As thousands of teenage girls queued up in a gargantuan line snaking around the Glendale Galleria mall, many quivered, shed tears, and whooped with joy at the very thought of delving into the intricacies of Social Security, health care policy, and the PATRIOT Act before casting a ballot in a mock presidential election.
Okay, fine. If you prefer to be cynical about this moment of civic transcendence, sure, a goodly portion of this undulating army of mini Susan B. Anthony incarnates likely as not journeyed to this upscale shopping oasis just outside Hollywood, California, to meet UR Votes Count! Spokeswoman Selena Gomez, the 16-year-old star of the Disney Channel’s Wizards of Waverly Place. “She’s also dating a Jonas Brother,” a twenty-something UR Votes Count! female staffer added when I marveled at the massive crowd a petite television wizard could conjure. The Jonas Brothers, I soon learned, are not a hillbilly clan running a dilapidated gas station in West Virginia, but teen pop music sensations.
It always seemed strangely appropriate that Frank Sinatra died on the day of the Seinfeld finale— 10 years ago this past May. On a night when America was set to celebrate a sitcom’s elevation of irony to unforeseen cultural heights, it had lost its mythic pop singer, who knew something about irony, too, but who at his best stirred in his listeners a more earnest acknowledgment of longings, losses, and the good life.
On that night, I was more interested in seeing how Seinfeld would turn out than in remembering Sinatra. Like many of my generation (I was born in 1966), I viewed Sinatra as an icon from a musty and dusty age. His music seemed remote, too—the little of it I’d heard, almost all secondhand, in department stores or diners, or fading in and out of movie scenes.