Saturday, February 18, 2006

Off the political path for a moment... observations of The Rat Pack

Last week I performed a St. Valentine's Day show for a North Denver Seniors' Center as Dean Martin, and will be performing Thursday for the Denver Libertarian Party - again as Dino. I started mulling over the whole "Rat Pack" package, and what exactly made it so incredibly unique and appealing. I've been searching for a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator for over 5 years now, and here in Denver.... it's just not an easy spot to fill. (We have a DYNAMITE Frankie -Danny Wein- here in the Mile High City, and I'm no slouch at Dino... so if we could find that third piece of the puzzle, we'd have a definite money-maker!) Anywho...............................
What was it that made the Rat Pack such a must-see show and something that can never TRULY be replicated?
Here is my humble theory. As a performer of 30+ years since I first started in musical comedy, I've met countless singers, dancers, and entertainers. Theatre, bands, movie sets (Die Hard II and Ford Fairlane), television shows (Fr. Dowling and Diagnosis Murder), Vegas Casinos, headliners, overseas and national tours... I've really spent some extensive time in all the various fields of entertainment short of animation.
So I've met a vast range of eclectic entertainers and come to this conclusion:
There are three reasons individuals get into the entertainment business
  • 1) Self Gratification
  • 2) Selfless Gratification
  • 3) Love for the art
You can delve into the individual psychosis and circumstances of each individual, but they will ALL boil down to one of these three roots.

The self gratification class is by far the most common!
"Look at me I'm wonderful! Shoobe doobe wahhh I'm not a bit like you
or you, I'm a super showbiz star. You will buy my records so I can say in
my own humble way...."
-Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

All Divas (Streisand, Placido Dimingo...) - The self-centered egomaniacal "$#&@ don't stink" superstars fit into this group. They are concerned about their appearance, that they are treated according to their lofty position, and are usually TERRIBLE tippers to waitstaff. They live for the applause and adulation - finding ratification for their own existence in the worship of sycophants and groupies. The world owes them something because of their incredible gifts and you should act accordingly in their presence. Personal experience - Leslie Gore, and the current form of The Platters fit into this mold. From my brief meeting with Jerry Lee Lewis, I am compelled to include him as well as MANY members of the "Memphis Mafia."
The selfless gratification group includes those who would stand on their head and burp the national anthem if it would please the audience. Okay, most have too much class for that. But the point is; they are on stage to bring a few moments of joy, laughter, happiness and good feelings to the audience. To them, it's about giving (to the audience) - not getting (applause). Few entertainers fit this mold, but they usually give everything at a show, walk off exhausted physically and emotionally, and are somewhat embarrassed by applause and adulation. Elvis certainly fit this mold, and I would imagine (though I have not met the gentleman) Pavarotti does as well. Personal experience - Chubby Checker, Peter Noone, Freddy Cannon, The Temptation and 4 Tops, and Bruce Willis.

The third is the true "artist." He/she lives, breathes, and works for the art. They want to hit that note PERFECTLY because the song is worthy of their best effort. They want to make the perfect turn or snap because the dance is the communication, and anything less would cheapen the message. They strive for perfection... period. They probably don't hear the applause because they are caught in a trance-like state of trying to become one with the music, the dance, or the art. They would be as intense in their effort with an audience of 10, or 10,000 because it's not about who's watching any more than it's about the artist... it's about the art. They are an instrument... nothing more than a guitar, a cello, or a paintbrush.... it is their duty to be the best tool they can possibly be. I have met only one such individual and that would be Prince.

As far as any other celebrities, you can ponder for yourself and make your own assumptions which category into which they best fit.
Now... how does this deal with the Rat Pack? In the trio of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. you have one from each category.
Frank is the divo - the narcissistic center of attention and the one who demands the respect and position. He is a showoff... a talented, playful, and warm hearted showoff... but undeniably the showoff. When you hear a Sinatra song do you even KNOW what the story is that he's telling? Of course not! You're not listening to the song... you are listening to Sinatra. I would guess that most Britney era pop stars are the same way, for the sole reason that their songs leave me with the same empty feeing (but that's my personal preference showing)
Dean (who never drank alcohol on stage - preferring apple juice) played the boozing drunk - why? - because it made the audience laugh. His singing (like Elvis') goes straight to the heart of the listener. He sang FOR us... not TO us. Every note and every action on stage was made for the listener/viewer NOT to garner applause. When you hear him sing a love song you feel the adoration or the longing in the words. This is his gift to you. Although I don't listen to much rap music, if I did I would probably find this same honesty in most of their presentations as well. I know I hear it in Eminem's "Mockingbird." And lastly....
Sammy... hands down the most talented and able of the three... he could dance like a whirling mix of Gene Kelly and Michael Jackson... he could sing like a bird or a howling coyote (depending on what the song called for), and could play any number of instruments fluently. Watch him when he's conversing with the audience... it's a real task for him. But when he's performing, he's somewhere else completely! He's lost in the rhythm and the composition and the moves... it takes an effort for him to come back to Earth. He is the artist.

So just as some women prefer brute Neandertal men and some prefer geeks... audiences have a preference in these three categories as well. In opera there are those that like the pompous confidence that is exuded by Placido Domingo. Some prefer the honesty in Luciano Pavarotti's voice... to each their own.
In the Rat Pack ... you have one for each, and when they mix it up between songs, not unlike having a "little Jewish black kid" on stage with two terribly white gumbahs in an era of segregation... having one each of the three types of entertainers on stage together shows the ultimate in integration... and that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts!

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