Monday, May 30, 2011

The Secret Torment Behind 'The Voice'

It's been said that his voice is heard somewhere in the world almost every moment of every day and perhaps even more often then that.
And in the digital age when sounds are bounced off satellites, his voice is also almost always somewhere out there in space.
In fact, the sound of that voice is/was so distinctive, so melodic, so genuine and so seductive that it has yet to be duplicated. His more than 1,300 recorded vocals have been termed "the soundtrack of our lives."
So, even today, when people say "The Voice" you know who they mean.
But behind Frank Sinatra's unique voice with its masterful phrasing, well-trained elocution and irresistible timing a secret torment (a deeper, darker personality) huddled in a corner: frightened, insecure, tempestuous, unpredicable.
In James Kaplan's definitive new biography of Sinatra (Frank, The Voice) the source of the singer's lifelong torment is revealed.
Frank Sinatra's entry into this world was literally turbulent.
His birth was difficult -- so difficult that his mother's life was thought to be in danger.
By the time that local midwives called a doctor over to the Sinatras' cold water flat in Hoboken the only way to bring the baby forth was to use forceps -- cold, raw, intrusive metal. The right side of the child's face and his ear were disfigured. He was placed on a table until the mother could be tended to. The midwives seemed to think the child might be dead. The life of the  mother was more important.
But someone threw cold water on the baby and he started wailing. The Voice emerged -- panicked, injured, pained, frightened and (perhaps) angry.
The mother (Dolly Sinatra) never had another child and she alternately dotted on and ridiculed her prized son. Looking at him, she may have sometimes thought: "I never want to go through that again!" On the other hand, there were surely moments when she may have felt that his mere presence must be a miracle. Polar opposite feelings.
The son alternately appreciated what the mother had gone through and blamed her for his disfigurement. He both loved and feared her and all of his relationships with women were similarly ambivalent. Tortured.
An only child, Sinatra kept to himself and remained self-conscious about the scars on his face and his mangled ear. Even after plastic surgery (years later, and only partially successful) he still covered his face with Max Factor pancake makeup every day and always insisted on being photographed from the left side.
We all know that Sinatra had beautiful blue eyes, and (as Kaplan points out) a perfectly-formed mouth and a full, sensual lower lip. Plus, there was that seemingly cocksure self-confidence that made him appear bigger than life.
But he remained insecure, tormented and (in certain situations) suprisingly vulnerable.
In some way, it was as if he was never fully formed.
But the torment fueled a restlessness that drove him to succeed, urging him ever onward. He always had something to prove. Always.
And the vulnerability (when he allowed it to show) was catnip to women.
Still, a certain frightful loneliness (perhaps a sense of abandonment) lingered throughout his life and revealed itself in numerous ways. For example, he dreaded being left along at night and insisted that others keep him company, often till daybreak.
In large part, the torment defined the man -- a talented genius, though a nonetheless complex and combustible personality and an ever-illusive public figure.

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