Swoon Song

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On December 30, 1942, New York’s Paramount Theater was packed for Frank Sinatra—the young balladeer from across the river in Hoboken, home from tours with Tommy Dorsey—when a young admirer in the twelfth row did something provocative: She passed out from a combination of hunger and excitement. This shocked a second girl, who screamed, and so they began, standing and screaming one after another as teen-age hysteria surged through the house. While no doubt aware of the rising noise from his listeners, Sinatra kept on singing until most of the audience was on its feet in wailing tribute.

The public had adored Bing Crosby before him, but never as loudly as this. Although it might be true, as Sinatra said himself, that he could sing any “son of a bitch off the stage,” tonight it suddenly didn’t matter what he sounded like. He had become a teen-age idol, whatever that was. He played the Paramount eight more weeks while the audience stood and squealed to the rafters all around him.

Sinatra’s army of bobby-soxers would hound him for the next several years, ripping at his trademark floppy clothes, spying on him, one or two even offering their brassieres for his autograph. When he played the Paramount in 1944, some thirty thousand of them rioted outside. Nearly five hundred police were brought in to restrain the frenzied waves of girls.

“Most kids feel I’m one of them,” the skinny twenty-five-year-old crooner explained, “the pal next door, say. So maybe they feel they know me. And that’s the way I want it to be. What the hell, they’re nice kids.”