Frank and Mick and Bruno and Me

As I write this I am watching the video for a song that just spent 14 weeks as the No. 1 song in the country. The song is “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson and featuring the ridiculously soulful vocals of Bruno Mars. If you haven’t heard “Uptown Funk” this year, then you must be living under a bridge. The song has more hooks than a fishing tackle box. It is so goddamn good that every time I hear it it’s all I can do to keep from either putting my truck into a ditch or kicking the TV to pieces with enthusiasm.

I first heard “Uptown Funk” by accident. I was taking our six-year-old daughter, Maddo, to a follow-up doctor’s appointment about her broken arm. Anyone who knows me knows that being late for anything is one of the three things in life I truly hate [the others being littering and anyone who makes more money than Seattle Mariners pitcher Felix Hernandez] and we were right on time for the meeting. That is, we were until we ran into a road crew that was busy laying down new asphalt about five blocks from the doctor’s office.

Maddo, who for a kindergartner has pretty good taste in music [She knows almost all the words to Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” and can do Roger Daltrey proud with her version of The Who’s “Squeeze Box”]. As we slogged through this unexpected traffic snarl, she asked me to play another incredibly catchy earworm of the last year, Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass”. OK, the kid’s taste isn’t perfect. But still, I didn’t want to disappoint my little girl, so I went to the Meghan Trainor “station” I set on the Pandora app on my iPhone. However, instead of Trainor’s “Bass”, my ears were hit by the “doh, doh-doh-doh, doh-doh-doh” intro to “Uptown Funk” and then the first blast of horns and Mars’ vocals.

And for the next four minutes, I forgot that I had just been on the verge of flying into a rage due to that road crew. “DAMN, Maddo!” I said to my daughter, “Now THAT is a song!”

“I hear that all the time when Mommy drives,” Maddo said, giving a solid commentary on my usual in-auto playlists, which rarely stray into the Top 40 realm. The kid then proceeded to repeat part of the song’s first verse for my ears:

This hit

That ice cold

Michelle Pfeiffer

That white gold

“Michelle Pfeiffer?” I asked. “Haven’t heard her name since she was in that so-so “Dark Shadows” movie with Johnny Depp a few years ago. I guess she’s Bruno’s version of a precious metal.”

And since that first day I stumbled across “Uptown Funk”, we have listened to the song or watched the video at least three times a day. In fact, we had just watched the video early one evening when I remembered that a new documentary about Frank Sinatra was on HBO.

Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson might be the stars of the moment for now, and may still have long careers ahead of them. But Frank Sinatra, who would be 100 years old this year was, and remains, a Star with a Capital “S”. If there was a Mt. Rushmore of American singers of the 20th century, Sinatra would be its George Washington. [And without question, the other three would be Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin]. Sinatra’s name evokes so many things: style, drinking, cool, women, more style, defeat and resurrection, honesty, pride, even more style and winning. He remains the Chairman of the Board even today, 18 years after his death.

And as much as I like “Uptown Funk”, I felt it was necessary for Maddo and our younger daughter, Little Sis, to get some exposure to Frank. So, I sat them down and put the show on. Within minutes, Frank was living up to his swinging Rat Pack reputation, and he was making his time with Mia Farrow, who was 30 years Frank’s junior when they got married.

Even though he turned 50 in the 60s, Frank was the swingingest cat in a swinging decade. And he was still swinging at 71 when I saw him in concert in 1986.

Yes, I can say with pretty secure degree of conviction that I am one of the few people of my generation who saw Frank Sinatra perform live. Not on TV. Live, in an actual concert. I was just 18 years old and I dragged my 17-year-old girlfriend with me to the Tacoma Dome in Tacoma, Wash. to see Frank on what ended up being his last notable concert tour. The biggest part of Frank’s fan base was still the World War II generation. Any of the people sitting around us could have been our grandparents. The crowd looked more like an AARP convention rather than a concert crowd. We were easily the youngest fans there.

Keep in mind, this was back in the days before rock bands full of senior citizens would reunite and go on tour unironically. I loved Frank, but for my generation, he was an old man. He was 71 years old when I saw him. The same age that Mick Jagger is right now, just as the Rolling Stones are getting set for a brief tour around the States.

And I love the Stones, too. I’ve seen them five times in three different countries, the last being in San Francisco in 2005 when Mick was “only” 62. If the Stones were playing anywhere in the Bay Area on this go-around [and if we could get a babysitter] I would take my wife to see Mick & Co. do “Satisfaction” and the rest of their classic repertoire.

It was a real crossing of the musical generations when, during the Sinatra documentary and not long after watching that Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson video, I mentioned that Mick Jagger is now the same age Frank was when I saw him in concert. Maddo’s ears picked up on the name “Jagger” because she knows it from that horrible Maroon 5 song “Moves Like Jagger”.

“Does he move like Jagger, daddy?” Maddo asked me.

“Why don’t we see what Mick Jagger really moves like, sweetie?” I said as I went to the YouTube app on our Apple TV box. I found the video for the greatest song ever to get stuck at No. 2 on the charts: “Start Me Up”.

It was the original video from 1981. Mick barely lip-synching in his very-1981, very tight shirt and pants. Keith looking like he just finished up a bottle of Jack Daniel’s [Frank’s favorite whiskey, by the way]. Ronnie Wood certainly having just done a couple of rails of blow. Bill Wyman counting his share of the touring receipts in his head. And Charlie Watts, the coolest Stone of all, looking bemused at all of it as he kept the beat. You’ve seen the video and probably shaken your head at how such a great song could be murdered by such a tossed off video that probably cost all of $15 to shoot and edit.

When it was over, I asked Maddo what she thought of Jagger. And she replied with that brutal, guileless honesty that only comes from kids just at the start of their grade-school careers:


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