Happy Birthday to Mr. Sinatra

When I was a kid growing up in Wisconsin, my Dad and his friend started a small-town radio station called WVLR. That stood for Wisconsin’s Very Live Radio, as opposed to WVDR, Wisconsin’s Very Dead Radio. So far as I know, there was no WVDR but, if there was, I apologize to any cheese-headed zombies who may take offense.

This was back in the days when a radio station played all kinds of music. It was that spot on the FM dial, which my Mom always had on in the kitchen, that I first heard Frank Sinatra. The song was “That’s Life.”

Pretty soon, I was on my bike riding to the Ace Hardware store to look through their record albums. (Yes, that was the only place in town that had records for sale.) I found a double album of Sinatra songs from his Capitol years. I played it over and over and over.

Through the years, I was lucky enough to see Sinatra in person a few times. The first was a concert in East Troy, Wisconsin at the Alpine Valley Music Theatre. It was the same day Elvis died. Sinatra sang a Barry Manilow song called “See the Show Again,” dedicating it to the King of Rock and Roll.

A few years later, when I was 19 and living in Las Vegas, a friend and I decided to try and meet Mr. Sinatra. We each put on a suit and tie. Trying to look older, we strolled through the kitchen at Caesars Palace, making it seem like we belonged there. Surprisingly, we made it all the way backstage. We couldn’t believe we’d gotten that far. A security guard glanced our way but said nothing. Soon, we heard a door swing open on the other side of the stage and a bunch of voices chattering. At that point, the security guard came over and said, “Okay, boys, time to go. I’ll tell Mr. Sinatra you said hello.”

My wife and I were lucky enough to see him the last time he sold out Kemper Arena, here in Kansas City. He was still amazing.

As a high school assignment, with enormous help from our Audio-Visual Expert, Mrs. Bierman, I did a documentary about Frank Sinatra. This was back before computers for editing or YouTube for finding clips. It was a long process of recording things that happened to be on TV using the big, clunky VCR’s at school. We also took a pile of still photographs of images and pictures. I recorded my script on a cassette recorder and, then, Mrs. Bierman and I put it all together. It was about an hour long when we were done.

On a lark, we sent it to Mr. Sinatra. (It may have gotten there faster if we’d used the US Mail but we sent it on a lark, anyway.)

Weeks later, this note came in the mail.

It was better than any Emmy or Oscar.

I am writing this on December 12, 2018. Frank Sinatra’s birthday. It’s been 20 years since he died. That little note, 40 years old now, still means a lot to an old guy who was once a little kid in Wisconsin hearing “That’s Life” for the very first time.

Thanks, Mr. Sinatra.