Today is me mum’s birthday. She would’ve been 86. In thinking what song to pay tribute with, I felt it could only be Frankie. That may be a very obvious choice, like picking The Beatles for someone born in the Forties, since it’s almost a given that the person would know and like something by such popular artists. In my mom’s case, though, I’m referencing her knowledge and opinions of all the singers who sang with Tommy Dorsey, probably her favorite Big Band leader. And Sinatra was the one who got his start there and went on to household name status. She was always aware of him and his career as it developed.
In picking which song by Sinatra, I had to go by my own lights. I’m not sure which song of his she liked best. I know she preferred the Sinatra of those early years on Columbia, and even earlier when he was performing on the radio with Dorsey. Sinatra became Dorsey’s main singer in 1939, when my mom turned 11, and so she was prime age to be a bobby-soxer, or teenage fan of Sinatra, through the Forties. When I finally got around to taking an interest in Sinatra, it was the Capitol albums, in the Fifties and early Sixties that I wanted to hear. But for Sinatra purists like my mom, he’d already “lost” his voice by then. Frankly, the stuff from the Forties is the best sleeping potion I know. Don’t put any of it on while driving or operating heavy machinery.
My song for today, though, dates from the Sixties, when my mom was in her 30s, but we had the song on Frank Sinatra’s Greatest Hits (1969)—by then he was on Reprise and had just made a big comeback with Strangers in the Night (1966)—and she was in her early 40s by then. I suppose that’s the age of one’s parents that most of us remember best—well, at least kids who date from the time when parents didn’t wait until 30 to have kids. So the first Sinatra I knew was this album—because whatever Columbia stuff was around the house was on 78s and they were stored away as too easily broken in a house full of kids.
For me, “Summer Wind” is a song from that magical era when you can be entirely obtuse about “sex appeal” while at the same time having to admit that “girls are different” in an interesting way. So I was about the same age—11—my mom was when Sinatra joined Dorsey. In the interests of how time changes things, the Sinatra I was hearing was nothing like the Sinatra she heard in the Forties, so in her mind there was all that water under the bridge. From being on the cusp of teens to—starting her 40s—playing the album while busy in the kitchen and me sitting in the living room and realizing I really liked this song. I think she was pleased I liked it, but it just couldn’t compare with her version of Sinatra (“he strains too much now”). Fair enough. I liked better this aging, gruffer guy. Mainly, though, I loved Nelson Riddle’s arrangement—the intro is so seductive—and the way Sinatra, the master of phrasing, rides along and works those lyrics.
It was one of those days of spring hedging toward summer—school wasn’t out yet, but almost. Windows open, bare feet, breezes. All summer long [bmmdmm] we sang a song [bmmdmm] and then we strolled that golden sand [fun fill] / Two sweethearts and / The summer wind. Johnny Mercer, whose work will be showing up here a few more times before we’re done, wrote the lyrics. I liked the way the summer wind was personified. It’s a song about a summer romance that fades, but the speaker’s feelings find their “objective correlative” (thanks, TSE) in the summer wind. So that the big finish really makes you feel that the guy is bedeviled by that goddamned wind: The autumn wind / And the winter winds / They have come and gone / And still the days / Those lonely days / They go on and on [and I love the way Frankie hits “on and on”] / And guess who sighs / His lullabies / On nights that ne-ver end [hear how Frankie treats “sighs HIS lullaBIES”] / My [-] fickle friend / The summer wind–and the way he drops down on “mmmm the summer winnnnd” at the close kills me. Consummate.
But let’s not forget the part that precedes the loss, the real “pinnacle of summer” bit: Like painted kites / Those days and nights / They went FLYing by [nice rhymes and rhythms but nothing unusual] / The world was new / Beneath a blue / Umbrella sky [the way he holds “blue-eh-UM-brel-la-sky” and makes each syllable count is the whole deal, is the best of it, drawing out the peak, before “I lost you, I lost you to the summer wind.”
Again, that devilish wind, and not some other love, is the culprit. It’s a song about being made sport of by elemental pressures, by the seasons themselves. Of course I loved it.
One day, it called to you