Thursday, May 22, 2008

"Talk to Me" - more Eurekas!

OK, here's a question I'd like to ask, but doubt Barry would want to answer. It might get a tad personal and he minds his P's and Q's when talking about fans.

"You've heard for years about how your music has affected peoples' lives. What is the line (or is there a line?) between a flattering description of the effect your music has had, and being saddled with a responsibility you didn't sign on for, or is otherwise just really inappropriate?"

I told you all before, I'm really intense. Doubt I'll try to ask this to his face, I wouldn't want to scare him off.

"Talk to Me" - finally a Eureka moment!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 12, 2008

Changing the Taste of Love

For the past few weeks, I’ve been delving into how music’s inspiration comes out in fans. I had a number of ideas swirling around and then TPTB launched My Manilow Network (MMN) and added another factor to the mix – TPTB actually provided a venue for some forms of that inspiration to come out!

Usually when music inspires it brings out some new or untapped emotion – usually positive. Hence the title – it’s based on a line of Barry’s “The Best of Me”. Being inspired by music changes your appreciation for it and can even awaken other kinds of creativity you didn’t even know were there.

When music strikes someone the right way, the first impulse is to either respond in kind or to preserve the moment., a number of Barry Blogs, and the new MMN and all of the photo and video entries are testament to that. Occasionally music will bring out different kinds of creativity. Again, on MMN there are videos of choreographed dances, home-made videos, and some sketches and cartoons. Lots of us are writing – thank God for blogs! – not just on Barry but on other subjects that come to mind. Come to think of it, I did a lot of writing back in my older fan days.

My favorite example of musical inspiration that lifts spirits in need of new life is the Hindman Settlement School in Kentucky. This school specializes in instructing children (and adults) with severe dyslexia. There is no other program like this in Kentucky or in any of the surrounding states. When kids get frustrated because of dyslexia or other learning difficulties, they drop out of school and society altogether. But Hindman doesn’t stop at just the classroom. They sponsor the annual Appalachian Family Folk Week where artists (including musicians) celebrate, teach, and pass on the arts of the mountains. If you’re not from Appalachia, your first impression of these people is stereotypical “hillbillies”. Hillbilly is a term used with pride for the folks whose families settled the mountains 200 years ago. But if you’re a Yankee like me, or from any other “big city”, you best not use it – because “city folks” use it as a derogative. (If Dr Berry is reading this, I promise on a stack of Bibles that I’m just trying to describe this community – no disrespect, I swear!) These kids know that the rest of the world outside of their community thinks they’re a bunch of hicks. Music and other arts give them pride in their heritage that “outsiders” would love to pretend doesn’t exist. You’re surrounded by fiddles and hammered dulcimers for a week. And if you listen not just to the music but the people playing, it sounds like heaven.

I think the form of inspired creativity that requires the most intelligence and the greatest love of the subject is parody. Too bad it’s also the most misunderstood. Too many times, parody is seen as cruel mocking. If we’re talking about a critic’s column, that may be the case. But a dedicated fan isn’t going to have cruelty on their mind. When a fan can poke fun at their favorite subject (the key word is fan, not critic – that’s an important difference) it says that they love all aspects of what is inspiring them. ALL of it – not just the pretty parts used in PR. Casual fans only enjoy the music and the musician when they appear perfect. Serious and dedicated fans will find beauty even when things aren’t going “perfectly”. Serious fans will find beauty or even inspiration in aspects that are hidden away like a crazy relative the family is ashamed of. Bottom line, parody shows that that fan can accept the music and musician just as they are without turning up their nose when something doesn’t go as planned or isn’t as pretty offstage as it is onstage.

For some examples in Barry fan land, check out “Beth’s Barry Blog”. My personal favorite entry is “Marc’s Journal”, but the whole blog will keep you giggling for hours. Even Barry gets this idea. Kazoos and toy ducks, anyone?

The greatest parody I’ve ever seen is in classical dance. Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo is a troupe of men who recreate and pay homage to a century of great ballets. Most of them are in drag. What’s the big deal? Men en pointe. The dedication to training in technique for men to accomplish this is far greater than what a woman has to commit because of the basic differences in skeletal and muscle structure. Their center of gravity is different; they are generally heavier than women, so they are more likely to be injured, and more seriously. To raise the bar of complexity even further, they exaggerate all of the conceits and foibles that go into a classical production. One homage to Anna Pavlova’s “Dying Swan” involves a molting costume – that guy’s toe shoe hits even one of those feathers and he’s going down hard! They love to make fun of falls and accidents. No one in the dance community will talk about it but every ballerina – even the primas like Margot Fonteyn, Cynthia Gregory, and Lauren Anderson have all eaten the floor thanks to their partners’ butterfingers. The Trocks make sure everyone remembers that. There’s always a clash of egos, which they play to the hilt in “Pas de Quatre”. Let’s also not forget that most major ballet companies are union shops – affiliated with the AFL-CIO. You know, the Teamsters? Yes, they have strikes and they are anything but delicate and pretty.

