Just popped in for a coffee with Barry.
Happy Birthday Barry!
It's better out, than in.
Just popped in for a coffee with Barry.
Happy Birthday Barry!
There once was a man from Brooklyn
Who could really get a tune cookin’
His songs charm my heart
And break it apart
If he’s ever in town – you should book ‘im.
‘Nobody knows what you want except you, and nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it. So don’t give up your dreams.’
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.
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.
Does anyone remember pen pals? If you’re over forty you may. Pen pals (for those of you under the age of 40) are people who would write to each other, with actual pens, biro or fountain. We had to buy proper bonded writng paper from proper shops in those days because there were no pound shops. We would put a stamp on the envelope, in the top right hand corner, and then we would post it, into a red pillar box, and perhaps, wait two, maybe three weeks for an answer. We didn’t have computers then. I know, unthinkable, but we were in the ancient times.
Pen pals saved me from certain destruction. They helped me to deal with teenage angst. There was nothing quite like waiting for that fat juicy envelope to land on the mat on a Saturday morning. It always seemed to be a Saturday morning when it landed. Thank you God. I think my pen pals probably stopped me from committing suicide or from going crazy. Either way, I think psychologists have a lot to learn from them, not from fat envelopes landing on the mat…but from pen pals.
Between the ages of fourteen and eighteen, I had an amazing pen pal, who I will call Alice, because her name begins with the same letter, and sounds very similar. She was nineteen when I was fourteen, and taught me much. We were both heavily into Barry Manilow. I still think he’s the most underrated singer/songwriter of all time. That will never change for me. People can only ever offer up the titles Copacabana, Mandy, Could It Magic and Bermuda Triangle, and if they really think they know it all, they add, I Made It Through The Rain, but Barry has written and recorded hundreds of songs. It’s so surprising to me, when people can only ever think of three or four songs when referring to him.
Alice would write regularly and sometimes the content of the letters would border on the erotic. She was as innocent as I. We fantasized, as frustrated teenagers do. We let off steam in our letters. In the end, it probably had nothing to do with Barry. He was just the conduit. She would cover entire outer envelopes, and leave no white bits, with scribblings, like ‘I Wanna Do It With You Barry.’ and other double entendre which related to his song titles. Interestingly enough, now I think of it, he did have a lot of song titles that could be interpreted as double entrendre. To exacerbate the issue, she would write provocative messages to the postman, on the outside of the envelope, like, ‘Whip It Out Postie!’ and other salubrious invitations, which titillated both my fourteen year old self and particularly my forty year old mother, who was also a Barry fan.
But oh, the joy, the joy of her letters. She kept me going when all else failed. She was the buoy in my turbulent sea. It was all innocent fun, in our time of innocence.
I copied her antics and wrote ‘Whip It Out Postie!’ on my envelopes too. She was a bad influence. Of course, it got out among the postmen. ‘Oh, these sad, sexually frustrated teenagers, in love with Barry Manilow, what are we going to do?’ Well, thankfully, they didn’t do anything, except blush.
But, well, the crux of the matter is…pen pals, a dying art? A died art, a dead art? Are pen pals dead?
I had several pen pals after that, over the years, but what I realised was, male pen pals brought their own troubles. Many of them wanted a relationship, they weren’t writing for writing sake, for pen pal sake. Lines were blurred, communications obscured. It was less complicated writing to female pen pals and more fun. I think modern social media has cleared that up. Things are more cut and dried now. There’s no elusiveness, no ambiguity, no doubt as to people’s motivations and there’s certainly no time. You might be waiting for a letter for weeks back in the day. Nowadays, on social media, if people don’t get back to you in twenty four hours, you write them off. They’re history.
There’s no time to think any more, no time to chew the cud. It’s now or never.
I will say though, I have experienced a different ambience on line. It’s not so much about male and female any more. It’s just about people getting on. I’m probably being naive here, but I’m finding there is less predatory action in some environs, obviously more, in others. It’s all about environment. I have been pleasantly surprised at how males and females can get on in modern social media without gender coming into it. Oh, I think I mean sex.
Still, I think old school Pen pals would make a refreshing change. I might just look up these guys.
‘Give in, give out, but never give up.’