Monday, June 20, 2011

Synapse to the Beat: Frank Sinatra's "It Was a Very Good Year"

The briefest of high school flashbacks: I and three other students are locked into a smallish room in the library. We're required to record our voices for some reason or another, and one of the students - John was his name - has a cassette tape for the purpose.

Thing is, it's not blank. We're to tape over the music that his mother had recorded on the tape for her own personal use.

It was Frank Sinatra, music as foreign to us as a Gamelan orchestra. I'd certainly never heard Frank Sinatra before, or if I had I wasn't especially aware or having done so. Background noise, I guess.

In that tiny room, desperate to seem hip, we were amused by the swelling strings of this growing-old classic. "When I was seventeen," Frank slowly intoned, "it was a very good year." He sounded pitifully uncool, with his deep morose voice, heavy with the bittersweet retrospect of a man growing old, something again completely alien to us kids. John snickered and pressed FFWD. I'm not sure if it was merely a morbid curiosity about the dreadful Frank Sinatra or an admonition not to tape over the Frank song that had us searching for its end on the cassette. But through sheer luck, when John pressed play, the tape had fast forwarded through the first verse and the first instrumental between-verse melody. "When I was twenty-one," Frank intoned immediately, in that same grave voice, "it was a very good year."

This was hilarious to us, an old man running down his life, seemingly year by year. Another fast-forward, and as luck would have it John timed it exactly so that, through sheer coincidence, he pressed play just as the third verse was starting. Third verse, third age: he was now on about when he was thirty-five.

Now that I'm a year older than Frank Sinatra's era of dalliances with blue-blooded girls (and have yet ot ride in a chauffeur-driven limousine), I admit I truly love the song. A bit wiser, maybe - better able to appreciate its wistful sense of not-quite-regretful nostalgia. But back then, far younger than seventeen, I couldn't have imagined anything more ridiculous and hilariously uncool that some old guy singing in an old-guys' genre about growing old.

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