I’m a Barry Manilow fan. There, I’ve said it. Do you want to make something of it? Would you like to take it outside?
I’m defensive, it’s true but ONLY Barry Manilow fans know what it’s like to be a Barry Manilow fan. For instance, if you were really into him in the eighties, you may as well have put a target on your front and back and said ‘I like Barry Manilow’ and you’d have been like a porcupine within seconds and no mistake. I was nearly beaten up for liking him at school and was sometimes actually physically attacked at his concerts at age 13 and 14 by other fans for accidentally getting in the way of their view of Barry. ‘Move bitch!’ Whack. So, physical violence was being offered whichever way I turned. Ah, those were the days.
It’s fine and dandy to be a Manilow fan these days, for the most part. Where I came from and the time I came from, it never was. We all know what it’s like to be hated, bullied and ridiculed because of the music/bands/singers we’re into but it really was a different ball game when it came to Barry. It was seriously UNCOOL to be into him or his music in the British northern town I came from. So uncool as to be offensive. So uncool as to evoke physical violence. Now, if Barry can evoke such polarization, he must be seriously cool. Who wants to be lukewarm?
In the ‘backlash-seventies’ eighties, it was hell to be into Barry Manilow. At a time when drainpipe trousers were in, it seemed as if Barry was still wearing flares, but people were still wearing flares in 82. I think I may have been, but it wasn’t a choice, it wasn’t voluntary flare wearing by any stretch. To my shame, I do have my shallow moments, and I do remember wincing at his pink flares back then, but by about 1984, no more flares. He was flare free.
Being into him now, is no big deal, because he’s seventy something and people have gotten tired of criticizing him, or perhaps gotten too old to care. He should have been accepted decades ago when he was a relatively young man. When I say young, I mean forty, when he’d been in the music business for twenty years already. and famous for about ten. He came to fame and fortune late, at around thirty. He remembers the moment when he got famous. It was when Mandy went to No. 1 in the charts, which would have been around 1974. He’d already paid his dues by then. He wasn’t an overnight success. He was seasoned even then. The Americans accepted him a bit more, not just because he was home grown but because they appreciated him! He also did well in Japan (but who doesn’t) and other European countries. In Britain, he was something of a cult. He was loved, or loathed and there was no in between. The loathers were obsessed, they protested far too much. It’s like that whole thing going on with online trolls. If you don’t like it then don’t watch the video etc. but people still watch and comment. The critics were usually white, middle class males. The hatred and jealousy back then was palpable and distressing for people who really liked his music.
When I was fifteen, I discovered punk music and Bowie, but it didn’t lessen my liking for Barry’s music. I went to one of his concerts with a blue, green and pink buzz cut, eyes like a raccoon on speed and a P.V.C mini with chains and studs. I swear he stared at me for the longest time when the lights went up. He was trying to work out what I was. Then, he smiled at me. My finest moment.
I was so fed up of people telling me that I couldn’t be into Barry, Bowie and The Sex Pistols at the same time. I didn’t know what to say or how to explain it but I felt lonely and isolated because no-one else felt it was possible to be into two different genres at the same time. It’s almost like we’re not multi dimensional, or we haven’t got an imagination, or we’re just one trick ponies. ‘I’m a metal head and I will always be a metal head’ scenario. Actually, I do know people like that (metal heads who are only ever going to be metal heads) and good luck to them but where did this thing come from where people have to be one dimensional, either just into this, or just into that? It’s not good to mix the labels up. It confuses people. It was nice when John Lydon said he liked Barry. Well, not liked him exactly but respected him for being authentic. He never tries to be anything he’s not, said John. It could be seen as a back handed compliment to some, but Lydon’s like that. That seems to be a quality that is being more valued in in this current climate. It’s become so refreshing to see authenticity, that sometimes it’s become a quality that is valued before others, despite the nature of the beast. How many fascist dictators have been ‘authentic’, probably all of them. They don’t beat about the bush about what they want or what they are, yet, that doesn’t lessen their evil much.
Back to the point, I never needed or wanted John’s respect or admiration or even acceptance and visa versa. I didn’t like the prejudice on either side, as Barry demonstrated by once making a joke about punks. He said, ‘I can’t imagine running my fingers through some girls green hair.’ Well, that hurt me a little because I had green hair at the time, but it all worked out well in the end because Barry didn’t like girls that much. I liked Rotten and his music, yet I liked Barry. However it was nice that the Prince Of Punk finally acknowledged one of the best songwriters of our time.
