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Softly as I Leave You

[whitespace] Frank Sinatra If he were here today, we'd see Sinatra at bars that have more character inside than their humble facades would suggest, nursing a Jack Daniel's-and-rocks with a water back, yelling at the baseball game on the tube, swearing at the ump in Italian.

So set 'em up, Joe
I got a little story
I think you should know
Make it one for my baby
And one more for the road
"One More for My Baby" (Mercer/Arlen)

By Eric Johnson

HE COULDN'T READ MUSIC and never took a singing lesson in his life. Music writers talk about how he "revolutionized phrasing"--but what he did was sing the song like he meant it, and in so doing reinvented popular music as the folk music of America. When Frank Sinatra sang, he didn't sound like a performer--there was too much honesty in his style. He sounded like he was trying to get the party started, or like he was telling some sad story.

The chicks dug Ol' Blue Eyes, but face it, he was no Cary Grant. He wasn't a god, he was flesh and bones. "New York, New York" was his song, but Sinatra was from New Jersey. He wasn't some Downtown hipster any more than he was some Uptown swell--Sinatra was a regular guy from Hoboken. His fans could tell that, and that's one reason they all worshipped him. He was a hero, a mere mortal who conquered the world.

When Sinatra moved from his shipyard suburban hometown into the nightclubs and the big stages and the silver screen, he took his fans along for the ride. Other stars get to Hollywood and leave the places they came from behind, but Sinatra brought Hoboken with him. He kept the guinea accent and the smartass attitude. He kept the street swagger and the casual grin. A generation of working-class Americans felt like it was one of them up there.

Even when he had a big house in Palm Springs and another one in L.A., Sinatra never left the gang behind. Even when he was hanging with JFK and Marilyn, and later when he was hanging with Ron and Nancy, he still kept in touch with his paisans. Even when he was a really rich guy, he was as comfortable in the diners as he was in the country clubs. He was an extravagant tipper who laid C-notes on waiters and valets and remembered their names.

Even as the biggest star in the free world, Sinatra returned to Hoboken regularly, and to Jilly's over in Manhattan--not a super-fancy place, just a hangout for regular people with a little money to spend. He had a table at Toots Shor's, a nice enough steakhouse that became a destination for stars because he hung out there. He liked hotel bars and pool halls, places that were cool or maybe even a little swanky, or where he could get a good plate of spaghetti, places where the bartenders and waitresses knew what he liked to drink or eat and where he liked to sit.

If he were here today, we'd see Sinatra at the old places in downtown neighborhoods all over the valley, the places we go when we want to go out but aren't really in the mood for anything fancy. We'd see Sinatra at the strip-mall bars that have more character inside than their humble storefronts would suggest, nursing a Jack Daniel's-and-rocks with a water back, yelling at the baseball game on the tube, swearing at the ump in Italian. We'd see him at the fine restaurants where the owners invest more in the food than in the design of the menus.

In his day, when he wanted some culture, Sinatra didn't go to the opera or the museum. He went to Vegas. Here today, he'd frequent the nightclubs that ask you to leave the sports cap at home and tuck in your shirt (on the town, Sinatra and his pack wouldn't even loosen their ties until after midnight), but he'd dig the latter-day discos more than the ritzy rooms where the upper crusters gather for their more refined celebrations.

Sinatra hung out with movie stars, but you get the distinct feeling that the guys and gals in the Rat Pack were actually friends. Their notorious partying and troublemaking was decidedly populist. Anyone who could afford another cocktail could join the club, at least vicariously. This was much different from the Hollywood lifestyles of the movie stars before him who pretended they were royalty, or the movie stars now who only seem to gather together when the cameras are rolling. It was almost like he was hanging out with the gang from work.

The Rat Pack were a bunch of guys walking around acting like Sinatra (except for Dino, who didn't have to act)--but even before the movies, there were a lot of guys in America walking around acting like Sinatra. Even now, guys who never wear silk ties or skinny lapels or porkpie hats have absorbed the brand of cool that was defined by Sinatra and passed down through the generations by pop singers and movie stars--and by our dads and uncles, who learned it from Sinatra or from someone who did.

Sinatra was an American hero when America was becoming what it is today. He and his generation were riding the biggest boom in history. As America moved into the streamlined, jet-propelled future, Sinatra was the hero of a generation whose fathers worked on the docks but who saw a better life, a generation creating a new world by unleashing the democratic ego.

"It's Frank's world, we only live in it." It's the motto of a new generation of suburban swingers, but it's true for all of us. We can look at his life, look at the world Sinatra helped construct, and see that it's imperfect. But that shouldn't stop us from dropping a couple of quarters in the jukebox, punching up a Sinatra tune and clinking our glasses in a toast to what this world might one day become.

A Frank Sinatra Kind of Place

The Bank
14421 Big Basin Way, Saratoga (408/867-5155)

Bella Mia
58 S. First St., San Jose (408/280-1993)

Club Rio
610 Coleman Ave., San Jose (408/279-3387)

C.S. Riff's
1505 S. Winchester Blvd., San Jose (408/866-0511)

Driftwood Cocktail Lounge
22170 Mission Blvd., Fremont (510/581-2050)

Echo of Los Altos
1579 Miramonte Ave., Los Altos (650/967-0969)

331 Hacienda Ave., Campbell (408/374-3400)

Eight Forty North First
840 N. First St., San Jose (408/282-0840)

Frankie, Johnnie, Luigi Too
939 W. El Camino Real, Mountain View (650/967-5384)

Garden City
360 S. Saratoga Ave., San Jose (408/244-3333)

Goosetown Caffe
1072 Lincoln Ave., Willow Glen (408/292-4866)

Il Fornaio
520 Cowper St., Palo Alto (650/853-3888)

La Hacienda
18840 Saratoga-Los Gatos Road, Monte Sereno (408/354-6669)

Los Gatos Lodge
50 Los Gatos- Saratoga Road, Los Gatos (408/354-3300)

Original Joe's
301 S. First St., San Jose (408/292-7030)

Nick's Pizza
354 E. Santa Clara, San Jose (408/286-9710)

333 W. San Carlos St., San Jose (408/294-2558)

Paul & Eddies
21619 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino (408/252-2226)

1589 Pomeroy Ave., Santa Clara (408/296-9955)

Sh Boom
975 De Anza Blvd., San Jose (408/725-1600)

South 40 Club
46850 Warm Springs Road, Fremont (510/657-8935)

Tony Roma's
4233 Moorpark Ave., San Jose (408/253-4900)

Trials Pub
265 N. First St., San Jose (408/947-0497)

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From the June 11-17, 1998 issue of Metro.

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