JUNE 23, 2011 10:54AM

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“Teach your children well. Their father’s hell did slowly go by. And feed them on their dreams….” –Graham Nash


Frank Sinatra is haunting Mrs. Muse and me. Not our house. We don’t wake to the sound of a ghostly rat pack stumbling around in the attic, yukking it up, or the sight of Frank’s pale form float across the ceiling grinning ear to ear. No, Frank only visits when we eat out. 

 Wherever we go, from Chinese joints in Frisco to London Pubs, Paris Bistros to Roman Trattorias, even up the road in Shelburne Falls, somewhere between “May I take your order” and the Crème Brulee we hear his voice. We exchange looks and a sad laugh. “Frank again.” “Followed us all the way to Castelnuovo di Garfagnana.” “Amazing persistence.” “I think that’s a ghost thing, persistence.”  Aside from “My Way” and “New York, New York,” we don’t recognize any of his songs, cause we don’t like Frank, have never liked Frank.

 When the Beatles came and girls screamed and tore at their hair on Ed Sullivan my mother said, “They did that for Frank Sinatra, too,” implying there was no difference between the two acts, or silly girls then and now. But I knew the Beatles and Frank were night and day. (The girls  are a more complicated story.)

 At first I just sensed the difference in sound -Frank measured and cool against legions of horns, my guys shouting their red hot exuberance against a jangle of electric guitars. But as I heard John Lennon sing “I’ll be back,”  “In my life” and “It’s only love” I realized the chasm between them was deeper – as profound as that notorious Generation Gap. And related.

 What I heard in Lennon’s voice and words was a brand new thing.


In the light of it Frank sounded like he was putting on an act, always striking some pose, faking it, lying –about his feelings. This contrast between an act and the real thing struck a deep chord in me, and I’m not talking music. 

Eventually I would understand: I was the product two highly intelligent people, yet they lived numb to bodily sensations, the contents of their hearts secret to each other and themselves . A guru once told me, “Your body is a temple.” My parents treated theirs like squalid slums, my mother smoking and drinking herself to a premature death, my father addled by prescription drugs and booze until he could no longer think straight, no longer even pretend to be civilized. They poured on the self-medication because they couldn’t tell each other or their children what they felt, didn’t even know what they felt, and couldn’t bear to feel it.  The cauldron of rage, sorrow and disappointment remained hidden in their hearts,  poisoning everyone in our family. They couldn’t feel the pain, and, to my continuing sorrow, consequently felt little joy.

But that knowledge all came to me decades after the 60s. At the time all I knew was that I was missing something essential. Freedom from what bound my body, mind and above all, my heart. I heard the promise of release in music: in Janis Joplin, who howled out her lust and torment like no one before in history. In Dylan, who croaked out new notions that we recognized as gospel truth the moment we heard them. And finally, in 1971, in Joni’s Blue. Shefound the courage to lay her heart bare. I felt my heart beat as one with her desires and sorrows. At the nadir of some romantic disaster I put on that record and it pulled from me the tears my father had expressly forbidden me, that his father had forbidden him before.

It wasn’t just music that showed the way to authenticity. I remember stumbling from the theatre in 1969 in a state of shock after seeing “Midnight Cowboy.” Not because I’d never heard of gay hustlers or quite seen that seamy side of New York, but because Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voigt hadn’t been acting like actors. They’d acted like real people.  When Hoffman’s Ratso Rizzo left on that bus, coughing his lungs out, I felt like a real person was about to die. In all the movies before that, even the best ones, there’d been this theatrical quality to the acting, this one step remove to the performance.

I heard the call to authenticity in music, and movies, and catch phrases - “Tell it like it is” and  “Let it all hang out.”  I did my damnedest to follow. I spoke my truth to my mother at Thanksgiving dinner, reducing her to rare tears. I shouted out Jefferson Airplane songs at anti-war demonstrations. Dope and acid temporarily cracked open the doors to my body and soul giving me glimpses of a promised land of freedom. But soon they shut tight again. Early sexual encounters delivered highs, but like drugs they only showed bits of what I hoped for in my deepest heart, what I was too much my parent’s child to even be able to put words to yet.

