Friday, February 29, 2008

The Ideal Barry Manilow Concert

With a month to go until my first "experience" it's hard to just mark time without some kind of speculation. So I imagined if I were completely in charge of a show and money is no object, what it would be like. I already know it won't be the same as what's coming to Phillips Arena and whatever Barry puts together I'm going to enjoy with no complaints. But who hasn't thought about what they would do if they were able to compile their own set? This one is mine.
  • Venue: Club/restaurant type. If you're familiar with the Sambucca Jazz Club chain (esp the Rice Hotel location), you get the idea. And close the place down. Private show, guest list of about 150, 200 tops. Age 21+ only, strictly enforced.
  • No time limit; whatever he feels up to. Most venues, even major ones have a firm stop time in their contracts, with another time limit for load out. None of that.
  • No opening act. With a catalogue like Barry's, you don't need one.
  • Simple jazz backup band. Drum kit, stand-up bass, sax, guitar. Maybe a synth to simulate orchestration where needed. Piano is a real 9-foot grand. Not a piano bar, just a piano.

And now for the set list (rubbing hands together)

Paradise Cafe
Talk to Me
[open - let's hear some of the stories about his early days in clubs, things he briefly discussed in Sweet Life, including some of the music he played back then.]
Jump Shout Boogie
Freddie Said
[open - break to slow things back down, transition to more pop stuff]
The Old Songs
segue into Let's Hang On (not a medley but no break between them)
I'd Really Love to See You Tonight (uptempo version)
The Way You Look Tonight (Sinatra song. Barry didn't cover this on his Sinatra record, but it would be the ultimate "dance girl/CSWY" song. If the girl he picks is with a guy, tie him down, this would be intense.)
Somewhere in the Night (better make sure this club has a bit of dance space for the couples to enjoy this on their feet)
See the Show Again


[Pop set - include some stories with these - how they were written, etc etc etc]
Copacabana (acoustic version - need another guitar player for this)
I Made it Through the Rain
Could it Be Magic (original version)
Bandstand Boogie
Looks Like We Made It
Lonely Together
If I Should Love Again
[open - audience requests, within the limits of what he has rehearsed]

I Write the Songs
Beautiful Music

It took a couple of hours to put this together. Assembling a set list is a LOT harder than it looks!

Anyone else have an ideal list bouncing around in their head?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

What's wrong with the 80s?

I'm an 80s kid. I had heavy metal hair, wore leg warmers in high school and two-tone denim micro minis with granny-boot-style high heels and lacy shirts in college. Including giant white tee shirts over neon spandex body suits (with heels and little lacy ankle socks) to class. My hair was sprayed pink for Easter while wearing white lace elbow gloves, and with red sparkle for Christmas to match my vintage velvet dress. Usually, my hair was dyed purple. A very tasteful shade of eggplant. When going to a frat party, I looked like one of Robert Palmer's models from "Addicted to Love", except I used color gel to paint designs on my slicked-down hairstyle.

In short, I had one helluva great time!

When word got out that Barry was working on a "Greatest Hits of the '80s" record to go with his (read: Clive Davis') "decades" theme, though, I spit out the same reaction that most people today have toward music of this decade. "EeeeewwwWWWWWwwwwww". "ARE there any songs in the 80s that were 'greatest hits'?" "What's it going to be? A Milli Vanilli track that's 4 minutes of instrumentals?"

But in spite of the cracking wise, the 80s had a lot of new innovations that are taken for granted and some great times that were forgotten about in order that the naysayers can appear "cool" or "sophisticated."
  • Synthesizer keyboards. This was the decade that some engineer finally got his poop in a group and created an instrument that was easy to use, did not take up an entire room, and could consistently create unique sounds that were impossible to create with "traditional" instruments. Thus you have an entire new world of music opened up for exploring.
  • First attempts at electronic facsimiles of standard instruments. You can always tell an early-80s record by the sound of the electronic drums. Instead of a sharp staccato hit, you get a soft burst of sound that almost instantly fades. "Pianos" sounded like bells rather than hammers on strings. No, they did not get it right immediately. But a first step had to be taken so electronics could evolve. 10-15 years later, electronic drums are a staple to most students, before serious kids going pro move on to their larger, awkward, more expensive kits. Plus, more kids can study drums now because their parents don't have to listen to them - they hear themselves on headsets. You don't know how much I wished I had something like this when I wanted to learn to play. Electronic pianos are now the standard for any travelling act, even among high-end professionals. Take a close look at Barry's piano in any video or concert footage from 1999 to today (not counting the LV Hilton): it's not a "real" grand piano, it's an empty shell with an electronic keyboard set into it. Not only is that cheaper to move around (in both labor and insurance costs) you don't have to tune it or replace strings every time it's set up.

On a purely emotional level for me, the "80s sax-and-synth" sound represented something that was light, bright, and hopeful. Even sad lyrics took a different turn with that style of instrumental behind it. (Petra took that contrast to extremes in "Rose-Colored Stained Glass Windows" from More Power to Ya to spell out an indictment of complacency. It sounds like a fun and secure-feeling song, until you delve into the lyric.)

Recently, 1989's Barry Manilow has been on my iTunes. Sometimes, you don't want to have to focus too much to get the message. I don't see anything wrong with that. When you want to really get a mental workout, that is what Paradise Cafe and Mayflower are for. So maybe a Barry 80s record isn't that bad an idea. What in the world is so wrong with just having fun without jumping through someone else's hoops to "get it"?

