Manilow: He Sings The Songs (Part 2) - July 24, 1980


Staff member
There were days and nights on the road playing "the Holiday Inn circuit" with Jeannie Lucas, some club dates as a single, astounding -- though anonymous -- success writing and arranging commercial jingles and then on the road with Bette Midler and her Harlettes, like Melissa Manchester, as The Divine Miss M's musical arranger. HOW CAN THEY CALL ME UNHIP? There is a journal. Eight years worth, starting with Bette. Manilow writes every night. "It's a killer." He's smiling.

From Miss M to "Mandy," to "Could It Be Magic," to "I Write the Songs," to "Looks Like We Made It," to "Tryin' to Get the Feeling." And so on, and so on, and so on. Barry Manilow is probably the most bankable act in pop music. An audience of 7 to 75. A license to print money.A gold mine. Solid gold. And the truth is, the songs are extraordinarily well made.

"What people don't realize," said Dick Fox, "is that Barry's a brilliant arranger, composer and producer along with being a performer. Most people have to go out and get a whole package -- Barry IS the whole package."

How long is the run?

Barry Manilow doesn't hesitate even a second.

"Five years."

And how many have you had?

"Five years."

And this means?

"This means I'm getting ready. I'm taking acting lessons. I love singing. God, this is a great job. I'll probably keep doing it until nobody comes. All I'm saying is that I can't imagine that I can keep up this blazing level, that it has to level off."

So, in 1990?

I'll be winning an Academy Award . . .What I need is the right property, and the right help -- like I'm getting in my musical career."

An Academy Award?


He still gets a thrill when he hears his songs piped in the elevators. What he'd really like, the real thrill, would be standing there in the elevator when someone got in whistling one of his songs. Him, standing there, unnoticed, and someone whistling a Barry Manilow song.

He thinks he makes "great records."

He KNOWS he makes great records.

"But I'd much rather make a Marvin Gaye record."

God, how he loves those Marvin Gaye records, how he loves R&b. how CAN THEY CALL HIM UNHIP? If he could just sound like Marvin Gaye.

"I can't do it. I try. I really try. I sound like an idiot when I do it. I'd give my right arm to sing Jermaine Jackson's 'Let's Get Serious.' Oooooh, what he's doing with that song. I can't do it. It sounds cute. It loses soul. . . . Look, I'm very good at what I do, but I can just do so much. And yet," and he shakes his head because this really gets to him, "some people who do that kind of stuff that I admire so much tell me that they love what I do.That is so flattering."

He blushes.

"I can't believe they like ME."

There is a medallion that comes down in the overture to his show, a buffalo-head nickel bearing his profile that cost him $28,000 that lights up to signal his impending entrance on stage. It is too much. Somewhere in the night he must know.

"Yeah, it gets me a little nervous. It was supposed to be a caricature, a logo. I wanted it to come down at the start of the show and then disappear, but they couldn't make it disappear, and I thought -- Oh God, this big, humongous ego trip. As soon as I saw it I knew it wasn't right. I never expected it to be my real face. I said, first person who puts it down, I'm gonna dump it. But the amazing thing is that the audiences love it. I come out on stage, point to it and say, 'Is this hot s---, or what?' I mean I really don't want anyone to think I'm serious about it."

It's a hedge.

Everything is a hedge.

Where he comes from, you don't take risks. He loves risks. So what's he supposed to do?

Like the medallion. If anybody comes down on it, he'll dump it.

Like the singles. Should he release something totally jazzed and risk failure?

"God, I'd hate to fail," he says.

Like the image. So non-threatening, so effervescent, so cute, so thin, so easy to mother love with the Noo Yawk tawkin' and the slight lisp and the Hollywood glitz. Almost fey.

"So what should I do -- go out there in lots of chains? Whaddya want from me -- should I jump on the women in the front row? Seriously, what should I do?"

So what he does is hedge.

Fear of failure.

And sometimes it becomes prophetic as it extends outward in the ripples of the subconscious. Say the critics regularly kill you, so you don't do interviews because you don't like being killed. Then, you finally do one, and you hear the questions and you think -- Oh God, I'm gonna get killed again.You can't trust anybody. So what do you do?

Almost an hour after the interview was over, after Manilow had invited the reporter to a barbeque and to the show, Manilow sent one of his assistants to find the reporter, who was killing time outside the hotel.

"Can you come this way?" the assistant asked, saying nothing more.

The reporter followed and was again led past the guard and into the suite and left alone.

In a moment, Manilow came in. This time there was no handshake, no smile, no soft drinks, no sitting, no taking off the sunglasses. This time there was anger. Soft, controlled anger, but anger. Behind the glasses anger.

"I've been thinking about your interview for the last 20 minutes," Manilow said. "I'm very bothered by the tone of it.

"All you did was come in here and ask me negative questions," Manilow said. "You had me defend myself. You had me apologizing for my career. Do I think all my songs are the same? Do I overdo it? Who don't I like? Now what kind of questions are those? You don't like my nickel. You don't like my songs. You don't like my television specials. It was all negative. It wasn't at all a celebration of the kind of performer I am -- how hard I work, how much I give. It gives me a bad taste in my mouth. You're just looking for controversy. You asked me why I don't give interviews. This is why. This stinks. This interview STINKS."

Then, as he walked out the door, he put his hand on the reporter's right shoulder and said, "Do me a favor and don't see my show."

And then he was gone.