55 years ago this spring, a bemused wife looked at the effects of her husband and his friends spending a weekend in Las Vegas and said, “You look like a goddamn Rat Pack.” In doing so, she coined a phrase that to this day connotes a loose, fun, politically incorrect part of pop culture.
When you hear the phrase the Rat Pack, you think of cocktails, ball-busting, floozies – basically, a drunken good time. But you also think of musical entertainers at the top of their game, all fitting together but with distinct personalities and talents. But who fits the roles of the Rat Pack today? Let’s assume that it’s still musicians…since it’s most personal popular art form, it seems likely. Well, the coolest music, and the genre with the coolest artists, is undoubtedly rap. It’s also the most fun…most rock today is either terrible or extremely self-conscious…Thom Yorke is no Sinatra, and I hope to god Scott Stapp isn’t.
Here’s the crew that you’d want to spend a weekend in Vegas with:
Humphrey Bogart – The Founder
For some reason, Bogie has fallen through the cracks…maybe his hyper-masculine, drinking, smoking, wise-cracking persona doesn’t fit into our pussified times. But for a long time, he was the coolest cat there was. And he founded the Rat Pack out of him Holmby Hills home. He was such a dominant force that even Alpha Dogs like Errol Flynn, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra were happy to follow his lead…in fact, Sinatra’s change from teen star to swinging legend came when he copped Bogart’s swagger. So why is he not associated with the Rat Pack? Because he died of cancer in 1957 at age 57 just as the group was coming together.
So who’s the King today? Do you really need to ask? Who has the effortless confidence, the masculine swagger, the unquestioned rep to call the shots? Although he’s often confused for Frank Sinatra (we’ll get to the reasons he’s definitely not later), the Bogie of the group is Jay-Z.
Lauren Bacall – The Den Mother
Another reason that Jay-Z fits as the Bogie…classy cradle-robbing. The 45-year-old Bogart took up with the 19-year-old Lauren Bacall when they were filming To Have Or Have Not. They got married, and didn’t creep people out despite the 26-year-age difference.
Maybe it was because she had her own swagger, her own talent, a beauty beyond her years. Bacall was the kind of chick who could deal with a group of drunken idiots without becoming subsumed by them. She was separate without being aloof. Well, Jay-Z also has a much younger wife he started dating when she was 19, and who is very much her own woman. Ladies and gentlemen, Beyonce.
Frank Sinatra – The Heir
When I first started thinking about this article, it was built around Jay-Z being Frank Sinatra. It seems so obvious…both from the New York area, both super-smooth MCs, both prone to fake retirements. Jay-Z even raps, “I’m the new Sinatra” in Empire State of Mind, his New York, New York.
But, the more you examine it, the less it makes sense. Especially when it comes to personality. As slick as he was on stage, in life Sinatra was, forgive me Francis, an insecure asshole. He was moody and almost certainly bipolar. He was always on the verge of a punch, and was known to slap around members of the press. On one occasion, he precipitated a strike in Australia by calling their journalists “fags”, “pimps” and “whores”. He caused the Golden Nugget casino to be fined $25,000 because he insisted on the cards being dealt by hand and got his way.
The comparison really fell apart with D.O.A. – Jay-Z called for the end of the Auto-Tune era and nothing happened. Auto-Tune is more prevalent than ever. If Sinatra had called for the end of Auto-Tune and someone had ignored his edict there were two probable outcomes: 1) no one in his circle was allowed to utter the offender’s name ever again or be excommunicated themselves, and 2) they would get the shit kicked out of them then next time they ran into Frank’s posse in a club. But that’s not Jay-Z’s way – he’s not that controlling or angry. Bogie was not only Sinatra’s mentor, but also the only one who could keep his ego in check. Just like Jay-Z is the only one who can keep in check the talented, insecure, bipolar, emotional, pugnacious Kanye West.
Dean Martin – The Sidekick
Dean Martin may have been Sinatra’s sidekick in the Rat Pack, but he had his own identity. He was Jerry Lewis’ partner in a string of movies and nightclub shows that was probably more popular than Sinatra at the time. He had his own style and a bunch of solo hits. So, his sidekickdom really was a choice, not wanting to bother with the lead, happy to be a role player.
And he was well-known for being loaded all the time. It’s said that it was mostly an act, but his schtick was being the drunk. In the Rap Pack, this would be replaced by a pothead…or The Pothead Snoop Dogg.
Sammy Davis, Jr. – The Token
OK, so this designation belittles Sammy’s hard-won accomplishments…he broke open nightclubs for black performers, and had to put up with a ton of shit we can’t even imagine. But for the sake of symmetry in the group photo, this has to be a white guy. No brainer – Eminem.
Peter Lawford – The Empty Suit
A pretty boy British actor, Lawford was in some Rat Pack films, and had a minor role in some of their nightclub acts. So why is this lightweight part of the crew? Connections…he was married to JFK’s sister. Luckily, one of Jay-Z’s boys is a hack who’s biggest talent is making connections, P. Diddy.
Joey Bishop – The Comedian
Every group needs a joker…Joey Bishop was the Rat Pack’s. Even though he was pretty much a hack, he made Frank laugh and could bust his balls with impunity. It didn’t matter that nobody else found him all that funny…he was fun to hang out with. Even though I find him hateful, the rap community has voted. Their designated court jester is Jaime Foxx.
Now all we need is a really bad script…I know Mr. Foxx will sign up.