Intimacy - with another person.  Intimacy with my own heart.

Those doors have been immensely difficult to open. I still struggle every day. My marriage began 30 years ago, with little promise. Yet by coincidence it began just as the full gruesomeness of my parent’s marriage came to light. That terrible sight fused with those 60s hopes for the real, for freedom from the tyranny of closed bodies and heart, and began my determination to do better.

It has taken decades of painful work to piece by piece cast off the armor my parents taught me to wear. To learn that that armor protects nothing really, only locks me away from my wife and children, and from my own feelings. To learn not to cower in hurt silence or explode in violent rage, but to open this rusted mouth, to tell it like it is: “What you said was hurtful.” “I’m afraid.” I’m….so sorry I hurt you.”

 “I love you.”

My older son called me this Father’s Day. Appropriate for someone in his 20s, he focuses on his present and future. So I was surprised to find him curious about the past, about the line of fathers proceeding me. He had read my Father’s Day piece and needed to know: how could men and women and their relations have changed so radically in just one generation? I’m not much for bragging. It was the plain truth that spilled out of me on the phone, I said, “We did it. We hippies. We changed it.”

Shawn studies engineering at MIT, his choice of lucrative careers awaiting him at graduation. Yet he has vowed not to be sucked up solely onto that path. His greater purpose is to live and love authentically.

My son Chris called me too on Father’s Day. We spoke, easily, about the real stuff in our lives. My father wished he could have that conversation with me, and I wished it too, but we could never make it happen.

I feel like Moses standing on that hill, glimpsing the promised land. But my sons are already traipsing down there to live, to raise their children in that place, where people are real, that we dreamed up in the 60s.

OK, I do get to sneak into the promised land from time to time and mess around. How do I know? Because Frank doesn’t bother me much any more. Though you won’t find me buying his records anytime soon.





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Never was a Frank fan ... AT ALL, though that probably comes as no surprise. Glad to hear your kids are exploring the great wide open. 
Your path led them there, Luminous.
"We hippies. We changed it."

yes, we did. and to those who call us the 'me' generation and say all we care about is our own happiness, i say pffffffffft. 

great piece, the sinatra allusion, the 'sixties, janis, dylan, emotions, your parents, your kids, all of it. all of it.
"They couldn’t feel the pain, and, to my continuing sorrow, consequently felt little joy."

My father was your father. He was not a writer like yours but was an electrician with his own business and involved in politics. He followed the main road while his daughter took the side roads. He could never talk to me, nor was ever interested in my thoughts. He condemned everything I did and I vowed to not be the same.

One child understands , the other does not. The one that does not follows my father's road. Glad to hear yours are free souls.
Rated with hugs
This was a thoughtful piece. Yes, we changed it, but at what cost? There is a lot of animosity between generations now--almost as much as when we were kids. We are being blamed for having all the good sex and drugs and Rock and Roll and fucking the place up in the process; now we won't retire and die. I don't blame young people and have apologized in public for the excesses of my generation. Peace and love? Why didn't we follow through? I remember being a twenty something and he who died with the most toys won. Even those on the vanguard of change, Jerry Rubin and Abby Hoffman became Wall Street you-know-whats with all the rest. 

That said, I also want to stand up for Ol' Blue Eyes whose phrasing is exquisite and easy. Loved the ghost of Cole Porter lurking around in your allusions. The Beatles changed everything.
Nicely written, and with some very understandable emotion. Authenticity was certainly the rallying cry in 60s youth culture. Our parents -- who swayed to Sinatra -- looked more for entertainment, and after the horrors of WWII, who could blame them? But Viet Nam came into our living rooms along with Rowan & Martin, the Smothers Brothers, and yeah, okay, The Beverly Hillbillies. Your kids won't think of Iraq and Afghanistan the same way we thought of Viet Nam, either. An older generation -- which we are rapidly becoming now -- always hopes that Promised Land is always filled with greener grass. And at 59 (shock) I've learned to like Ol' Blue Eyes for the same reasons my parents did.
Amen, Luminous. Amen.

