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Matson on Music

Music news, concert reviews, analysis and opinion by music writer Andrew Matson.

September 14, 2010 at 9:32 AM

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Get sad, ineffective: "In the Wee Small Hours" by Frank Sinatra

Posted by Andrew Matson

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"In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning" by Frank Sinatra


Inspired by a recent back page article in an issue of The Wire, and also the early onset of fall in Seattle this crazy year of 2010, I declare it time for Frank Sinatra's "In the Wee Small Hours" (1954).

The album has one mood and one theme: sad, and humiliated by the cosmos. Frank had plans, and the world didn't care. He moves on, but not really. He's hung up. His old girlfriend: he never should've broken up with her. These new ladies: they don't really like him. His life is a sham, full of acting cool but feeling like hell. Pop orchestral music moves slowly around him, with all the sentimentalism of "A Charlie Brown Christmas," and latter-day less-punchy-voiced Frank just floats in it and surrenders, submits, and with no small amount of grace and nobility, admits to a deep, existential impotence.

The most dominant mood/theme in modern American pop right now is motivation to an end. Lady Gaga's "be yourself at all costs" anthems, Southern rap's steely "break eggs, make omelets, grind hard" message, Kanye West's Getting Out Our Dreams (G.O.O.D.) record label: It's like everybody decided the number one best reason to make music is to inspire listeners to go out and change their world.

Perhaps that's because we see ourselves that way more and more, as the center of the universe. Because the Internet allows us to control and customize the information we receive, we think we are powerful. But that's not the universe, just our little insignificant individual universes.

"In the Wee Small Hours" is the opposite, takes the broad view that we are not powerful at all, documents the common tragedy of hopes and dreams dashed before the whims of the larger world. It's profoundly un-second life, anti-Internet life. It's first life to the max. Where we all live. Where bad things happen, and acceptance is the brutal key to "moving on."

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