The singer became the song Sinatra: The cult figure who spoke to the moment through six contrary decades.

May 16, 1998

HE WAS the Depression-era dropout son of Italian immigrants in crummy Hoboken. The boy crooner for Harry James' band whose hits ended the 1930s on an upbeat. The skinny young man whose punctured eardrum kept him out of the army when millions served, only to have bobby soxers jumping and swooning in the aisles.

He personified the 1940s, the 1950, the 1960s. Long after he should have gone out, "I did it my way," became everyone's anthem. And then he flourished through a quarter century of farewell appearances, each better received than the last.

Francis Albert Sinatra, 1915 to 1998, was many things to many people over many years. His was not a great voice. He did not create a distinguished style. His secret was sincerity. He was the songwriter's singer, who convinced every listener the song spoke just to him or her.

Sinatra was there, singing for John F. Kennedy's inauguration, and for Ronald Reagan's. Who else would do that or could? Many were surprised when he mounted comebacks through straight, Oscar-winning, acting roles. But acting was what he did in his songs. And he had unerringly good taste in arrangers, which didn't hurt.

Tough guy, tender guy, not always nice guy, he had unsavory friends and too many wives. But he always came back, always spoke to the moment.

Sinatra was collected on 78s, 45s, 33s, tapes, CDs and whatever comes next. No pop star endured as he did, always relevant when everyone else went out of style.

As for Hoboken, it's come back, too, as a gentrified, charming, yuppyville a ferry's commute from Wall Street. The Sinatras today could not afford it.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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