(The preceding was written by a self-admitted amateur music lover and not a professional musician. Yes, I know my opinions are simplistic and I know precious little about how music is made at all levels. I'm OK with that. ;-) )

PS - there's a great list of 80s songs for speculation here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Blast from the Past

Roseanne Barr/Arnold/Nolastname's old talk show from the '90s
Bette Midler was set up by Roseanne with Barry and the Harlettes.

Right as Barry enters off-camera, listen to the audience: you can hear the air being sucked out of the room by a low group gasp before he announces himself.

The only thing that would make this clip better would be if everyone in the audience was given a towel to wave. >;-)

Barry Manilow - Midler - Friends
Uploaded by catrin345

Monday, February 25, 2008

Welcome Home

Sometimes I remember
all the days I never knew
If I would ever make it through
But just when I'd give up again
I'd remember when the days were stormy
Home was always waiting for me

When you first get "hooked" on something new - hobby or whatever - you don't realize how much it occupies your thoughts or how it creeps into whatever else you're doing. iTunes got installed on my computer. Then CDs that were in my office started getting loaded in while working on email or other projects. Then money started getting dropped on songs I had forgotten at iTunes store. Then when stopping in Best Buy for computer peripherals, I find myself in the audio section looking for adapter cables for my old turntable and tape deck to plug into the computer. Then it's digging around in the stored CDs for lost gems. Pete's collection was raided too: Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Beatles got lifted. ("Pure Disco" got left behind - geez, for his own good I'm going to have to burn that!) Even a few CDs that the "old crush" had something to do with reappeared. It didn't hurt any more to listen to them - the only memories and feelings now were the original fun ones. I understand there's an iPod coming on our anniversary.

Just as it had done my whole life, music found its way back into my heart and soul before I realized it. Heart and soul were whole again when I heard a song that I bought when I heard it was included in Barry's current set.

"Forever and a Day".

And once our hearts were full
And once we felt the flame
Such hunger then, much younger then
But really we're the same
And once the music played
And once they lit the light
And years ago, we felt a glow so very like tonight

The reaction was one I had experienced only once before in my life. In the past I would often put a CD in the computer CD player and listen to something new while working. Once, a song struck me so suddenly I had my face in my hands, my forehead on the edge of the desk, and sobbing uncontrollably. It was a musical adaptation of a classic book. To get it out of my system I had to repeat the opening song and keep crying until the sobs stopped on their own. "Forever and a Day" found that same place in my heart and had the same effect. It reminded me that the good memories don't have to die and new ones don't have to be thwarted. Enough time had passed and enough lessons were learned that it is safe to let myself feel the full emotional spectrum again.

After those ten years my approach is going to be different. Music didn't fail me - conflicts within fan groups did. So fan gatherings and the like are out of the question. I'm not quite that naive these days. When Barry finally gets to Atlanta I'm going to enjoy watching the reactions of the fan club from afar. (Word on the street is the venue cancelled the January performance due to icy weather; Atlanta's first snow in years! Even though the crew was setting up the stage and the musicians, including Barry I think, were already there. Anyone care to speculate which four-letter words Barry was spewing when that decision was made? >;-D )

Naturally, the date that was selected was one of the busiest in my spring schedule. I'm at a convention an hour away. Guess who's walking out early and racing home that night?? Everyone else can take a number - this is the first and probably the only time I'll see this man perform live. The convention staff will be wise to just get out of the way!

And now I know it will always be that way
For you, for me, forever and a day.


Let's take a break from the melodrama of life for a minute.....

Try this with me:

Listen to the Here At the Mayflower CD - follow along with the words, read the liner notes.

Then watch the first DVD in the First Television Specials collection. The first one w/ Penny Marshall from 1977.

Pay attention especially to the "New York City Rhythm" 'acting' section, with "Sandra" and "Early Morning Strangers".

Is it me or are those two things VERY similar? The whole presentation of different songs representing peoples' lives in different apartments (where was that, Lower East Side?)

Has Barry been working (mentally, at least) on the Mayflower CD concept that long?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Keep Each Other Warm

Living in love is bittersweet
You've got to have faith on a lonely street
But I'll be walking beside you through it all.

When we're blown by the wind
Torn by the storm
We'll always have the love we need
to keep each other warm

The rest of the holidays was just about the three of us. No commitments to anyone else. We were the ones who needed love and support. The rest of the world can (and did) get along just fine without us for those few weeks. Until now, the miscarriage incident was private business - I didn't even want to discuss it with my own mother. Support groups - fuhgeddit. Being isolated was better than pouring my heart out to the wrong person accidentally or worse - getting platitudes and advice. My way of healing was waiting until I was damn good and ready to talk and not one hot second sooner.

We celebrated Christmas across two weeks. Christmas Eve was visiting the priest in the confessional and then dressing up for Mass that afternoon.

(Aside: people hear "confession" from Catholics and think we're beating ourselves or perpetuating guilt about every little thing. Nothing could be further from the truth, and it was especially helpful this year. Think of all of the angst and stress that comes with the holidays. Aunt Suzie from Syracuse doesn't like Cousin Clara and they fight at dinner. Or someone else is creating drama. Or something happened between relatives that you still feel bad about. Everyone has this. Now imagine being able to talk to someone who will go to his grave before revealing what you say. You can lay down whatever's on your mind and leave without it. That's what confession is for and believe me, it was what the doctor ordered for us this particular Christmas.)

