License To Philosophize, Sinatra-Style

frank sinatraWhen you reach a certain age and no longer have a job where large numbers of people are incentivized to laugh at your jokes, moments arise when you wonder what you are doing on this planet.
Your very being may even come into question.

Say you’ve finally reached the front of the line at Starbucks, where the young, beautiful barista ignores your plea for a simple venti-skinny-extra-foam-iced-mocha-latte to flirt with the artfully disheveled guy perusing the store’s “Ode to Chocolate.” Or say you’re taking your morning constitutional and a pair of pretty passers-by look right through your smiling “Good morning.”

Sometimes, you just don’t know what to do or how to be.

DO BE DO BE DOIf you have $4 million to spare, a Lamborghini Veneno may help confirm your existence, if not your identity. For a cheaper, deeper way to connect with fellow humans, consider this dispatch from the front — of my Toyota:

Within days of installing my license to philosophize, strange things began to happen. Sitting at a long red light, I noticed two stoned dudes on the street pointing to the plate and giving me a thumbs up, way up. The service guys at Hollywood Toyota have always been polite, but after a recent tune-up they wanted to schmooze about the depths of Frank’s romantic suffering. A long-time neighbor I’ve never talked to sang a few “do be do be do”s as she walked her dog past my house. I posted a photo of the plate on Facebook and received “Likes” from a couple of people who I’m pretty sure don’t like me.

A more melancholic encounter unfolded as I walked a long block on a rough street in Hollywood toward my parked car. Time slowed while I watched an old, down-on-his-luck man staring intensely at the plate. When he noticed me approaching, his glance seemed filled with meaning. I wanted to engage him, to find out how he felt, but he quickly disappeared around the corner. Was he thinking profound thoughts about doing and being? Reflecting on that long, lonesome road Frank marks out in “One For My Baby“? Nostalgic about a very good year in his past? Or was he just scared?

Precisely where the great German philosophers Immanuel Kant (1724-1824) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) stood on matters of doing and being is the subject of many an abstruse scholarly text. As for Sinatra (1915-1998), we know that the immortal “do be do be do” is nowhere present in the urtext of his monster 1966 hit “Strangers In The Night.” Could it be that Ol’ Blue Eyes, who detested the song, added those immortal syllables to the fade-out to express the synthesis, if you will, of Kant’s thesis (being) and Nietzsche’s antithesis (doing)? Or is it the other way around?

We’ll never know the Chairman of the Board’s innermost insights about doing/being, if indeed he had any. What cannot be denied is that his choice of material covers a rich spectrum of emotional leaps and existential twists and turns.

The delight of Sammy Cahn/James Van Heusen’s “Come Fly With Me” conjures the upbeat title of Thomas Harris’s 1967 best-seller I’m Okay/You’re Okay, while Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” sends the message, “I’m Okay/If You’re Okay.” The Paul Anka-penned “My Way” — with its startling invocation of expectoration, “I ate it up and spit it out” — boils down to “I’m Okay/I Don’t Give A Shit If You’re Okay.” Johnny Mercer’s ironically titled “Goody Goody” offers a cheerfully sadistic “I’m Okay Because You’re Not Okay.” “That’s Life,” my favorite Sinatra chart-topper, enthuses “I’m Okay And/Or Not Okay,” depending on the month.

michael sigmanIf Sinatra’s do-be-doings don’t strike you as plate-worthy, there are other choices. Religious boomers may prefer “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14). The sublime “Dom dom dom do dom do be do” of the Fleetwoods’ “Come Softly To Me” will transport the most cynical atheist to pop heaven. And what person of a certain age can forget the “Shoo-Be Do”s of “In the Still Of The Night (I’ll Remember)”?

Michael Sigman

Republished with the author’s permission from Huffington Post.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Published by the LA Progressive on May 2, 2013
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About Michael Sigman

Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.

Prior to his current activities, Sigman was the president and publisher of LA Weekly, the nation’s largest alternative newsweekly, from 1990-2002. He joined LA Weekly in 1983 as general manager and was named publisher the following year.

Sigman was also the founding publisher of OC Weekly, sister paper to LA Weekly, when it was launched in 1995.

Prior to joining LA Weekly, Sigman was a music journalist, and served as a reporter, then managing editor, then editor-in-chief of Record World Magazine, a leading music industry weekly, from 1971 to 1982.

Michael Sigman graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude, with a BA in Philosophy, from Bucknell University in 1971. He currently serves on several Boards, including InsightLA and Society for Singers, and is Chairman of the Board of the Wright Institute, a non-profit psychoanalytic institute which provides inexpensive long-term psychotherapy to the poor.