Angry Robot


The day Frank Sinatra died, I was working as an office P.A. on a Disney film about crime-solving pets. The job involved a lot of driving around picking up packages in a rental car – and so there I was, bombing around town at absurd speeds, listening to Wally D’s Jazz World on CKLN, tearing up. That’s the first time I heard Watertown.

Watertown is Sinatra against the grain – Sinatra with electric guitar, Sinatra doing a rock-pop concept album, Sinatra playing the part of the broken small-town man whose wife has left him for the big city. Written and produced in part by Bob Gaudio, of Four Seasons fame and incidentally the composer of “Short Shorts,” all of the songs excel as songs, but also form like Voltron into a perfect tale of unrequited love – they come to the same plate from different angles, each chewing off a different chunk. (Here’s a few quotes from Gaudio and co-composer Jake Holmes about the album.)

The eponymous first song sets the stage. “Goodbye” deals with the non-drama of the wife’s departure:

There is no great big ending
no sunset in the sky
there is no string ensemle
and she doesn’t even cry

In “For a while” the husband tries to get back to his life:

people say to me, you need company
when you have some time to spend
drop around and meet a friend
they forget that I’m not over you
for a while
they forget that I’m not over you
for a while

There’s something perfect about that song, and if you’ve ever had that almost self-righteous feeling after a breakup – “you peons don’t know what I’ve been through” – you’ll feel it too. Then, possibly the best song on the album, “Michael & Peter,” which is framed as a letter to the wife, ostensibly about their two children:

Michael is you, he has your face
he still has your eyes, remember

It contains lots of casual updating, and works as a letter:

I think the house could use some paint
you know your mother’s such a saint

Yet since Sinatra sings to the subtext and not to the surface meaning, it captures that feeling, so fabulous in life, where the words said have little to no meaning, yet something powerful is being communicated – the sort of feeling that leads someone to break down crying while talking about the score of the baseball game. After that song comes “I would be in love (anyway)”, a song of the no regrets variety, which of course is the only way to go.

if I knew then
what I know now
I don’t believe I’d ever change

And thus ends only the first part of Watertown. I’ve just revisited it, clearly; I understand it a little more now than the last time I heard it. It’s one of those albums. Maybe in 20 years I’ll know it even better.

4 comments on "watertown"

  1. D says:

    Hopefully not.

  2. Ken Rayba says:

    I really enjoyed this album. He wasn’t in the best of voice, but that just adds more to the emotion of the songs. Its above an average guy (average voice) and his story. This is one of my favorites. My wife thinks its one of the saddest albums/Cd she has ever listened to. She is a converted Sinatra Fan. The original album came w/a Poster. I have it. It may be a collectors item some day since the album didn’t sell that well.

  3. D says:

    Great piece on Watertown here. It also contains some links to other Watertown-related pages, this one included.

  4. Jeff Bell says:

    I bought the album in a record store in Prague the other day. Wonderful, taking the bluster out of Sinatra and concentrating on his ability to communicate.

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