Desperate, Frank booked a gig on Kauai . . .
playing a county fair in a tent. A leaky tent.Kaplan's book--which only goes up to 1954, a fact that Doubleday's marketing crew ably buries in a line of copy--is completely absorbing, in part because I don't know Sinatra's life the way I know his music. My reading about Frank in the past has been almost entirely limited to books that turn to the facts of his life only in order to explain his music. (And of those, you still can't do better than Will Friedwald's Sinatra! The Song Is You.) And while there's a certain "you are there!", overly novelistic quality to Kaplan's writing that at times I find frustrating, at other times, as in the scene above, his technique works perfectly. In that scene, he takes an utterly unimportant, throwaway concert date and makes us feel what it must have been like--and makes us wish, rain and muumuus and all, that we had been there.
He pulled aside a flap and peered out at the audience. It was just a couple hundred red-faced tourists and hicks in aloha shirts and jeans and muumuus. Jesus Christ. The rain was drumming on the canvas, dripping on the ground. There was no orchestra, just an upright piano on a wooden platform. He closed the flap and looked at Bill Miller sitting on a folding chair, lean as a spider and pale as death--in Hawaii!--and sipping a cup of tea. Miller raised his eyebrows. Sinatra shook his head. Soon he'd be playing revival meetings.
Miller's thin lips formed into something like a smile.
Suddenly two brown-skinned girls in grass skirts came in, carrying flowered garlands, beaming. They dropped the leis over Frank's head, one by one, giggling, covering his cheeks with little kisses, and even as he grinned, his eyes grew moist
Frank turned to Miller. Should they do it?
Miller nodded and rose. Frank pulled the canvas aside and walked out onto the little stage, the garlands around his neck. The small crowd went nuts the second they saw him, clapping over their heads, whistling, stamping the ground. For a minute you couldn't even hear the rain on the tent. Sinatra was still smiling, the first time he'd been happy in weeks. He sat on the edge of the stage, dangling his legs, and said, "What do you want to hear?"