The Life and Times of Ol' Blue Eyes -- "Sinatra: The Chairman" by James Kaplan

Dec 14, 2015

On this edition of ST, we speak by phone with writer James Kaplan, whose essays and reviews have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, Esquire, and elsewhere. The first volume of Kaplan's definitive biography of Frank Sinatra, "Frank: The Voice," appeared in 2010. Now comes the second half of that life, the widely acclaimed "Sinatra: The Chairman," which the author discusses with us today. As per Publishers Weekly: "The great singer-actor contains multitudes in this vast, engrossing biography of Frank Sinatra's mature years.... Kaplan's sympathetic but unflinching narrative revels in the entertainer's scandalous private life while offering rapt, insightful appreciations of his sublime recording and stage performances. It situates him and his Rat Pack at the Vegas headquarters of a postwar American culture that yoked mobsters and prostitutes to Kennedys and other luminaries. His Sinatra is often appalling, sometimes inspiring, and always a fascinating icon of an energetic, resonant, yet doomed style of masculinity." And further, as noted of this work in a starred review in Booklist: "A remarkably insightful, gracefully, often eloquently, written history of popular music and celebrity culture in twentieth-century America -- all viewed through the lens of an iconic singer and undervalued actor whose wildly contradictory personality and tempestuous personal life built the legend but detracted from the man's genius as an artist.... As astute in his psychological analysis as in his music criticism, Kaplan makes sense of the singer's insistence on taking way too many encores by noting Sinatra's need for constant movement: 'He was like a whole body case of restless leg syndrome.' That restlessness finally shook itself out, but, along the way, it drove a skinny kid from Hoboken to live a life that, as Kaplan concludes, 'touched almost every aspect of American culture in the twentieth century.' That’s a big statement, but this big book makes us believe it."