Christmas morning was for presents. Our daughter got her first tricycle. Pete got an assortment of things from Nordstroms. (Had to replace some of those hideous ties that I either burned or gave to the cats as toys.) I already had what I wanted from Ticketmaster! But since all of my records and tapes are still records and tapes, I found a copy of The Essential Barry Manilow in my stocking to hold me over until I can digitize my music collection.

January 19 was a goal. The one starting point I could believe in. Barry isn't God and he doesn't need to be. That concert represented a fresh start to a new year and was a reminder that the tough couple of months we were going through would not last forever.

December 31 we emptied a couple of champagne bottles (maybe it was 3 or 4?) after the baby went to bed and we watched Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest countdown to midnight.

(Aside: if there is ever a really comprehensive biography on Dick Clark, I'm preordering it the moment I'm able to. Most people don't realize what it takes to recover from a stroke. He not only survived, finished rehab and recovered as much as he was going to, but then got back out in front of the camera! If Seacrest has a brain, he's taking notes for his own career. He has to be one tough human being and that's something a lot of people could learn from.)

The alcohol went right to my head (serves me right for not eating much that night) and I started babbling with Pete. We had spent a week listening to the Barry CD and I was going through all of the memories attached to those songs, and that spread out into memories of other music, much of which I posted earlier under the "Beautiful Music" titles.

He's listening quietly with a dazed smile on his face. I thought he was plowed too but it was more than that. I finally ask him, "What? You're staring."

"I haven't seen you this happy in a long time."

It's just another new year's eve
Another night like all the rest
It's just another new year's eve
Let's make it the best

It's just another new year's eve
It's just another ault lang syne
But when we're through this new year you'll see
We'll be just fine.

Lonely Together

Your eyes are sad eyes, mine are too.
Doesn't take too much to see what we've been through.

But dry your eyes now, you'll be just fine
We can drown our aching hearts in this glass of wine
Well I hate to say "what's done is done"
It's just two can ease this pain much better than one.

Why are the terms "housewife", "soccer mom", and "minivan" incentives for pity or disdain?

Is there anything greater than seeing your child excited to go to school? And just as excited to see you pick them up? That smile when they see you as they wake up from a nap? It's true the old saying - the hand that rocks the cradle IS the hand that rules the world!

The last quarter of 2007 promised to be packed. I can live with stress if my schedule is planned and Pete and I check in frequently for changes. Social events interspersed with the holidays, other obligations and a big family reunion a short drive away were all on the menu. My folks were staying with us for a couple of weeks to see their granddaughter and then drive to the reunion together, and then celebrate Thanksgiving.

In the midst of this craziness, at the beginning of November, I discovered I was expecting Baby #2. Pete and I were over the moon! For a lot of reasons we didn't think we could have more children even though we wanted to raise siblings. Our daughter learned to say "Big Sister". My parents were happy they would have another grandchild to spoil. They arrived at our home and planned to rest before packing up my Mom-Mobile for the reunion weekend.

I'm usually tired at the beginning of pregnancy. But my knees were weak. Then there was the pain. Then the bleeding. Then the night in the emergency room, the day I spent on the couch while Pete was at work fighting fatigue after looking after me. My folks were an Abbott & Costello routine. Mom never had any problems carrying me, so she didn't know how it felt when something was wrong.

The night before the drive to the reunion was an ER night. I ran down my symptoms and timeline to the doctor, who smartassed me about whether I had everything timed to the minute. "Sweetheart, just listen, OK? Stop blowing me off. I was in here last night and I'm telling you, something is wrong!"

I dozed off. Thirty minutes later Doctor Smartass returned with a subdued demeanor.

"This looks like a miscarriage. Your hormone levels have dropped by half in less than 24 hours. The nurse will be in soon with some more information." She stroked my leg before leaving. Pete was in shock. I started to cry. I am so used to being told that I'm overreacting to little aches and pains a part of me was waiting for the reassurance that the baby was fine. But I knew on the way to the ER.... he was gone.

The nurse showed up. Doctors and nurses don't like delivering bad news any more than patients want to hear it. My discharge reports were written up. Pamphlets on "pregnancy loss", information on local support groups. Medical advice: this early, there was probably a major chromosomal problem, it would be impossible for the baby to survive. Even if you could save him, you wouldn't want to. How no one talks about it but 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. I knew all of this. Pete didn't care, he just wanted me to get home and for both of us to rest. We were told not to travel anywhere for the next few days in case this oh-so-natural process took yet another turn for the worse. Great. Our reunion trip was cancelled, too. The medical staff avoided looking at us as we left.

I went straight to bed at home. Pete spoke to my folks. He told them to go on ahead without us. Tell them anything, but don't kill the party. We need to be alone. Come back afterwards we'll have Thanksgiving. Can you see her? No, really, LEAVE HER ALONE!!

We had two full days alone with our daughter. Pete took most of the parenting duties from me so I could rest. But nap times were reinforced and extended - we needed the time together.

More boredom. I finished a digital art project I had been procrastinating on. Maybe there's something on TV. I flipped through that grid dozens of times. 500 channels on the fucking satellite box and there's "nothing on".

