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Saturday, May 16, 1998

Kitty Kelly's poison pen

By Rickey Wright, Contributor

WASHINGTON DESK - When Kitty Kelley's unauthorized, mud-slinging biography, His Way appeared in 1986, at least one reviewer recoiled from Sinatra to the point of declaring that there were other, more worthy singers to listen to than Frank Sinatra--singers, one was left to infer, who had moral compasses better calibrated to our own.

Sinatra himself once remarked that he was a better person when he inhabited the space of a song, moving about a room filled with a light that was part "real" life, part art. Here he didn't berate reporters or make insulting jokes about his friends. "Look at yourself," he'd sing. "If you had a sense of humor, you would laugh to beat the band. Look at yourself.

Do you still believe the rumor that romance is simply grand?" Look at yourself. Sinatra might not have encouraged you to behave as if the world were not only your stage, but your boxing ring. But his music, if you listened, could suggest a way to move, to live both seriously and not so, to yearn and ache with grace, perhaps, more than anything.

His ballad singing, especially on the classic Capitol recordings made from 1953 to 1961, infused his sadness with a certain dignity, a dignity whose minute cracks continue to assert themselves through the pristine sound of digital re-mastering. And no one of his pop era could sound quite so pleased to announce that he had the world on a string.

It's become a cliché to note the discovery of Sinatra by each subsequent generation. More impressive than the star holding on in the midst of cultural insurrection by scoring a 1966 No.1 hit with "Strangers in the Night" was the realization by the Beatles generation and their children that Sinatra was worth claiming--and not just for style, but substance.

Newsweek critic Karen Schoemer once wrote of slipping in "Summer Wind" beside the Replacements on her college-radio show,implying that she'd taken clues from Sinatra as readily as from the punks.

Those clues never completely resolved themselves, she seemed to say. One had to wonder what to make of a man with, at once, such an abusive temper and such a generous spirit. When stories of his charitable largesse made the papers, the stories had come from anywhere but the low-key Sinatra camp.

Sinatra was his own man, with all that implied, but yours, too, if you cared to take the best parts of him. Martin Scorsese was spotted on TV May 15, 1998 remembering Sinatra's prodigious acting gift in films like From Here to Eternity and The Man with the Golden Arm.

Likewise, Spike Lee, who's praised the autumnal 1966 September of my Years album, is no doubt reflecting on the legacy somewhere. And a legion of twenty somet

Whether it's "You Make Me Feel So Young" or "What Is This Thing Called Love," Sinatra at one point or another sang your song, too.

Take a peek at the Frank Sinatra Collection in the Daily Republican-Amazon Bookstore.

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