One of the more memorable musical experiences in my life occurred when I was in group therapy at psychiatric hospital in White Plains, New York.
I was the youngest member of a 15-person group, which ranged from stressed out mothers with three children to a woman in her 60s who enjoyed having a Bloody Mary or two between games of tennis. But the person I remember most vividly was a man in the later years of his life who possessed very few teeth and a sagging posture. He was depressed because his wife had married him not out of love, but because she was, I believe, Brazilian, and needed a green card.
His name was Frank and his idol possessed the same first name: Frank Sinatra. It was rare when I got to talk to Frank because intense socialization wasn’t the reason we were there. But the times that I did, he would tell me about seeing Ol’ Blue Eyes in concert or about how great Duets is.
The therapist leading one of the groups knew about Frank’s liking of Sinatra and one day asked him to sing one of his songs. After a little thought, Frank picked “High Hopes,” a song Sinatra recorded in 1959 and was released two years later.
You probably know the lyrics, but here’s a couple of verses:
“Next time you’re found, with your chin on the ground
There’s a lot to be learned, so look around
Just what makes that little old ant
Think he’ll move that rubber tree plant
Anyone knows an ant, can’t
Move a rubber tree plant
But he’s got high hopes, he’s got high hopes
He’s got high apple pie, in the sky hopes
So any time you’re gettin’ low
Instead of lettin’ go
Just remember that ant
Oops, there goes another rubber tree plant.”
It wasn’t just Frank that the therapist wanted singing, but the whole group. It’s one of those songs that everyone knows without really knowing why (very similar to fairy tales in that regard—I mean, I don’t believe anyone ever read me Hansel and Gretel but I know the story by heart) and by the time the song got to “chin on the ground,” the small room was filled with echoes of optimism—even if it was ant and ram related.
It all seemed a little sappy to me and I refrained from singing. It’s like when Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary came to visit my Dylan class and he made us sing “Blowin’ in the Wind” with him. It’s not that I don’t enjoy group sing-a-long’s (look no further than my having gone to the Buffy Sing-A-Long…twice) but it’s sort of like when you’re feeling depressed, you’d rather have it be rainy outside rather than sunny because that way the weather is matching your emotions and no one else can have fun either. I guess I didn’t feel singing the ultimate song of “Go Get ‘Em, Kid” at that time, and still really don’t but for different reasons. Then, I was depressed and now, it’s just because I don’t really like the song. I’m very happy for the now.
When I listen to Sinatra, I often think about Frank and wonder how he’s doing. At the very least, I hope he has “high hopes.”