Mark K. Mcdonough
Frank Sinatra was always a puzzle -- he sang like an angel, behaved like a jerk, and yet was apparently an extremely generous individual who kept his many charities secret.
Donald Clarke sits with all the contradictions of Sinatra, both musical and personal, without attempting to simplify them. The reviewer below who complained that the book is like an extended essay is right. Clarke does not attempt, in this relatively slim volume, to write the definitive biographical work. It is instead a shrewd, opinionated, and often funny review of the man and his music.
I'm not a FS fanatic, but I do own about 40 or 50 of his albums, which I guess makes me more than a casual fan. I almost always agreed with Clarke's musical judgements (although I think rather more of "Live at the Sands" than he does) and found a lot of value in the way he attempts to separate Sinatra's own bloviations from the facts (e.g. was Mitch Miller really responsible for how bad much of Sinatra's mid-50s work is? Not really, says Clarke, and gives reasons for this opinion).
This book is not a replacement for a full-length biography -- if you want the details on who slapped who first in every fight he had with Ava Gardner, you'll have to go elsewhere. It's also not a replacement for an annotated discography, although it made me hungry for one -- I thought I had a pretty good handle on Sinatra's recorded output, and Clarke made me realize there's a lot I don't know.
As for Clarke's writing style, I say "bravo." Judging by the impish grin he's wearing in the jacket photo, I'd say he's well aware of how provocative some of his comments are, but there's nothing arrogant about this book. Clarke has his opinions, and states them very strongly, but it's clear the reader is welcome to his or her own. If you're the sort of reader who is secure enough to enjoy strongly held and amusingly stated beliefs rather than be upset by them, I recommend this book most highly.
Five stars isn't enough.
I love FS and his music, but I am not a blind teenage hero worshipper. Part of the reason I'm a big, big, big FS fan is because he was REAL and even if he made a slew of the best recordings ever (period!) you can learn a lot about someone by getting the whole picture which includes some troublesome aspects of Sinatra's personality. If you consider the truly creative giants in all arts, many of them were not exactly what you would call well-adapted. Many of them are drug users or suicides at some point. Sinatra lived his art and his life like a man possessed, as I think Clarke mentions, and it may have been the man's sometimes "foolish fury" that made him the unequivocal entertainer of the century (to use the recordmakers' term.) A lot of the people FS ran into trouble with weren't all that righteous (the journalists, for example), and I think Clarke tells it like it was. If FS picked some bad fights, so be it; I have picked some bad fights in my life because I have one thing in common with Sinatra (definitely not my lousy voice!): I'm human and I'm flawed.
I don't buy inane music biographies that paint useless, glowing pictures of musicians. Such books are a complete waste of money.
This book is fascinating precisely because it frames Sinatra's music and life in terms of his era and his background -- the Dorsey era isn't just a nice bit of trivia, it really shaped FS' career for decades and it is astounding to look at how many Dorsey tunes were remade during the Columbia and Capitol years (and later!) It is immensely rewarding to listen to songs evolve from boyish ballads to swinging numbers over the years; American popular music came of age through Sinatra's microphone, and I think a careful reading of Clark brings this home -- be sure to have the recordings handy to play in the background while you read. His movies? I tend to like them more than I should because FS is in them, but seriously how many times can you watch the Rat Pack movies and enjoy them (once is pushing it...).
For what it's worth, I have found most of Mr. Clarke's comments regarding albums to be spot on. I own nearly 50 FS albums, and when I think about the ones I play most often they tend to coincide with albums Clarke portrays favorably.
Whuile Donald C.Clarke (author of THE RISE AND THE FALL OF POPULAR MUSIC) does not mention such things aas the Maxiner Cheshire (Washington postgossip) bashing in 1973 (during which Frank used a word that might make the South Park kids blush!) it is still a very finite book. There is a extended veiw on the Mitch Miller era in Frank Sinatra';s life (and if anyone cares, I'll be glad to upload the infamous MAMA WILL BARK in its ending).
Donald C.Clarke points out the contradicitons (which need not be outlined here; everybody knows what they were) in Frank Sinatra's life. wHILW esp.after Nancy Sinatra and Kitty kelley's respective books, in 1986 and WIll Friedwald's amusign and infomrative book a few years back it may seem redundant for ANOTEHR 'Old Blue eyes book, this is unqiue.
James Ashley Shea
To all those reviewers who didn't like Donald Clarke's five-star book, get your heads out of the sand, or wherever else they are. All or Nothing at All is outstanding on America, politics, gangsters, Sinatra, his music, his family, his friends, enemies, and more.
I'm rereading it now. It is marvelous!
Clarke's humorous way of telling about Sinatra is entertaining and keeps one's attention, while
being informative and gently opinionated.
"Opinionated" is not derogative; long ago a high school teacher of mine said about an essay that she totally
disagreed with the author's premise, but that the essay was well written, well conceived and well thought
out, so it got an A. I don't always agree with Clarke's opinions but they do get me to THINKING and
trying to see his viewpoint; in that, the book is successful. I'm glad to have it.