Sunday, November 30, 2008

Cranberry Christmas Update

Update for 2009: Cranberry Christmas is back on ABC Family. December 1, 7:30 PM EST and December 7, 11:30 AM EST. Check your local listings for channel numbers.

I received an email in the YBA mailbox from the PR firm handling the Ocean Spray/Cranberry Christmas account while I was travelling this week. Check it out:
Barry fans can now get their ears on his new single, “Christmas is Just Around the Corner,” which was released just today. The song is one of two original songs performed by the legendary Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, Barry Manilow, which will be featured as part of Ocean Spray’s first animated television special “Cranberry Christmas.”

“Cranberry Christmas” will air as part of ABC Family’s “25 Days of Christmas” programming event on Monday, December 8 at 7:30 p.m. (ET/PT) and again on Saturday, December 13, at 12:30 p.m. (ET/PT). Be sure to check it out.

And it if you can’t wait that long to hear the new song, it’s available on iTunes now. Click here to hear a sample and to purchase the song if you like.
The song really is adorable. Barry can nail Christmas songs on a lot of different levels (ironic as hell, isn't it?? LOL!) Cranberry Christmas is already set up on my DVR "to do" list. I'll leave the review to my daughter as she is the true expert in this house on animated features.

Hope everyone survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday. We ended up leaving the inlaws early because my daughter got a little sick. But at least we have a jump start on December.

Have a great week, everybody!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Greatest Songs of the 80s - the YBA POV

I snagged the CD the instant it was on the shelf.

Wild horses couldn't stop me from listening and writing about it.


A 10-hour drive to see the inlaws, with a toddler puking all over the car half way through then an emergency cleanup (we were the talk of the car wash that day) then finally arriving in the middle of &^%$%& nowhere, to stay in a 130-year-old house with ONE bathroom, whose plumbing is almost as old as the house; bunking in with 5 other relatives and their families, and the above-mentioned toddler insisting on sleeping with Mommy and Daddy instead of in her own little bed, then waking up to miles and miles of harvested corn and soybean fields and nothing else...... THAT stopped me from writing about it.

This is the kind of Thanksgiving family gathering you talk about for years and years. We'll see how this blog goes because I'm right on the edge of the broadband network and connectivity has been touch-and-go. I really mean it when I say we're in the middle of nowhwere. (Oh look, a couple of deer. Wonder if they know there's a hunter in that blind.....oops, guess not!)

Back to music and down to business.

Islands in the Stream - is there anything else about this track that I could gush about that I haven't already? Of course there is! I finally realized why I like this so much, besides the catchy melody, etc. The original version had too much contrast in the vocals between Rogers and Parton. It was fun, but it was what it was: country kitsch, just this side of "Hee Haw". The vocals on this one are smoother and Reba, while obviously country, has a quality that matches Barry's better. More pop with a little country undertone. My favorite is still the Vegas stage show. Probably because that was the first time I heard it.

Open Arms - I heard a number of versions of Barry's take on this song before ripping it to my iPod and settling in with it. First was the bootleg on YouTube. (Note to TPTB - I SAW the bootleg, I didn't make it, OK?) Then the Tonight Show performance, then QVC some other videos.... I just wasn't sure about it. Then I checked out a chat board dedicated to Journey. Journey has more than its fair share of douchebags in their fan base. They came out of the woodwork when the band started going through lead singers like paper napkins at a barbeque. That didn't help matters, although a few brave souls confessed to being Barry fans and enjoying the remake. I would have saved myself a lot of angst if I just blew off the previews and listed to the track directly. Barry turned the orchestration up to 11. The depth of it is almost decadent, like taking a bath in warm chocolate pudding. The only way he can match that in concert is to have a full symphony backing him up. The thing was the previews didn't sound like he "owned" the song; you still thought of Journey. Barry's orchestration is beyond anything Cain and Perry could dream of.

Never Gonna Give You Up - not much more I can add to this one either. It just sounds fun. And it's a great get-up-and-dance-and-clap-along-even-if-you're-a-civilian song. This type of uptempo number is as easy for Barry as rubbing sleep out of his eyes in the morning.

Have I Told You Lately - another one I couldn't imagine. What else is he going to do with it? Ah, OK, accoustic guitar and brushes on the drums, that'll do it!! With a little more jazz sax instead of guitar, slow it down further, this might have fit on Paradise Cafe. The kind of thing you slow-dance to at the end of the night when the club is closed and the staff are busing tables and hoping you'll finish up and get out so they can go home. ;-)

I Just Called to Say I Love You - I hated this song. I mean really hated it. The video was cheezy, even by 80s standards and the tune and arrangement gave bubble gum a bad name. Barry's really doing a lot of guitar these days and it's showing up a lot in this album. The 50s/60s (not sure on the decade - sorry, before my time....) bossa nova made this song sound made for mature adults rather than teenagers. Love the vocal - like he's whispering into the microphone. I can just imagine a video for this one: lots of late-50s pastels, soft focus and bright spotlights, early evening at the dinner club type of setting. MMmmmmmm.......

