‘Frank Sinatra Has a Cold’ by Gay Talese
Gay Talese transformed traditional reportage with his vivid scene setting, sharp observation and rich storytelling. This 1966 piece for Esquire describes a morose Frank Sinatra silently nursing a glass of bourbon, struck down with a cold and unable to sing, like ‘Picasso without paint, Ferrari without fuel — only worse’.
Talese’s assignment to interview Sinatra met a brick wall because of the singer’s unwillingness to be interviewed, so Talese observed from a distance and turned to those around the singer. He watched, asked questions, and listened. He then masterfully nailed the sense of time and place of Sinatra’s ‘almost operatic’ life. The piece launched a trend that became known as ‘New Journalism’.
By the time you finish reading it, you can smell the cigarette smoke on Sinatra’s tailored suits, hear the ice tinkling in his glass and feel the remarkable power he wielded over men and women; and through Talese’s nuanced observations, sense a fragility in the man who had it all.
The next time you read a profile of a celebrity who didn’t play along with the interviewer, you’ll know that it wasn’t the failure of the celebrity, but rather an unwitting admission of laziness and lack of imagination on the part of the interviewer.
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