All story is emotion based. Tell us a story, sing us a song, and if we’re not feeling something, we’re history. Without pausing to reflect on which gender is usually called, um, “emotional” – and not in a good way – it’s interesting to note that emotion underscores just about everything. Certainly every decision we make.
Especially when that decision is to read a story, watch a movie, listen to a song.
“I’m not here just to make records and money,” says Keith Richards. “I’m here to say something and to touch other people, sometimes in a cry of desperation: ‘Do you know this feeling?’ ”
Emotion and storytelling, tied together? Frank Sinatra knew it, too. As Michiko Kakutani points out in his New York Times review of James Kaplan’s new Sinatra biography, The Voice: “(Kaplan) shows how diligently Sinatra worked on . . . the storytelling aspects of his singing.
As Sinatra himself once explained, he usually began with a sheet of lyrics without music: “At that point, I’m looking at a poem. I’m trying to understand the point of view of the person behind the words. I want to understand his emotions. Then I start speaking, not singing the words, so I can experiment and get the right inflections. When I get with the orchestra, I sing the words without a microphone first, so I can adjust the way I’ve been practicing to the arrangement. I’m looking to fit the emotion behind the song that I’ve come up with to the music. Then it all comes together. You sing the song.”
That, of course, would remain the most singular aspect of Sinatra’s interpretive art: his ability to make each song his own, to convey its emotional essence by investing it with his own deepest feelings.”
The italics are, of course, mine. Sinatra knew that the meaning in the song wasn’t merely the words themselves. It was what those words meant to the person whose story he was telling. He worked to see the world through that person’s eyes, and thus was able to express the universal in the song – that place where we can all feel what he felt. Which is no doubt what prompted him to add, “Whatever else has been said about me is unimportant. When I sing, I believe I’m honest.”
Whaddaya know. Keith Richards and Frank Sinatra, two of the worlds’ most well known party animals, know that when it comes to grabbing the world’s attention for real, it’s not about who has the most power. It’s who can best wield the power of genuine emotion.