In 1995 the Great Frank Sinatra celebrated his 80th birthday in style, recruiting some of music’s most well-known faces for an evening of musical tributes.
Bob Dylan, a man who has regularly celebrated the music of Sinatra with his consistent cover versions, was invited to perform alongside Bruce Springsteen and plenty others on the bill. In a surprising move, Dylan decided to perform his lesson-known song ‘Restless Farewell’ which was originally released on his third studio album The Times They Are a-Changin’ in 1964.
Dylan, who regularly speaks fondly of Ol’ Blue Eyes, once said of Sinatra: “He was funny, we were standing out on his patio at night and he said to me, ‘You and me, pal, we got blue eyes, we’re from up there’, and he pointed to the stars. ‘These other bums are from down here’. I remember thinking that he might be right.”
All of the discussion around Dylan’s unusual song choice was pinned on speculation that Sinatra himself had requested ‘Restless Farewell’ to be played that evening. At one point during Dylan’s performance, the camera cuts to Sinatra who appears to look a little bewildered—a shot which would later go on to cause rumours that he was unhappy with Dylan’s effort. The truth, however, was that Sinatra simply did not want to be there at all.
Dylan later confirmed: “Frank himself requested that I do it,” in an interview with the Washington Post. “One of the producers had played it for him and showed him the lyrics.”
While many of the performances were held in high regard, it later emerged that the entire evening was against the will of Sinatra himself: “We’d finally gotten Dad out of the public eye,” his daughter, Tina Sinatra, wrote in her book My Father’s Daughter. “The last thing that he needed—especially after the Grammys debacle—was to be pushed out into another network broadcast. I heard from Eliot and Sonny how much Dad was dreading it. When I called Dad myself, he begged me to ‘kill it please’.”
She continued: “The taping that November lasted an uncomfortable two and a half hours. For all the talent on display (from Dylan and Springsteen to Hootie and the Blowfish and Salt-n-Pepa), the show was hung on Dad like a poorly fitted tux. It was all that Barbara and Tony could do to keep him from getting up and leaving. From where I sat, within earshot of his table, I could tell that he hated almost every minute of it.”
Despite his reluctance, Sinatra’s birthday performance was a resounding success that those around had hoped it would be and, on reflection of a show that included a rousing show by Springsteen and more, it is Dylan’s performance that is the headline act.
Enjoy some footage of that moment, below.