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Barry Fucking Manilow

Barry Fucking Manilow

I had a myriad of things I thought of writing about this week. But, as is my tendency, I pushed aside an opportunity to write about something important like the fact that every fucking President since Reagan has had to endure impeachment hearings, in favor of a post about Barry Manilow. (I have a framework sketched out for the impeachment post, I’ll get to it, fuck off.)

I know! He is perhaps the most uncool entertainer in the last 30 years. There is a stigma that surrounds him. And, like biblical Saul, I used to lead the charge in shitting on Mr. Manilow. But, I did so without any base of knowledge. I knew that my Grandmother professed on one occasion to like Barry Manilow, and that was enough for me. Anything that old bag loved must suck.

Backstory. I have seen everyone. I used to work in the radio industry. One of the fringe benefits, besides the chicks, was free concert tickets pretty much any time I wanted them. And for a good portion of my radio career I took advantage of the opportunity. If there was a big concert in town, I went. I’ve seen Oasis, Dylan, Petty, Browne, Strait, Seether, Manson, Gwar, Incubus, Foo Fighters, Korn...and the list goes on and on. I have seen literally every show worth seeing, and a lot that weren’t worth my time. But, the best show I have ever seen, hands down (its not close) is Barry Fucking Manilow.

1997, I think. I was working. A friend of mine showed up to the radio station and asked if I would do him a favor. He had been tasked to take his elderly mother to “an event.” All expenses would be paid. The trip would not take more than an evening away from me. I would be doing him a solid by going with him...yadda yadda yadda.

I immediately noticed how careful he was with his words. He was trying to get me to commit to going with him on this trip without disclosing what the actual task was. He was talking up the road trip because he knew how I loved to pile in the car and just set out on some kind of adventure. He was playing the free food angle. Said he would throw in a pack of smokes. All of the benefits were appealing to my money-starved self. But again, very hesitant to give me the real particulars.

Finally, I broke in. “Motherfucker, where are we going!?!”

Him: “OK! Just tell me you’ll go.”

Me: “Fine. I’ll go. How bad can it be?”

Him: “Its bad bro. I, we, have to take my mom to a Barry Manilow concert.”

…..silence….

Me: (chuckling) “Fuck you! No really, what are we doing?”

Him: (silently staring at the floor)

Me: ……

Him: …..

Me: “We are really going to see Barry fucking Manilow?”

Him: “You said ‘we’”.

Me: “I did. I said I would. This is going to be fucked up.

Him: “Yep.”

As it turns out, three tickets were originally purchased. His father and his sister had found a reason not to attend, so he was stuck with the chore.

That Saturday afternoon I showed up at the appointed time. His father was on his hands and knees in the front yard, weeding the flower bed. His sister was nowhere to be seen.

Immediate sense of betrayal. Red veil descends over my vision. Furious.

-Running monologue in my head-

“On his hands and knees weeding the fucking yard. Fuck you, Darin’s dad! Piece of shit whore.”

“Fucking assholes.”

“How the fuck can they commit to taking this old lady to this lame fucking show and then back out?!?”

“Don’t they know I am too cool for this nonsense?”

...Darin and his mom walked out like they had been watching for me to pull up....

Monologue continues.

“And this bitch! Suckering me into going to this bullshit with his foopa having fucking smells-like-sadness mother. I should be drinking and fucking right now. But no! This shitbag is leveraging our friendship for this horsecock!”

“I’m going to kick him in the balls. No!! I am going to hire a ninja to kick his sack clean off of his lanky pasty pussy-ass little body.”

“No! I’m going to write a letter to Chuck Norris asking him to to roundhouse his fucking shrivelled sack into next week!”

“I hope no one sees me walking in there.”

“I hope I die in this car on the way up there.”

“I hope Darin and his mom die in this car and I survive! I’ll pose their bodies in some kind of incestuous embrace before I set the goddamn car on fire!”

“This is going to suck.”

That last one was the prevailing thought the entire way up to the venue.

