Wednesday, April 2, 2014

I Changed My Mind About: It Was A Very Good Year

I was two years old when Frank Sinatra's comeback album September of My Years was released. I was not old enough to watch the Grammys in 1966 when Sinatra won Best Song by a Male Artist for It Was a Very Good Year.

It Was a Very Good Year made a frequent appearance on the radio throughout my childhood. For me, it was an easy listening tune by an old guy. Whenever it came on, my friends and I made fun of it. We didn't know the lyrics so we just kept repeating, "it was a very good year" to the rhythm of the song. Even my parents were too young to listen to it.

I continued to feel the same way about the song through my adulthood. Then one day, Jeremy put on the album September of My Years. We were eating dinner.

Jeremy never liked the song either. You may then wonder why he decided to play this particular album. In a nutshell, Jeremy is a musical scholar. He doesn't just listen to music. He thinks about it, reads about it, and writes about it all the time. My guess is that Jeremy read something about this album and wanted to give it a listen for historical purposes.

I knew what song was on there. I prepared to dislike it.

Except I didn't. It literally stopped me in my tracks. I put my fork down and stopped eating. It was no longer possible to eat while listening to It Was a Very Good Year.

I was 45 years old.

Oh my God. I said to Jeremy. I love this song. It's beautiful. It's poignant.  I was almost crying.

Jeremy nodded. Not bad. He said. Not bad at all. I could see Jeremy listening closely. I could see the wheels turning there with Jeremy changing his mind.

Jeremy was 44 years old.

We listened to the album straight through. Then I asked Jeremy to play that one song again. I recall him playing it several times.

After spending approximately 40 years disliking this song, I was now in love with it. At moments like these, it is especially serendipitous to be married to Jeremy. If you are going to become obsessed with a song, then want to discuss it for the rest of the evening, listening again and again, Jeremy is your man.

We talked about the innocence of the first two stanzas of the song. At 35, it's still a very good year, but perhaps the bloom is off the rose a bit. During the "autumn of my years" as Frank sings, the song goes in for the emotional kill.

We talk about the over the top orchestration and production, being so baroque and romantic, yet Sinatra's performance being understated and sophisticated. He makes it sound effortless.

It seems so authentic I said. It feels like he's talking right to me.

I did some math. I wanted to see how seasons aligned with a human lifespan. I decided to pick an 80-year survival and divide that into four seasons. Using this paradigm, ages birth to 20 represented spring, 21 - 40 summer, 41-60 autumn, and 61 and above winter.

You could question this way of organizing it. What if someone lived to be 100? Then would spring be birth to 25 and so on? The math gets tricky when a person lives to be an age not divisible by four. For instance if you were to live to be 75, then your spring would have only lasted until you were 18 years and 9 months.

In the end I decided that if a person lived to be older than 80, then they were just having an extra long winter. I'm satisfied with that explanation.

I pointed out to Jeremy that we were firmly in the autumn of our years. Jeremy did not agree. He felt we were still in the summer period. The numbers don't lie, I said. There's no use pretending. This is autumn.

I was being realistic, but certainly not all doom and gloom. Just because we're in the autumn of our years, does not mean that we have to look, act or feel like vintage wine from fine old kegs.  We could still have our soft summer nights, even as the days grow short.

I did a little bit of reading about this song before writing about it. It was written in 1961 by somebody else. As Frank Sinatra was nearing his 50th birthday, it had a deep resonance with him. It makes sense that I changed my mind when I did. I was too young to understand it before.

I threw myself a 50th birthday party. Jeremy made a beautiful musical playlist to put on at the party. I gave him a lot of artistic freedom in setting the atmosphere.  I did request that he put the song in the mix. Thinking back on it, I imagine he would have done it even if I didn't ask.

Most people couldn't really hear the song very well at the party. There was so much conversation that the music took a back seat. But when the song came on I could hear it, soft, yet persistent like a transistor radio in the distance. The perfect song to herald in my half-century mark. You'll be happy to know it's been a very good year.


  1. (continuing...) I tried to comment earlier.. didn't go through, ok now, ... thanks for writing this rendition, & posting the song. I don't see an "author" of this blog post, though. :( ~ Star

    1. Hi! Thanks for reading and commenting. I suspect you're reading this on your phone - just click on non-fiction living and then scroll down. You'll see the "about me" I'm the author of the blog and post. Thanks again!

  2. This is a beautiful meditation on a beautiful song. I have always loved this song -- I doubt I was aware of it as a young child, but in my twenties, after my mother had died at 44, I was very aware of this song, and it never failed to move me. The strings were always a bit much for me, the over-production part did irk me from time to time, even if this never fails to conjure up the same images in my mind of falling leaves shiny in November rain being whisked about by the wind, but I am a lyric girl before anything else, so the words are what held me and still do. I think each life no matter how short gets each season, some seasons pass before we even know it. Thank you Karen! xo

  3. Thanks for sharing your story about a timeless classic and how it relates to you.
    I stumbled across your blog from another article about the death of Ervin Drake, 'It Was a Very Good Year' songwriter, dead at 95 from cancer.