Orange is not only the new black, but, more importantly, it was Frank Sinatra’s favorite color. I remember an intense feeling of melancholy overcoming my little five-year-old body when I found out he had died. I spent my youth watching “High Society” (1956) on sick days home from school and had once spent a very long two hours watching a questionable stage production about The Rat Pack on a family trip to London. The fake martinis were flowing that night.
As I grew up I learned what a complex and famously seedy character Sinatra was — something I’m especially reminded of every time I watch “Ronan Farrow Daily” (2014-present). Sinatra was the bad boy of the swing era (as if there was only one … who are we kidding). Think Pitbull in saddle shoes and very high-waisted pants.
There are certain figures that endure throughout all musical eras. The bad boy (or girl) image will keep rearing its head in the music world, attracting gawkers and those people who think that in its heyday, the Chelsea Hotel would have “just been so real.”
Among the various players, there is a rare breed of working musicians, a group to which my mother belongs. Of course, to most people, it’s not as romantic to hear about well-adjusted musicians touring with their families, making sure to allot ample time for stops at Garlic World and Graceland — two of my fondest touring memories. Instead of all night booze and drug-fueled recording sessions, I headed to the studio after school, writing school reports on endangered species and watching Mary-Kate and Ashley movies in between takes. Occasionally I’d take a study break for a drum solo on the studio’s electronic drum kit.
When granted the opportunity to look behind the smoke and mirrors, you can occasionally catch a glimpse of the simplicity of what inspires so many to pursue music, free from mystique and glorified calamity. You can start to see the disparity between the person and the persona. Even at an early age, sitting on Leonard Cohen’s couch, I understood this dichotomy as I was poured a generous glass of sherry and then offered a grape popsicle (in order to make it age appropriate).
One summer I joined my mom on a tour through Spain with an extremely talented ensemble of musicians, some of which had reputations that preceded them. As pink-haired John Cale enthusiastically ate paella with the band and Jackson Browne burst out singing “Happy Birthday” at the dinner table at midnight on the eve before I turned 14, I got the overwhelming sensation that what really mattered, in the face of prestige and social stature, was the human condition.
Oftentimes there is a postulation that in order to create profound work, there has to be pain or hardship behind it, contributing to an identity as an artist. While it is true that some of the most brilliant minds have endured torment in some capacity or another, it is not the basis on which art is created and it is definitely not a necessary ingredient. At a recent book reading author B.J. Novak stated that he never believed pain was necessary in order to create art. However, as he inevitably experienced pain, he found that he was able to use it in order to create different “colors” in his writing.
Even though many people have personas that polarize them in the eyes of the public at large, we all have palettes of the different colors that we have procured through our experiences both good and bad. It’s an important opportunity when we get to share those with the people who surround us, either through music, art or good conversation. It will no doubt leave a mark.