The Best of Andy Rooney

(This classic Andy Rooney column was originally published Dec. 17, 1990, coinciding with Frank Sinatra's 75th birthday. Sinatra died May 14, 1998.)

There was a small Italian bakery on Mott Street in New York City called Parisi's. Joe Parisi made his bread in two ovens on the back wall of his basement and I liked it so much that I often would drive downtown to buy three or four loaves, even though it meant an extra half hour getting home. I didn't know whether anyone else liked Joe Parisi's bread, but I found out in a most interesting way.

Twenty-five years ago, I flew to Palm Springs with Walter Cronkite and Don Hewitt, the producer, to write an hour special about Frank Sinatra on the occasion of his 50th birthday. I got thinking about the experience on his 75th.

We made a mess of Frank's house by rearranging the furniture and laying wires for lights all over the place, but he opened the house to us and was a gracious host.

The second day we were there, he invited several of us to have lunch with him. The meal was prepared by an employee of Frank's who seemed to do everything for him -- keep the house, take care of his clothes and cook his meals.

We were having a good time talking and Frank passed a basket of crusty bread my way. I took a piece, looked at it suspiciously, took a bite and sat back, astounded.

"You OK?" he said.

"Where did you get this?" I asked. "I know this. This is Joe Parisi's bread. He makes it in his basement on Mott Street 2,000 miles from here."

"We have it flown in every week," Frank said. "Great bread."

I've been soft on Frank ever since that day I discovered he had such good taste in bread. Now, there's no one I like to hear sing a song as much as I like to hear Sinatra.

When I was young, I was cool toward him and his music and much put off by the crowds of young girls who made fools of themselves in his audience. To me, Sinatra was an awkward, gawky-looking jerk without much of a voice and no charm. Those fans my age were indistinguishable from the young people who, generations later, fawned over Elvis Presley.

Sinatra has made about 35 movies and even won an Oscar for his performance in "From Here to Eternity," but everything he does, besides singing, is a sideline. He's great to see in person, but it isn't necessary, and that accounts for the phenomenal success of his records.

We went to a recording session of Sinatra's while we were doing that show and I was surprised at how serious a musician he was. During the session, Sinatra got dickering with the orchestra leader about whether the note should be an F-sharp or an F-natural. I had always assumed the words just fell from his mouth in a random assortment of notes.

It's not just his voice or his knowledge of music that makes Sinatra sound so good, either. People who understand music hear sounds from Sinatra that no one else makes.

And it all happened to him, you know it did, as he sings.

It's apparent to anyone listening to Sinatra that he enjoys his work. A performer's pleasure in his own performance is communicated to his audience, and no one enjoys himself when he's singing more than Frank Sinatra.

The rap on Sinatra has always been his personal life. You can complain about the life he has lived, but he has an appealing enthusiasm for it that's part of his charm.

There are strange things going on in our brains that cannot be measured by numbers or described in words. It's impossible to say why a poem is good, or why a piece of music, a novel, or a movie is great. You can't apply reason in judging a picture painted by Picasso and come up with an answer that explains its greatness.

No amount of thinking about it can produce an answer to why so many people enjoy listening to Frank Sinatra. Genius is unfathomable, but whatever it is, Frank has it.

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