I looked through the DVR grid of recordings I was keeping for "someday". We lay in each others arms and watched De-Lovely, a musical biography of Cole Porter. We sobbed quietly during the scenes where Linda Porter was dying. Life was so fragile. We'd both seen death before but the film reinforced how suddenly it came.

End. Delete. Next.

Toward the bottom of the grid was an entry I made months earlier but just didn't get around to watching: Barry Manilow: Manilow Live! I recorded it from the hi def channel when I saw it on the grid for "someday" when I needed some background music. Barry's music got caught up in the musical exile years earlier. Strangely enough, except for his TV specials, I had never seen him in concert. Even after the "exile", concert dates were announced and I wanted to see him and there was always a conflict. We moved to Georgia during his "Farewell Tour" and missed every possible date. Then by the time I knew he was set up at the Vegas Hilton, we had a baby and we don't want to go running off to Vegas when children need us more. So I gave up again; I wouldn't be able to see the show live. I got over it, like everything else I got over.

"Pete, I want to watch this. Don't laugh, OK?"

"I wouldn't laugh at that, hon. My mom had Manilow going all the time in her hair salon while I was growing up. I listened to him too. Watch whatever makes you happy." He really meant it.

I start the recording and within a couple of seconds a wave of wonderful memories came flooding back. Barry's music was a staple "after school" rotation. Hearing the concert open with "Could It Be Magic" was like seeing an old friend again that hadn't seen you in a while, but never forgot you or stopped caring.

Halfway through the song, he stops to do his opening schpiel.

I hope you're feeling great, and if you're not, I'm here to make you feel better!

It was like a light went on. "Do you realize it has been forever since we've been out to a concert? Not just a freebie, I mean something we were really into," I asked.

"You're right. We need to plan to do that. We need something good to look forward to."

We enjoyed the rest of the tape and were sure to save it. One high point was Chickieboo from BFE having a thermonuclear meltdown on stage during "Can't Smile Without You". What on Earth was with some of those signs?? The flirting with the first few rows on "Somewhere in the Night" melted some of the ice I put up around my love of music years ago. The guy doesn't even have to try to get a rise out of these women, and what's worse, he knows it! Pete's interest was rekindled with "When October Goes" and the entire Sinatra set. (Another record I missed.....) Maybe it's time to go back and find all of these again.

The folks returned Sunday. We got through the week visiting and not talking about what we have come to call "my ER visit." I got Thanksgiving dinner on the table - the first time I did it single-handedly. I slept for almost two days after that holiday. Mom & Dad went back home Saturday after Thanksgiving and we were back to recovering. I had no intention of doing my usual social things outside of the house. We were going to make it to Christmas and New Years', then see what happened.

Sunday afternoon as the baby had her dinner I got on the internet and pulled up Ticketmaster's website. I didn't know who was coming to town but I was going to find something that we both liked and come hell or high water, we were going to just let loose and enjoy ourselves and to hell with what anyone thought.

The first search engine result was Barry's "Music & Passion" in Atlanta on January 19.

Credit card, fast typing, seat search, best available, floor seats-YEA!!-more typing, confirmed.

I ran down to the kitchen with the confirmation to show Pete. I must have looked insane, grinning.

"He's in town??? Then we're going! We both need this. YOU need it," he reassured me.

"You're OK with going to a Barry concert?" Of course he was. Once the secretaries at work find out about this he's going to be considered the nicest guy alive and they'll prioritize anything he wants.

"Of course, whatever makes you happy." Again, he meant it.

"Even if I'm throwing myself at another guy?" Even I can't tell if I'm only teasing or not.

He smiled the way he does when the baby is trying his patience but it's so cute he can't help himself. "Sure. Go crazy for one night, it's OK." Another strategic move. Let Barry get me hot and bothered for 90 minutes and then reap the benefit at home afterwards. All he has to do is drive the car.

In one of the lowest times I can remember, a ray of light came on and brightened not only the current sadness, but started to dispell past losses too. That show was recorded around 2000 or so. Years later it made a positive impact no one could have predicted. I could almost feel a long-forgotten part of my soul beginning to regenerate.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Once and for all!

Once and for all
Do you really want to have someone for good?
Would you stay in love forever if you could?
Do you want a friend who's always standing by
When your back's against the wall?

Pete and I were married 14 months - almost to the day - after we met. Our engagement announcement was met with some variation of "No kidding, it's about time!" from everyone we knew - parents, other relatives, friends, co-workers and everyone at our parish from the clergy down to the cleaning staff. The obligatory meeting with the Monsignor who would preside at the wedding was simpler than most. We had already prepared ourselves for our life together and there was little for him to do to guide us.

I can't help but think of our engagement with the above song. Not because it describes us but because it doesn't! Where I'm sitting, it looks like the couple are trying to think their way through their feelings and where their relationship is going. But I have to wonder, why it took so much effort?
"But now we must make a choice whether to fall in love."

"Do you really want to have someone for good?
Would you stay in love forever if you could?
Do you want a friend who's always standing by when your
back's against the wall?"

The questions and sentiments in the song are things that were no-brainers for us.
"Search your heart and then I want you to decide
Is simple love enough to keep you by my side?
Can we stay together through the thick and thin
Through troubles big and small?"

