The date was November 19, 1995. The place was the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California. It was there that a two-hour television special was being taped—yes, taped—celebrating the oncoming eightieth birthday, December 15, to be exact, of the preeminent singer of the twentieth century: Francis Albert Sinatra. Broadcast on December 17 by ABC, the program Frank Sinatra: 80 Years My Way featured a hodgepodge of acts from Salt-n-Pepa to Vic Damone to Steve & Eydie to Bruce Springsteen performing songs Ol’ Blue Eyes had made famous. Seated at an elevated table facing stage right, surrounded by family, a tuxedoed Sinatra appeared to take in the parade of performers with a respectful, ruminative restraint. He dutifully applauded each rendition—even joined the star-laden audience in a couple of standing ovations for Patti Labelle and Ray Charles—but maintained a sense of emotional remove. Age and frail health be damned, the Chairman of the Board was holding court in public and he was determined to maintain his legendary cool.
Then Bob Dylan appeared onstage.