Thursday, July 7, 2011

This One's For You

It turns out that one of the benefits of age…although there are too few to mention, at least at my point in life, where you realize that youth was wasted on the young but have yet to assume the role of cranky yet beloved Grandpa…is that you become more comfortable not being cool.

This is why I interrupt the usual gravity of this blog to announce that not only has Barry Manilow just released his first album of all-new material in a decade entitled “15 Minutes,” but also to come out of the honeysuckled arbor and admit that I am an unabashed Barry Manilow fan. Close friends have likely suspected for some time, but only now, when I have reached the age of accepting my own inherent dweebity, do I have the strength to admit it to the world.

There. I said it. And they’re right. It does feel better to be out in the open.

I was a bit too young to be part of the first wave of Manilow Mania, being only 12 when “Mandy” hit the charts. My earliest young musical tastes centered around whatever 45’s Mike Mitchell, a grade school friend who is now an actual real live Professor of Music, played on his hi-fi (that’s how I know about The Cranberries, although of course I had no idea what “Go All The Way” was about), and by whatever Saturday morning cartoon shows were running through my head. The latter explains my continued infatuation with The Archies, The Osmonds, and The Jackson Five, as well as the fact that I still know that:

“The Cattanooga Cats don’t ever purr.
They know how, but not what fer.
The Cattanooga Cats won’t go meow, say meow.
Wouldn’t try, but they know how!
Just doin’ their thing (chu-ba-da, chu-ba-da)”

Later, the music that I knew was based on whatever teen idol’s posters my friends David Brown (grade school) and Doug Reynolds (junior high) and I could tear down from the walls of their respective sister’s bedrooms. This is why I am intimately familiar with the musical catalogue of both The Partridge Family and Bobby Sherman. As a personal note to Karen and Crary, I’m deeply sorry for my part in those episodes. Just for the record, it was ALWAYS your brother’s ideas.

(As some of you may know, Bobby Sherman later became an EMT and served as a CPR trainer with the Los Angeles Police Department, which I think redeems this bit of musical nostalgia within the ER doc’s blog.)

I came to know Barry Manilow in high school, where he was a ubiquitous part of the slow dance scene. Understand that at that age, the best thing a nerd’s hormones can hope for is a slow dance with a girl. Not any girl…there are still standards… but an actual real live double X chromosome girl with breasts that might press up against you as you danced. And Barry came with me through college. Children these days will find it hard to believe, but there was a time when if an evening was going well, three Manilow albums and half a box of wine could seal the deal.

In gratitude for his help, I’ve been a loyal follower through the years. I’m not going to say that everything he does is great. He can’t do rock and he can’t do latin. “I Made it Through the Rain” drives me crazy because I keep thinking he should get a damn umbrella. I’m not too fond of “I Write the Songs,” because I have this vision that if the first caveman who created music by banging their clubs on rocks saw Barry, they’d have turned their clubs on another target. But most of his stuff is pretty good and eminently sing-a-long-able, and some of his pieces are pretty close to perfect. “Even Now” is one of the truest ruminations on past relationships that I know. His best song ever…and one I want played at my funeral, if anybody’s taking notes…is “When October Goes,“ with music by Manilow and lyrics by the legendary Johnny Mercer. It is simply the finest musical meditation ever on aging, love, life, and ultimately the futility of it all. Flippin’ brilliant.

I’ve actually seen Barry twice. The first time was in Jacksonville when he was touring with his last album of new material, “Here at the Mayflower.” It was a good show, most notable for the fact that at one point during the song Weekend in New England…and specifically at the line “When can I touch you?”…someone in the balcony screamed out, “RIGHT NOW BARRY!” Blissfully plugged into their headphones, the band played on, but Barry himself stopped playing and started laughing as if he’d never heard that line before. (The concert also stays in my mind because I lost a bet. I figured that Barry Manilow was so popular there would be at least twenty people of color in the audience of several thousand. Turns out there were eight, auditorium staff not counted. It was like counting minority representation within NASCAR fans. But at least Barry has Oprah.)

The second time was in Las Vegas three years ago, when he was playing the MGM Grand. This was your standard Vegas show, somewhat more intimate than a ten thousand seat arena. Put simply, Barry puts on a great show. He sings what you want him to sing, he involves the audience, he screws up from time to time, he laughs and doesn’t take himself too seriously. He seems genuinely baffled that people still come to see him, and genuinely grateful that they actually still do. Most of the audience that particular night was comprised of “Barry’s Angels,” a fan club dressed in white, some with handcrafted cardboard wings duct-taped to their back. The Bride was clearly the youngest person in the audience, and even at my advanced age I wasn’t that far behind. When two of the fan club ladies asked what brought us to the theater, I reminisced about the past utility of Barry and a bottle to ensure a good night, and they nodded their heads, a faraway longing in their eyes.

The great thing about the Vegas show was that you could see Barry up close. That’s how you can tell he’s had botox. From the corner of the mouth up, he looks perfect. From the corner down, where he can’t have botox because unless Senor Wences is involved the last time I checked singing required actually movement of the mouth, he looks like an old jowly Jewish guy. Which, of course, is what he is.

(Speaking of Senor Wences, remember how he used to draw a couple of eyes on his hand, outline his thumb and index finger with lipstick, stick some hair on the whole thing and then talk to his friend Johnny? My brother got off a good line a few years back when our discussion turned to lonely guys indulging in self-pleasure. He immediately whipped out a pen, drew two dots on his hand for eyes, and made the hand say “It’s horrible! He makes me touch him! Arrrrgggghh!” Okay, maybe it was funnier at the time.)

I knew Barry was probably older than I thought, but didn’t realize until I read in the USA Today article about his new album that he was almost 68 years old. That produced a pause. Sixty-eight is only 7 years younger than my Dad, whose musical talents are limited to a few folks songs on the ukulele (none of them Hawaiian) and an enthusiastic but rousing chant of the family anthem, “The Eggplant That Ate Chicago.” And the article also said that Barry is intent on keeping his private life private, as he should. Yes, I’ve heard the rumor that maybe he’s gay, but it really doesn’t matter. Besides, as a nice Jewish boy, he wouldn’t do that to his mother. No matter where she is today, I know she’s still hoping he’ll settle down with a nice girl, have a child or two, and invite her over once a week for a nice Shabbos dinner. Trust me, it’s what they do.

And while we’re making musical confessions, let me also state for the record that I have a man crush on Tom Jones. I’ve always contended that The Lord speaks in several voices. When he’s imparting knowledge, he sounds like Charlton Heston. When he’s pissed off, he sounds like James Earl Jones. When he wants to express love, he sounds like Barry White. And when he wants to propagate the species, he brings on Tom Jones.

(For the record, I am not sexist about the Voice of G-d. When The Lord expresses either compassion or wants you to feel guilty as sin, the voice is exactly that of your mother.)

I’ve seen Tom twice, each time up close at a relatively small venue, and he is simply masterful. It’s true that women still throw their underwear at him, although some of his fans are now old enough that one wonders if girdles and support hose hold quite the same attraction as lacy bras and panties did before. Nonetheless, both his voice and his sex appeal are fully intact. So I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear a conversation at the table next to us when The Bride and I saw him in Vegas. Shortly after the first song, the wife noted that if Sir Tom beckoned to her, she was going back to his dressing room no matter what. And her husband of many years replied that he would be happy to let her, to know that someday he might also have what Sir Tom had once received. That’s not unusual, is it?

1 comment:

  1. have you tried 'planking' yet? It's the latest rage with all the kids. don't know what it is? Look it up online, its a hoot and something you should try :-) LAD