I did it “My Way”
“My Way” the song that is to Sinatra what a dark chocolate digestive is to a cup of steaming hot tea, was in fact written by Paul Anka and based on a French pop song he had heard whilst vacationing in France. In the French version the song is about a man living out the end of a marriage and how love is killed by the boredom of everyday life – how very French. In the American version the man is fondly looking back on his life and rejoicing in the fact that he lived it on his own terms – how very American. Anka claims he wrote his version with Sinatra in mind after they had dined together and Sinatra had said he was retiring , that he was “sick of the business.” Sinatra went on to record it in December of 1968 and it came to be his signature song, and in many ways the song that seemed to best sum up his life, or at least the public’s imaging of it.
Sinatra himself, claimed he “loathed” it, that it was self-serving and self-indulgent, a product of the ‘me’ generation. Others, i.e. everyone else, has adopted it as some sort of anthem for self-empowerment, for bucking trends or the herd mentality, for being an individual. Everyone from the Sex Pistols to Elvis Presley has made a recording of it and reportedly it is the song most frequently played at British funerals. It has even been known to cause a few of its own- in the Philippines where people take their “way” very seriously so less than acceptable versions have resulted in violent outbursts. It’s now a case of ‘No Way’ as its banned in many karaoke bars. It is beloved of most PR and marketing folks even politicians – former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder requested it for his final military send off – and the inauguration of Angela Merkel. In short, despite the title being “My Way” it appears it is ‘Everyone’s Way’ ; that we all feel we faced everything and stood tall and had but a few regrets.
I must admit though discovering just how popular it is, still came as a bit of a shock. That so many others had listened to the song and felt Sinatra was singing to them, specifically, exhorting them, specifically, to stay tall, ‘to say the thing they truly feel’. That just sooo many others saw themselves as the one whose record shows that despite taking the blows,they still did it their way. That my reaction to it was just so darn bloody pedestrian. In fact shock doesn’t even begin to cover it – my ego was so bruised I knew I was going to need not one , but at least two tubes of arnica, and larges one at that. And then I began to wonder – if we are all doing it our own bloody way, who is doing it any other way? Is there any other way? Has “My Way” become the new opium of the masses, where despite all believing we are doing our own thing, we are in fact all doing the same thing. That the common human experience is just that, that we are all seeking the same distinction – to face the final curtain having lived a life that was full, a life that we lived according to our own rules.
In some bizarre and inexplicable way “My Way” always reminds me of one of my favourite poems, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas. Both impart a sense of a life lived fully, a life fought for, of a life not surrendered easily. Of a life highly valued.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.