It is award season, and not just for the movies with their Golden Globes and Oscar fetes. It is also the time for the Grammys… a time when everyone in my generation yawns, says “who cares,” and changes the TV channel to something they might recognize.
It was not always thus. Music once brought us together. Now I bow out of any bar mitzvah party, and always hope for a table far from the bandstand at any after-the-wedding celebration.
Growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, our music was the same as that enjoyed by our moms and dads. What we danced to, what we heard at the movies, what we listened to on the radio, was the same as it was during the years when the people who would become our parents had just started dating.
Like the generation that preceded us, our record players at home mostly played Frank Sinatra, Buddy Rich, and the big bands featuring Jimmy or Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Benny Goodman, and Artie Shaw.
Once we were out of the house… some of us could be found hanging out at certain record stores where Rhythm and Blues (R&B) held sway. We went to those stores because, even in cities such as Los Angeles and New York, the radio stations rarely (if ever) played the music of these Black musicians. And Black is what they all were. This was before Elvis and Rock ‘n Roll (a Rhythm and Blues euphemism for the sex act).
In 1951, “Sixty-Minute Man,” written by Billy Ward and Rose Marks and performed by The Dominoes, made the cross over to those of us in the teenage white world. There was no mistaking what was meant by the title, or the lyric, and we were all more than titillated at the suggestive story therein: “If your old man ain’t treating you right, come up and see old Dan… I rock ‘em, roll ‘em, all night long, I’m a sixty-minute man…”
“Lovin’ Machine,” “Hey Mrs. Jones,” and “Sh-Boom”all arrived shortly thereafter… but, in white America, it took Elvis and “Hound Dog” to make Black songs and their style universally popular in the late 1950s.
By then, I had moved on to the University of Southern California and given up “childish things.” I was married for the first time in 1959 and was hard at work building a career and trying to support my growing family in the 1960s when the Beatles came along. I had no time for them either.
The seventies brought about a divorce, a major career lull, and its accompanying struggle; then the eighties came along with my life-long dream of producing a major hit fulfilled by the television series Cagney & Lacey. 18-hour days, seven days a week, did not allow for indulgences in something as non-related to my show as the (to me) very frivolous music scene of Rock n’ Roll.
I fell in love in the late eighties… head over heels… with the leading lady of that hit TV series. She was deeply into the music of the 1970s, and by 1990 I was there as well. Better late than never. To this day, my Bentley’s CD player is chock full of Billy Joel, Melanie, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, and a plethora of love tunes from that time… all with a melody, and many written by a guy named Barry Manilow.
So it was, with hardly any resistance at all, that I recently went along with my leading lady and her best friend to see Mr. Manilow… in person… at an arena in Sawgrass, Florida (about an hour and a half in heavy Friday night traffic from my Island paradise just off the coast of Miami Beach).
Barry Manilow is now seventy-nine. His audience is just a wee bit older. Ninety minutes into the show these geriatrics were still on their feet (where they had been for nearly the entire show), singing along with Barry, some of the greatest hits of the 1970s.
What a fabulous, wondrously magical, show this is. What an amazing display of the talent and perseverance of this individual artist.
Fred Astaire, Barry is not. He is no Sinatra either. Still, the litany of songs he has composed is beyond impressive, and the way they come ‘atcha, in what turns out to be precisely the right order, is all but flawless. Better than all of that is Barry’s self-effacing presentation, his candor, and his honest representation of each and every song. All that, along with our own memory of just where we were… and with whom we were making love… when we first heard those tunes, wafted over the close to 20,000 souls filling that Sawgrass arena.
A Jewish kid who grew up in Brooklyn in the forties and fifties, now… over seventy years later… takes time to salute the old man who believed his grandson had some sort of musical sense, and so took him every week to Manhattan… putting a quarter in the record store’s recording machine… while urging young Barry to sing “Happy Birthday”…. or whatever he wanted… to someone in the family or the neighborhood. It was only one of the stories that brought a tear to my eye.
And it wasn’t just the artist’s memories, it wasn’t only the music, or even the duet the octogenarian Barry sang on stage to a video of his twentysomething self. It was the incredible gift of talent that was on display on that stage every minute Barry Manilow occupied that space. What more can I say? It simply gets you where you live.
A national treasure? Why not? Astaire and Sinatra are gone. Long may Barry wave.
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Barney may be a few years older than me (really, not many), so it’s no surprise that we enjoy listening to the same music – Billy Joel, Leonard Cohen, Randy Newman, Melanie, Barry Manilow, and so many others who came to fame back then. Can’t help singing along, even dancing, when any of their songs are played. So thank you Barney for reminding me how much fun these “oldies” concerts are. As a Barry Manilow fan myself, I know how great an entertainer/songwriter he is. Pure joy! Dena Stewart