Column

In which the scribe huddles on the floor, watches a master and thinks of a mister

Allan Fotheringham October 29 1979
Column

In which the scribe huddles on the floor, watches a master and thinks of a mister

Allan Fotheringham October 29 1979

In which the scribe huddles on the floor, watches a master and thinks of a mister

Column

Allan Fotheringham

The smoke curls down from the lofts of the Player’s cigarette and Beefeater gin ads in the upper regions of Montreal’s storied Forum which has viewed the startling rocket-bursts of Cournoyer, the casual grace of Béliveau and the skittering genius of Lafleur, who moves like a bubble on a stove top, impossible to predict or track. Instead, this night, the warmth washes down on a 61-year-old man who has made a profession out of charm, acclaimed because he flirts between a gentleman and a ruffian.

The scribe, a fulltime people-watcher, had opened the day by watching Pierre Trudeau, the man who never loses, attempt to appear interested as leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons. But Montreal is just two hours down the pike and now , the night before kissing Pierre crosses the magic divide of 60, we have one of the final appearances of Francis Albert Sinatra, the eternal boy.

Watching, the scribe transported between two cultures, two provinces and two personalities cannot help but attach the similarities. There are two separate arenas but, on reflection as the spotlight stabs down, these two men are almost as one. A biographer has written that he “wants avidly to be in the papers but he has consistently fought reporters and photographers who could put him there. He wants to be the last word in charm, but was frequently an explosive porcupine of ill-temper. He prided himself on his exquisite tastes but he couldn’t help using four-letter words in public.” Trudeau? No—narrowly—Sinatra as rendered in 1968 by a writer called Arnold Shaw.

The crooner, who has grown up and up and will fly out on his private jet immediately this concert is over (as he has just flown in), paces the padded ring in the centre of the Forum floor and misses one whole verse of his second song. It is a measure of lack of memory and lack of concentration. The scribe

Allan Fotherinyham is a columnist for the FP News Service.

nods and recalls Trudeau in his first major speech of this new Parliament, stumbling over words in his text, a master of inattention.

It is an evening on the altar of nostalgia. Long back, the thinned-down man with the hairpiece laid low the bobbysoxers and now, with a simple quick nod of his head, mesmerizes otherwise sensible ladies of 50. One remembers the exquisite days of 1968, now light-years away, when the country thought it had made the original discovery that charm was an essential ingredient of politics.

What we have here, in this recycled hockey rink, is a convention of romantics, not-so-distant cousins of those voters of 1968 who believed the man on stage was actually going to reform the Senate and make politics safe for idealists. Way back when, back in Hoboken, New Jersey, a visiting bandleader pinned to the wall the Sinatra talent. “Why that dear little jerk,” he said, listening to a lonesome ballad trail out over a crowd, “he really believes those silly words.” So did we—in the Forum and in 1968.

Sinatra, in black, wears an orange pouf on his left breast, a signature as much as Trudeau’s red rose. There is the respect for language. The francophone Trudeau, in a minor way, like Churchill “mobilized the English language and sent it into battle,” dazzling dull voters who had never seen a politician so adept and so casual with words. Sinatra, for all his thuggish conduct offstage, is the true professional on it. His phrasing, his timing, his joy in wrapping his

tongue around the bite-size chunks of Cole Porter’s words—that, my friend, is what it’s all about and why we huddle here on the Forum floor and watch the master, his voice creaking around the edges, show the kids how it’s done.

The analogies are too apparent. Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, Sinatra sings, no one in the Forum but the scribe thinking of the Liberal party and its presently bemused leader. There is, upon the stage, the swagger of a rich tough guy—the side of Trudeau that at first so appealed and then so appalled—the apparent belief that boy-on-the-street language titillates bored denizens of the middle class. The ladies in silk wiggle their shoulders in rhythm to his beat and wave the ends of their fingers at him each time he turns their way. They can take the street-fighter act for one night, at $12.50 a pop, but they couldn’t for 11 years at a stretch.

There is, in both, the confidence in argot, the knowledge as no other that public figures use slang only at their peril. These two boys who have, fortunately, never grown up, realize the forgotten thrill in adults at hearing street-corner phrases they have long abandoned. Sinatra, the man Marlene Dietrich called the “Mercedes Benz of men,” is the only male extant still allowed to use the lovely term “broad” as applied to a lady. The sad similarities continue as Sinatra, dragging his trademark stool and cigarette to centre stage, does his saloon bit and talks of the dire strait of the gent whose chick has split and eases into A Gal Who Got Away.

By now, he is in the autumn of my years, sleek, tired, still in complete command of his private audience, and the handkerchiefs are out. He cruises down, lapping up the dreams of those who would like to remember past times . . . and now the end is near ... I face the final curtain . . . I’ve travelled each and every highway ... I did it my way...

Funny thing. Sinatra wasn’t sold out either.