Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow was one of the last major interviews I did at Reuters before I was fired in July 2011.

Barry Manilow was one of the last major interviews I did at Reuters before I was fired in July 2011.

Accompanied by a Reuters Television crew, I went to a suite at the W Hotel in Hollywood, and hung out with Barry for 30 minutes or so. He got a little impatient towards the end, especially when the TV guys had to interrupt the conversation to change the film, or something. When I asked if he was a “closeted rocker,” I paused for effect after saying “closeted.” My question about his plastic surgery didn’t get the answer I wanted. But the encounter was fairly insightful. Well, better than the usual celebrity pap on 60 Minutes anyway.

barryBarry was promoting 15 Minutes, a concept album about the perils of fame. “I think it really was inspired by that moment where they were driving Britney Spears crazy. Remember that? We all watched it in horror as the paparazzi followed her when she was trying to going to Starbucks, and followed her when she was trying to go rehearsal. She was just trying to be a girl … and they were just driving her nuts. They wouldn’t let her be a person. It was just a terrible thing to watch.”

Here are some highlights.


THIS RECORD INDICATES TO ME THAT YOU’RE A CLOSETED ROCKER. YOU REALLY ARE ROCKING ON THIS ONE?

Aha! I love all sorts of music. If you look at my catalog of records and music you will find a load of styles that I’ve been loving ever since I was a kid … I wouldn’t call me a closeted rocker. I would say that I’m crazy about all sorts of styles of music. My only weak spot is singing them. Because I don’t consider myself a singer. I’ve sort of fooled the public into thinking that I really could sing. Luther Vandross is a singer, George Michael is a singer. But I was able to get through because I can act the lyric. I can perform a song, and I think that was good. If you look at my old records, there’s a little bit of everything in them. My very first album … Over the years I have made albums that went from show tunes to big band albums to ’50s jazz to swing to big band. I’ve gone through every style of music that I’ve loved all of my life and I’ve tackled all of them. Rock? I’ve hinted at rock on my original album. There have been, I would say a handful of songs that I have written that are guitar-driven. It was the last kind of style that I was going to tackle. This album is the last of the styles of music that I’ve always admired that I was going to tackle.

WHAT’S THE CLOSEST YOU’VE COME TO DERAILING?

Not very successful albums, some singles that were released that didn’t make it, shows that didn’t sell out. They really affect you when you’re flying high. This fame thing is a rollercoaster. And I’ll tell you something, if you do it for the fame you are asking for trouble. For me, I never did it for the fame, I did it for the music. I did it because I couldn’t not do it. It saved my ass. When I couldn’t get a record deal, when nobody really cared about hearing what I had to say, I kept writing, I kept performing, I kept doing thing that turned me on as a musician. Eventually it came back. That’s the way to get through it. But if I did it for fame, boy, I would be in trouble.

WHEN YOU LOOK IN THE MIRROR WHAT CHARACTER FLAWS DO YOU SEE?

I got offered everything when I was starting out. I had to make a decision whether I wanted that life or not. My biggest decision was, How was I treating people? When “Mandy” hit and I had five No. 1 records in a row, was I being the guy that I was five years ago? Or had I changed? I said I changed. And I had to make that decision to be a good guy again.

ARE YOU A GOOD GUY NOW?

I try to be. I don’t think I’m that ego-, fear-based guy that I was when my life was out of control.

ARE THERE TIMES WHEN YOU HAVEN’T FOLLOWED YOUR OWN INSTINCTS?

I’ve recorded some songs that I probably wouldn’t have recorded had (former label boss) Clive Davis not believed in them. My own instincts wouldn’t have taken me to, say, “I Write the Songs,” to, say, “Can’t Smile Without You.” My own instincts would have said, “That’s not really me.” He insisted because he’s got these great commercial ears. I had to find myself in both of those songs, and when I did I was able to make hit records. But my instincts wouldn’t have allowed me to do that unless Clive really pushed me.

HOW HAVE YOU DEVELOPED SUCH A THICK SKIN?

I tell you one of the things that definitely helped. I had a lot of people around me who were very supportive. I had family, I had old friends. I had a record company. I had people around me saying, “Don’t listen to any of this stuff, you’re doing great work.” They would boost me up. When Sinatra said, “He’s next,” that was a very, very important moment for me. He didn’t have any trouble with me and those were the days when critics were killing me. For Sinatra to say, “He’s next,” I took it to mean that he’s the guy that’s gonna have a big career and I really needed it that then. There was a lot of support around me and that’s what got me through.

IS THAT ONE OF THE ADVANTAGES OF LIVING IN A CELEBRITY BUBBLE, WHERE YOU’RE PROTECTED FROM THE DAY-TO-DAY HUMDRUM REALITY?

I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a bubble. I know exactly what’s happening. I know exactly what’s going on. I’ve always known what’s going on. I have broad shoulders, I can get through it.

DO YOU GO THE SUPERMARKET?

I do, I do. Not all the time. But when I want to, I do.

TO THIS DAY, DO YOU FEEL INSECURE OR COMPETITIVE?

No, no. That’s the last word I would ever use about me, insecure. A lot of people are insecure, I’m not. I’m not insecure. That’s the last word I would ever use about me. I’m a real secure guy. I know I’m a really good musician. Am I a good singer? Ehh. That doesn’t stop it. I do the best I can.

YOU’RE A GOOD LOOKING GUY BUT YOU HAVE (POINTING TO FACE, IMPLYING PLASTIC SURGERY)-

-My 90-year-old wrinkles and crap, I like it. I wouldn’t change it. I wouldn’t change it at all. I like ’em.

YOU HAVEN’T HAD ANY MODIFICATIONS?

Bring ’em on. Not a thing. Bring ’em on.

THIS IS ALL TOTALLY NATURAL?

This is what my family looks like. I’m totally happy.

bieberI SAW THE RECENT JUSTIN BIEBER DOCUMENTARY, NEVER SAY NEVER, AND THERE WAS AN UNDERLYING SADNESS. ALL THE PEOPLE AROUND HIM ARE ON HIS PAYROLL, AND ALL HIS CHILDHOOD FRIENDS HAVE BEEN LEFT BEHIND IN CANADA

Hey, you’re telling my story … I’ve been there, done that. I wish him the best, I wish him well.

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NOTE: Unrelated to the above interview, my book Strange Days: The Adventures of a Grumpy Rock ‘n’ Roll Journalist in Los Angeles is available here. For more info, go to strangedaysbook.com

Copyright © 2011, 2013 by Dean Goodman. PLEASE DO NOT CUT AND PASTE THE WHOLE THING

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