by Greg Schwem
Sorry, New Zealand Parliament. While I support mask mandates, my allegiance is also to Barry Manilow.
Last week, while attempting to disperse anti-mask protesters who gathered outside the government’s headquarters in Wellington, New Zealand, Parliament officials resorted to a rather, um, unique tactic: blasting the songs of Barry Manilow, the guy who writes the songs.
Had I been part of the protest, I would have politely tapped a Parliament member on the shoulder and said, “Please turn up the volume. And don’t just limit it to the hits. Dig deeper into the Manilow catalogue. Get my blood flowing with a little ‘Riders to the Stars’ and then tug at my heartstrings with ‘Lonely Together.’”
Admit it, we all have that one artist we’re secretly embarrassed to admit we admire. For me, it’s Barry. Yes, I am on a first name basis with him. Deal with it, haters! You have your Kanye; I have my Barry.
I’ve been a Barry fan since winning tickets, via a radio station giveaway, to a Manilow — sorry, a Barry — concert at Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre in January 1977. Snippets from that tour can be found on “Barry Manilow Live,” the album cover featuring Barry in a royal blue, sequin-studded outfit that he probably was lowered into via hydraulics.
Not only did Barry deliver the hits but he also entertained his fans by singing his “VSM” (Very Strange Medley), a series of well-known commercial jingles that Barry either wrote or sang before the big bucks came his way with “Mandy” and “It’s a Miracle.” Seriously, how many artists can have an entire audience singing, “Get a bucket of chicken, finger lickin’ good, have a barrel of fun, goodbye ho-hum”?
Who knows? Parliament may have waved the white surrender flag and allowed the entire country to discard their masks had protesters begun crooning those lyrics.
If your goal is to annoy an audience, you can’t play the music of somebody who, at 78, is still packing them in, either on the road or at his Las Vegas residency, despite a raspy voice and far too much plastic surgery. Similar stars approaching octogenarian status don’t receive that kind of treatment. I’m sure it never entered Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s mind to remove Ottawa truckers from blocking the Canada-U.S. border by blasting Elton John. Or the Rolling Stones.
So, why single out Barry? His songs too are ingrained in our mental jukeboxes, even if we’re afraid to say it. Several years ago, I saw one of those pedal bar tours — basically a keg party on wheels — making its way through downtown Chicago. Its passengers, all half of Barry’s age and in various stages of inebriation, were singing, “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…” in whatever key was comfortable.
Nobody asked them to disperse.
In Parliament’s defense, officials did choose other tunes besides Barry’s. “Macarena,” the Los Del Rio song that spawned a dance craze in 1996, got numerous spins and, yes, that would have had the desired effect on me. I probably would have offered to not only wear a mask but distribute masks if it meant never having to hear it again.
Barry songs are played often but not ad nauseum, making them unlikely “nails on a chalkboard” candidates. Next time Parliament, consider the following:
“Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen.
“Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
“All I Want for Christmas” by Mariah Carey.
Anything by the Spice Girls.
Just leave Barry alone to do his thing while he still can. His concerts are bucket list candidates for fans of a certain age, and even younger audience members who get dragged to see him usually end up singing along at some point. I have hopes that my daughters, ages 19 and 25, might accompany me to a Barry concert someday.
OK, that would be a miracle. A true-blue spectacle miracle.
(Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of two books: “Text Me If You’re Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad” and the recently released “The Road To Success Goes Through the Salad Bar: A Pile of BS From a Corporate Comedian,” available at Amazon.com. Visit Greg on the web at www.gregschwem.com.
You’ve enjoyed reading, and laughing at, Greg Schwem’s monthly humor columns in Senior Living News. But did you know Greg is also a nationally touring stand-up comedian? And he loves to make audiences laugh about the joys, and frustrations, of growing older. Watch the clip and, if you’d like Greg to perform at your senior center or senior event, contact him through his website at www.gregschwem.com)