A Wall Street Journal Article reveals the real Frank Sinatra wasn’t the “My Way” Sinatra.
I grew up with Frank Sinatra. Well, not really, because he was already 45 when I was born, but I never remember a time when Frank wasn’t playing on the stereo, TV, or radio. I was in my teen years when Sinatra was in the twilight of his career, and as a result I saw or heard him perform “My Way” way too many times. It was his signature song. Little did I know until today, running toward 49 myself, that he hated the song. Now you tell me!
Every time I heard it, especially as I got into college and beyond, the song absolutely annoyed me. I loved Frank, but the blatant narcissism of the song just drove me mad every time I heard it. And it reminded me all too much of my father, which alas was not a good thing. Whenever he heard the song, my father’s eyes lit up with an almost religious fervor. If any song every captured the self-centered nature of my father, “My Way” was it.
As full-blooded Italians, our family did our best to keep with the traditions of “the old country,” and one of my father’s contributions was a great attachment to the supposed tough guy, mafia part of that tradition. That Frank hobnobbed with gangsters and supposedly called all the shots in his life made my selfish, difficult father admire him all the more.
The press fed that caricature of Sinatra, and we regular folk had no reason to doubt that it was true. That Frank could be a genuinely humble man just didn’t fit the caricature, and I never imagined it as a possibility.
So I’m going blithely on my way through life, enjoying Sinatra’s superb accomplishments as an entertainer but not liking the person I thought he was. That all changed in just a few minutes today, thanks to a Wall Street Journal article, “Sinatra vs. ‘My Way.’ ” The writer states flatly that Sinatra utterly hated that song, and said so over and over, which the writer documents with quotes from the Chairman of the Board himself.
What really had happened was that Sinatra’s fans—many of them possessing the same warped admirations as my father—loved that song, and he felt forced to sing it over and over in concerts around the world, lest he disappoint them. It bothered him greatly, and he was apparently quite relieved when he was able to replace it with a much more positive song, “New York, New York.”
Sinatra always had excellent taste in his music choices, and had good reasons for hating “My Way”:
How could Sinatra hate a song that had done so much for him? He had spent the first 35 years or so of his career singing, essentially, one kind of song, the kind in which one human being expresses romantic love for another. It simply never would have occurred to Sinatra to sing a pretentious anthem in celebration of himself. If anything, that shtick was the territory of his sidekick, Sammy Davis Jr., who had raised his own career to a whole new level with a series of iconic hits that were inevitably about singing his own praises — most famously “Once in a Lifetime” and “I Gotta Be Me.” That’s why Sinatra hated “My Way”: Although it was anticipated, to a degree, in his 1966 hit “That’s Life,” before Paul Anka’s lyrics entered his world, it would have seemed like the tackiest thing imaginable to stand in the middle of Madison Square Garden and shout out to the world how great he was.
Deep down, as Shirley MacLaine and others who knew him intimately have insisted, Sinatra was a genuinely humble man who never took his own success for granted. Even though the outline of Mr. Anka’s text seemed to be based on The Sinatra Story — a superstar who stumbled, fell, and against unbelievable odds scaled the mountaintop of fame a second time — the attitude of the song was something he just couldn’t relate to.
Francis Albert Sinatra, I never knew ya! My doubts are gone, and I’ll never listen to another Sinatra song the same way again.