The venue in question was the Fox Theater in St. Louis, MO. It is a storied place in that town. Open since 1929 or some shit, it was first used as a proper theater. Then over the years it evolved into a place where travelling broadway productions stopped, and as it turns out, aged fucking crooners performed.

We walked in. The place just smelled like what I always imagined a Manilow concert would smell like. Estee Lauder “Red” perfume in waves. Old stale cigarettes. That sickly smell of dry old hair being held in place by a combination of tangy hairspray and spit. The foyer was dingy and dirty. The carpet, you could tell, was at one time beautiful. But has since fallen into disrepair. Crown moulding and plastered walls painted ivory white, but had grown almost beige through the many years.

The concert hall itself was not much better. We walked through these finely polished oak doors into a vast expanse. Same ivory/beige walls. Same fucking awful carpet. Same smell of aging human. Same feel of oppressive disapproval.

But the architecture and detail that went into the original construction of this building was amazing. It was designed in the old style. You know what I mean? Nowadays theaters are just black boxes with high-backed chairs. No style. Pure functionality.

This place though was fucking awesome. There were swirls and twists in the columns. There were Cherubs and Demons on the walls. Plaster birds and flowers. Even the wooden rails had things carved into them.

The room itself was a show! I could have walked around that place and just looked at all of the adornments for hours.

But no. That was not to be. I was being herded to my seat. The looks Darin and I were getting though. Disapproval is too mild. We were similarly dressed. Jeans, Chucks, T-Shirts. While everyone else in the venue was in their Sunday best. I even saw some furs.

You see, we were the youngest people in the building. Hell, we may have been the youngest people on the block. Nothing like a Manilow show to clear a fucking street.

So as you may imagine, the looks we got were of staunch Puritan-grade disapproval.

The lights dimmed three times. 5 minutes to showtime. Settled in, I was thankfully on the end of a row.

Anticipation buzzed around us. People were legitimately fucking excited to see this garbage.

The lights dimmed for the last time. It was time for the “show.” I sank into my seat.

Spotlight. Curtain. There he is. Electric blue suit with sequined lapels. I groaned. Fucking hell! Can a man get anymore cliche?!?

Music starts, and away he went.

And boy did he go. The energy he brought to that tired old place was astounding. Again, I have seen people put on a show. Ed Kowlczyk from Live is all energy! Garth Brooks is flying all over the stage. Manson is tireless when he performs.

All of them pale in comparison to Barry Manilow. Not joking.

From the opening note to the third encore, that man was the epitome of what an entertainer should be. Pyrotechnics, Glitter, Lights, Dancing Girls, The Band, Costume Changes...he did all of the things.

I, at first, found myself watching. Then I caught myself sitting up. Then for “Copacabana” I actually stood. By the end of the show, and the end of “I Write the Songs” I was cheering along with everyone else.

I have never, in my life, before or since, been to a concert/event/festival that lived up to Barry fucking Manilow on that night. He went hard as a motherfucker in the motherfucking paint. And he made a fan out of me.

I wanted to buy a T-Shirt! I wanted his fucking autograph. I wanted to sit across from him and explain to him my mindset upon walking in, and the elation I felt upon leaving. I wanted to stop and buy some of his albums. And I wanted to thank him.

No really! I actually remember feeling gratitude. Grateful to Darin and his fucked up mother. And grateful to Mr. Manilow for showing me, a jaded radio guy with hundreds of concerts to his credit, exactly what a real performer does.

There is Barry Manilow, and then there is everyone else.

In the ensuing twenty-two years I have never had occasion to see him again. And then I heard that the tour of 2018 was going to be his farewell. I am told he has slowed down a bit. I’m told that his voice is not what it once was. But, I have also been told that he absolutely brought the fucking pain with every single one of those shows on that last tour.

My response when I hear that last bit? “Just like he always did.”

No one is a Barry Manilow fan. Don’t believe me? Take a poll of people you know. No one admits to being a fan. But, the man has sold out more concerts than any living “pop” performer. He has produced 26 studio albums, with 12 of them being certified platinum. And he has sold more than 80 million records.

So, who besides me is a Fanilow? Quite a lot of people it would seem.


Podcast: Guest Post on TheRayJourney.com

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