Wednesday, 11 May 2011
You can still be sexy and you can still rock
In Los Angeles, Nancy Sinatra is listening as an extract from her latest concert review is read to her. "She's a fireball of white go-go boots, golden treasures, golden tresses and feisty attitude..."
"Oh my goodness," she exclaims in mock surprise. "I wish I'd kept that article for my resume."
Not that you'd need a CV at 62, when you are about to embark on a pocket-sized European tour, which concludes with Sinatra's date at T on the Fringe. "Nobody who's excited about me coming is half as excited as I am," she breathes, "I can't wait, I'm so thrilled."
Age, plainly, has not wearied her, though ageism does. Few walks of life are harder on older women than the music industry, and Sinatra, whose reputation as a singer was established 40 years ago, has a constant battle to maintain her credentials as a serious performer.
To prove her enduring appeal, her most extraordinary stunt came seven years ago when she posed nude for Playboy magazine, a decision she has never regretted. It was strictly a commercial matter, she reckons, which gave her $250,000 worth of free publicity on the eve of a comeback tour. And anyway, the pictures did nothing to compromise her feminism. "I've always believed in fighting for equal rights for women," she says. "With the Playboy thing I'd say that sexuality and feminism are not mutually exclusive. If all feminists were asexual we'd be in big trouble, the race would die. That's absurd."
She's also quick to point out that the feminist contrarian, Camille Paglia, also had her picture taken for Playboy. She was "a really amazing lady", whom Sinatra met at the launch party for the magazine issue, along with the much younger "Playmate of the Month", another "sweet girl".
The personnel at that gathering rather proves her belief that you can feel comfortable with your body at any age of your life. She thought about a facelift six months ago, she says, but then thought again - "Why should I? Maybe I'll feel differently in six months' time."
She goes on: "I didn't feel particularly beautiful in my twenties anyway. We all have to live through different ages, and people have got to accept themselves for themselves."
Sinatra's reputation was established in the 1960s, with a sweet voice and a tough, sexy look, the record industry's equivalent of Diana Rigg's Emma Peel in The Avengers. As if to confirm the feisty image she even sang the theme for the James Bond film You Only Live Twice. These were great times, and she enjoyed a string of 22 hits in the US, the most famous being These Boots Are Made for Walkin', her duet with Lee Hazlewood, which took her to No1 on both sides of the Atlantic. She has plans to tour with Hazlewood next year.
At the height of her fame there were seven feature films too, including roles opposite Peter Fonda in the biker film The Wild Angels ("Their credo is violence. Their God is hate" reads the movie poster), with her father, Frank, in the spy film Tony Rome, and alongside Elvis Presley in Speedway.
Together, these three were "the greatest men I ever met", and clips featuring each of them are incorporated in footage which will form part of her set at the Liquid Rooms. It is a sequence of images which her American fans adore - and which Sinatra is anxious the Edinburgh crowd should see.
Two of her heroes - Presley and her father - are dead, as is her much-loved second husband Hugh Lambert, who succumbed to cancer in 1985. There is no "significant other" in Sinatra's life now, and her sense of loneliness is almost palpable. On the telephone there's a languorous, almost mournful quality about her voice, not simply explained by the fact that it's early morning in LA.
This is the other, deeply humane side of Sinatra. She pours it out almost every day on her personal and family websites, connecting with her fans all over the world. She has developed a kind of mutual support network sustained over the ether and the messages from these faceless friends are driving her to keep on touring. "The influence comes from the internet," she says unequivocally. "My fans are out there and they are writing to me, saying: 'When are you coming here? Please come sing for us.' That's a big part of it. I play shows to reach people. Perhaps this is my way of giving something back."
Then suddenly she appears to change tack: "I feel so useless. But we do the best we can, do what we can to ease the pain. We started a thing on the family website which is called a circle of prayer."
Her most recent personal contribution to the Sinatra family website is typical of many (she has posted over 1,300 messages in the last year). It is headlined: "The Greenwells need help. Does anyone live near them? Please rally round and pray for these dear people."
But as well as prayer, she uses her internet connection to "Keep the Flame" burning, and answer any perceived smears of the family name, which persist despite the biography of her father which she updated after his death. The attacks on Frank's supposed mafia connections - he was caricatured in the film The Godfather - don't hurt her any more, she says, but the manner of their telling can get under her skin.
"I get irritated with liars, it's hard to laugh it all off. People who don't say 'allegedly' or just report rumours as fact," she says. "It perpetuates all the garbage. But I've cleaned most of that up, in my book. I spoke to Mario Puzo [the author of The Godfather], who gave me the quotes; it's all cleaned up out there. Anyone who's reporting it now is full of baloney."
In other ways her father's legacy lingers, impacting on the way she is perceived. She says without rancour: "I sometimes feel my epitaph will be 'Daughter of Frank Sinatra; she sang These Boots Are Were Made for Walkin". Frank's influence is plainly there in another way. Performing, she reckons, is in her DNA. Her new album California Girl will be out in the UK soon, and in the meantime, she'll be striking another blow for the sisterhood with her live show.
She's back on her main theme now. Women, whatever their age, should not be ignored simply because of their gender. "Look at Mick Jagger," she says. "He's out there kicking ass, and working hard, and enjoying life and bringing his music to his fans. It's important that young women can see that older women can do the same thing, that you don't have to just roll over and die as soon as you become a senior citizen.
"You can still be sexy and you can still rock and it takes people like me to do it."
Nancy Sinatra plays the Liquid Rooms, Edinburgh on 12 August, as part of T on the Fringe.