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Essays on an American Icon

edited by Leonard Mustazza

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-275-96495-7
Publisher: Praeger

This collection of 18 essays (including a 1945 plea for racial harmony by Sinatra himself), 13 of them new, is a mixed bag of superb musical and technical insight, interesting cultural studies analysis, and pure blather. In his concise and well-judged introduction, Mustazza (English and American Studies/Penn. State Univ.), the author of two previous books on the Chairman, makes a case for Sinatra as “an iconic hero” and promises a volume that will explore “the factors that led to the sculpting of the iconic Sinatra, and the nature of the changing culture that fashioned it.” The best (and longest) essay in the collection, written by Sinatra archivist Charles L. Granata, is a fascinating detailed recounting of Sinatra’s recording history, showing how he developed his mastery of song and the studio; rather than an academic analysis of pop culture, this is music history at its most sophisticated and, unlike most of the other contributions here, genuinely illuminates the art on which Sinatra’s reputation is based. By comparison, everything else in the book pales, but there are some notable offerings. Perhaps the most convincing and offbeat is Roger Gilbert’s essay placing Sinatra in the context of other —50s icons of troubled masculinity, Marlon Brando, Jackson Pollack, Robert Lowell, and Miles Davis. Although he has too little space here to completely develop the notion, Gilbert makes an interesting case for Sinatra as “the classic embodiment of fifties culture [who] fully articulated [the] contradictions, anxieties and ambivalences” of maleness in that decade. Those contributors who focus directly on the music—Will Friedwald and Richard Iaconelli among them—have the most to offer. Other essays border on the embarrassing; the worst is a stunning piece of self-aggrandizement by psychiatrist Lloyd L. Spencer. The Granata essay is almost worth the price of this volume. If he ever writes a Sinatra book, it will be one to look for.