What is this, a loving approach to someone who has your heart or a challenge to cross a line in the sand??? My response to personal ultimatums consists of two words. The second word is "OFF!"

I imagine Pete and I asking these questions and laugh. It was obvious we were made for each other, like a coin being struck with two sides. The answers to all of them would be:


We weren't kids, we were both over 30, we'd taken some time in life to go as far as we wanted in our education, establish careers, have fun, and get to know ourselves. In my more generous moments I think that my upheaval with music and ex-friends strengthened me for a lifetime relationship. But usually I don't like to give those individuals that much credit. ;-)

Our invitation list was one of the most complicated and all-encompassing anyone has ever seen. The entire spectrum of Christianity and Judiasm, several Muslim families, a smattering of atheists and Buddhists and one Navajo shaman. In a Roman Catholic wedding. Don't try to get me started on nationalities - it would take all day - but picking a menu for the mini UN wasn't easy! Greatest part of all was how everyone sat and talked when they were worn out from dancing. We took it as a good sign that if our wedding could bring that much peace among people so different then we had a wonderful future to look forward to.
And so have begun the happiest years of our lives. Lots of changes. Lots of fears. Things go wrong. New friends. Losses and death. A new home in Georgia. New career for me. Most of all the most wonderful little girl you ever saw born in 2005.

My musical love was something in the past that I talked about once in a while, but not seriously. Pete and I share our collections but there's no focus on it. Concerts are merely dates, nothing important.

I'm happy with this new chapter. So I left some things behind. It's just life - right?

Until the good times come again

You remind me I live in a shell
Safe from the past and doing OK, but not very well
No jolts, no suprises
No crisis arises my life goes along as it should
It's all very nice, but not very good.

The last couple of years in the decade of the 1990s were dull and forgettable. Of course I was unhappy; I had to learn to live again from Square One and lick a lot of wounds.

My job had been affected by the very people I thought were online friends. At the end of my rope I took a transfer with a voluntary demotion for some fresh scenery and more hope

Christmas 1999 and the millenial New Year celebration were spent with friends out of state. They had a unique perspective on my little ordeal and were willing to let me continue my recovery there. I could talk whith them, and they with me without explaining anything.

Everyone looked at "THE MILLENIUM" as a major turning point in the universe. I didn't see it. I liked the idea but I'd had enough of turning points, thankyouverymuch and didn't want to build my hopes up artificially. When it came to people and relationships I believed what I saw and nothing more. Belief was for God, everyone else paid cash.

Speaking of which I spent more and more time with folks from my local parish. Being an area with many entry level jobs there were new people visiting all the time at the usual "young adult" (read: meet at the bar) activities. I was filling my time with good, positive people and experiences, as far away from music and fans as I could get. This was probably a subliminal millenial resolution - to get out and socialize. It was fun to meet new people again.

One evening I was one of three people left chatting at the end of a gathering. The others were Bob, a gawky guy a little too old for this crowd who was going to prove to you how cool he was and how much he knew, and Pete, a recent transplant from the midwest just getting established. Bob was annoying the living shit out of me and if he decided to wander into traffic I wouldn't have stopped him. Pete was OK. Average guy. GREAT blue eyes. I mean great. I've always loved blue eyes. It was 10 days past Valentine's Day.
Following week, same time, same place. Pete arrived late, obviously stressed. Why was I concerned?
Pete catches up with me at the end of the night. It sounded like a group was going to a show and would I like to join in. Hey, sure! My calendar was still open.
Three days later: Phone. "Hello?". "So what's your address again? I'd rather just pick you up."

Wait....this was a date?

My heart skipped a beat. That hadn't happened in a while.
Dinner at a cajun seafood place. Crawfish were in season. We shared a bucket of bugs and a few beers. Comparing lives - which were strikingly similar; strange considering we were from very different families in different parts of the US. But the differences dovetailed, rather than conflicted.
A week later. A walk on the beach in early spring. Warm enough to put on shorts in the city but the wind and the water made it friggin' cold.

Neither of us had fallen in love so fast in our lives.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Every rainbow has to have an end

Every rainbow has to have an end
A pot of gold or dreams foretold, may not be there, my friend
In this high and mighty world we live in
sometimes we have to break, we have to bend.....

Strange thing about the Internet/World Wide Web in the early days: the Utopian ideal of sharing ideas freely and all usernames were equal regardless of whose account they were associated with actually existed briefly.

My friend list consisted of music fans around the USA, magazine editors, road crews past and present, and musicians - including my old crush. Imagine The Surreal Life in cyberspace and without cameras. And it was just fun. Horizons were opened and introductions were made all around, and some long-standing fantasies were fulfilled. Chat rooms were like nightclubs without bouncers; anyone could come in and sit together and it didn't matter who you were IRL.

But it didn't last long. Many bands and artists found that their very presence changed the fabric of each community. Usually fans communicating together, in the days before the Web, was just fans and artists were left to guess, wonder, or not care what was said. But now, artists could be voyeurs into fan gossip sessions. It was just too irresistible on both sides: the artists couldn't stand to be so close to their fans' real thoughts without peeking in, and fans couldn't resist the direct contact. No artist thought before now that maybe they wouldn't like everything they saw/heard fans saying; no fan imagined that an artist would object to their bull sessions.

