Song of the Day #1,161: ‘Michael & Peter’ – Frank Sinatra

‘Michael & Peter’ doesn’t fall at the exact center of Frank Sinatra’s Watertown, but it is nonetheless the emotional centerpiece of the album. So much hope, pride and regret is packed into the song’s five minutes.

It starts off with a slow intro in which the abandoned husband describes his two sons. “If you look at them both for awhile, you can see that are you, they are me,” he says, beautifully summing up the way we see ourselves in our children, not just physically but emotionally.

The song then kicks it up a gear, and we get our first glimpse of the life this man is leading on his own. Unlike in ‘For Awhile,’ it now feels like he really is moving on and making the best of things.

He’s fixing up the house, feeling sorry for the gardener, standing up to his boss (I always heard the lines about him threatening to quit if he didn’t get a raise and thought, ‘Oh God, this guy’s going to lose his wife and his job in the same year!’).

Most intriguing are the lines about his mother-in-law. With grandkids in the equation, he has maintained a relationship with her that sounds as if it’s blossomed into a genuine friendship. “She sure needs a man,” he says, perhaps subconsciously trying to convince himself that the same couldn’t be said about him needing a woman.

The chorus of this letter to the wife is brimming with hope: “The air still has a country smell and everybody’s looking well. As far as anyone can tell, the sun will rise tomorrow.” Life goes on, and it goes on well.

But then comes the kicker… the nod back to the song’s delicate intro (and its title): “You’ll never believe how much they’re growing.”

What sort of woman would miss the childhood of her sons?

Michael is you, he has your face, he still has your eyes
Peter is me, ‘cept when he smiles
And if you look at them both for a while
You can see they are you, they are me

This spring we had some heavy rain
By summer it was dry again
The roses that we planted last fall
Climb the wall

I think the house could use some paint
You know your mother’s such a saint
She takes the boys whenever she can
She sure needs a man

All those years I’ve worked for Santa Fe
Never ever missed a single day
Just one more without a raise in pay
And I’m leavin’

And the air still has a country smell
And everyone is looking well
As far as anyone can tell, the sun will rise tomorrow
You’ll never believe how much they’re growin’

John Henry came to cut the lawn
Again he asked me where you’d gone
Can’t tell you all the times he’s been told
But he’s so old

Guess that’s all the news I’ve got today
Least that’s all the news that I can say
Maybe soon the words will come my way tomorrow

And the air still has a country smell
And everyone is looking well
As far as anyone can tell, the sun will rise tomorrow
You’ll never believe how much they’re growin’
You’ll never believe how much they’re growin’…

7 thoughts on “Song of the Day #1,161: ‘Michael & Peter’ – Frank Sinatra

  1. Dana says:

    I wonder if they ever considered making a musical out of this collection of songs? Although I’m not sure how many people would run to see it given the somber theme. There are certainly elements of a musical working here though, particularly with the recurring lines and melodies from other songs.

  2. pegclifton says:

    Am I the only one who is crying? What sort of woman indeed! I’m always reminded of the movie Kramer vs Kramer whenever I hear this album; and the wonderful Meryl Streep (not so wonderful in the movie) leaves her family just to “find herself” Hard to imagine.

  3. Clay says:

    Dana, a TV special was planned but never got off the ground.

  4. Amy says:

    Peg, I thought the same thing. Putting Meryl’s “Joanne” as the face to Elizabeth makes her more human. This song is a beauty. I’ve always loved the promise and intrigue of “least that’s all the news I can say.”

  5. James D Edwards says:

    Could this song actually be a man standing at the graveside of his deceased wife?

  6. It’s obvious his wife is no longer alive. He’s simply trying to talk to her as if she’s still there. Why else would the grandmother still be in the picture?

    • Clay says:

      To answer your question, the grandmother would be in the picture because she wants to see her grandkids, regardless of whether her daughter is still alive.

      I think the “wife is dead” theory is interesting, but not totally supported by some of the other songs in the collection.

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