Against All Odds (Take a Look At Me Now) - I didn't hear anything special in the original. Again: What can he do with this? What makes it most special is that he layers piano, over guitar, over full orchestration and you can hear all the parts - it doesn't get muddy. It doesn't hurt that I prefer Barry's singing voice to Phil Collins' any day.

Careless Whisper - another that I wasn't suprised at. Smart not to change or remove or do anything else with the sax. It makes the song and whatever else you do, you have to keep it. Again with the guitar added in. Makes the song more of a Latin jazz style than pop. George Michael doesn't have the chops for this version.

Right Here Waiting - Made for Barry as-is, but he's not going to leave it alone. :-) Here it goes in the opposite direction: the original had more accoustic elements and now he brings in more 80s synth. This song would make a good concert ballad with light show emphasizing all of the different kinds of synth.

Arthur's Theme - my favorite going in, based on the track list alone. What little girl doesn't love a Cinderella story and this one was shot on location at all of the places I knew growing up. Barry didn't have to do much with the orchestration - all he had to do was sing clearly! This is why he does Christopher Cross so well. Christopher Cross is to music what Boomhauer is on King of the Hill. You may not get all of the words but you just kinda get the gist of it. I've listened to this song for years, since seeing the movie in the theatre and this is the first time I understood all of the words. Again, don't touch the sax, you need the sax as is.

Hard to Say I'm Sorry - I'm noticing a theme here: whatever the original artist did, do the opposite. Peter Cetera put in tons of layers on the original and here they are all stripped down to a few essentials. Nice echo on the vocals in the beginning, then bell-type synth, is that an electronic drum in the background? And some of the background vocals are synthed as well. If you just do a little of that, it doesn't sound cheezy, it emphasizes the emotion and lyrics in the right places. He saved a little bit of Chicago tribute with the horn at the end. ;-)

Time After Time - you know Barry can do this one well but it's been done to death through the 80s, it's been a jingle several times over, it's almost a stereotype or parody of itself by now. Oh wait, open it up with cello then open up the full orchestration. Like "I Just Called..." pull out the pop elements and replace them with real orchestration and it's an entirely new song.

I've Had the Time of My Life - I thought Barry was joking when he talked about making this a ballad on QVC. Someone's on a guitar kick and I love it! There is more passion and more intensity in this version than the original could dream of. It curled my toes up. Perfect closer.
I think everyone who's a serious fan should do their own review of however they hear the record. When Barry gets the recordings done and the engineers finalize the mix and ship it off to the production company, their job is over. But when each of us hears it is going to hear different elements at different times and bring something else - so it becomes something new that the musicians couldn't have thought of. I don't presume to know what Barry was thinking when he compiled this record and if I tried, I don't doubt that I'd be wrong. Besides I know I'm an amateur and there's probably lots that I've missed. But be that as it may, this is my new favorite of the "decades" series. (The 50s is a close second.)

For anyone out there who thinks they're bored or frustrated with the decades albums and wants Barry to do something "new", this IS new. The way these songs were taken apart and reassembled, they are basically entirely new creations. I won't complain if Barry decides to do his own original music at some point, but I wouldn't say this record isn't "new". It is new, and suprisingly so.

So it's back to the inlaws now. Turkey is going on the table soon. The holidays are a lot of different things to a lot of people so I'll just say that whatever you have planned today and in the coming weeks, I hope it's what makes you happy. As for me, I have a great family, great inlaws, and a place to be loved on Thanksgiving. Can't ask for more than that.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Serious Question

It sounds like the shows are fantastic this week and so are the audiences. Dana on the Network always has the most amazing reviews. She finds words I can never find. Whenever I hear one of these I want to say, "See? See??!! This is what I was telling you about!!"

Recently I thought of a question that I would love an answer to from people in a position to give it. For me this is academic - it's unlikely I'll get back to Vegas so it won't be an issue.

Suppose a fan is sitting in the stage seats. During the course of the show, Barry comes over to shake hands with the front row like we've all seen him do. Somebody gets too excited and grabs him and doesn't let go, no matter how much he struggles to get loose. Or they try to get to second base with him or otherwise touch him inappropriately.

What is a fan supposed to do when the're sitting right next to this and they can see it's a problem?

Sit there and pretend it didn't happen?
Try to get the person to let go?
Make eye contact with security and flag them down?


