you, Frank, the au pairs and Dutch!
    Frank was so smooth in tone and had such an effortless sound...so cool! Tony Bennett has that same,easy vibe about him and still sounds good in concert today.
    So many performers today seem to scream the words in a way that you cannot even understand the lyrics!
    We saw Harry Connick Jr. with our symphony last year. He is a delight, multi talented and has the easy,breezy vibe of Sinatra! If he ever plays Chicago, he is worth the price!
    Thank you for sharing this very special memory,dear G!

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    1. I do like Harry Connick Jr darling Trudye and he is the natural heir to The Chairman of the Board who got his start as a precocious jazz musician down in old New Orleans.
      I saw Tony Bennett at Ravinia about 10 years ago and he's still got it too!

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  6. How wonderful it must have been, that concert!
    I would love to hear more about your Uncle Bunny and his larrikin ways, and more about your Grandmother and her lovely sisters!

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    1. Those larrikin ways have been a hallmark among the men up GSL's patrilineal line. Dodie and her sisters were far better behaved but just as charming.

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  7. I adore Frank, and loved reading every word of your description of his last concert. How incredible it must have been! Thanks so much for taking us along, and for this fantastic post (love the Sopranos too). Your Grandmother is a beauty!

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    1. Thank you my dear MaiTai and I'm not the least bit surprised that a classic beauty with her own signature style would adore Frank...he was simply the best there ever was. I'm also pleased to know you like The Sopranos...you know we have much in common..,
      Your devoted BeauTai,
      ~G

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  8. Bet your nana has some stories about her family! What a pic. Love stories like this. Frank was such an icon and enigma and yet like you said how does everyone past an age have a story about him?

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    1. Hi Naomi,
      Unfortunately Dodie died about 15 years ago with her last couple of years shrouded in Alzheimer's although I manage to fill in a few blanks with my dear Aunt Connie (2nd sis from right) but wished I had asked more questions and she was the last of the 8 siblings to die about 3 years ago at around 95.
      Frank was an icon and enigma as so often the best artists are and his mercurial nature could go from generous and kind to occasional bouts of harsh treatment to those he imagined did him wrong.

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  9. A bit behind in the blogosphere...your narration is wonderful. Always better to share the experience and so glad you have a fantastic memory of the whole concert.

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    1. Thank you T ! Everyone in Chicago is anxiously awaiting you & Hunter's arrival.

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  10. How I wish I could have been there too! Sinatra was way more than a voice for sure. Rickles was funny....though I always get him confused with Jonathon Winters....same generation? Listening to Sinatra on my CD player while mixing a cocktail for one always makes me feel a little glam.....

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    1. Rickles did physically resemble JW but there acts were nothing alike. You know my dear Cynthia I'd love to have you hear me say you look even more glam mixing those cocktails for two....

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  11. Bobby soxers! Love this reminiscing, and the photo of your mum and all her sisters (and her poor brother… what he must have endured!!). What a great concert to attend, and obviously one of those life experiences that stay with you forever.

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  12. Heidi, while Uncle Bunny was certainly outnumbered he had two very formidable brothers (not pictured) in Jack and Bud and all 3 of them saw heavy action in WWII. My dear grandmother 'Dodie' was 1 of 8 and her fellow 'bobby soxer' sisters may have been what Frank was thinking about when he sang of "blue-blooded girls of independent means..." in It Was A Very Good Year.

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  13. WOOO, Child!! This is SOME good recounting of a memorable moment! I loved every word, and could feel the excitement, the roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd---could even smell the AquaNet, the Polo, and those jonesy Marlboros and Virginia Slims, just lit and hastily stepped on by scurrying feet. What a time, and what a wonderful portrayal---glory, warts, and all.

    You DO beat all.

    rachel

    PS Would it injure our budding friendship to tell you that I once carried on a wonderful correspondence with Mike Royko?

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    1. Thank you my dear Rachel for the kind words regarding the last Sinatra concert. You score major points with your Mike Royko correspondence who with Jimmy Breslin were the last great newspaper men in America. I descend from the Damon Runyan of Canada who was our Northern neighbor's top newspaperman in fhe first half of the 20th Century. Very colourful character and a Kentucky Colonel.

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  14. Darling what a wonderful tale! But surely, something else as equally fabulous has happened in your life in the recent past? Or are you one of those people for whom nostalgia obscures the pleasure of the present day?

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    1. History adds appropriate context to nearly everything and is needed to interpret recent events.

      I do like the give and take of dialog with Den readers and on other blogs but prefer they have at least a pseudonym or does your recent past or present agenda necessitate your need to obscure Darling Anon?

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  15. Great post and what an amazing experience! It's funny that in Chicago everyone has a Sinatra story. I felt the same way about Elvis and Memphis when visiting. Everyone of a certain age has an Elvis story to tell and they are fun to listen to.

    I'm gonna break out the martinis and a Sinatra record this weekend in your honor. And watch "High Society." (I can't help it, I love that movie, don't judge.)

    And dontcha just love these lovely anonymous commenters who take their little digs whenever they can? Isn't it just so darn fun for them to hide behind their cloak of anonymity? Perhaps the comment is coming from a secret admirer? XO, Jill

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    1. Thank you my dear Jill and I always judge even when I don't share the verdict and in your case near certain to always be favorable.
      I love 'little digs' and have given a few in my day but love even more to demonstrate what a good sport I am by taking a few in stride...but I just wish they'd not do it in total anonymity...I don't even mind a moving target; I just wish they'd come up with a Den ID if they don't like the idea of me slapping them around on their home blog.

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  16. I would have loved to have seen Frank. His audience was at least, WAY more attractive than Alice Cooper's was last week.
    I thought I was in a David Lynch film, or the dog track in Hollywood Florida.

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  17. My dear Duchess, no way in hell you wore that smart and stylish long pink coat and hideously expensive Hermes handbag to Alice Cooper?!?! I know exactly the crowd that loiters at Hollywood, FL dog tracks and if I ever hear of you there expect men with white coats soon approaching.

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    1. Lol, you're right! I actually wore the black Chanel suit I was married in, Karl Lagerfeld tee,circa1966 go-go boots, and a mass of pearls. I'll post a pic on my blog when I can muster up the energy to get dressed.
      I have been to the dog track once; many,many, years ago. To paraphrase Jackie Susann; Once Is Enough."

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  18. Thank you for your kind words; we're all very grateful.

    rchl

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    1. You are quite welcome my dear Rachel and thank goodness you and Chris got some good news!

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  19. What a fabulous experience. I'm reading this in the united lounge at the Chicago airport and it's not quite as glamourous as your night on the town. Sadly I'm just passing through at 5am so can't make it to the lion's den.

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