Tom Brokaw's account of The Greatest Generation told less than half of the story of that generation. I knew lots and lots of them very well. There were serious problems there in many aspects of life. Narrow mindedness and conformism come to mind quickly. I have considered writing something about it, but it is not news people want to hear. You have started, here and there, to break open that subject.
I enjoyed reading this. I really did.

But, somehow, I can't help thinking that it's all fashion. It's all a trend, a swinging pendulum. Everything. Marital conventions, gender roles, parenting styles, drugs vs. alcohol (but Janis' bottle of Southern Comfort was never far away was it?), naturalism in film, and that there is nothing new under the sun.

Some of the changes from the 60's were good and real (civil rights, for example). But peace and love? A blip on the radar. Gone, gone, gone.

I have a love-hate relationship with Sinatra. The conventions of the "Rat Pack" era instinctively get my back up, but there's no denying he was a master interpreter of a song. (And he did famously comment that George Harrison's "Something" was the best love song ever written, so he did know a good thing when he heard it.)

Good food for thought.
The creativity seems to have disappeared in my generation, but the worship of authenticity remained. What was it that Johnny Cash said about being authentic when someone asked him how he'd remained true to his "muse" all those years? Something along the lines of, "Well, if you gotta ask...."
Scarlett, I suspect you and I have more in common musically than we think. One of these days I will get over my very personal reasons for disliking punk in the late 70s and give it a proper listen. 
Candace, Thank you, pfffft indeed! (For you music nerds, ffff is as loud as you're allowed outside of rock and roll.)
Linda - Hugs returned with interest. Sorry about your one son (happy about the other.)
Miguela - Yes, I understand from my musical betters that Sinatra's chops were untouchable. An yes, the Beatles changed everything. 
Bellemeade - As the great Bob WIlls said, "Time changes everything." Including our tastes. 
Steve - I await your weighing in on this subject. Emphasis on the weight. 
Jeanette - thank you for a thoughtful comment. One disagreement. Referencing my earlier post, some things that changed were not mere fashion. 
When a line of fathers beats their sons then one finally stops, something has changed.
Authenticy; Joni Mitchell's "Blue"; the 60's. 

Love this topic and it was handled well here. Certain parts about your diffficulties I don't yet get, but I get a lot here. Okay, here's my latest take on our best decade, the one where youth was not wasted on the young: It all depends where you lived during it.

Just like virtually everything, there is no one 60's. In NYC we studied and smoked dope and had community but were far too poor to drop out and string beads. Bob Dylan and Joan Collins were the big hits after the Beatles. Whereas in Haight-Ashbury I doubt there was much serious reading, but more and more drugs. In Paris it had to do with cinema. In every place in the world, the 60's had their own unique imprint. But we did freedom each in her own way, everywhere. I for one, would not be myself if I hadn't been in my twenties then. Agree that we are maligned. R
What an insightful post. It resonates with me- 58 years old now. The complacency, homogenized, cold war 50's gave way to the explosions/upheavals of the 60's. Much was learned along the way, the hippies, I identified as such and we warned of what would happen if the world would continue destroying itself and the environment- Earth Day was born. Rachel Carson was one of the first to bring attention to this.

The war, the assasinations, the complacency of the past convinced us that we were living not as real, authentic people but as the people who were our foundation, our parents. So we sought ourselves, but many of us returned to the world of our parents when we sadly realized much of what we sought was ignored and ridiculed- all in the pursuit of money and the American dream.

I hope many have worked on finding out who they are again. It has taken me a lot of years to reawaken that which defines who I am authentically. 

I think you created a positive foundation for your children.
Muse, this was a contemplative look back that I appreciated. Generations do not appreciate one another as they might. Frank's music held little value for me until recently, when I saw the magic his singing brought to a roomful of nursing home residents. In a couple decades that will be us and Jimmy Page.