So small arguments and extensive discussions among fans took a different tack. They didn't snuff themselves out anymore. If an artist is watching or participating, a subset of the group would do the usual suckup reserved for meet-and-greets. "I want to get more attention, so I'll just agree with everything that Joe Drummer says. So he likes me - woohoo!" The term "attention whore" hadn't been created yet, but this is what led up to it. It's difficult to not get caught up in the whirlwind of having a (gasp!) celebrity come and visit your little realm.

But what if you don't agree with everything Joe Drummer says? "Hey, this is the 'Net, I can share my opinion, too! It's just as valid and the First Amendment will protect me."


Well, more like "Remember the First Amendment protects your freedom of speech from the government, not from a musician with a fragile ego and an attitude problem."

Fan groups split, on average, within 3 months after the object of their affection joined the scene. It wasn't always obvious with fighting and flaming and the cyber equivlent of a riot. More like a quiet muffling; you could tell who didn't agree with sentiments expressed by the "artist in residence": they just stopped talking. Everyone just parroted what the artist thought, or said things they thought he wanted to hear. Real thoughts were shared only in private - or so many thought.

The "upsucking" eventually takes a malicious turn: some people just aren't happy unless they are the Number One Fan According to the Artist In Residence. If one of these individuals thinks that the artist is building a friendship with someone other than themselves, they'll break it up. As incredible as it sounded at the time, rumors and innuendo spread more quickly and were harder to disprove in this new medium. Today cyberbullying is such common knowledge that local newscasts and national talk shows build entire programs about it. Legislation due to the phenomenon is discussed in some state governments. But at the time, with such a new medium and such little experience with it, this degree of malice and the lengths it could travel were shocking.

I was on the receiving end of it. My first experience with cyberbullying came when someone whispered in my friend's cyber-ear that I was harming their reputation and repeating personal information to the public that was too intimate to bear.

Problem: I never had that kind of personal info to spread.
Bigger problem: I couldn't disprove it. How do you prove a negative? What part of "I didn't do it!" can be made more convincing?

So my old crush and new friend became my old friend and new enemy. He believed the rumors and lit into me on a fan forum - open to the public. Then the suckups joined in and reinforced the lie. Because it was posted in public, and supported by the "Artist in Residence", it was accepted as fact almost universally. Those supposedly close friendships with other fans that I had cultivated were vaporized.

Now wrap your head around this: Adolescent crushes run deep. They root themselves in the very dawn of your awareness of your adult emotions. Fate saw to it that somehow we not only met, but were able to converse regularly and become better acquainted. Then he turned on me like a rabid dog. It's not just the cyber "friendship" that crashes - it's a few key emotional foundations.

There are no real words for this. "Shattered" gets you in the ballpark. "Disorienting" works too. You twist in the wind looking for any emotional support to cling to. I did EVERYTHING wrong. I clung and whined and demanded more support from my remaining friends than they could handle or provide. They didn't need the drama any more than I did. I lost those remaining friends too.

Worst of all, I tried to just "move on" like nothing happened. I wanted to stay and enjoy the music. After all, that's where everything started, with the music. There would have been no crush without chords and lyrics and melodies. Nor would there have been any online friendships without the music in common to enjoy and discuss or even argue about.

I made myself pretty miserable by putting on what I thought was a brave face. I tried to continue to go to concerts and events. It just wasn't the same. The music that I loved and supported and identified with was now associated with lies, rejection, and hate. I couldn't even stand going to a concert - I was afraid to show how much I enjoyed it. Because if someone saw me participating, a new round of insults would start over. I had a career and home to think about and what started on the Web was spilling over into real-life stalking.

The only way to ensure that I would be insulated from this disaster was to leave all of it behind. The records, tapes and CDs were packed up. Not just this band, but all of it. No photos or autographs or posters. I threw myself into my job. I racked up a ridiculous amount of overtime and exhausted myself. I spent time with the TV when at home. I didn't show enthusiasm or emotional vulnerability - I got much better at covering up that heart on my sleeve. Whatever it took to seal myself off from that hateful wave and would stop. Maybe.

I thought it was a part of life - sometimes a chapter closes and another opens. I thought of music here as a chapter, not as a piece of my soul that I was making myself live without. Music and my love of it died that year in the late 1990s. Part of me died too, but I was too wrapped up in survival to care.

Feeling pain's a hard way to know you're still alive
But someday, someone will make you glad you survived

A Segue

Before I get into the next chapter of this story, I'd like to put out a heads-up to anyone - fan or artist - who is involved in a fan club or collective of some time.

Be careful what you say and do, especially on the Internet.

People get excited, people want to get carried away. Some people will love everything, others will find something to criticize.

Let. It. Go. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter. Unless your career or family are directly affected, it's not worth getting in a lather. Just turn off the computer and go do something else and it will all go away.

Every fan group on Earth either IRL or the Internet has conflicts. Artists, stay out of it. It's about the fans, it's not about you and you can't do any good by getting into it. Fortunately, Barry seems to be a smart enough guy to realize this. I haven't seen him post in fan-oriented chat boards, he seems to handle that kind of interaction in structured environments to ensure that conflicts don't happen. There is a parade of other artists that can and should learn from his example.

Fans, when you fight about music and the people who make it, you are not fighting with words or keystrokes. Music is about your immortal soul. When you fight with each other, try to get an artist or their management on your "side", that is what will get damaged - souls. Yours as well as your target. Hurting someone with the thing (music) that they love the most and that inspires them in many ways doesn't always get healed. You have to be very fortunate to recover from that kind of battle.

