A song for recovering creatives:
Julia Cameron nurtures and shoves Recovering Creatives out of the nest in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way. This Frank Sinatra standard celebrates the internal tug-of-war the Creative has with the Muse: pulling between expression and safety. Let’s ride along and see who wins. The whole trip takes about three and a half minutes.
The song’s opening beat is the recovering Creative trudging through life. The Creative sighs:
I’ve got you under my skin
And to whom is she singing? It’s the Muse, reviving artistic desire that the Creative deserted miles ago. Perhaps she has dipped back into the gift: a few words scrawled on the back of a napkin; a doodle in the margin of a legal pad; the music cranked when no one else is home. The Creative walks her familiar path, but is restless now. She’s indulged the Muse enough times to know she’d:
Sacrifice anything come what might for the sake of having you near
But there’s that warning voice, the Inner Critic, the tapes of parents, teachers, and employers and others that play a soundtrack of discouragement. They tell her the dream is not realistic, not worth pursuing, and slap down her fledgling aspirations with one stroke of the pen, or one side-eye glance:
Don’t you know little fool, you never can win – wake up to reality
But the Muse protests:
Each time I do just the thought of you makes me stop before I begin
As the Creative concedes:
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me
I’ve got you under my skin
Flashback to the recording studio, January 1956, and biographer James Kaplan’s Sinatra: The Chairman. The Voice swaggered into this session knowing exactly what he was looking for from the state-of-the-art musicians assembled. He’d presented this song to his arranger, the brilliant Nelson Riddle, just hours before. Sinatra told him: “I want a long crescendo.”
Up all night working on the arrangement, Riddle received a standing ovation from the orchestra after the song’s first run through. Sinatra usually captured the recording he wanted in 5 or so takes, but this night was different. This one went eleven, twelve, thirteen takes—“some of them would have been false starts, only seconds long, but some went on longer until Frank raised a hand, shaking his head, stopping the music, and telling the band and the control booth what had to change,” wrote Kaplan. “Then take twenty-two.”
The first verse, bridge and chorus end, and the harrumphing base rhythm builds. The interlude builds to a show-stopping trombone solo—the voice of the Muse itself, sputtering, shining, stretching into fullness, released from the confines of common sense like a genie from a bottle. Kindred spirits of brass and strings swell in support. The trombone tucks back in as Sinatra vamps for the Creative, dismissing the nay-sayers with a flick of jazzy arrogance. He sings “as easily and bell-clearly as if he had just stepped out of the shower and taken it into his mind to do a little Cole Porter,” wrote Kaplan. Trombone soloist Milt Bernhart later recalled how Sinatra “knew something special was happening” in this session.
The long crescendo complete, the Creative returns to the familiar, syncopated rhythm that started the song. Same notes, made new. Recovery goes on. Under her skin. Over the top.