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Barry Manilow enjoys more than 15 minutes of fame

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Four-decade career: Barry Manilow brings his tour to the HP Pavilion in San Jose on Thursday.

The audience was stunned at first. It wasn’t expecting chart-topping pop artist Barry Manilow to suddenly stop his show at the Sleep Train Pavilion in Concord with an offbeat observation like, “I tell ya, folks — the older you get, the slower you pee!”

But gradually, laughter erupted, then spread. It was funny, his devotees — known as Fanilows — decided. Funny because it was true.

In a recent interview, the former TV commercial jingle writer recalled that incident from years ago — and other quirky impromptu observations — and chuckled at his own temerity.

“Hey, I just say what I feel,” he explained. “I’ve never been trained as a performer, so I just didn’t learn the rules.”
Manilow, playing San Jose this week and supporting his Manilow Music Project (which donates instruments and works to reinstate music curriculums in underfunded schools), has made some serious gaffes.

He says he no longer spoofs other performers since he got a letter from Johnny Mathis, who was offended by one of his comments.  

“It happens night after night,” he adds. “It’s either something that I think is funny that they don’t, or something like me getting the name of a city wrong. There were some nights where I’ve yelled ‘Hello!’ someplace, and I wasn’t there, and it took me a good half-hour to get that audience back.”

But the humble singer has had a stellar four-decade career. He has won a Tony, a Grammy, two Emmys and even a Clio for his 1970s advertising work (such as McDonald’s “You deserve a break today” and Band-Aid’s “I am stuck on Band-Aid” tunes, which he used to incorporate into his gigs as the “Very Strange Medley”).

He just logged his 50th Billboard Top 40 adult contemporary hit with “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” His last album, 2011’s “15 Minutes” — a study of fame set in the Williamsburg neighborhood apartments in Bronx, N.Y., where he grew up dirt-poor — was one of his highest-charting, and best-reviewed, albums.

“But I started off all those years ago just wanting to be a composer, an arranger or a conductor,” Manilow says. “So the performing part came at me out of the blue, and I resisted it for years. So I never really learned what you’re supposed to do on that stage. I don’t know how to be anybody else but me.”

With his first 1974 smash, “Mandy,” the star was warned about the brevity of a showbiz life. Five years, tops, is what industry chums predicted. “And I always thought that it would stop,” he says. “But the public out there still seems to be interested in what I’ve got to say. So I’m a very grateful guy!”

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