Monday, December 21, 2015

That's Life or Strangers in the Night By? Sandy Semerad

Husband Larry has been singing this song over and over lately. “That’s life. That’s what people say. You’re riding high in April. Shot down in May…”

“Why do you keep singing that?” I asked him.

“It’s stuck in my brain,” he answered. “Blame that television commercial.”

He has a point. The ad agency no doubt chose Frank Sinatra’s rendition of the song for that particular commercial, because it’s addictive, as many of Sinatra’s songs are.

Thanks to Larry and the commemoration of Sinatra’s birth, December 12, a hundred years ago, I’ve reconnected with the man and his music. I can't quite believe Sinatra would have been a centenarian by now had he lived, although he was thought dead when he was born, according to reports. The forceps used to birth him, scarred the left side of his face and neck and punctured an ear drum, but he miraculously survived to become a legend who sang mostly by ear.

           In the eighties, though it seems like yesterday, I exercised while listening to a cassette of Fly me to the Moon, I've got you under my skin, That’s why the Lady is a tramp, That old black magic, My way, to name a few. As I jogged around my house, Sinatra sang to me, making my workout bearable.

          When he came to the Atlanta Omni in 1988, I went to see him. I brought along binoculars for the momentous occasion. I wanted to view old blue eyes up close.

          At 73 years old, his singing had lost some of its steam. Camel cigarettes and Jack Daniels had taken their toll. I've read he had a preference for Jack, “two fingers with a splash of water.” (I gave one of my characters in A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES, a fondness for the drink. Had I subconsciously thought of Sinatra? Maybe).
           But getting back to the Omni performance, he was touring with Liza Minnelli and Sammy Davis, Jr. Their voices rang out stronger than Frank’s back then, but his charisma and magical interpretations, still touched and inspired me. I loved his unique phraseology. He captivated me with the stories he told through song.

Sinatra interpreted lyrics his own way and when I think about the words to My Way, another Sinatra hit, they seemed to describe him:  For what is a man, what has he got? If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels, and not the words of one who kneels. The record shows I took the blows, and did it my way!”

            When he sang My Way, I was convinced, he meant it. Although the lyric contains clich├ęs, he gave each word a special meaning, as if singing the story of his life: “Yes, there were times. I’m sure you knew. When I bit off more than I could chew, but through it all when there was a doubt, I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall and I did it my way…”

            Yet, those who knew Sinatra claimed he disliked My Way. He thought the song sounded cocky, they said.Perhaps this was another contradiction in his complex life, which Kitty Kelly revealed in her unauthorized biography entitled, His Way

           In her book, she exposed the flaws of a man who demanded perfection. According to Kelly, Sinatra could be brash and appear overly self-confident.

          Kelly wrote about his unstable upbringing, ties with the mafia, his manic depression, suicide attempts, his affairs and love life, his political associations and feud with President John Kennedy, whom he once idolized. However, the book also talked about his intense work ethic, his generosity and how he despised and battled racism and antisemitism.

          After I read Kelly's book about Sinatra, I decided no words will ever dispel his brilliant talent, as a legendary singer, actor and performer, nor weaken my gratitude to him for enriching my life with his music.

          There’s just this one particular song I need a reprieve from, but it’s Larry’s birthday today, December 21, and if he wants to sing that song over and over, so be it.

         Larry, like Sinatra, endured a difficult childhood. He had a hip disease, confining him to a wheel chair. But he overcame his disability to become a Bengal Bouts boxing champ at Notre Dame and Golden Gloves champ.

          I recently asked him, “What’s your favorite Frank Sinatra song?”

           “I really like, That’s Life,” he said.
          “Yes, I know,” I said. “That’s obvious.”

           “I used to like New York, New York, but I've heard it and played it so much, it’s not my favorite anymore.”

           “Can you think of another song, perhaps a love song of Sinatra’s that you like?”

          He frowned. “Let me think. Refresh my memory. Pull up Sinatra on YouTube and let me hear a few.”

           I did. I was certain he’d pick one. He adores music. He plays the piano beautifully and writes poems.

          Larry listened quietly, and eventually said, “Stranger in the Night.” Larry and I were like stranger in the night when we met, and we've been married for twenty-two years this month, December 11. His selection of this song is sweet, I think.

           So, I've been practicing. “Strangers in the night exchanging glances….”

          I may sing it all day long. It’s addictive. And then on Christmas Eve switch to Silent Night. Merry Christmas!

          To read more about my writing, please visit my web site:

My latest book A MESSAGE IN THE ROSES is featured below: