Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Talk to Me" - finally a Eureka moment!

A few blogs back I blogged on Suzanne's thoughts in Manilow Musings about the eternal question: "If you ever got 'that phone call' from Barry, what would you talk to him about?" After kvetching for a week and banging my head on the desk for a few hours about motivations and "big picture" and a pathetic attempt at pop psychology I finally admitted that I had nothing.

Weeks later I think I have something. Good thing this is only theory and not real life because if I were that tongue-tied in front of the man and came up w/ a reasonable conversation weeks later I'd never forgive myself.

Here we go - "Why is it such a big deal for a musician that their creations not be 'commercial'? What does 'commercial' even mean and why is it such a four-letter word?"

This is why I'm wondering: when I listen to music, especially over the years when I was still working in a hospital the last thing I needed to do was put effort into thinking about enjoying music. Those of you in health care, especially cutting-edge fields or clinical trials, back me up on this. When you're caring for people who are fighting for their lives, you turn your emotions on "low" because you're looking your own mortality in the face every day, and that of your family, and if you feel everything they feel, you can't do your job. Before you ask what kind of things I had to deal with, keep in mind it involves patients vomiting lungs on my shoes. No, I am not exaggerating, so don't ask if it's close to mealtime. I could also never work in pediatrics again now that I have a child of my own. So when you crack open your heart and soul you only want to do that when it's "safe" - when the emotions you are about to experience are happy, feel-good, and easy to absorb without much effort. Anything more complex you shut out, almost instinctively.

The thing is those "feel good" songs are the ones dismissed as "commercial". The implication is that those of us who enjoy and emotionally respond to such work are simplistic or dumb or unsophisticated or [add insult here].

Back when I started blogging I commented that I thought Barry Manilow (1989) was the best record he put out since Even Now. Oh, some Manilow snobs had a field day with me by email! "How can you say that when everyone with a brain stem knows that his best work OF ALL TIME is 2:00 AM Paradise Cafe?? You heathen, you! Off with your head!"

I didn't bother getting mad or even responding. The reason I left out Paradise Cafe was because "everyone with a brain stem knows" it's in a class by itself and nothing Barry has done before or since can compare with it - and that includes Mayflower, even though it comes close. I was in high school the first time I heard Paradise and it hit me like a train after devouring all of Barry's earlier work. You could tell he was dumping nothing less than his soul into 2-inch mastering tape. The intimacy was overwhelming - I needed fresh panties and a cigarette when it ended. That's a lot of intensity. I'm naturally a very intense person so too much intensity scares me and everyone who has to deal with me. So Paradise is for when it feels safe to wallow in whatever my emotions are at the moment - either by myself or with my other half. But never with anyone else.

Mayflower is similar in some ways. I have to skip "Not What You See" and "I Miss You" when I play it while working. They're the best songs on the record and I can NOT listen to them unless I am seriously bracing myself. I'm a wimp when I have to consider my own future and mortality. If it's someone else, it's easy. ;-)

So most (not all, but most) times when I'm listening to Barry, it's usually songs from Even Now or Barry Manilow. (The self-titled thing still bugs me.) The emotions, even the sad ones, are easily absorbed but not so deeply that they become painful or paralyzing or that I can't think. These are the "commercial" records that all self-proclaimed "true" artists dread or despise.

But why? Why is that easy-to-take melody and lyrical emotion for me, the Non-Musician such a negative thing? Barry's never going to answer this so if there are any musicians out there browsing by, please feel free to post your POV on this. 'Cause I'd really like to know.

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