I’ve had a deep dark secret that I’ve only shared with a few of my close friends. It’s not something I’m proud of. It goes completely against my character and most people find it hard to believe. I am a Fanilow. Yes, that’s right. I am a fan of Barry Manilow and I see him in concert every chance I get.
It was 1975 when “Mandy” first hit the charts. I was taking radio-broadcasting classes in high school and “Mandy” was the most requested song on the request line. Being the glam rock, rock dog that I was, “Mandy” just didn’t fit in with my Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Velvet Underground playlist. It never sounded right to sandwich “Mandy” in between “Dead Babies” and “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” However, I did find myself turning up that schmoopy song every time I heard it. The tune got stuck in my head and seemed to eat its way through my brain like an earwig. So, once I gave in it was a slippery slope to schmaltz town. I bought Barry Manilow albums. I saw him in concert in 1976. I got a Barry Manilow T-shirt at that concert for $5 and I wore it until it fell apart. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen him in person, but I must admit during last night’s concert I was almost ready to renounce my Fanilowship.
My constant concert companion has been my friend Lisa. We met while working together at MTV and when we discovered that we were both closet Fanilows we forged a bond that could never be broken. Of course, working for MTV we had to meet in secret because as employees of MTV, being ultra cool was mandatory. Whenever Barry was in Detroit, Lisa and I were there. When Barry had his Las Vegas run – we were there. And once again last night, we braved the below zero weather to head out to The Palace of Auburn Hills to get our Manilow on.
There was an opening act that we didn’t want to see so we got there late which made the normally difficult and crowded trek through the parking lot unusually easy. It also made going through security a breeze. I guess that’s because we were the only two there! We got our tickets scanned and as we were walking away the ticket lady yelled to us, “Don’t forget your glow sticks!” Lisa and I looked at each other and grabbed the two glow sticks she held out for us and then headed into the arena. “Glow sticks? What is this? Disney on Ice?” I said. We entered on the opposite side of the arena from where our seats were so we had a long walk: a long, very silent walk. The only noise was the echo of our heels on the concrete floor.
“Do you think we’re here on the wrong night?” I asked Lisa.
“Maybe the show’s over,” Lisa said.
I looked at my watch. “It’s 8:15. It can’t be.”
Still, the silence was eerie. We didn’t see another soul except for a security guard leaning against a darkened nachos stand. As we passed the restrooms, Lisa pointed out that the Men’s room sign had a handwritten sign taped over it that said “Women’s.” That was all the confirmation we needed to assure us that we were indeed here on the right night. Once we found our entrance we pulled the curtains aside and walked into the arena. I believed there was every possibility that only two tickets were sold and Lisa and I were going to be treated to a private concert, but that thought flew right out of my head when I saw a sold-out arena. I mean it was packed to the rafters. Lisa and I looked at each other and she said, “Well, his audience is getting older. Maybe they all got here at four.” I think she was right. Due to my lifelong skill of scoring great seats, we were ushered down to the main floor, 18th row. When we sat down Lisa said, “Take a look around at this audience.” I didn’t have to look far to know what she was talking about.
Since I was sitting on the aisle I had to scoot over a few times to make way for walkers, wheelchairs and one old woman on a scooter with an oxygen tank in her basket. Even the ushers were old. Then Lisa leaned over to me and said, “I think this might have to be the last time we do this.” I readily agreed because as I scanned the arena I realized there’s something disturbing and a little sad about old people holding glow sticks. Then there were the two guys a couple of rows ahead of us. They were both wearing hockey jerseys that said Manilow #1 on the back. My first thought, okay my second thought, was there’s no men’s room for them. There was a young woman sitting next to us who giddily explained that her name was Mandy and she was named after the song. Fascinating. I wondered how many other Mandys were here tonight. I’m sure one of the hockey jersey Manilow #1s is probably a Mandy too. Suddenly the lights went out, the music blared and out walked Barry!
The stage was hung with red velvet drapes that matched his jacket. His hair was windblown and strangely enough so was his face. What the hell has he done to his face? His skin was pulled so tight his eyes looked like two BBs darting around his skull. The BB eyes hovered just above his freakishly large cheek implants and his lips were drawn so tight I wasn’t sure he’d be able to form and O. I was bracing myself to hear “Eh, Mandy.” Adding insult to injury there were three huge screens in the arena that magnified his face a thousand times. I was frightened.
“Do you think he’s had any plastic surgery?” I whispered to Lisa.
“I just want to go up there and see if I can squeeze his cheeks,” she said. “I wonder what’s in them.”
“Doorknobs.” I replied. “He looks like an old Jewish woman. He’s become Bubby Manilow!”
By this time the crowd (those who could still stand without assistance) were on their feet. Glow sticks were waving, people were singing, the two Manilow #1s were jumping up and down and Barry was doing what he does best – entertaining. He may not have looked like himself but he still had that voice that soothed my teenaged tears and showed me that there were more romantic songs than “Stairway to Heaven.” I noticed Lisa was now singing and by the second song she leaned over to me and said, “Maybe this isn’t the last time after all.” I had to agree. We ended up singing all the songs, clapping vigorously after each number and once in a while we waved our glow sticks. I thought it was nice to see that the only glow came from the sticks instead of cell phones. Then I realized that’s because Jitterbug phones don’t light up. Barry joked with the crowd, showed some old clips from his early years and put his two new hips to work on “Copacabana.” The show was under two hours and we left the Palace covered in streamers, clutching our glow sticks and still singing about Rico and Lola. Yeah. Even though he looks like a melted Ken doll, I don’t think we’re quite yet done with Barry.