It feels important to maintain awareness and respect for youth culture as I move offstage. Like us, they love their music and are inspired and shaped by it. One thing about this crop is that they listen to some of our people: Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits et.al. whereas I never listened to my mother's musicians when I was their age. We changed it, yes, and so will they.
Beautifully written, Luminous. This heartfelt retrospective rings true with me on many levels. My parents were of the same era. In my house children were seen and not heard...or spoken to much for that matter. And as a young adult I don't recall either of my parents ever calling me just to chat, or see how I was. But that seemed to be the norm for me. I worked at having better communication with my two kids and I think I was successful. I lend my support where I see a need and I'm happy to see my daughter providing opportunities for my 3 year old & 7 year old grandson to do the same---they cleaned up a park & planted flowers in it on Earth Day. Baby steps towards change.
Now for the music: You know how I feel about The Beatles...and Janis, and Joni, and Jefferson Airplane--the passion of the 60's is still alive in what they created musically. From strictly a music standpoint, I enjoy a little Sinatra now and then. His phrasing, when he was at his best, was really quite great. I agree that his songs did not invoke change, but I can appreciate their musicality.
Once again, fantastic writing here!
LM, thanks for informing me on that point. I am very glad to know that peace and love has endured on a personal level, even if it has mostly evaporated on a societal one.
Brave of you to be honest about the crooner who's been so wrongly deified, in my opinion-- 

I'm so glad you are writing about this. I can feel your pain of your history with your parents seeping through here. My older brother who was born in '44 has similar struggles, hell, so do all of my siblings, so do I, thanks to the previous generation's way.
I was one of the lucky ones who had a Mom that was willing to heal, to open up, to apologize, by the end of her life...I think in part because that's how she was, in part because I was willing to upend my own life and move across country to go be with her for her last four years.
I adore CSNY-- 
the end of "Teach..." has wisdom as well for those lucky enough to have parents who kept growing in spirit:

"And you, of tender years,
Can't know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die."
Get ready! You will hear more of Frank this fall with the new show about Playboy bunnies. I think there is a throw back going on in restaurants right now. Jimmies Italian Steak House gives away Frank and Marilyn postcards.
You hit it on the mark about authenticity. In JR Moehringer's "A Tender Bar," he actually sees his hero and comes to the same conclusion. A great read by the way!!
Things never change--You still can’t trust anyone over 30.
Just don’t start that preachy hippy bla, bla, bla in the nursing home—they’ll put you to bed without your pudding.
LM: To quote Ms. Hynde, "Don't get me wrong" ... Punk is only one of many musical styles I like and not my first choice ... ;

I get the distinction between Lennon's voice of authenticity and Sinatra's studied tempo. Sinatra was a master, but two steel brushes, and a tight skinned snare drum will get you to the same place.
I think every generation needs to learn how to share and communicate. I can appreciate Frank now. Lennon as you know was pretty fucked up and treated Yoko badly for a time there. We all weather isolation and inflict pain, to ourselves and others, no matter what generation's accoutrements and labels we claim. I always like hearing your personal story, LM.
Wonderful, thoughtful post LM. I agree that "our "60's music led us to open up our hearts, as our parents generation never did. I suppose the question still remains - Did we stay there? Does each consecutive generation move closer or further away? If I look at my parents "Sinatra" Generation and compare it to my kids "hip hop/digital generation...I can't tell.But I loved this piece. The "authenticity ".
I never was a Frank fan either but I love this story. Agree with Scarlett Sumac on the path you took that led your kids (and is leading them) to their own destinies. 

Happy to hear of a marriage lasting 30 years that seems, well, happy.

You've a knack for insight Luminous. I guess that "authenticity" encapsulates the difference between the music explosion of the 60s and the jazz/pop crooners it displaced. And it did spill over into how personal relations are conducted, though sometimes it seems that two steps forward, one step back is still operative. No Sinatra fan here but I find it hard to argue with those pals who admire his technical abilities.
There is one thing you and your father shared: the ability to strings words together and make prose that almost sings itself. I was born on the northern outskirts of hippiedom, but I agree that the 60s taught us how to keep it real. Unfortunately, the pendulum is swinging back the other way.