Now, I have the perfect come back, for the ‘you can’t be into this music and that music at the same time, it’s just not possible!’ I say, ‘I recognise and appreciate a good songwriter/musician when I see one and that pans across genres.’ But as luck would have it, I’ve never been asked that age old question since I’ve had a good answer to it. Or maybe it’s because people aren’t as antagonistic in middle age. When you’re a teenager, people are always trying to rub you up the wrong way. Or maybe it just feels like that, or maybe it’s because youngsters are overly sensitive, or because they’re young.
I’m not going to make this post a springboard for all of Barry’s singles, albums, records, music awards, specials, concerts and life time achievements. That would be boring. I mean if you’re not a fan, it wouldn’t mean anything. Even though I’ve just spent ten minutes uselessly fawning about him. And that’s ten minutes you will never get back.
And you don’t want to turn it into twenty minutes more because he has so many singles, albums, recordings to get through…and you would think I’m being sycophantic, but I will say this, unless you’ve investigated an artist fully, listened to at least two of their albums, and not their ‘Greatest Hits’, you’re not really in a position to have an full bodied and unbiased opinion regarding them. And who in their right mind is going to listen to two albums of every singer/band they come across? I mean there really isn’t the time. When people are asked to name Barry’s records, they can only mention five or so, the usual suspects, they usually can’t get it up to ten, yet Barry has recorded/written/and composed hundreds of songs.
Barry got me through so much early teenage angst, probably stopped me from committing suicide and The Sex Pistols definitely stopped me from going bat crazy and committing suicide. I love all these things out there that stop people from committing suicide. What does that mean, when a person’s creative works stops another person from committing suicide? That must mean there is something beautiful, hopeful and miraculous in their works?
Well, for me, punk music AND Barry Manilow were incredibly instrumental in my life and inspired me in my creative life beyond anything I thought was possible. Music has its uses and it doesn’t have to be uniform. We don’t know the value of our creative input. We think it blows away in the wind, but it really doesn’t, can’t. Music, words, painting, dancing, performing…we don’t know the effect it has. It has a domino effect that is far reaching. And before we start judging others on their musical preferences, perhaps we should take a look at how peoples music choices make them feel and how it helps their life, gives them joy, happiness, inspiration, makes them want to live, gives them hope. I’m not going to list Barry’s musical accomplishments or give endless links, because if you want him, you will find him. Maybe you’ll check him out with a fresh eye, or say, it’s not for me. Don’t curb your enthusiasm, just curb your prejudices.
Sometimes we believe our own creative works means nothing to other people. How dare we? How presumptuous. Our ego tell us, in a weird ‘about turn’ that we are worthless, that no-one will want to read, or be interested in what we write, or make, paint, or create. We apply that UNCOOLNESS in our lives every day. So when you wake up and write things that you think are uncool and no-one else will want to read, or dress in a certain way, or you feel like a freak, or a misfit and nothing you say seems to come out right. Don’t apologise any more, for anything you write, paint, create, for the way you dress or the awkward way you interact with people… no more sorry, okay?
And what’s this got to do with Barry Manilow?
He made me feel I belonged. It’s the Ugly Duckling Scenario and he’s been there, and it’s in so many of the songs he wrote/writes. Like Bowie, Barry was writing songs about alienation, as well as the love songs he is well known for. He has recorded songs about estranged father and son relationships, suicidal housewives, prostitution, pimps, showgirls, murder, infidelity, celebrity meltdown, and just general meltdown. He even wrote a song about a conspiracy theory. Bermuda Triangle. Not many musicians can say they’ve done that, not even Weird Al Yankovic.
Even when Barry does write love songs, he usually likes to have a fly in the ointment, something to shake it up. One of his anthems to Geekdom and Alienation is All The Time, an ode to the underdog, to ‘losers’ the world over. We listened, we empathised, we gained comfort.
All The Time
So, I haven’t actually answered the question. Whatever Happened To Barry Manilow?
Barry was earning a living writing music well before he was famous. He wrote scores for musical plays in the sixties and wrote jingles for commercials in the seventies for acne creams and band aids and home insurance. Instant glamour. He has also written commercials for Japanese companies.
He worked with Bette Midler at the Continental Baths in the early seventies. That’s when he got his big break, when she let him do a solo spot on one of her tours.
Whatever Happened To Barry Manilow? Nothing. He’s still here. He is still going strong. Still talented. Still wowing audiences. Still making music. He has concert dates, in London, booked as far in the future as Sept 2018, so… this is a guy who is not slowing down any time soon. Maybe we should take a leaf from his book. Optimism, enthusiasm and a lack of presumption. This boy’s gonna go far.