But it’s obvious if you see the performances that the fun they’re having at the art’s expense is not out of bitterness or disgust. No one is going to commit to understanding all of these details if not for love of the art. What’s more, they understand the ego clashes and physical foibles in rehearsals and not only embrace them, but put them on display. This is what I mean about parody being a form of love and admiration.

Now that TPTB have created the new network, I’m wondering where the creative juices are going to flow in the fan world. And what are the boundaries? Or are there any? Does TPTB’s IT department have a sense of humor? Obviously the rude remarks on the homepage’s comment wall, plus the obscene (not to mention butt-ugly) videos inserted into the comments have nothing to do with being a fan. There’s a new place for Barry fans to be creative and to share the fruits of the inspiration of Barry’s music. I hope they moderate with a light hand so that creativity can continue to grow.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I Swore I Wasn't Going to Do This!

(Preserved for posterity from My Manilow Network)

Rediscovering Barry's music at just the right time reignited my love of music. But no WAY was I going to get involved in fan stuff. No online friends for me! Nuh-uh! Nothing good comes of this. It got fugly. Once was enough and even though the old wounds are healed, I didn't want to aggravate any old scars.

Then I blogged. Just for myself mind you, and whoever might stumble across it. Wouldn't hurt to say some nice things to the other bloggers out there. They're the ones who inspired me so I should say hello. It's the polite thing to do.

But don't make any friends.

Then the comments came in on my blog, and the stats were rising. Hey, someone likes this! Cool! I'm paying it forward!

But don't make any friends.

Then I started visiting the old BarryNet message board and checked out what people talked about. Not my cup of tea, but hey - no one is putting a gun to my head to sign up, so live and let live.

No friends there.

Then my other half and I got to see our first Barry show in ATL. Oh no, watch out for the weirdos!But there weren't any (many?) weirdos - just lots of nice, normal human beings having a good time.

Don't talk to the people around you - they're not your friends. Especially Creepy Bald Guy who wanted to share my umbrella after the show.

Then "My Manilow Network" is launched. Wow, there's lots to do here! Even my own page! So I can put stuff on my own blog, and other stuff here. Hey, there's someone from the other blogs posting here too. And what's that alert? A friend request? Well.....maybe just one. Besides whoever is working for Barry and using his name on their icon. There's more - where are they coming from? I don't think it would hurt to add these other people - they've posted nice comments on my blog before....

Hey - I found some new online friends!

How did that happen????

However it happened, I'm glad it did! It's great communicating back and forth and having fun again. So all of you who check out whatever I'm posting, THANX! I needed it more than I realized.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Little Travelling Music, Please

Before I started this blog I poked around on search engines and read some others on Barry. There was a lot of catching up to do, I didn't know where to start, and I didn't want to jump in and look like a knob or fall into the same trap I did years ago. Of course I found and the BarryNet and that got my feet wet. But there's a difference between "official" and "unofficial". Unofficial always has a very different take.

One of the first fan-run blogs I found was Scooter Talk. There's something about a fan in the audience capturing their own moments on their own camera. There's always a memory associated with it that is as individual as the photographer. That same sense just doesn't come across in press photos.

Scooter had an archive that could keep any fan busy for months, if not years. Photos that she and her husband took, transcripts from interviews - TV or print - and assorted anecdotes. Once I got through as much as I was able to in the past couple of months, I felt immersed and comfortable. So much so, I started my own blog, even though I didn't think I had anything to share.

I'm not alone - Scooter Talk (and its companion, Unofficial Manilow Newz) must be raking in thousands of hits a week so lots of someone else's are being uplifted as I am. Every morning at about 10 AM ET there were 2 or 3 new little tidbits to justify avoiding real work for a few moments. I could almost set my watch by it. When sitting in my office I'd check the clock to see if it was time to check on Scooter's archive again for something new.

The only time I didn't enjoy what I saw was a couple of days ago when Scooter announced that both of her blog sites were coming down. That screaming sob was me. Her mind is made up, I tried to change it - no dice. She has her reasons and that is that.

You've got until May 18 to enjoy the fruits of her labors and then it's bye-bye. And while you're visiting, take 2 seconds out of your life, hit the "Email" or "Comment" link and say THANK YOU. Scooter didn't have to go to so much effort to share her collection with the rest of us. I'll bet a little gratitude goes a very long way and it shouldn't be too much trouble for anyone to contribute that little boost.

Let's give her a nice send off - she's got a million thanx from me!

Scooter Talk
Unofficial Manilow Newz

Friday, May 2, 2008

The BarryNet got an overhaul - YOWZA!!!

So I stop by the BarryNet after I'm sure that the Littlest Fanilow is down for her nap and found a completely new site! WOW!!!
Big kudos to Stiletto for implementing a completely new idea - a private networking site. If you're not used to so many bells and whistles, it is worth your time to siddown and play with it until you learn them. There's lots to do there and I signed up on the spot, so it looks like I'll be seeing you around soon.

There's also going to be another post later that I've been working on all week but it's taking forever to make it come together.

Happy Friday Everybody!

(PS - my ID on the new BarryNet at the above address is YBA - send me a friend request and I'll add ya!)