Really enjoyed this piece. I can relate to your family, living in falsity behind an image of normalcy and pretend (actually my mom never pretended to be normal). You seem to have emerged triumphant or at least aware enough not to inflict the same torments upon your own sons. That's an accomplishment not to be taken lightly.
A very deep and personal post presented with your usual excellence. A quibble: was that Summer Wind coming out of The Dakota?
This is perhaps a bit ironic given your take on the difference between Frank and the Beatles. Frank once declared the greatest love song ever written was "Something" by George Harrison.
I trust the so-called editor is responsible for this headline: "When I first listened John Lennon sing...." God Gawd. More on this strong and heartfelt piece later, after I digest the so-called editor's headline.
The 60's presented a landscape that was far removed from reality and thus created a false definition of freedom. Our entire society has been in decay ever since.
Wow, he was the greatest singer ever of American popular music and a truly gifted musician. If you don't know his stuff with Nelson Riddle, and only think "My Way" and "New York, New York" are "Frank" then you may want to give him another listen. (BTW, he hated "My way". Don't know about "New York, New York".) Bel Canto at its best - in the popular genre anyway. 

Check out, "I'm a Fool to Want You", "Imagination", A Cottage for Sale", his album with Count Bassie, "You Make Me Feel So Young", "Ole Man River" and on and on and on. 

If Yehudi could call him up and play "Happy Birthday" on the violin for his 80th (I believe), then he must have had somethin!
And, if you don't recognize any of his songs (Sinatra's) because you don't like him (no biggie) I would suggest that you, per force, don't know enough of his songs to have made an informed decision about his music.

Research? It's worth a try.
Yes you get to sneak into the promised land , but you don"t have to by me.
How in the hell did I miss this? Maybe because it was on the front page and I very seldom go there. What an excellent post. I did a post a year or two ago about the Beatles, well, Rock & Roll and the drug Culture and the Decade of Love and stopping a war, but it was the Beatles who made that possible for me. When I opened up the White Album and put it on, it changed something in me. I know I would have taken another road if it were not for the Beatles. Rather or not it would have been better, I have no idea, but it damn sure wouldn't have been an experience like the one I had. Great, Great Post~~
I would agree with you music is touchy and sensitive The Beatles had a sense of something that was special. The tunes were wonderful for the better part. Frank Sinatra was a different person, I belive he spoke to the older generation that is important because their times were different. For many of the older generation Frank Sinatra was a different person altogether. Even though his songs were popular during the 60's and 70's, it would be hard to imangine combining the two sounds. The Beatles had certain songs that were English sounding, "Lovely Rita Meter Maid", "Strawberry Fields Forever" John Lennon's "Imangine" are songs that made our generation a sense that if you didn't live through it, you wouldn't understand it. It was truly an enigma of sound that ached to be heard and cried with counterparts who didn't get it, or couldn't get it, due to being unemotional, self motivated. The 70's was really about connecting, no matter how it was done it was the way the generation worked.
Thoughtful, expansive and poignant piece. Truly. Music tying into your emotional growth - so true. It informs and instructs when we let it.
A fascinating post to read for me as someone who was always on the outer skirts of a music culture that I never owned as my own.
A lot to think about in this post. Thank you.
I too never liked Frank but my mother loved him
She tried to teach me that you had to live in pain
for the sake of the children
I adored the Beatles and Bob Dylan and wanted
nothing more than to lay across his big brass bed
The 60's taught me that I did not have to do 
anything for the sake of the children
So - I decided to keep a lid on the population
Found a love that lasted until he died
Now I have nieces and a grand niece and
all the love I can get
rated with love

Views: 60

Comment by koshersalaami on June 23, 2015 at 7:36pm

I liked them both. 

Not all the Beatles sounded that authentic. Lennon did. McCartney was actually a better singer but he didn't have that credibility that John just had. When he sings in the early stuff about jealousy, you completely believe him. 

Comment by JMac1949 Today on June 23, 2015 at 7:59pm

Wasn't a big fan of the Beatles until Rubber Soul and Norwegian Wood.  Sinatra had style and his voice grew better with age.  My favorite were Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson.  R&L

Comment by Stephen Brassawe on June 27, 2015 at 10:47am

I see that I posted the usual cynical remarks in response to this years ago, remarks that I had no recollection of now when I reread this fine piece. With regard to the Frank thing, I do so love an eloquent voice of dissent.


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