No one who knew Gary Carlson and knew about Frank Sinatra would readily picture them as pals; their styles and worlds were too far apart. Though given the chance, Gary would’ve given friendship his best shot — I believe he saw just about everyone as a chance to make a new friend, and he usually did.
Sinatra often came across as brash, arrogant, and recklessly impulsive. Carlson was the antithesis of that: humble, patient, and even-keeled; although as his grandchildren attested to Friday, he was always ready for good-natured, spur-of-the-moment fun and pranks.
Carlson and Sinatra shared a gift of charm, expressed in different ways, but equally captivating. For both, it began with eyes that danced with mirth. Sinatra’s gaze was piercing and inviting, sometimes withering, while Carlson’s was softer and always welcoming. Carlson’s charm continued with his seemingly ever-present smile — I don’t recall ever seeing him without it. Even during his illness in his final months, every time I saw him, he was smiling. I always felt good when I was around Gary Carlson, and many, many others shared that experience.
Sinatra made a living creating sound and images, while Carlson made his by shaping and transmitting them. Both were meticulous and expert at what they did. As a high school student, I benefited from Carlson’s attention to detail when running the sound system for school productions. He tweaked everything he could to make sure we sounded the best we could to our audiences. He did so for every event and venue he worked. He may have even made some of us sound better than we were.
No, Sinatra and Carlson weren’t buddies, but Carlson was a big fan. Enough so that when Sinatra’s duet with daughter Nancy, “Something Stupid,” hit store shelves in 1967, his wife, Shirley, remembers they had to make a special trip to Wichita just to get the record. A trip to Wichita was a big deal back then.
We laughed so hard at Carlson’s memorial service Friday, reveling in so many fond family memories. However, as with most such services, a sad, solemn moment awaited us at the end. The stories were over, sermon and solos were through, and it was time to move on, to say good bye.
Leave it to brash, impulsive Ol’ Blue Eyes to shake things up right at that moment. Before anyone had a chance to move, “Something Stupid” started pouring through the sanctuary loudspeakers. It was replaced moments later by a more reflective tune, but not before smiles broke out on the faces of many. “Totally cool,” I thought as I started humming along.
The song played in its entirety in its appointed place at the end of a recessional slideshow, well after family and most everyone else weren’t there to hear it.
I quite prefer to believe that the snippet of the song that played prematurely, with family present, was no accident. Who better to manipulate sound than a sound man? I can’t think of a better way to spoil a perfectly sad moment using a song with the lyric, “And then I go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like ‘I love you.’”
I’ve never believed in guardian angels hovering around us, engineering the circumstances of our lives. But irrational though it may be, I do believe that now and then, if one is attentive, we’ll have rare moments when departed loved ones let us know they’re peeking in. I have no idea why or how or when; I just believe it.
Using a favorite Sinatra song to unexpectedly say “I love you” when family and friends needed it fits so well with Gary’s penchant for clever pranks and the way he felt about those in his life that it just had to be one of those moments. There’s no convincing me otherwise. No accident at all; instead, a perfect ending.
And I have no doubt Ol’ Blue Eyes was in on the deal, both of them together, with laughter and joy in their eyes.
— david colburn