Tag Archives: Frank Sinatra

“To Be Is To Do” “To Do Is To Be” “Do Be Do Be Do”

Kurt Vonnegut? Frank Sinatra? Jean-Paul Sartre? Dale Carnegie? Bud Crew? Socrates? Anonymous?

socrates08Dear Quote Investigator: The 1982 novel “Deadeye Dick” by the popular author Kurt Vonnegut mentioned the following piece of graffiti:

“To be is to do”—Socrates.
“To do is to be”—Jean-Paul Sartre.
“Do be do be do”—Frank Sinatra.

I think this tripartite list first appeared in bathroom stalls in the 1960s or 1970s, but sometimes different authors were specified. Could you explore the history of this humorous scrawled message?

Quote Investigator: The earliest published description located by QI of a graffito that conformed to this template appeared in the “Dallas Morning News” of Dallas, Texas in January 1968. According to the columnist Paul Crume the graffito was created in an incremental process by three different people. The initiator was a local businessman in Richardson, Texas: 1

Bud Crew says that a month ago he wrote this on the warehouse wall at Bud’s Tool Cribs in Richardson: “‘The way to do is to be.’—Leo-tzu, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “‘The way to be is to do.’—Dale Carnegie,”

Recently, says Crew, an anonymous sage has added still another axiom: “‘Do be, do be, do.’ — Frank Sinatra.”

The phrase ascribed to the famous vocalist Sinatra was derived from his version of the song “Strangers in the Night” which was a number-one hit in 1966. Near the end of the track Sinatra sang a sequence of nonsense syllables that could be transcribed as “do de do be do” or “do be do be do”. This distinctive and memorable stylization has sometimes been parodied. 2

In July 1968 this graffito tale was included in a syndicated series called “Weekend Chuckles” from General Features Corporation; hence, it achieved wide dissemination. Some details were omitted, e.g., Bud Crew’s name was not given, but the graffito was nearly identical. The spelling of “Leo-tzu” was changed to “Lao-tse”: 3

One fellow was inspired to write on a warehouse wall: “The way to do is to be.—Lao-tse, Chinese philosopher.”

A few days later, a salesman wrote under that: “The way to be is to do.—Dale Carnegie.”

Recently an anonymous sage has added still another message: “Do be, do be, do.—Frank Sinatra.”

In January 1969 a real-estate agent named Joe Griffith ran an advertisement in a South Carolina newspaper that included the tripartite message. The first two statements in this instance were shortened and simplified. In addition, one of the attributions was switched to Socrates: 4

Joe Griffith Sez:
“TO BE IS TO DO” Dale Carnegie
“TO DO IS TO BE” Socrates
“DO BE DO BE DO” Frank Sinatra

The message continued to evolve over the decades and many philosophers and authors have been substituted into the template including: Dale Carnegie, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, John Stuart Mill, William James, William Shakespeare, and Bertrand Russell. The punchline ascribed to Frank Sinatra, in some form, is usually preserved though a variety of other lines have been added to the joke as shown in the 1990 citation further below.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1968 January 29, Dallas Morning News, Paul Crume’s Big D, Quote Page A1, Column 6, Dallas, Texas. (The spelling “Leo-Tzu” is used in the original text instead of the more common “Lao-Tzu”) (GenealogyBank)
  2. YouTube video, Title: Strangers in The Night – Frank Sinatra, Artist: Frank Sinatra, Uploaded on July 6, 2007, Uploaded by: kumpulanvideo, (Quotation starts at 2 minute 23 seconds of 5 minutes 10 seconds) (Accessed on youtube.com on October 18, 2013) link
  3. 1968 July 28, Times-Picayune, Section 2, Weekend Chuckles, (Syndicated by General Features Corp.), Quote Page 3, Column 1, New Orleans, Louisiana, (GenealogyBank)
  4. 1969 January 31, The News and Courier (Charleston News and Courier), (Advertisement for Joe Griffith Inc., Realtor), Quote Page 15B, Column 2, Charleston, South Carolina. (GenealogyBank)

Rock n Roll: The Most Brutal, Ugly, Degenerate, Vicious Form of Expression

Frank Sinatra? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I greatly enjoy the singing of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, so I was surprised to hear that Sinatra once attacked the type of music that Elvis popularized. Supposedly Sinatra said:

Rock n Roll is the most brutal, ugly, desperate, vicious form of expression it has been my misfortune to hear.

