Oh, Frank.

What to say? It's not that you're 80 years old this week, which for a guy who's lived hard and run fast is in itself no small feat. It's not even that your mortality threatens to drop the final curtain on a whole era.It's something more personal than that.

Something between you and me.

I know. I know what's between us is nothing special; you've done a similar number on countless women and plenty of tough-guy men. It's what you do. You inhabit hearts, your hits flung like road signs along our sentimental paths; your voice as familiar as an old LP warped by the passage of time.

Musicologists may dissect your oeuvre, analyze your glissando, catalogue the composers you've worked with, probe the arrangements you've sung. Any number of biographers, radio hosts and No. 1 fans - mostly older white males - have made a cottage industry of your discography.

But for most of us, it's this gut-level, unseizable something; this thing that cuts right to the bone, speaks in that most intimate voice. THE Voice. Like America itself, you're made of so many colors:

- Sinatra the Hoboken kid, bobby-soxers swooning at his string-bean frame.

- Sinatra the big-band crooner, the swinger, the guy with all the dolls.

- Sinatra the dissed, the haunted, the one whose heart wore Ava's tracks.

- Sinatra the heartsick, the lonely, the belter belting another one back.

- Sinatra the redeemed, the Oscar-winner, Rat-Packer, Kennedy friend.

- Sinatra the marginalized, dated, the politically incorrect mob crony.

- Sinatra the MTV upstart, swapping verses with Bono. Ol' Blue Eyes is back . . . again.

- Sinatra the mean, the tender, the generous, the playful, the passionate, the triumphant, the coarse.

It doesn't quite matter which. In all of these incarnations, perhaps precisely because of all the marvelous hues, you speak straight to our souls. That is your gift, Francis Albert. That is your art.

Whatever you are, whatever you've done, it's been all the way.

Your way.

Riding the elevator in my Manhattan apartment building the other day, I ran into Miss N., a natty dresser who lives on the seventh floor and was born in the early part of the century. She suspects you've shaved a few years off your age, knowing her age now and how many years have elapsed since she saw you at Webster Hall back when she was 17. "But really, who cares? Frank Sinatra can be whatever age he wants.

"He is," she says, "Frank Sinatra."

As for you and me, here's the funny thing: Our timing has always been off. I mean, the Beatles came to America the year I was born. The first time I heard your voice, that birdlike Dorsey-era tenor, you were already nudging 65. I was barely 16. The record spun on a neon-lit Wurlitzer jukebox in my old hometown. "Time after time," you warbled. So sweet, so smooth, so pure.

Do you ever think of all the moments you've half-shared? How many couples have madelove to your gentle bossa novas? ("This is where I want to be, here with you so close to me, until the final flicker of life's ember . . . .") How many broken hearts have been nursed to your torchy bar songs? ("It's a quarter to three . . . .") How many crushes confessed? ("I never had the least notion, that I could fall with so much emotion . . . .") How many rugs have been rolled up in how many living rooms? ("Dance with me, I want my arms about you . . . .")

The music, the moods, your voice riffing and ranging all over the scale, that unmistakable phrasing, the thumping energy, those incomparable orchestras, that conversational swing. So big, so brassy. America's sound.

The Capitol years alone! Those pulsing ballads, all the exuberance of a man in his prime. "From this moment on, you and I, babe!" And all the pathos, too, of a man exposed. "What is this thing called love?" The hat rakishly cocked to one side, the stub of a cigarette between your fingers, the jacket thrown over one shoulder as you head out the door.

And (a few unfortunate "contemporary rock" recordings not withstanding), the later years are in their own way equally compelling, equally strong. A little bruised, a little defiant.

Late, after a long, rough night, there is consolation in hanging with "a man alone, held by the habit of being on his own." So the world doesn't get it, so tears well too near the surface, Sinatra is waiting at home. Gently, poignantly, voice full of knowing, he'll commiserate, "It's not easy bein' green . . . "

Or blue. Or any color that's bright, bold, deeply felt.

All that lusty appetite. All the greats you've worked with, the loves you've known. You've lived so large, Mr. Sinatra. Big enough to hold all our romantic dreams and rebellion and laughter. The swagger, the done deed, the human folly. Regrets? Only a few.

So what if your voice is craggy now? Who cares if your face is lined? None of it matters. You're still the master of Radio City's art deco stage.

You're still the man, Chairman of the Board, the epitome of cool. I hear through a friend of a friend of a friend that for your birthday you have one simple wish: to get behind the wheel of a car and head out on a rambling drive. No destination.

Just you and the journey.

So perfectly Frank.

Can you hear the drums purr? It's growing late. Make the music easy and sad. Your voice cracks. Don't go, Frank. Let's turn the record over.

Just one more for the road.