It is SO awkward when you see this situation occur right before your eyes and I don't know anyone who knows the right response

So, is there an answer out there?

Friday, November 21, 2008

Killing Time on QVC

I love it when a client calls my cell at 10:00 PM to powwow on some upgrades to his website.


So my thoughts are going to be the nightowl version.

It's fun to get advance notice of new records and appearances, but then you have to sit on your hands and wait for them. I normally don't enjoy QVC or other TV shopping shows but this was one to watch.

First, the hostess, Chickieboo, the one with oral diarrhea, should be first in line for an intervention with Tim Gunn.

Second, correction on the Manilow CD availability: it was released in Japan mostly and had a very limited release in the USA because the CD format was just hitting the mainstream. Hence why you can find it on eBay. I'm one of those people who made getting a copy of this CD a bloodsport.

Making this a bonus was a slick move. It's one of Barry's records that has a lot of underrated music on it and one where the stereotypical 80s style comes through. I've lost track of how many artists I've heard of who were wooed to a new label by a current exec, then had their project set adrift when said exec is suddenly ousted and replaced with another who doesn't give a damn. Personal favorite: "It's All Behind Us Now". I've been playing around with an idea for an amateur video for it. "Sweet Heaven" will never be the same after the Close Up DVD. I can't hear it without blushing and putting my face in my hand.

Third: Barry, did you really have to try to do Michael Jackson before realizing it was a bad idea? Just ask me, I could have saved you a ton of studio time!

Those of you who prefer Barry's hair dark, hope you enjoy it now. I'm the world's biggest sucker for blondes, though I'll take him however he is.

I've been debating all evening whether to go through song-by-song thoughts but I think I'm waiting to get the record before the serious details. Briefly:
  • "Open Arms" sounded more emotional and more involved than it did on The Tonight Show the other night. It helps to have serious fans in the audience.
  • "Arthur's Theme" was just as I imagined it would sound and I'm sure that's going to end up being a favorite.
  • "Islands in the Stream" IS the big hit on this record. I'm keeping this DVR recording because the version here with Kye and the girls is what I remembered bringing the house down in Vegas. Even with the QVC banners across the bottom, it's a keeper.

So my full run-though will have to wait until I snag the record on Monday.

Some other random thoughts that have been rattling around my head lately:

I'd love to hear what Barry would do with some of his own 80s songs, in the way he recreated some of his 70s hits with the last collection. My choices:
"Getting Over Losing You" from Here Comes the Night. The most underrated song on that album. Somehow I imagine it being more emotional if a woman sang it, though. Go figure.
"No Other Love" from If I Should Love Again. When Barry remade "I Write the Songs", it sounded a little different, like there was an emotional difference in how he sees the song now - an acceptance, maybe that wasn't there before. I'd like to see if the same type of difference would occur in this song as well.
"Somewhere Down the Road" - the way he performs it in Vegas today.
"Anyone Can Do the Heartbreak" from Barry Manilow. Because I like it and I said so! ;-)
"Keep Each Other Warm" This would make a great accoustic "unplugged" cut.
I won't complain if a DVD companion is released in the same vein as the 70s collection. I always love commentary tracks or interview segments. You hear the music and once I get comfortable with it I start thinking, "OK, I get it, now how does it work?" Hence Barry's thoughts on them are very valuable. In the 70s DVD, he goes into technical details that I could listen to for days at a time. I may not be able to create music but I can relate with trying to force a box of chips to do what I want it to do. At the end Barry throws out, "Nobody cares, right?" What is he thinking?? First time I heard this I had to stop myself from waving furiously: "HELLO? ME! OVER HERE!!"
This afternoon I received a beautiful thank-you note from someone associated with Keely's family for the United Warrior Survivors Foundation. I used my company's PayPal account to keep the donation discreet and my name off of the blog or anything public. These folks don't know me from Eve and have never heard of my company. So it was a very nice suprise to hear from them. I hope whoever reads this keeps my relatives, still in Iraq and Afghanistan for the holidays, in their thoughts or prayers.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Never Gonna Give You Up

From YouTube, courtesy of J Records
Did you have ANY doubts whatsoever that Barry would nail this one???

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Help Wanted

Major hotel/casino in Las Vegas, Nevada seeks receptionist.

MA/MS in Psychology with minimum 5 years clinical experience. PhD and/or MD a plus.
Mastery of PBX phone system.
Able to handle multiple calls from clients with various degrees of emotional stability.

The successful candidate will receive random calls regarding headliner performances and assess psychological needs of each caller. Procedure will involve accepting initial contact, engaging client/patient for further information and to confirm emotional status, categorizing useful and legitimate information from emotional expression, then concluding call to caller's perceived satisfaction. Candidate may expect between a dozen to several hundred calls in a shift depending upon current events.

