Friday, August 2, 2019

In Defense of Barry Manilow

My mother vividly recalls saving a tiny bit of our modest household income every week so she’d have enough on hand to buy Barry Manilow’s albums every time a new one was released.  Back in the mid 70’s, that was roughly every other Thursday.

I don’t remember those pilgrimages to the record store, but I can still hear his gravelly voice wafting through our little brick cape and mixing with the scent of lemon Pledge and Comet scrub.  Mom never cleaned the house without music.  And Barry Manilow got our toilets clean.

Housecleaning to sappy 70’s music (Seals and Crofts, Neil Diamond, Barry Manilow) is a tradition I’ve carried over into my own marriage. It is NOT Mark’s genre of choice, and he occasionally teases me about it, albeit good-naturedly.  Once on a road trip to upstate New York I asked him if he truly hates Seals and Crofts as much as protests he does.  He replied flatly, “Well, Seals is all right, I guess.  But Crofts…”  And then there was the time we were driving through the hill towns of Tuscany and I chose Neil Diamond’s “America” for the road trip.  He shot me his “Are you kidding me?” look.  

“Hey,” I said, “if you don’t like it maybe you can try going somewhere else in your head?”
“I’m running out of places,” he muttered back.   

But for the most part, Mark is pretty tolerant of my playlist, probably because he’s well aware we’d be living in squalor if I didn’t blast it at least once a week.  So when we were in NYC with Kevin and Brian this past Saturday afternoon and spotted a giant MANILOW marquee on 46th street, it was mostly out of gratitude to the man who’s kept Molway toilets sparkling for five decades that he suggested we check online for tickets.  The boys stumbled over one another to be first to remind us they’re old enough to stay behind in the hotel room and order room service.  

Guess which one of us is pretending to be excited?

Good enough, then, Mark and I would see the show.  And Fanilow or not, here’s why you should, too:

1.  It’s cheap.  We got our tickets just two hours before the show for $59 each.  I mean, that’s dirt cheap for a 2-hour, no-intermission performance on Broadway.

2.  He’s already had major hip surgery.  You’re probably going to want to shimmy in your seat a little, so you should see him before you need your own.  

3.  The free survival kit. (The usher called it a “goodie bag,” but even Manilow-haters have to admit the apocalypse would be fun if it included glow sticks and 3D glasses. You will be supplied with both.)  

4.  The flourishes.  My God, are they ever flourishy.   Mark observed about halfway through the concert that Barry never ends a song without a big finish, and he’s right.  Every single song builds to a crescendo pitch, with Barry’s arms fully outstretched to the audience as if to ask “What do you think about THAT!?!”  You’d expect it would get old after the dozenth time, but honestly, it only gets better.  

SPOILER ALERT:  Barry saves the most flourishy flourish for last.  I don’t care what kind of day you had outside that theater.  I don’t care if you’re anxious or exhausted or your hip hurts or your heart is breaking.  You’re going to feel NOTHING BUT JOY when the streamer cannon goes off and everyone in the Lunt-Fontanne theatre is suddenly and stunningly draped in brightly-colored strips of twirling crepe paper. (Note to my close friends who have vowed to help cheer me up when Kevin leaves for Vermont in three weeks: offers rentals.)  

5.  The costume changes.  I counted five different jackets.  You know I love me some Billy Joel, but he wears the same matte black suit at every concert.  It was fun to see a little sparkle.  Purple-sequined Barry.  Leather jacket Barry.  I won’t spoil the rest of the fashion show, but suffice to say he changed outfits more times in two hours than my youngest has since the start of summer vacation.

Costume change number...three, maybe?

6.  The “actual” home movie clip of 4-year-old Barry and his grandfather exiting the subway in downtown Manhattan.  Ok, Mark called foul on this bit of nostalgia, and he’s probably right.  (Did anyone really shoot 8 mm footage of their child from two different angles in the 1940s?) But the sweet story about Barry’s Russian-Jewish grandfather convincing him to sing “Happy Birthday” in a 25-cent recording booth gave me all the feels.  There was something undeniably authentic underneath all the fabricated schmaltz…not unlike Barry’s music.  Embellished or not, I’m glad I heard the story.  And I won’t listen to “This One’s For You” the same way ever again.

7.  The romance. Admittedly, Barry is not my type.  He’s gay and happily married and besides that, really kind of funny-looking, but his love songs (and that’s all but three of them) are romantic as hell.  So when I turned to serenade my husband in the soft light of those swaying glowsticks, he couldn’t help but give me his “I know…I love you too” smile.  Love is Love is Love is Love.  

8.  The lesson in self-acceptance.  Barry admits he’s a dork.  I, too, am one.  (Select readers know that I sliced my lip open this past week by trying to walk and sip a bottle of Propel at the same time.) But there’s this irrational confidence that comes with finally embracing the fact you’re a gawky person with a big nose and weird hair and owning it. “I’m a sex GOD!” he yelled at one point in the show.  Yes, you are, Barry.  And so am I, dammit.  So am I.    

9.  The after-show sighting. Stick around on the sidewalk outside the Lunt-Fontanne after the performance, if you can, right next to the row of NYPD cruisers.  After about an hour of sweating profusely through your undergarments and meeting some adorable teenagers from New Mexico who have no idea who Barry is but who are willing to pull up “Copacabana” on YouTube and admit he isn’t THAT bad, you’ll be rewarded with a sighting.  And He-Who-Writes-the-Songs might even give you the thumbs up.

10.  The Theory of Relativity. 
At one particularly poignant moment in the show, Barry sits down at the piano and performs a surreal duet with a 20-something-year-old version of himself projected onto a screen behind the stage.  Initially, the difference between “old Barry” and “young Barry” is shocking.  It's that same jarring feeling I get lately when I catch a sudden glimpse of my grey temples in a mirror.  But then gradually, the years in between the young Barry and the old Barry just kind of…evaporate…and all you’re aware of is the sweet, sweet harmony borne of the perfect combination of youth and a little bit of wisdom.   

So go see him.  And if you can’t afford it, go get yourself a good household cleaner and download “Mandy” on iTunes.  Your toilet will thank you for it.      


  1. Now I have to go! I too am a dork and have always been a fanilow. I saw him at Mohegan Sun when I was 20. That was 23 years ago and I still count him as one of my favorite concerts. He falls somewhere behind my no. 1 Prince show. If that doesn’t say dork, I don’t know what does. Love the blog.

    1. You’re the best for reading all those words. #dorksunite ❤️❤️❤️

  2. I love Barry. I saw him at an intimate concert in MN and literally had tears falling down my face through the entire show. I do not clean to his music but I do recharge to his music my meditation music if you will. Stay strong Barry


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