Three major American events occurred 20 years ago today. All three were highly anticipated, though in very different ways.
The most welcomed of these three was a fond farewell to the sitcom that dominated television ratings in the ’90s and ushered in a whole new way to write stories for the small screen. The final episode of Seinfeld aired on May 14, 1998. Critics, for the most part, didn’t like it. I thought it was just fine and have said so for two decades. It was a little silly, yes, but amusing enough for longtime fans and fair-weather fans alike. When one considers TV sitcoms, “longtime fan” can happen with about five years of viewing. Seinfeld was my glimpse into adulthood from 1993-1998 (my teenage years). I remember watching it at a friend’s house that evening and thinking, wow, staying out until after 10:00 on a school night. Forget Seinfeld, this is what being an adult is really like.
A much different ceremony occurred in Arlington National Cemetery that day. Night, rather, for disturbing graves always works best under cover of darkness. Lieutenant Michael Joseph Blassie had lain in Arlington for more than a decade, though his grave was not marked by his name. He was the Vietnam solider in the Tomb of the Unknowns. Armies all over the world make such marks to honor fallen soldiers, and in our nation the tomb is cared for with great respect. But on May 14, 1998, a soldier’s remains were disinterred, later confirmed through modern DNA testing to be those of Lt. Blassie. Not an easy decision to make on anyone’s part, Blassie’s remains were returned to his family. He was reinterred at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in St. Louis later that year.
Death came to an American icon May 14, 1998, as well. Frank Sinatra passed away at the age of 82. The final blow was a heart attack, and though he was rushed to the hospital (helped by the zero traffic that evening because everyone was home watching the final episode of Seinfeld) it was not enough to overcome several years of poor health. Sad, yes, but one of those celebrity deaths you knew was coming. He hadn’t been seen in public in over a year, and hadn’t sung in public since 1995. This from the man you thought would never stop.
I’ve expressed my admiration for Frank Sinatra on this site many times before. Most of it started on May 14, 1998. Or I should say May 15. This was the day Frank’s old record companies (there were four) started rereleasing all of his old material: a blatant effort to cash in on his death. This was when I began collecting Frank Sinatra recordings. In time I became what we Sinatraphiles call a “completist.” Need to own every recording. Every movie. Every TV special. Every biography. I have half a dozen posters with his image and an entire shelf of LPs. I never play them. They just sit there like the prized mementos they are.
No complaints about the whole cashing-in-on-his-death thing. It got me into jazz and the Great American Songbook I’ve enjoyed exploring the past 20 years. The recordings don’t go away. New ones, though, do get harder to find.
I’ve been at it for 20 years and it’s still fun.