Frank Sinatra still matters, says legendary newsman Pete Hamill
For legendary newsman Pete Hamill, it was more than the music that kept the world on a string for Frank Sinatra — the iconic singer always knew how to bring a song home.
“It was area code 212 music,” said Hamill, author of the book, “Why Sinatra Matters,” a short biography of the late famed baritone — born 100 years ago on Saturday — that also chronicles a time the pair spent together in the 1970s.
“Even the earliest songs, in the 1930s and during the war, you can see the streets,” Hamill told the Daily News.
“You can see it’s a right-angled world.”
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The 80-year-old writer, speaking through his own soft, aging blue eyes, said he first met Sinatra in Las Vegas after covering a boxing match for famed columnist Jimmy Cannon — who told him only to come to a restaurant after filing his story.
“And I went off to this table where I met Frank Sinatra, Leo Durocher — the former manager of both the Giants and the Dodgers — and some other guys who it’s probably best to forget their last names,” he recalled.
“And later on, when (Sinatra) was in New York for some event he was doing, he called me and asked me for dinner.”
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The memories — as fresh as if he had just plucked them from one of the hundreds of books lined up on shelves throughout his TriBeca apartment — were the first of many he would later share with The Chairman.
“I think at the core of the friendship was the similarities of our lives, even though there was 20 years difference in our ages,” Hamill said.
Both high school dropouts born a stone’s throw from Manhattan, each grew famous for his voice — one through a microphone, the other, a typewriter.
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The award-winning Hamill, the first of seven children born to Irish immigrants, said Sinatra’s essence stemmed from being the only child of Italians living in New Jersey.
“He had a huge influence on the way Americans looked at Italian immigrants,” said Hamill, adding that the effect was compounded by the likes of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia and Yankees great Joe DiMaggio.
“Because it was about coming out of a certain vision of the world that included possibility, and (Sinatra’s) sense of possibility found its direction in music.”
But it’s more than just Sinatra’s voice that has carried on more than 17 years after his death.
“He learned from Billie Holiday, born in the same year he was, that you could take a song written by someone else — a stranger — and turn it into autobiography,” Hamill said.
“That’s what she did. That’s what he did. And that’s what good singers have done since then.”
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