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the fine print July 2009: Frank Sinatra Has a Cold

July 11, 2009

Words are my thing. When I’m lucky, I can squeeze a few out that don’t get thrown right in the bin. More often, I’m reading. I was in Grade 1 when Gay Talese’s  essay Frank Sinatra Has a Cold was first published in Esquire magazine. When Esquire reprinted it back in 2003, it hit me like

This is the cover of the 1966 Esquire issue that featured Gay Taleses piece, Frank Sinatra Has a  Cold.
This is the cover of the 1966 Esquire issue that featured Gay Talese’s piece, Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.

a hammer. Not only beautiful, lean writing but spectacular approach. At the very least, it was lemonade from lemons: Talese’s 1965 assignment to interview Sinatra met the brick wall of the singer’s unwillingness, so Talese observed from a distance and turned to those around the singer. At the most, it’s an example of excellence undimmed by the four decades since its first publication. The only downside is that next time you read a snarky profile of a celebrity who didn’t play along with the interviewer, you’ll know that it wasn’t the failure of the celebrity, who might in fact be an asshole, but rather an unwitting admission of laziness and lack of imagation on the part of the interviewer and the publication that employed him or her.

Esquire described the essay this way when it republished it and — thank you Esquire — put the piece online:

A pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism — a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction. The piece conjures a deeply rich portrait of one of the era’s most guarded figures and tells a larger story about entertainment, celebrity, and America itself.”

Here’s the essay.

And if that floats yer boat, you might also want to listen to an interview with Talese, conducted by Slate founding editor Michael Kinsley for NPR, on the legacy — good and bad — of this New Journalism thing.

You can find out more about Gay Talese at his page where you can also read a chapter from his memoir, A Writer’s Life (although a note: Flash is required and although the instructions direct readers to “turn” pages by putting their cursors at the top and bottom right of the page, I had to fiddle around and found the sweet spot a little lower than the “top” right of the page).

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