By Kyle | March 23, 2008
In my Sunday column I look back at the fraught history of my not altogether honorable relationship with Mr. Barry Manilow while sort of condemning him, in the most equivocal language, with my fingers crossed behind my back.
“His name was Rico. He wore a diamond.”
Thirty years ago this winter, with those simple words, an improbable American experiment about a corny balladeer who wanted to reinvent himself as a disco sizzler was launched. Studs and showgirls. The merengue and the cha-cha.
Music, and passion.
I have already sort of condemned, in the most equivocal language, with my fingers crossed behind my back, the music of Mr. Barry Manilow.
But this is not the whole story.
For some, nagging, minor questions remain that hardly deserve a mention except that they are also worth a 37-minute speech. To this small, insignificant number of people, the fact that I lied when I initially lied about whether I had ever heard Mr. Manilow sing “Can’t Smile Without You” or “Daybreak” shows that I am a liar.
Others have responded that my lying does not matter as long as I speak in dreamy modulated tones carefully interrupted with dramatic pauses. They have stated that my use of triple word pairings has reconfigured their outlook on life. I admit that sometimes I resort to this time-hallowed technique even when I’m describing to my wife what we need from the store. I speak of bread and milk. Butter and eggs.
Macaroni, and cheese.
But my impaired relationship with the truth is a small part of the fraught history that defines white people’s experience in America. So I ask you today to cast your gaze upon the larger picture and forget what I said before. Because I need a distraction. A smokescreen. A ruse.
Did I spend the summer of 1977 rollerskating to “Looks Like We Made It”? Of course. Did I have in my possession 45-rpm records of both “Mandy” and “I Write the Songs”? Yes. Did I listen to “Barry Manilow Live” on 8-Track while playing “Monopoly”? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you listened to Neil Diamond or Gordon Lightfoot. Who isn’t even American.
I worshiped at the Church of Manilow for many years. He is a part of me. I can no more disown him than I can unload my LPs of ABBA’s “Super Trouper” or “The Best of Andy Gibb.” However, I respectfully request that you please not hold any facts against me and start talking about something else.
Now it has come to pass that we are arrived at that moment in the history of this great American republic when I, my fellow citizens, am called forth by destiny to change the subject.
Change is not just a slogan, or an ideal, or a vapid buzzword that has been used in every political campaign since Pericles ran for dogcatcher.
Change is what I need to survive.
So we are brought forth upon this continent, to this moment, when I stand before you to emphasize that I now listen to Radiohead, Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend.
By the way, I like Garth Brooks too.
Please don’t make me discuss the Dixie Chicks.
I am the son of a white man from Massachusetts and a white woman from Massachusetts. Barry Manilow’s leadership in singing exquisitely crafted yet beautifully hopeful sad songs with swelling choruses and stirring key changes has proven integral to my personal mission to sound really good when I talk – stirring and lilting, dulcet and mellifluous.
Barry Manilow to me is nothing more than a crazy uncle in a rhinestone-spangled powder-blue jumpsuit. And yet it was Barry Manilow who was frequently playing on my turntable when my older brother came in the room to purloin the quarters from my humble Tootsie Roll bank or administer unto me an unholy litany of noogies.
It was Barry Manilow who played on the car stereo when we drove to my grandparents’ house in New Jersey for Thanksgiving, and my brother could not keep his big stinky feet on his side. My fervent appeals for help to the so-called parental authority figures in the front seat too often fell on deaf ears, planting a seed of injustice that would be nurtured by the sunlight of opportunism to grow into a shoot of backstory that today, with your help and the grace of the Almighty, now stands as a mighty Sequoia of charisma.
The stark history of division in America has led to sometimes painful differences of opinion. Reasonable people can disagree on whether I am the greatest living human or a demigod with transcendent spiritual powers. I think we should split the difference.
Say it with me now, America. Change. The subject.