The Way You Wear Your (Creative) Hat

Cock your hat – angles are attitudes. Frank Sinatra

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As anyone who has ever known me will attest, I am a great admirer of much of the music of Frank Sinatra. I’ve listened to the recordings of his early, sweet years with Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, the “swinging” Capitol and “ring-a-ding-ding” Reprise eras, and, finally, the defiant, brash “New York, New York” cry of an elderly “Chairman of the Board.”

I have followed, listened, enjoyed… and learned a lot about the appreciation of stories from his many recordings.

“Stories?” You thought I was going to say “music,” didn’t you? But while the best of Sinatra’s music holds me sway, it was his appreciation for lyrics and his interpretation of the story they conveyed that makes him unique for me. Another performer who was sensitive to the importance of lyric and who had a stunning ability to translate its emotion to the listener was Billie Holiday. Sinatra has credited her musical artistry as being a seminal influence on him.

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Frank Sinatra used to study a song’s lyrics before he’d perform or record it. He would look to place little pauses that would give the lyrics emphasis; he refused to take a breath in the middle of a string of words meant to express a complete thought because he felt it compromised the meaning of the story being told; and he bent musical notes on just the right syllable to express the emotion behind the words so his listeners would feel – as well as understand – the story being sung.

Through his music, he was a teller of tales: happy ones, sad ones, lonely ones. Stories about guys who were on top of the world (“That’s Life”), who were besotted with passion (“You Go to My Head”), who got kicked in the teeth by love (“I’m a Fool to Want You”), and who tried, looking back, to justify their life and the decisions they made (“My Way”).

For Sinatra, the lyric was paramount. Ella Fitzgerald once referred to him as some little guy just singing a story.

I think that’s how he saw himself. He did not “write” the story, but he appreciated it. And he found a way to take it inside himself and then deliver it back to his audience, making them hear and feel it much in the same way he did.

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A lot of people think the most famous of Sinatra’s recordings are autobiographical. That might be true for a few of his songs, but not for the majority of them. But he had the ability to make you think they were. Part of the reason for that was his respect for the lyric; the other part was Sinatra’s attitude. He was never wishy-washy about a song. If he decided to record it, he gave it his best shot. He “cocked” his hat, so to speak. He studied the song, often making little notes next to the lyrics – where to pause, where to bend the note. After all that, though, it was Sinatra’s own angle that gave the song (and the story!) life. Jaunty, sad, hopeful, morose… it was Sinatra’s emotional attitude that sold the song. At least, for me, it did.

Reading Sinatra’s quote, the story teller in me smiles. Can I tip my “creative” hat at just the right angle and achieve in fiction just the right attitude? I rather like the visual of that tipped hat and what it says to me about writing. There’s a certain bravado in putting yourself out there. For Sinatra, it was going out on stage and singing someone else’s story set to music. For a writer, it’s the daring attempt to get the emotions out of your heart and head and onto a page.

The way a hat is perched on a head can say a lot about the wearer’s attitude: tilted just right, it’s rakish and daring; tipped another way, it’s sinister, hiding something; and, when the brim is worn low, protecting the eyes, it speaks of loneliness and, perhaps, vulnerability.

When you sit down in front of your keyboard, how is your creative hat cocked? An angle is a viewpoint. It can be a creative projection. It can be an emotional slant. What’s your angle at any given moment, your attitude? Are you confident or a little frightened? Are you willing to put yourself out there in words, or are you holding back? For me, it varies from day to day.

I think that’s okay, though. It’s about the angle of your hat at any given moment. It’s the way you wear it. As Sinatra said, angles are attitudes – even the creative ones.

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About Kate Loveton

Aspiring novelist. Avid reader of fiction. Reviewer of books. By day, my undercover identity is that of meek, mild-mannered legal assistant, Kate Loveton, working in the confines of a stuffy corporate law office; by night, however, I'm a super hero: Kate Loveton, Aspiring Novelist and Spinner of Tales. My favorite words are 'Once upon a time... ' Won't you join me on my journey as I attempt to turn a hobby into something more?
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13 Responses to The Way You Wear Your (Creative) Hat

  1. alexraphael says:

    Great post. My sis is a big fan.

  2. katanderson19 says:

    Love your blog! I, too, am a huge Sinatra fan and he did know how to deliver a song like he wrote it himself.
    My “hat” is often set at different angles, too. There are times when it’s pulled down over my ears. Those times prove to be non productive. I will think about that hat now when I sit down at my laptop and I will adjust it as needed.

  3. stacilys says:

    Hi Kate. What a great post. I really liked the way you interpreted the angles of the hat. Makes one think.
    “For a writer, it’s the daring attempt to get the emotions out of your heart and head and onto a page.”
    Love this statement here. It really hit home and it’s something that I’m discovering about myself lately. It seems like there’s a creative need to unload what’s inside and make it known on the outside.
    Thanks a ton.
    Blessings =)
    Staci

  4. Kate Loveton says:

    Yes, do go for jaunty! Frank would be proud! (grin)

  5. I like Frank and I like hats. I normally wear mine straight, but I might go jaunty today.

  6. Pingback: The Way You Wear Your Creative Hat - Bath&Beauty.Co

  7. Hatter says:

    Reblogged this on Hats at theShop and commented:
    Very nice read. I am a fan, and a fan of the hat tilt. “The way… says a lot about the wearer’s attitude” Cheers!

  8. Great post, Kate.

    Like you, my creative hat is often cocked at various angles depending on how I feel at any given time when I sit down to write. Sometimes I feel confident in what I’m doing and then at others I feel woefully inadequate and I believe that comes across in what I write. I think it helps keep me ‘honest’ as a writer – I hope it does, anyway!

    Heather xxx

    • Kate Loveton says:

      Hi Heather… funny that you would use the phrase ‘honest as a writer’ – Sinatra always said he was the most honest when he sang. In reading your challenge to write every day without fail, you are probably capturing all of your moods in your writing: good, bad, indifferent. I’d guess that keeps you honest, too. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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