Excellent typing skills are a must. Candidate will type their own notes without benefit of dictation services and cross-reference notes on each caller with hotel reservation system.

Standard 8 AM to 5 PM shift with 1-hour lunch break to be taken according to call volume. Candidate must wear a pager for on-call duty during high-volume periods.

Commensurate with experience. Triple overtime pay for all hours over 40 per week. On call pay of $5 per hour.

Meals, after-hours alcohol, and all required pharmaceuticals included.

Submit full CV with clinical references to:
Colony Capital Partners, LLC
3000 Paradise Road
Las Vegas, NV

(With gratitude to Redcat and Peachy for inspiring this composition.)

The Right Love at the Wrong Time

To whoever cares:

I left the Manilow Network tonight. I posted quite a few things and they're gone now so if you've noticed some holes, that's why.

I was going to post a goodbye message to everyone on my friends list but it would have been deleted before you read it. So I'm posting it here.

First, thank you for reminding me that it's ok to take a chance and make friends online. I think that's one of the life lessons I was supposed to learn over the past few months and I am much better for it.

Second, try to practice what you preach, especially if the homily is about fun and peace and unity and whatever other virtue you promote in Barry's name. Some of you need some work on that.
If you're serious about unity and peace, "cyber hug" graphics aren't going to do it. Try to find that one person who feels the most disenfranchised of all; the one who thinks no one is listening to them. The one you're tired of and can't agree with on anything. Reach out to that person, and then you'll be serious about peace. If you only "cyber hug" the people you agree with, then you're a high-school clique, nothing more.

If you criticize someone's opinion or the way they express it, make sure you're not the root of the problem. When you point your finger at someone, there are thee pointing back at you. You may be the source of that sense of alienation.

Finally, try to pay attention to the quieter members of the network, even if they're not on your friends list. You may find some of the most outstanding human beings you ever met but you won't be blessed by them if you don't seek them out. They're not the most frequent posters, they're always the quiet ones.

To the Powers That Be at Stiletto:
The Ning Network and the way its managed is the best online fan organization I've seen in almost 15 years. The reason this stood out for me is because most "official" fan groups demand that all members/participants agree with everything that the artist thinks and love everything the artist produces. Which creates Stepford Fans and I don't think that's what you're looking for. It's a tough job and no one ever says "Thank You" enough. I hope my thanks make a difference.

I was (very, VERY pleasantly) suprised at the light hand that you moderate it with. I wasn't expecting such tolerance of the types of posts, especially the political ones. I was seriously expecting all non-Democrats to be censured or banned, based on my past experiences. I've never been so happy to be wrong. You're on the right track - let the fans handle their conflicts themselves and stay out of it. Barry's name may be invoked at times but it's not about him - it's about the audience and "official" interference will divide fans even more than they already do themselves.

The shows I saw in October in Vegas were the best I've ever seen, bar none, and I grew up going to various kinds of performances. Thank you for making that possible. That trip restored my spirit in ways and places that I thought were hopeless. I know it's just another day at the office for all of you but please don't underestimate the impact of those performances and the music.

(Keep an eye on Travy Drake aka Qwerty Jones - it's your first alter-ego that responds to his own posts. Both names resolve to IP address in Mechanicsville, VA. This may be a more serious problem than some of the other conflicts out there and may be an exception to the aforementioned "non-interference" rule. Just an FYI in good faith.)

Everybody - I'm not going anywhere and neither is this blog. I'm a fan for good and if the opportunity arises to see Barry again, I am SO there. I got more than I imagined a year ago when I rediscovered his music at a major life low-point. Anything is possible. (Like, maybe, coming back to Atlanta during one of those many breaks in his Hilton schedule in 2009?) And you won't be able to shut me up when the new albums come out.

My friends know how to reach me - right here.

See you all Somewhere Down the Road.


Friday, November 14, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

For background on this post, please visit Manilow Musings: Have the fans gotten out of control?
I agree with the hypothesis in the article and the observations below are the reasons why.

