I Was a Teenage Barry Manilow Fan
(or how I learned to love the BMIFC)
In the beginning Barry Manilow wanted to be a great jazz artist. His career has never quite evolved in that direction primarily because his fans have consumed, in large quantities, the lightweight, formulaic drivel he unleashed onto an unsuspecting world throughout the 70s and early 80s.
I was one of those fans. I was a teen-age Barry Manilow fan. I say it loud and I say it proud. And I’ll tell you why.
Actually, why I was a teenage Barry Manilow fan is much more complex than I’ll probably be able to get you to believe. Barry Manilow was also someone to stand up for. He was Underdog personified. And I got off on it.
There are many theories about Manilove: one being the safe, hairless, repressed sexuality of an untouchable icon. It’s true. At thirteen, I had not yet entered that seductive door of teen-lust. Boys were still "sweet" and "cute".
The whole thing started with Manilow Magic, my budget greatest hits album, and that insipid little song "I Can’t Smile Without You". What I was thinking, I can’t defend. "This One’s For You" and "Somewhere Down The Road"— these songs can still work me over on some level. But "I Can't Smile Without You"?
I shudder to think how this co-dependent little ditty has morphed into the concert ritual of yanking a stargazer out of the crowd and boring us all to death with what is evidently a song too torturous to keep singing alone.
In many ways, I did not completely fit the Manilow-fan profile. I had no friends who liked him. I didn’t have that typical gun-ho, go-along-ability the other fan-clubbers had. I was not the type to swoon. And I never understood Barry Manilow as date-music. I can testify that the boyfriends of fans were indeed present at Manilow concerts; however, they all had this captured look about them.
I don’t get the whole idea of "date concerts" in the first place. How in the world is this supposed to work? How are the not so subtle signs of honey, why aren’t you more like him, via swooning, gasping, fainting and drooling, in any way conducive to getting’ it on later on?
And these girls were definitely in love, having bought the same Manilow wall-posters I had with the same various lip-glossed, Barry posturings: Barry in a brown down jacket, causally open, his chest obscurely blurred, Barry in a tux, grainy and non-threatening, Barry in leather jacket and white cravat, Barry tanning.
I had them all. And the LP records. So it was only a matter of time before I would succumb to the little message at the bottom of every Barry Manilow album dust jacket: "Come join us." That was the gist of it. The Barry Manilow International Fan Club. It was a crossroads. Should I join? Be part of a worldwide movement? A cause I believed in?
Some issues plagued me. First of all, what rights do Barry Manilow fans feel they don’t get that they need to organize? Barry’s Official "club" is gargantuan in size. Its leader is shrewdly able to "rally the troops" -- a willing cluster of joiners who have publicly declared their allegiance to Barry Manilow. In all fairness, they have managed to raise some serious charity cash.
Also, Manilovers just don’t spend enough time mingling with Rappers or Metalheads, in short, the rest of the world. Fan clubs are scary simply because they boil down to fandom in a bubble: a place where you can go to be a Barry Manilow fan and no one can hurt you.
So what did I want? Artist involvement? Timely data? A feeling of belonging to some great movement? Academic explications of the lyrics? Interpretive Workshops? Sure.
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