Do you want that on your conscience?

If you're using Barry and his music as a weapon you're on dangerous ground. Get off while you can.

If I should love again

If I should love again
If I find someone new
it would be make believe
for in my heart it would be you

Everyone goes through the adolescent obsession phase. Little girls get hooked on horses or unicorns and then around adolescence they find something to build their entire world around. For me, suprisingly, it wasn't Barry. I found another group, harder edged, louder to obsess over. Buy EVERY record. Find EVERY article in print on them - yes, even debasing yourself to buying one of those silly teen rags, just don't let anyone see you do it!

Rag? What rag? How did those pages of glossy photos get on my wall? An elf put them there, it wasn't me! Oy vey....... I was 12, I didn't know any better. Mom and Dad were born clueless and their copy of "How to Deal With a Teenager" was missing this chapter.

And my first serious crush. I'm trying to block out the memory of the intensity of the emotion. It's just too embarrassing. I carried that torch for far too many years. But oh, it was such fun! The first concert as a teen, even with Dad chaperoning in NYC, it was great!
There has to be a segue here because between the middle of high school and the end of college, music took a hiatus. This isn't "flowing" like good writing but it's hard to put it in order.

Not that I didn't enjoy music, it was just SO busy! A college sweetheart (we almost got married, but it was a good thing we didn't), clubs and stuff, some music related like the pep band (where I finally got to play the drums!) and an occasional concert. (Anyone remember Til Tuesday? I do - and I loved them! Best show was at MIT.... and my first Billy Joel concert in Worcester!) I had all of my records (yes, they were still records) with me but when you're writing a paper for a grad-level course as a junior, applying for internships and a senior project, sitting and listening isn't going to happen. And that other thing - Oh yeah - CLASSES!! College would have been a 4-year vacation if it wasn't for that!

A lot of great Barry material got missed in that time period. I'm just now catching up with 1989's Barry Manilow (for the love of pete, dude, can we please have a non-self-titled record to make it easier on us? j/k) Even though I was ensconced behind ivy-covered walls I was not living under a rock and I should NOT have missed this one. Absolutely the best since Even Now. Really amazing lyrics and since I'm an 80s kid, that style grabs me as well. The same insightful and intelligent lyrics that sent the butterflies a-fluttering years earlier. A number of songs play a big part in future story chapters. I wonder if Barry is a computer nut - with the new technology that became available in the 80s his creative juices must have been dripping with all of the possibilities in making sound that were still being explored.
Back to my old obsession..........................
I rediscovered that line of thought first when I got settled in The Real World after college.

A few months after settling into my new home and job I flip the car radio to my favorite heavy rock station and the adolescent in me sang HALLELUJAH! "The Crush" was in town, doing a solo concert as a charity benefit. The best (read: shortest) dress came out of the closet. I get to the venue and I was the second person in line. (What? Someone's more dedicated than I am? Impossible!) And there he is, playing and singing right up close. How did I stand still? (I don't think I did.) It was surreal - after nosebleed concert seats and videos and still photos - he's..... HERE!

My new friend from the line dragged me to where he was obviously hanging out after his set was over. You know there are times when you don't care if you look stupid. This was one of them.

I asked for a hug. (Who does this?? A complete stranger asking for intimacy? What was I thinking?)

I got it. (He didn't even flutter an eyelash or hesitate. Next thing I know there are arms around my waist and my back is rubbed. I guess he's used to those requests.)

I didn't sleep that night! (You wouldn't have either!)

The Internet and America OnLine boom came a few short years after graduation. And wouldn't you know, there were newsgroups and bulletin boards on that band. That adolescent rush came back with a vengance. Concerts with friends (unchaperoned!) talking with other fans all over the US. Back in the day, that didn't happen - my obsession was my own and there were few if any to share it with.

Not only that but the door was wider open than I thought. Not just fans of the band. Employees....... Family members.........

Then one day - after an awful day at work that would keep the script writers at Lipstick Jungle busy for weeks - I came home and logged on out of sheer boredom and the first several emails in my box were from my old crush. A response, and some followups to a post I put on a message board about how I met him.

He remembered......every detail.......down to the dress I was wearing.......!

The awful work day was a distant memory. My crush had become my friend.

Beautiful Music, Part 2

So until now (blog time) I didn't realize how deep-seated love of music was. Nor did I realize how the really early exposure guided my hand when it was time to add my own growing tastes.

So it comes as a shock to absolutely no one that most of my music was melodic rock and pop. A cross-section in no particular order: Journey, Billy Joel, anything written and/or produced by Jim Steinman (I swear he was born in an orchestra pit somewhere), Styx, Dan Fogelberg, Barry Manilow (no suprise there) Air Supply (shut up! they're great!), lots of movie and musical soundtracks (Ice Castles , Footloose, and Amadeus are favorites to this day), Brian Setzer and the Stray Cats, (which got me listening to vintage '40s and '50s music) and a host of contemporary Christian music like Steve Taylor and Keith Green with their really intense lyrics, and Petra which you would swear was a clone of REO Speedwagon if you closed your eyes. The Barry part is coming, I promise...

