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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

David Morrell's Unexpected View of Frank Sinatra: The Artist and His Music

I had set out to write a review of David Morrell's unique thriller Murder as a Fine Art (which I still intend to write) but as I was researching the author, I came across something unexpected: this thriller writer, the man who created John Rambo in his debut novel First Blood in 1972, which eventually greatly influenced the thriller genre of that era (and continues to do so today!), had stepped way out of his expected role and written a short biography that examined the music of Frank Sinatra.  I was intrigued.  I'm a huge Sinatra fan, and I did not hesitate to grab this eBook off the shelf.

For two hours, I did not put down my Kindle.  I read it straight through.  And why not?  Morrell essentially leads us through a written two-hour concert tribute to Frank Sinatra's career, while highlighting the songs and albums, and mixing in the singer's personal, tumultuous history as it affected his outlook, his voice, his success, and his failures. Sinatra had an unbelievably long and prolific career, yet Morrell manages to make sense of it all, weaving it into a narrative that left me with a mosaic image of Sinatra I've never had before.

Not one to rest on is laurels, David Morrell
leaves the thriller genre to give us an intimate
look at the musical career of Frank Sinatra.
(picture courtesy of
Instead of just writing about the popularity of the man, Morrell focuses more on the musical influences and choices made by the Chairman of the Board, covering many behind-the-scenes moments in the recording booths at Columbia, Capital, and Reprise Records. More importantly, he "gets" Sinatra. He understands that this man stood out with his attention to details like timing, diction, and lyrical passion. He explains the way Sinatra used to write out the lyrics by hand, over and over again, until he discovered the underlying meaning to the words, so he could sing those meanings back to the microphone and the audience. What Morrell really does here is explain to us why we like Sinatra. And as a big fan of Frank's, I'd say Morrell gets it right. If you love Sinatra, you've got to read this. If you are ambivalent about him, read this and you'll very likely come away with admiration for the man you never thought you'd have. If you hate him, this might just change your mind.

One of the many albums Morrell highlights of Sinatra's is In the Wee Small Hours (1955).  This has always been a favorite of mine, and the coverage it receives here is indicative of Morrell's insight into the man and his music.  If you are only familiar with Sinatra's big hits, and you want to hear one of his best concept albums (and as Morrell points out, Sinatra helped to develop the concept of the concept album) then click on that link at the bottom and download this album.  Sit back and be prepared to be won over by a sound experience you won't soon forget.

Morrell's study of Frank Sinatra does not shy away from letting us see the troubled side of this artist, but he never turns this piece into a gossip column. Instead, he shows how the alcoholism and the womanizing and the combativeness of this manic depressive combined to influence an industry that was just coming into its own in the middle of the last century. Was Sinatra a scoundrel at times? Yes. Was he sympathetic? Absolutely. In fact, both of those factors were a major reason for the public's interest in him. All of it came together to create an international icon that still influences pop-culture today. But Morrell does not dwell on these aspects of Sinatra's life. He keeps the story firmly on the music. And that's as it should be. Because Sinatra's music is a story worth reading. And David Morrell does Frank Sinatra's entire career justice in this short but exhaustive history of this brilliant, troubled artist and his remarkable music.

In addition to this piece on Frank Sinatra, Morrell also wrote one on Nelson Riddle, the arranger that became such an integral part of Sinatra's sound.  Riddle came to my attention with Sinatra first, but I began to see his footprint in many other areas of music, notably in the Ultra-Lounge CD series, as well as in such classic movies as Pal Joey and High Society and on television shows like Emergency! and even Newhart.  So I was aware of Riddle and had a high regard for his sound.  At the same time I bought Morrell's eBook on Sinatra, I grabbed his Nelson Riddle eBook as well: Nelson Riddle: The Man behind the Music, an essay (The David Morrell Cultural-Icon Series).  I haven't read it yet, but I look forward to it with eager anticipation.

And I still intend to write that review on Murder as a Fine Art.  Just not today.  Keep an eye out for it.

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