Sinatra: Behind the Legend By J. Randy Taraborrelli, Birch Lane Press, 515 pages, $27.50 hardback Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer's Art By Will Friedwald, Da Capo Press, 51 6 pages, $17.95 paperback All Or Nothing At All: A Life of Frank Sinatra By Donald Clarke, Fromm, 264 pages, $25.95 hardback The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Liwin' By Bill Zehme, HarperCollins, 244 pages, $23 hardback Community Relations Director at üttle Professor Book Co. & Adjunct English Lecturerat EMU Maybe ít's a part of ttiis wtiole nostalgia thing, along with the lounge music, the martinis and the cigars that have reentered public lifeafteryearsof disfavor. Or maybe rt's a result of more and more baby boomers - and their children - discovering their current lives are more accurately reflected in "Wee Small Hou rs of the Moming" than in teen-centeredrock'n'roll.Whatever the reason, there has been a resurgence of interest in the life and work of the 82-year-old saloon singer, Francis Albert Sinatra. For the novice Frankophile, a bewildering variety of Sinatra material abounds on CD, videotape and book shelves, with more being released (or repackaged and rereleased) each year Where to begin? As far as the music goes, I stand by the work with Nelson Riddle on Capital records. This is the work that resuscitated Sinatra's career after years of inept hand I i ng by the legendarity clueless Mrtch Miller at Columbia. The Capital recordings perform afunction similar to whatthose Sun Records singles do for Elvis Presley : as needie hits vinyl, the scandal stories, the inflated egos, the overwrought cominess of later years - all disappear in puffs of steam. Doubters hear it and find themselves saying, "Oh, now I get it." Sinatra in print is a harder cali: choice depends on which facet of the Sinatra phenomenon piques your interest. What f ollows are brief comments on four Sinatra books released during the past year Sinatra: Behind the Legend by J. Randy Taraborrelli got in the news upon rts release a couple months back as a result of rts clai m that Sinatra had a one-nkjht romantic tryst with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis n 1 975. This revelation might lead you to think the book is another mean-spirited tattler n the Kitty Kelly mode, but it really isn't tt's a well-documented biography that, believe it or not, tries to be evenhanded n its treatment of a subject who, no secret, could be quite an ass. We are shown, forexample.first wife Nancy Sinatra's anguish as the whole Ava Gaidner affair develops, but also Frank'sownanguishwhenGardner later dumps him. To Taraborrelli's credit, the reader feels sympathy f or both Sinatras in turn. As a biography of a man with foibles and friends as numerous as his talents, Sinatra: Behind the Legend works. My own interest in Sinatra s less in the man and more in the recording artist, and while Taraborrelli dutifully details Sinatra's march through the various big bands and record labels, his aim is not to explore how these developments affected the music. For a full exploration of the music itself, one must turn to Will Friedwald's Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer's Art (released in hardcover in 1 995 and now in paper). Friedwald, the author of the eariier Jazz Singing, is an unabashed fan who writes with an enthusiasm that lies somewhere between Dave Marsh on Springsteen and St. Paul on Jesus. Unlike Marsh, Friedwald's praise is supported by critically precise anaiyses of Sinatra's evolving technique. Friedwald completely eschews biography except for how it affects the singer in front of the microphone, even putting straightforwardchronologyasideforatime in order to follow Sinatra's work as it grew under separate producers. We go through the '50s to the 70s with Nelson Riddle in one chapter, then through the same decades (but different recordings) in subsequent chapters with Billy May and Gordon Jenkins. Historically it's a bit confusing, but it makes sense. I can'tsayenoughgoodthingsabout this book as an examination of the craft that created the music. One minor annoyance: Friedwald, a member of the Rock generation, has a convert's contempt of the faith of his childhood - he never misses an opportunity to sneer and spit venom at all who workintherockidiom.lnlkjhtofthe fact that Sinatra himself has time for Springsteen, Dylan, George Harrison and Paul Simon (if not most of their peers), and in sterk contrast with the rest of this study, these comments sound childish andpetty. Both of the above-merrtioned trties clock in at over 500 pages: for readers interest ed in a briefer treatment of both Sinatra's life and istry , there is All Or Nothing At All: A Life of Frank Si na tra by Donald Clarke. Clarke's writing is engaging because, like Friedwald, he brings a wealth of knowledge to the discussion of the music. His book, at lessthan half the length of those mentioned above, is by necessity less detailed. But his prose is clear and vigorous. He is particularty good at showing - in few words - the impact of changes in taste and technology on the music and its dissemination. And on the biographical material an endearing tone of disapproval - almost personal disappointment - enters his voice when he describes episodes wherein Sinatracozies upto a gangster ora mistress. The overall effect is of listening, over beers, to an únele as he describes afascinating relative he grew up with but you never met. Clarke will whet your appetjte for more detailed studies. Finally we come to Esquire writer Bill Zehme's The Way You Wear Your Hat: Frank Sinatra and the Lost Art of Livin'. This is the book for those whose attraction to Sinatra is less for the creator of music or headlines and more for the inhabrtor of a persona: the tough-talking, tenderhearted survivor with the trenchcoat over his shoulders and a smoke cupped in his hand. In anecdote-laden chapters arranged thematically around such tities as "Ring a Ding Ding," "Drinking Again" and "Love & Marriage," Zehme presents Sinatra as the last of a breed, a holdover from a purer, less ambiguous era, when Frank and his Rat Pack could cali each other"Pally," cali women "Broads" and drink and smoke and stay up late without apology. A mythology for the fratemity set: Rat Pack as Round Table and Sinatra as their undisputed King. In other words, it's utter hagiography , coupled with escapist nostalgia. Zehme tries to write in the same slangy patois that he attributes to Sinatra, and while the effect is fun for a while, it becomes grating. Example: the term "broad" sounds natural coming from a Sinatra or a contemporary like Jilly Rizzo; Zehme's own repeated use of it is too self-consciously, gleefully, anti-PC. lts use, and the obvio us cale u lation behind it, become an annoying distraction from the narrative. All that being said, the anecdotes themselves - copiously collected from friends, family, employees and professional peers - are utterty irresistible. To read them is indeed to f eel you are in a smoky bar with Frank and one bartender and, as the song goes, it's quarterto-three. The other books are all better studies of the genuine man and artist but this book is about the Sinatra we want to believe in.