Scholars analyze life, times of Frank Sinatra Long Island conference featured 120 presenters and 80 'discussants'

November 15, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- John Gennari of the University of Virginia argued that the tough Dolly Sinatra, "a political ward heeler, a saloonkeeper," should be seen in the context of "larger discourses of mother-bashing that pervade American culture." That way, people may gain an understanding of her son that "peels back his tough-guy disguise and reveals, ironically, a nurturing maternal figure."

James E. Bruno of the University of California in Los Angeles offered a "Jungian psychological perspective" of the star, exploring his use of "archetypes that tap into the American collective unconscious." Coming from him, popular songs were transformed into "anthems or hymns for the human spirit, i.e., 'My Way,' 'That's Life.' "

Douglas Brinkley came from the University of New Orleans to share his thoughts on the man's "cocktail-culture coolness" and how his life -- even his bullying side -- paralleled the nation's experience: "After all, the entire history of America has been the story of crushing whatever blocked its path, be it mountain ranges, Native Americans or foreign nations. Yet there has always been something haunting and at times even beautiful about America's brutal march to progress."

So it went for three days last week at Hofstra University on Long Island with academics dissecting Frank Sinatra. They analyzed his difficult birth, tore apart the lyrics he sang -- even if he didn't write them -- and tried to figure out what it says about the rest of us that we bought the man's records for half a century.

The conference, "Frank Sinatra: The Man, the Music, the Legend," also had plenty for those not analytically inclined: The boys from Jilly's nightclub were here, too, and old friend Alan King, and Sinatra daughter, Tina, all overflowing with stories. There was a "Sinatra Tour" of Hoboken, N.J., too.

In academic-conference style, the weekend offered 43 panels featuring 120 presenters and 80 "discussants," tackling topics from "Let's Learn From Las Vegas, Doll: Sinatra and the Architecture of the Strip," to "Frank Sinatra and Traumatized Masculinity in 'The Manchurian Candidate.' "

King recalled that Sinatra was flattered when he was told, well before his death in May, what the university wanted to do.

"I think Frank would have gotten a big kick out of it," King said before a brunch at Hofstra Hall.

"He was a secret reader a vacuum cleaner who sucked up knowledge, right or wrong. He loved to be around people of letters, as well as he liked sitting around with Willie the Hook."

Pub Date: 11/15/98

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