Dateline: October 24, 2008 11:00 PM PT
Objective: Relax in Tempo after Barry's concert

My Experience:
  • Leave the showroom
  • Enter nightclub
  • Find seat with group
  • Notice heavy cigarette smoke
  • Decide to sit at bar instead
  • Find empty barstool
  • Sit
  • Flag down Rafael to open a tab
  • Drink
Barry and the band's process:
(As observed from aforementioned barstool)

The side entrance to Tempo is roped off and guarded. The entrance to the back room from the main lounge is also guarded.
About 15 security guards fan out through the casino outside the showroom and Tempo.
Two guards are flanking a man with Barry's hairstyle and color job - was he a decoy?
Assorted band members trickle into the side entrance as an occasional fan calls out their names. They smile, wave, and keep it moving.
Keely and Kye slowly creep out of the showroom entrance. Visualize canaries in a coal mine: if the canaries don't pass out from mine gasses, it's safe for the miners to enter. If no one acosts the backup singers, it's probably safe for Barry to emerge.
The parade starts: Garry and a number of unfamiliar men line up against the wall between Tempo's side entrance and the showroom hallway. Barry follows with Monica at his side. His eyes are down and every fiber of his body language says, "Please do not approach me." Following him is Marc and other assorted staff.
Between this parade and the rest of the room, are six security guards, also walking in a tight line. If someone in the public can't take the hint by the way these people are standing together that they wish to be left alone, the guards will clear it up for them.
The entourage disappears into the back room. You can't tell what they are saying or doing because they all remain in a corner that is the least visible to the bar and the rest of the club.

Now why were these two experiences so different?
Because TPTB decided that Barry needed to be protected.

Protected from what?
People who don't know how to express themselves appropriately and don't know when to leave well enough alone.

Which means that these people without self-control must exist in some significant numbers.

That little procedure was expensive in terms of both payroll and time taken to analyze the need, plan the personnel and timing, and rehearse the movements. This wasn't spontaneous; it HAD to be choreographed. Which is why I compared the security guards to the Blue Angels in another post - precision like that takes time and effort and doesn't come cheap. No one is going to subject their accounts payable department to that kind of expense without a legitimate need. From the outside looking in, it's funny like a bad sitcom or a junior-high school play. I imagine that if I had to live with it every day, it would be anything but funny.

As long as there are audience members who do not know how to contain themselves while indulging in their fun and fantasies, there is going to be more distance between Barry and his admirers. That means clinging to him while shaking his hand, rushing the stage and similar behaviour that would make a security guard pop out of his seat to protect his boss from a possible threat.

What bothered me the most was the fact that to express my appreciation for Barry as a human being after the show, the best I could do was stay in my seat and say nothing. That is sad on so many levels I don't know where to start.

More interesting reading: Just Life: Celebrity Worship Syndrome

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Christmas Is Just Around the Corner

Update for 2009: Cranberry Christmas is back on ABC Family. December 1, 7:30 PM EST and December 7, 11:30 AM EST. Check your local listings for channel numbers.


Animated Holiday Special Features Original Songs by the Legendary Barry Manilow and Longtime Collaborator Bruce Sussman
LAKEVILLE-MIDDLEBORO, Mass (November 10, 2008) –Already a star of the holiday table, Ocean Spray launches its first animated television special – “Cranberry Christmas” – airing at 7:30 p.m. (ET/PT) on Monday, December 8, on ABC Family as part of the network’s annual 25 Days of Christmas programming event. The special will re–air on ABC Family on Saturday, December 13, at 12:30 p.m. (ET/PT).

Link to full corporate press release

I decided recently not to get bent out of shape when Christmas advertising started earlier and earlier in the year. Remember how you didn't see or hear anything to do with Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving? Now decorations go up at the same time as Halloween in some places.

Christmas in our house is first and foremost a religious holiday. Sure we see Santa Claus, and the Coca-Cola polar bears, and the Pink Pig at Macy's, and all that stuff, but it's always secondary to and within the context of the religious aspects.

The great thing though is because of our nation's history, the goodwill of Christmas has expanded beyond just the Christian boundaries. Ulysees S Grant made Christmas a federal holiday in 1870 as a means of encouraging peace and unity after the devastation of the US Civil War. With conflict over every last thing in the media these days - including over whether the name "Christmas" is included in Christmas celebrations! - more time to think about that peace can only be good.

I get seriously reflective this time of year. Probably just a knee-jerk reaction to the advertising blitz. It was a long year this time. Pete reminded me that for months we were fighting more than we ever had. The Vegas trip was his way of forcing me to hit my personal "reset" button. But there was more to it than that.

A lot of people came in and out of my life this year that I never intended to. Or even wanted. It just sneaked up on me. And it's the people that make a difference when you're in some kind of need, even if you don't know it. Or admit it.

If you look through all of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, God's will and aid is usually brought about by people, or some element of the physical created world. There are a few instances of God acting directly without an intermediary, or of angels delivering messages, but most times it's people doing whatever it is they do, day to day, that makes the difference in someone's life.

Just like all of us here.

All of the new friends I never imagined - ones I met, ones I corresponded with, or noticed from a distance, or ones that I just see online from time to time - all have had a positive impact on my life and I didn't realize until now how much I needed it. You can't notice these sorts of things at the time. 20/20 hindsight comes when you stop and think - and feel.

