Gay Talese’s outline for “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” 1966, written on a shirt board. Courtesy of Gay Talese, First Blogged at Explore.
Apart from the suit shops on Savile Row, you’d have a hard time finding a ‘shirt board’ folded up in a new button-down anymore. I also don’t know many journalists these days that make proper outline notes on anything other than a laptop or tablet and those beautiful, cinematic longform articles of old are slowly disappearing from our magazines and being replaced by advertisements or short 300-word bits about, probably, celebrities. And so when something like this surfaces, it captures the imaginations of those who love to read and those who love to write.
Frank Sinatra Has a Cold is without a doubt one of the best longform articles ever written. It is epic. It takes you on this incredible journey straight into the life and drama of one of America’s most loved (and feared) musicians and personalities – Mr. Frank Sinatra. It’s this old-school journalism, the kind that takes time, proper research, blood, sweat and tears that I’m so afraid is disappearing from the world.
The article is long, it’s really long. For me, a product of the 80′s and 90′s who has pretty much grown up with the internet and all the information in the world available to me as soon as I want it, it is not second nature to sit down and read an article that takes this much time. My attention span has most definitely been shortened by all of the choices and bite-sized content out there flashing and beeping and vying for my attention. That’s why I try to read this type of journalism on a regular basis – I don’t want my brain to evolve into something that can’t process writing like this. It’s a discipline to keep that part of my brain working when Twitter and bitty blogs and 99% of magazine articles out there could satisfy my hunger for content if I let it. But I don’t want to let it! And I don’t want other people to let it because when it does, and it will, then Gay Talese, Dominick Dunne, Russell Baker and James Baldwin’s work becomes something for the history books in content and form which would be an utter travesty.
I hope the optimists out there are right – that longform journalism isn’t dying, it’s just finding a new home online and on radio. I for one, am obsessed with Longreads and Longform apps and do find the experience of reading articles from them really great. Here’s hoping they’re giving this artform a new lease of life!
With all of the qualities of the scene-setting, the dialogue, the place and time and the time and place in which your characters move. And I want to move with the characters, move with them and describe the world in which they are living.