Interview: Frankie Valli


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I grew in the 1960s on the streets of Washington Heights in Manhattan. In the summer, no one went away to camp. You had your bike, your baseball cards, change for Stein's Candy Store and a bathing suit. That was it, and that was all you needed. Some of my fondest summer memories were spent standing under a park sprinkler on a hot afternoon waiting for the Good Humor truck to show up so I could buy a Popsicle shaped like a rocket. I didn't even know what the country looked like, let alone a country house. The closest we came to getting out of the city was sitting in the back of a parent's car on a Saturday afternoon as it drove across the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey's Palisades Amusement Park.

At home at night, we didn't have air conditioning. You took a shower, left yourself dripping wet and turned on a big square fan. Then you jumped into bed with a damp washcloth in case you got hot and fell asleep to the thump-thump of the fan's big blade. Like many kids, I fell asleep while listening to a transistor radio under my pillow set to WABC. From there, my imagination went wherever DJs named Dan Daniels, Harry Harrison, Dan Ingram and Cousin Brucie took me.

The band that reminds me most of those days is Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, not the Beatles or the Stones. In fact, you heard the Four Seasons so often where I lived they were practically family. In my neighborhood, they were as much a part of the cultural landscape as Nok-Hockey, deli hot dogs with the strings still on them, red Schwinn bikes and the smell of exploded caps.

The Four Seasons were always on the radio back then, and sometimes you could see them perform at Palisades during concerts sponsored by WABC. Frankie's falsetto and odd song themes (Rag Doll, Walk Like a Man, Candy Girl, Marcie, Big Man in Town, etc.) made perfect sense if you were a kid growing up in New York. I saw young guys like him at the pizza shop all the time telling the pizza guy when to take their slices out of the oven and ordering grape drinks that were mixing all day in clear fountain units. In the early '60s, you were a kid until you looked like an adult and then you dressed like an adult. There were no striped short-sleeved shirts like the Beach Boys wore, collarless jacks favored by the Beatles or blue suits with white piping like the Temptations. Just sharkskin grown-up clothes.

Frankie Valli came in and out of my life at critical moments. There was Opus 17 (Don't You Worry 'bout Me) in 1966, Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You in 1967, Who Loves You in 1975, Swearin' to God in 1976 and Grease in 1978. All of the songs stood for the same thing—the familiarity and hipness of New York. Like the sound of squealing sound of subway car brakes, oars in a Central Park row boats and the ding-ding-ding of change being fed into a pay phone, Frankie Valli's high voice and sincerity was another omnipresent sound of my youth.   

So it was a joy when I finally had an opportunity to interview Frankie a couple of weeks ago for today's “House Call" column in the Mansion section of The Wall Street Journal. With Clint Eastwood's Jersey Boys movie opening today, I thought it would be fun to interview Frankie on what life was like for him growing up at the Stephen Crane Village projects in Newark, N.J. You can read my interview with Frankie Valli here.

It's always an honor and privilege to interview stars for The Wall Street Journal and take readers along for the ride. But with Frankie, it was personal. Fortunately I didn't have to take a shower and turn on a fan while writing. Some things have changed. [Above, Frankie Valli by Brad Trent for The Wall Street Journal]

Here's Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons recording Who Loves You in 1975...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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