For all of the names listed above and more, there is a single memory of the moment I heard their music the first time. Usually it was radio or a movie, or a friend brought over a record. (Yes, record, not CD. ) I could tell you what the weather was like, the day of the week, where I was at, whether I danced - and how strong that little "stomach butterfly" feeling was when a certain chord progression or lyric phrase hit me in an inexplicable way that it makes you look at a thought or idea in a new way and you know it will be a part of you for the rest of your days.

But here's the strange thing - Barry's music is the only one I don't have that kind of starting point for. It was just "always there". My memories start crystalizing around 1974 - kindergarten/first grade and along with the usual school and friends memories, there's "Mandy" and all the rest - including the TV specials, the movie tracks, the radio, TV commercials for a new record. Sure there are certain songs I know those "first time" details but Barry in general is a standard, like my family and my home, like that favorite childhood knick-knack that you don't know exactly where it came from, but it's always there for you to see and touch whenever you want; and if you don't see it for a while, that's OK - you'll find it again, because you always do.

And this year, it was a good thing I did.

Beautiful Music

And when I heard all the words about passion
Singing to me about love of a fashion that I never heard anywhere else
That's when I said - gotta get some of that for myself....

When I thought about putting this story together I started to think about where my love of music in general came from. EVERYWHERE! From day one, almost literally and it amazed me at how much of it was there!

My parents tell me that as an infant my dad would hold me while listening to classical music on the radio - usually the old "An Afternoon at the Met" on WQXR. I remember one of the main classical stations out of NYC once changed formats from classical to oldies rock in the early 70s - the kickoff song at the time was "Roll Over Beethoven" by Chuck Berry. When the classical format was reinstated, the opening piece was Et resurrexit from Bach's "Mass in B Minor". Back in the day when DJs of all types had some power over their playlists and a sense of humor besides. Talk about early impressions of using pieces of music to tell a story or even a joke.

My next-door neighbor had one of those '70s organs that tried to imitate a church organ at home and had several rhythms and sound effects. Looking back it looked like an early attempt at today's synthesizers. With a little guidance I learned to plink out a tune from whatever sheet music was available. I had a thing for "Over the Rainbow" for some reason. A lot of after-school sessions spent in that house, but why on earth didn't I learn to play with my left hand? There were violin lessons too - to appease Mom and Dad. I dropped it like a bad habit ASAP. I hated the violin. The one instrument I wanted to play - the drums - were verbotten.

Church choir was also a staple. My dear ole dad, bless his heart, can't carry a note in a bucket but we went to a small enough church that it didn't matter - they just needed men in the back row. So naturally I was enrolled in the childrens' choir. The very youngest of the group by several years. The director was an elderly, grandmotherly lady who took me under her wing as her favorite. Since I never knew my grandparents it was like having a grandmother on Saturdays who played the piano and taught us songs.

More than playing or singing, what really stirred me was dance. Mom enrolled me in the standard dance class series at age 5: ballet, tap, jazz. It's like a rule that every little girl has to go through this and it took hold of me but fast! My rebellious streak was shedding the classical music influence Dad tried to get into me, but ballet exercises at the barre reinforced it, if marginally. I moved into pointe as I got older and really aspired to polish up my technique in romantic-era ballet work. Tap got left behind relatively soon. You can't really move. So it was jazz that did the most to reinforce my growing popular music love. The instructor was obsessed with pop music that was outside the mainstream for my age group. Favorites for floor exercises were lots of Peter Allen (I can't hear "Bi-Coastal" or "I Go to Rio" without repeating the little practice drill.....), Stevie Wonder, a little Melissa Manchester, and any stage musical that Bob Fosse choreographed something for.

Aside: for our recital one year, I was cast as Velma Kelly in a group dance routine to "All That Jazz". I was FOURTEEN!! I look back on that, especially now that I know the entire Chicago story line and wonder, what in the world were they thinking putting a kid in that role?? But on stage I could make that song come alive, let me tell you...... ;-)

Afternoons after school when I didn't have an activity or club or lesson, I was a latchkey kid. I didn't care about TV or video games - I would dig out both my folks' showtune records and the pop/rock music I was listening to, and choreograph a routine to it. Just make something up, like that sequence in Flashdance.

This is a lot longer than I thought it would be! This is the backdrop of music that I started making my own choices against. I thought I was rejecting all of the classical influence but most of what I chose to listen to had complex melodic arrangements with more than three chords and lyrics that took brains to write. Time for Part 2.....

Sunday, February 17, 2008

I made it through the rain...I think

This blog is about love - of music. How it was lost and how I found it again and who helped along the way. I've never posted any of these thoughts over the past 10+ years for fear of how silly they would look in public or that someone, somewhere would find a way to use them against me and make my life miserable. Again. (More on that in a future post.)

But since my name isn't on this (HA! Gotcha!) I guess it's OK.

When friends are hard to find
And life seems so unkind
Sometimes you feel afraid

Just aim beyond the clouds
And rise above the crowd
And start your own parade

Bear with me and I'll get to the point soon enough. Just to warn you there is a TON of stuff about music by Barry Manilow in this little diary. If you're not a fan, you won't get it. If you are, then you might get it a little too well! What's great is you can reinterpret and reapply lyrics and intentions however you want and bring an entire new life to words and music he wrote years ago.

Good night, my new friends. Be gentle with me. This is the first time I have enjoyed writing in more than ten years - I'm still afraid.