So now I wonder what kind of impact has this blog and all of my ramblings had on others? I know you're out there! Sometimes the stats report will tell me the name of a server that a visitor is using to find this place, sometimes it's just a city or a region. And I wonder who found this and why? And did you find something in it to restore you that you needed and didn't think you would ever find?

When life held troubled times
And had me down on my knees
There's always been someone
To come along and comfort me
A kind word from a stranger
To lend a helping hand
A phone call from a friend
Just to say, 'I understand'
And ain't it kind of funny
At the dark end of the road
Someone lights the way
With just a single ray of hope

"Angels Among Us"
from the album Cheap Seats

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Feb 14 Benefit

This is another organization raising money for breast cancer research, like Stand Up For a Cure. They focus on laughter too and are a bit more, ahem, out there about it.

Barry, I dare you to wear a shirt like this at the benefit you're playing in February.

Have a great weekend, everybody!

Friday, November 7, 2008

On With The Blitz!!

Clips from three of the songs - "Islands in the Stream", "Never Gonna Give You Up", and "Open Arms" play on this ad.

First TV appearance is 11/17 on The Tonight Show.

Rev the DVRs, the ride is starting again!

Thought for the Day 11/7/2008

The only time people complain about public discussions of politics, is when they disagree with the POV.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

As Sure As I'm Standing Here

(Note: I was asked why I posted this story as a lead-in to the announcement of Barry's fundraiser show on Feb 14 with Stand Up For a Cure. In the days leading up to this post, there was a lot of complaining in various circles about the price of the tickets closest to the stage. It concerned me that those who were dismayed did not realize - or care - that this was a BENEFIT/FUNDRAISER show and bringing in money for this cause is (a) not in Barry's hands and (b) essential to saving lives. So - I spelled it out in a way that can't be misunderstood.)

As sure as I'm standing here
You'll never have to be afraid
As sure as I'm standing here
I'll try and help you find your way

In the early 1950s, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Oh, wait, it wasn't cancer. It was "the C-word". The word you never said out loud, especially in front of my high-school-age mother. She was quietly whisked off to the hospital for surgery - with a 2 week postop inpatient stay. Afterwards she had an odd little item strapped to her chest for a few days. It was a chunk of radium. Radiation therapy was in its infancy; a medical machine designed to direct the radioactivity of Cobalt-60 was in development in Houston by the US Atomic Energy Comission, but nothing that avant garde was available in her area. No dosimetry, no tomography, just stick a piece of radioactive material up next to the surgical bed and hope for the best.

The best happened. My grandmother was cured. The "C-word" never returned and she died peacefully of old age in her sleep. She was one of the lucky ones. Most patients of her time recurred and that was worse than the original disease.

Chemotherapy? A pipe dream, at the time. The earliest attempts involved mustard compounds. Leftover chemical warfare agents from World War I. The idea of using these compounds in medicine was so outrageously radical that most of the medical community didn't warm up to the idea for 15 years. So after the radium treatment there was nothing else to do. My mother remembers the doctor saying, "You don't need to worry about that anymore." I don't think the phrase "pretty little head" was involved, but I'll bet it was implied.

Genetic analysis and risk assessment? You're kidding, right? Watson and Crick had just published their paper on the structure of DNA after studying the X-ray crystalographs taken by Linus Pauling and his son, Peter. It would be 30 years before genetics even made the drawing board. My grandmother was one of seven sisters, and the only one in her family to get "the C-word". Based on those odds alone, my family and their respective doctors decided it was not a familial cancer.

Fast-forward 30-odd years. Now it's my aunt (Dad's sister-in-law) with the diagnosis. Lots has happened in that amount of time. Surgery is first thing, again. But now, not only is there chemotherapy, there are various kinds and they can be safely combined. (Safely = your patient won't die from the treatment if you follow the packaging directions.) But it was no picnic. Adriamycin is a known severe cardiotoxin. Sure it can cure the cancer but you'd better be real sure that your dose doesn't go over the lifetime maximum tolerated dose that leads to heart failure. Cisplatin is another winner. Very effective at eliminating leftover cancer after surgery. Unfortunately antiemetics were so primitive they were effectively nonexistent. Count on puking like a frat boy. Except instead of the familiar flavor of butyric acid and last night's dinner, the patient experiences the unmistakeable taste of liquid metal.

On the bright side, at least you had options now. Radiation therapy was more evolved, more effective, less dangerous. Survival rates were going way up compared to the 1950s. What's some puking and hair loss and other changes compared to dying from cancer? Sign me up!

