A while back, I encountered Frank Sinatra’s song “My Way” two different ways. In one instance, a radio host closed out an eight year run by playing the song and reflecting on the years of conversation. In the second instance, another person thought about their life thus far and used some of the words from the song to wonder what life might hold by the end.
Here is my sociological question: does this song represent American individualism in the twentieth century?
Americans are known for their individualism. For example, the sociological study Habits of the Heart examined how individualism plays out in the realm of religion and spirituality. President Donald Trump played “My Way” for the first dance at the Inauguration Ball and the song played when he left Joint Andrews Base in January 2021.
Take these two paragraphs from the song:
Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course
Each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
This is a man reflecting on a full life. He planned it, he executed it, and did it “my way.” Later in the song:
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill my share of losing
And now, as tears subside
I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say – not in a shy way
Oh no, oh no, not me
I did it my way
Similarly, thinking about the emotional aspects of life, the singer notes that he was not shy and “I did it my way.”
It would be hard for any single cultural work to stand in for an entire people or country. Yet, at the same time, there are certain works that become popular, stand the test of time, and embody particular values and practices. Is “My Way” one of these songs or does it fit a particular subset of Americans better than others?
Update 12/20/22: The song was part of the funeral service for football coach Mike Leach:
As the service was about to begin, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played over the sound system. It was quickly apparent with every speaker who came on stage that Leach, who was born in California and raised in Wyoming, had carved his own path — from college rugby player to Power 5 head coach.
Many in attendance wore cowbell-shaped pins on their suit jackets. Inside the cowbell was a skull and crossbones, a nod to Leach’s nickname, Pirate.