"What's a man now? What's a man mean? ...
We think it's getting better but nobody's really sure"
from "Real Men" by Joe Jackson
Men in North America are looking around trying to find
themselves. Specifically, men are trying to find their manhood.
This has given rise to the men's movement, as well as the run on
Viagra. But manhood is an abstract concept, so it's hard to know
what it means or even think about. A better way to go would be
to seek out a man who exemplifies manhood. A man who knows what
it is to be a man. A man like Frank Sinatra.
Before reading this book, I thought that Frank
Sinatra was just about the last man to choose as a role model.
As I never met Sinatra, my thoughts about him were based on the
protrayal of Sinatra in the media, and that protrayal is decidely
mixed. On one hand, there is the singer. A man with a voice
like no other. A voice that charmed millions. The voice of
liquid gold. On the other hand, however, there was a guy who
was, well, a troublemaker. Someone who was not a criminal but
who was certainly alleged to have criminal associations. A guy
who, if I met him, I am confident I would not like.
Why did I pick up this book then, a book about
someone I dislike? First, there is the title: The Way You Wear
Your Hat. What a lovely little phrase (and lyric, of course).
Moreover, consider part of the subtitle: The Lost Art of Livin'.
As one of those North American men, who is looking around for his
manhood but has not sunk so low as to sit naked in the woods
beating on a drum (or anything else) with a bunch of other men, I
could use some advice. Finally, I've liked what Bill
Zehme, the author, has written for Esquire, so I took a chance on
the book. I'm happy I did.
Zehme's premise is that Sinatra had once
stated that his "real ambition" was "to pass on to others what I know."
Zehme did not think that Sinatra had done this, so Zehme wrote to
Sinatra offering to help him achieve this purpose. Sinatra
agreed. Rather than interviewing him, Zehme wrote questions for
Sinatra to answer when the spirit moved him. In addition, Zehme
was encouraged to speak with Sinatra's friends, colleagues, and
family, and, perhaps most interestingly, he scanned hours and
hours of tapes from Sinatra's concerts, as Sinatra was often very
candid during performances.
The result is a description of a lifestyle, that is, the
principles that Sinatra used for living life are described, with
ample examples. These are divided into sections, including
friends ("Pallies"), women ("Broads"), family ("Love & Marriage"),
and life in general ("My Way"). The portrait that emerges is not one of
an impervious, unfeeling rock of a
person. Rather, it's a portrait of a guy. Someone who has done
good things and bad things. Someone who has lived a life, and
learned some things along the way. In short, a human being, which
after all is what Frank Sinatra was.
A human being just like the rest of us. Only more so. Sinatra
large. He suggested the key to living large
was to "just keep moving." Also, "live each day like it may be
the final day." This attitude is likely why others had the
impression of Sinatra as an intense person, since intensity
results from being focused on what one is doing right now, be it
singing, listening to your kids, or wooing someone.
No tooting your own horn. Sinatra loved to sing, loved it
more than anything else, even Jack Daniels. But he would not
sing his own praises. For example, he did not like "My Way,"
although it is the song most often associated with
Sinatra the singer. Sinatra hated it, in fact, finding it too
self-indulgent and pompous. Sinatra was not that. He was not
flamboyant. Elegant, yes. Flamboyant, no. The message is:
Don't go over the top.
Family is of utmost importance. When away from home,
Sinatra was in touch almost every day. It makes me wonder
how he found the time to do so. But, hey, if it's important, you
do it. Sinatra respected his children and what they wanted to
do. The most important message to give them is to "be true to
In sum, The Way You Wear Your Hat describes a lifestyle
that produces a principled, generous,
humble person. A person like Frank Sinatra. And if I met such a
person, I think that I would like him.
Oh, and one more thing. The other day, I bought a hat.