My aunt didn't think so. Whether it was fear, or vanity, or some other motivation, we'll never know. But she flat out refused any treatment besides surgery and couldn't be persuaded otherwise. Within a few months of surgery, my uncle called my dad to tell him the cancer was back. "Where?" he asked. "Everywhere."

Now she thinks chemo may not be so bad. But it was too little, too late. Toward the end, some relatives I never met were scoring drugs on the street to keep her out of pain. Symptom control measures had a long way to go - OxyContin hadn't even been dreamed of yet. I was a junior in college and my cousin - her only daughter - was finishing high school when we buried her.

Fast forward 10 years. I was working in medical research now and a friend asked me to be a buddy to a long-time friend of his who was experiencing her second breast cancer. She'd had her first case about 7 years earlier that was cured with surgery alone, soon after her son was born. After seven years, it's not a relapse - it's a "second primary": a completely different disease than the first.

Even a moderately-sized general hospital with an oncology department looked like mission control. She'd had a state-of-the-art lumpectomy then went in for postop cleanup treatment. The tomography landmarks were tattooed on her chest and a linear accelerator delivered precision doses of radiation in a suite straight out of Star Trek. Her chemo combo was delivered in a time-released cassette; no more bolus dosing with instant barf. I don't think she threw up even once. Worst thing was losing her hair - to this day no one can do anything about that. But she had enough energy to yell at me when I arrived for a visit later than planned due to a delayed flight. "WHERE WERE YOU!! I WAS WORRIED SICK!! NOW GET IN HERE AND HAVE DINNER!! Oh wait, give me a hug first!"

Yes, ma'am!

She did have side effects, including some heart failure due to good ole Adriamycin. But today she's a special ed high school teacher and coaches the girls' tennis team.

That's a long way for oncology to come in less than 50 years. That progress didn't float out of the sky on a magic carpet. You had the doctors who wanted to take better care of their patients and had a vision to make it happen. You had the patients who were willing to take a chance on an unproven treatment that probably wouldn't save them, but would benefit thousands or millions in the future. You had the drug companies who would try to develop agents that the doctors were looking for and most times they lose more capital than they ever make testing one failure after another until they find THAT ONE that keeps patients in remission or cured for years at a time. You had the government agencies who had to balance the scales between taking necessary risks for the benefit of future patients, and not allowing the atrocities of Tuskeegee or Germany to happen again, and doling out funding as it was available. That's a lot of people working together over a very long time. And when you put this effort into one form of cancer, there's a great chance it will benefit patients with other forms of cancer too.

But to make all of this happen, no matter how lofty the goals or committed the personnel, you can't do it without the common denominator. Money. Cash. Dinero. Wampum. Moola.

Whenever I'm about to get tired of people asking me for donations, or to attend a fundraising gala with an inflated ticket price, I think of the three women above and all of the other friends and relatives I've known with some other kind of cancer. Each of them, in their time, had options made available to them because of the progress made by others. I could be the next one to need the resources created by that research, or my family.

How much would all of that be worth to you?
Spend Valentine’s Day with Barry…and raise money for cancer research! Barry is bringing “ULTIMATE MANILOW: The Hits…and then some” to the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, NY on February 14, 2009 as part of the STAND UP FOR A CURE concert series.

Not only can you spend Valentine’s Day with Barry, but you will be supporting a great cause at the same time! The proceeds from the concert will be donated by Stand Up for a Cure to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (, founded by Evelyn Lauder in 1993. The foundation is credited for creating the infamous “pink ribbon.”

BMIFC tickets to this special benefit concert are available at 10 AM (Pacific) on Wednesday, November 5. Fan Club members can order online at or by calling 310.957.5788.

Tickets will be available to the public on Monday, November 10, via all Ticketmaster outlets.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Islands in the Stream


(The player says video, but there is no video available. Just enjoy the music!)

First, I was over the moon when I realized Barry was inserting a couple of songs from the new 80s record into his Vegas set a couple of weeks ago. I thought he was saving it for November, closer to the actual release.
Second, you go through the CD song list and we're all mentally clicking off the songs that we know he can do well. Richard Marx, check. Rick Astley, check. Christopher Cross, check.
Then you get to "Islands in the Stream". Kenny Rogers?? And the duet is w/ Reba McEntire?

I couldn't imagine this one. Until 10/23 in Vegas when he unveiled it.

The arrangment with the 3 girls as backup brought the house down. (Yes, I know Kye joined in toward the end of the number. Kye, love ya babe, but but they could handle this one.) Anyone who wasn't up and dancing and clapping along was either confined to a wheelchair, dead, or close to it.