Is this quotation accurate? When was this said?

Quote Investigator: There is strong evidence that Sinatra made a remark very similar to this. The wording of the modern version has been altered somewhat. QI has located an Associated Press article from October 1957 that reprinted an excerpt from a magazine called “Western World” published in Paris. Sinatra denounced rock music and musicians using hyperbolic language [FSWW]:

The famed crooner, writing in the magazine Western World published here, praised the influence of American jazz and popular music as a way of winning friends and influencing people throughout the world.

“My only deep sorrow,” he said, “is the unrelenting insistence of recording and motion picture companies upon purveying the most brutal, ugly, degenerate, vicious form of expression it has been my displeasure to hear—naturally I refer to the bulk of rock ‘n’ roll.

“It fosters almost totally negative and destructive reactions in young people. It smells phony and false. It is sung, played and written for the most part by cretinous goons and by means of its almost imbecilic reiterations and sly, lewd—in plain fact dirty—lyrics, and as I said before, it manages to be the martial music of every sideburned delinquent on the face of the earth.

“This rancid smelling aphrodisiac I deplore. But, in spite of it, the contribution of American music to the world could be said to have one of the healthiest effects of all our contributions.”

Elvis Presley’s debut album was released in 1956, and by 1957 he was a star and a cultural sensation.

This article continues with Elvis Presley’s response to Sinatra.

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You Only Live Once – YOLO

Drake? Schlitz Beer? Fritz Lang? Honoré de Balzac? Joe E. Lewis? Frank Sinatra? Fyodor Dostoevsky? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: In 2011 a song called “The Motto” by Drake was released, and it contained this expression:

You only live once.

The acronym YOLO was popularized by this song, I think. But I have heard the catch phrase for decades. I recall that the famous crooner Frank Sinatra entertained concert goers with the following version:

You only live once, and the way I live, once is enough.

Could you tell me about the history of this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: The actor and hip hop artist Aubrey Drake Graham records music under the name Drake. The song “The Motto” by Drake featuring Lil Wayne was released in November 2011 and was a hit. The lyrics included the phrase “You only live once” and the term YOLO along with the following repeated chorus “We bout it every day, every day, every day.”

The acronym YOLO was popularized by Drake, but it has been circulating for decades. The Associated Press news service in 1968 published an article titled “Fort Lauderdale: The City of Boats” which included a discussion of the creative names assigned to yachts and other watercraft. Emphasis in excerpts added by QI: 1

Naming the vessels, plain or fancy, is a chore that delights some owners. One fad is acronyms, initials of a phrase that spell a word of sorts.

The Pitoa translates “Patience is the Only Answer.” Tica is not named for an Aztec chieftain: It means, “This I Can’t Afford.” Yolo is short for “You Only Live Once.”

The above citation is the earliest evidence known to QI of the acronym together with its modern meaning. Thanks to top researcher Peter Reitan who located it and shared it with QI.

The general expression: “You only live once” (without YOLO) has a very long history. The precise phrasing of the sentiment is variable. For example, sometimes the pronoun “we” is used instead of “you” to yield: “We only live once”. Also, sometimes the word order is altered to produce: “We live only once”.

The earliest exact match for “You only live once” found by QI occurred in an 1896 English translation of the French work “La Comédie Humaine” (“The Human Comedy”) by the famed novelist Honoré de Balzac. The statement appeared in a passage describing a free-spending pair of characters: 2

… the couple made up, counting their New Year’s gratuities an income of sixteen hundred francs, all of which they spent, for they lived better than the majority of the common people. “You only live once,” said Madame Cibot.

Here are additional selected citations and details in chronological order.
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Notes:

  1. 1968 June 30, Florida Today, Fort Lauderdale: The City of Boats (Associated Press), Quote Page 42, Column 3, Cocoa, Florida. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1896, The Edition Definitive of the La Comédie Humaine by Honoré de Balzac, Translated into English, [The Human Comedy], Volume 5, Page 74, Printed for Subscribers only by George Barrie & Son, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Google Books full view) link