Monday, June 29, 2015

The Chairman's centenary …

… Ian Penman — Swoonatra — LRB 2 July 2015. ( Hat tip, Dave Lull.)

Sinatra combined all the contradictions of postwar America into one immaculate figure. Public confidence and private terrors. Great distances and perplexing intimacy. Single malt and double lives in Miami, Washington, London, Rome. Sinatra is the Cold War torch singer par excellence: unreliable narrator, star witness, mole in his own life. What better song to soundtrack the early 1960s than Sinatra’s ‘How Little We Know’ (1963), which works as a breezy allegory on head-in-the-sand hedonism (‘How little we understand … how ignorant bliss is’), nuclear realpolitik (‘that sudden explosion when two tingles intermingle’) and early Mad Men-style fatalism: ‘The world around us shatters/How little it matters.’ As JFK-approved envoy for the New Frontier, Sinatra would seem a gift for Western propaganda, a walking billboard for Kapital’s ‘good life’. But there are many moments in his catalogue – from The Manchurian Candidate(1962) to his strange Cheever-esque musical novella Watertown (1970) – when the rosy façade falls away, revealing something far more ambiguous and often pretty gruesome. He was, I think, a man drawn to expressing something light-filled and democratic and orderly, while being all the time acutely aware of the dark chaos within, just below the well-groomed skin.

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