This upcoming record had me a little nervous because it was "my" decade. (Those a few years my *ahem* senior felt the same way about the other decade albums.) I remember the originals and have all kinds of memories associated with each one. I didn't know if I would appreciate these the same way. I shouldn't have worried. In Vegas, Barry owned this song. Just bitchslap that wuss Rogers back into oblivion because this version is the new original.

There's always something to look forward to these days! I'm waiting on the QVC segment to order the record because I'm a sucker for bonus features/video/interviews etc. (More on that later.)

Barry, this was great and thanks for NOT waiting to put it in the show!

(PS - welcome Reba fans! Are your people as excited about this single as the Manilow fans are?)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

"ULTIMATE" Retrospective

WARNING: the pictures in this post suck. So why post them, you ask. Because some parts of a trip you just can't put into words. Something about seeing fans' candid shots shows you how the concert feels - and no words can match that. Even if the pics suck.

I always feel torn in half when I'm getting settled in for a show. To shoot or not to shoot. Thursday, I was in the center section, under the right side of the catwalk. Great vantage point. But I figured, nah, just enjoy the show and shoot later. Next two nights I'm on the right side, still really close and I saved my picture-taking for then. I'm glad I got them but now I wish I had my camera out for Thursday as well. But then you can't really just let loose and enjoy the show if you're focusing your point-and-pray camera. No pleasing some people. :-)
OK, so here's what I saw and felt a couple of weeks ago:
The obligatory opening screen. Just to show you the vantage point. I've seen a bunch of these and no matter how many you see, you don't get a feel for how close you REALLY are until you get there. Or how low the stage is compared to the arena shows.

Shadow Man.

The greatest challenge for every fan photographer is to get Barry's entrance.

I was suprised that I actually got a decent one of these when Barry came to Atlanta.

That one is my computer screen wallpaper.

This one was my best attempt.

OK, this shot isn't so bad. Can't remember what song this was from.

What I noticed about this show that was different from Atlanta and some others I've seen on video, the props et al are stripped down and every aspect of the staging and production is made to underscore the emotional impact of the music. I don't think any of the other music acts in town cram this much material into their shows and I'm sure that the headliner isn't on stage as much as Barry is.

What I like about this is you catch a bit of the lighting behind him.

The light show was choreographed like nothing I have ever seen, short of IntelliBeam laser animation, like at Stone Mountain in the summer.

Best light show moment: the "starlight" effect during "Memory" that stretched past the proscenium. Second best: TIE -the end of "Ships" where he moves back to dead-center stage with the five white spots on him and the synchronized glowsticks in "I Write the Songs"

"Weekend in New England"

The scrim behind him was lit with clouds and raindrops. I lived up there for a while so I can tell you how perfect that is.

It doesn't take a whole lot, production-wise, to bring more emotion out of each song.
"Most romantic" song, Barry? It's in the running to be sure. But it also has "Not What You See" and "If I Should Love Again" as competition. It's a close call. I have "Please Don't Be Scared" in that category as well.

Now the following picture is not mine. It was one of those moments where I came thisclose to clawing my way through my purse for my camera, but there was NO way I was going to sacrifice even a second of this scene for a "maybe" shot.

This was EXACTLY the view that I had Thursday night. Oh, it was gonna be a goooooooooooood weekend!!!

Once I got past the tongue-lolling over the sexual gestures I remembered one of the bonus interview features from the M&P DVD, where Barry is describing how he mentally preps himself for going on stage. I think the words he used were "blowing himself up" (sic) or something close to this. The thing is - the audience does exactly the same thing. You don't think that the women in the audience (esp in stage seats or under the catwalk) dress like that every day, do you?? And we really don't act like that every day either. Before the show we're picking out our outfits, primping hair and makeup, meeting each other, drinking, having dinner, and egging each other on. It's the same thing that Barry and the band do before the scrim goes up.

So you have all of these people playing their parts in one big living fantasy and the benefit looks mutual. Barry looked like he was getting his rocks off watching the reactions he got at each of those shows with that scene. You don't need me to tell you how the female side of the audience felt.

There's one shot that is related to these that was taken after I got home. Like everyone else I wandered down to the M Store. I needed a polo shirt. (I don't do Tshirts anymore and collared polo shirts are never available at the arena shows.) I thought of my daughter, TLF, just as I laid eyes on a display of feather boas. It would be a crime not to bring her something, not just because she missed me while I was away, but because Barry's music is what got her interest in music started. (I went into detail on that in Barry's birthday note.)

Here's how it looked a second after I gave it to her:
When things get complicated, I spend some time with her and try to see the world through her eyes. Then I can enjoy the things that I like (including music) as honestly as she does without any strings attached.
Have a great weekend, everybody.
(Barry - there's always going to be some chatter if you have to pull a show. The only words you should be listening to are your doctor's. Everyone and everything else can wait.)