WHEN HE WAS 13, it was a very good year for Mickey Light. He discovered "Frankie" Sinatra, the cocky young crooner with girls swooning at his feet and a trip-wire temper. For a poor Baltimore kid like Light, watching Sinatra's meteoric ascent as an American icon in the 1940s made him feel as if guys like him could be somebody.
"When I was a kid, I lived in a poor neighborhood by the Maryland Penitentiary," Light says. "We went to see a movie with Sinatra [it was the "The Kissing Bandit"]. He was a young skinny guy just like we were. A tough guy who fought his way up from the slums.
"He had the hat, the 'broads,' the drinking and having fun. He'd punch a guy out if he got angry. That's how we were . . . He was the guy all guys wanted to be like. A guy I'd like to have met."
In the dark theater, Light's psyche fused with Sinatra's. No singer, no actor, no celebrity has really mattered to Light, except for "the great one."
"I love and adore Frank Sinatra," says Light, 55. "He has always been part of my family . . . He has been with me every day of my life."
Light's infatuation with the 75-year-old Sinatra is paying off in unimagined ways. Until recently, his singing career consisted mostly of street-corner Sinatra jams with buddies, and shower solos. But after an impromptu audition at Giovanni's restaurant in Edgewood 16 months ago, he has been in constant demand as "Baltimore's own ole Blue Eyes."
In fact, Light's eyes, like Sinatra's, are an exceptional deep blue. And when he dons a fedora and a tux, flicks on an orchestration tape, lights a cigarette for effect, swaggers a little and sings "That Old Black Magic," "New York, New York" or "The Lady is a Tramp," Light makes an exceptional pass at the real thing.
Light metamorphoses into a '70s Sinatra, re-creating a mellow, class act in an era of nightclub cool, when pop songs with real melodies could intoxicate an audience like a well-stirred gin and tonic.
But that first audition for his pal, Giovanni's owner Jake Needleman, was rough. "I asked myself, 'Why did you do this? Why did you do this?' I almost threw up," Light says.
"You're my Frankie," Needleman told him when he stepped off the stage.
Since then, Light and his wife, Daintry Leicht, his "roadie and manager," have been taking his Sinatra impersonation on the road: to Scottsdale, Ariz., for an automobile convention, to Bonnie View Country Club, to the Prince George's Bar Association bash at Andrews Air Force Base, to Sparrows Point Country Club, the Beth Tfiloh synagogue, the Italian Festival, Jilly's on Reisterstown Road and to the downtown Hyatt Regency Hotel, where Light once worked full time as a bellman and now sings regularly.
These days, Light only works part time as a bellman. His "Sounds of Sinatra" show demands most of his energies. "It's getting to the point where people want me to go to Florida and work the winter," he says.
It is "the happiest time in my life. It's like a dream come true," Light says. Even his own mother, who recently died, didn't know Light could sing, he says.
Light's performance has fooled more than one listener. One night, a man approached Light and said, "I lost a day's pay because of you. I thought you were lip-syncing. I came over so I could see your Adam's apple moving."
He even has his own groupies. "They bring candy, they take videos of me, they give me ties," Light says.
Light's Middle River row house is a shrine to Sinatra. He has more than 4,000 concerts on tape, every record Sinatra has ever recorded, and even some bootleg tapes. Pages and pages of vintage Sinatra sheet music are preserved in plastic. Light's scrapbooks spill over with candid Sinatra snapshots, photos of his Air Force patch, of Sinatra with his beloved electric trains, his tie in the Smithsonian Institution, of other impersonators including "the black Sinatra."
Posters and photographs chronicling every era of Sinatra's career plaster Light's living room and dining room walls. At least two photographs are inscribed to Light. "He knows me as a collector, he doesn't know I sing," Light says.
A Sinatra Sauce apron from the singer's entrepreneurial days hangs from a shelf. A scrapbook published by a Sinatra Society in Great Britain contains Sinatra's birth photo. Light's car license is ARTANIS, Sinatra spelled backward.
Light has shaken Sinatra's hand. It is a way of checking in with his hero, he says. He has seen Sinatra strolling with his wife Barbara through an Atlantic City casino at 3:30 a.m. He will be at Merriweather Post Pavilion for Sinatra's Monday night concert. It will be about the 60th time Light has seen him perform. Light has not decided whether to wear his tux; it depends on whether he gets lawn seats or pavilion seats.
And maybe, just maybe, Light's biggest wish will be fulfilled: to have his picture taken with Sinatra. "Just to put my arm around Frank and say, 'Hey, baby, take that picture.' Every Sinatra buff wants that."
Meanwhile, Light's new occupation allows him to become the Chairman of the Board several times a week. Mind you, he's no Sinatra, Light says. But "my voice is getting strong, and my phrasing and breath control are better."
Light performs tonight from 8 to 10 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency and tomorrow at Berger's Colonial Inn in Pasadena.