Thursday, August 2, 2012

Brenda, Barry and Blossom

"All my dreams are dead."  

This was my reaction upon receiving my ticket in the mail to see Barry Manilow at Blossom - a ticket for a last-row seat in the pavilion.  I was heart-broken and totally convinced that God hated my guts. Did He not know that Barry was the love of my life?  I had posters of this blue-eyed, golden-haired, sequin-suited superstar taped all over my bedroom walls. I played his "Live" album until my parents developed an irrational hatred of the man.  (To be fair, how many times can a reasonable person listen to the "You Deserve a Break Today" theme from McDonald's?) And that ticket had cost me a whopping nine I had carefully saved up from babysitting my next-door neighbor's kids (one of whom reads this blog, I might add - you know who you are, Lynn!).  I had washed dishes for that money, pulled weeds for that money, and endured Dad's endless criticism of my lack of weed-pulling skills for that money. I suffered, man.  I suffered for Manilow.  And this was my reward? I deserved to sit in the front row.  No ... rather ... I deserved to be backstage, groveling at the feet of my first love, because of course nobody in the universe loved him more than I did.  Nobody.  Not his friends, not his mother, and not the God who created him. 

Of course, this was 1978, and I was 15 at the time.  I kept a diary back then, and those exact words - "all my dreams are dead" - still haunt me. Why?  Well, it's disturbing on way too many levels. For one thing, the writing was so embarrassingly bad. (Oh look, here's another diary entry where I dream of someday growing up and winning "bunches and bunches of Pulitzer Prizes.") For another, the dead dream phrase was not exaggerated.  That summer before my very first concert - Barry Manilow at Blossom Music Center - I thought of Barry during every waking moment. I counted the days until the show.  When it came to the sum total of every conscious fantasy I had, Barry was the one, the only, the beginning and the end. I was obsessed...consumed...and completely out of my mind.  

And, in 1978, no performer was bigger than Barry.  He sold out three nights at Blossom - including the lawn - to the tune of 60,000 seats. His songs were all over the radio; his album sales were insane; he even had his own television specials. (Back in the 70s, our "reality" TV was something called the "variety show," during which truly talented people would entertain us.  Those were some good days.) 

Even at school, Barry was a topic of conversation.  He was cool because he was uncool.  It's hard to explain, but in that era there seemed to be a backlash to just about everything. If Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd were popular, disco was its opposite, and so disco became popular.  And if disco was popular, singer-songwriters like Manilow, John Denver, Neil Diamond and The Carpenters were disco's opposite, and so they became popular.  I don't think a lot of people understand how our society's collective mood swings back then contributed to a really interesting decade in music.

Because Barry sang songs that appealed to the vulnerable and insecure, many vulnerable and insecure teenagers loved him.  However, many equally vulnerable and insecure teenagers (who were presumably ashamed of these qualities) hated him, so the pro-Barry and no-Barry camps occasionally clashed.  My most vivid memory of this particular pimple popping involved a jukebox.  At North High, we had a commons area which served as a lunch room.  In the mornings, however, this was where the kids met to socialize and frantically copy each other's homework.  It was an area that had become increasingly attractive because the school had purchased a couple of arcade games: one was video football, the other Space Invaders.  Video games were brand new back then, and students used to get to school extra early just to have a shot at playing them.  Consequently, the area was constantly packed with kids pumping quarters into the jukebox that sat nearby.  (If there is anyone younger than 40 out there reading this, a "jukebox" was a great big box that contained something called "records" which used to contain actual "songs.")

As for the students, we pretty much fell under one of three labels:  jocks, browns or burnouts.  Jocks ... well, they were the popular kids, the athletes, the ones everyone else avoided.  Browns were the smart/creative kids ... the A students, the band members, the drama crowd, the ones everyone else avoided.  And then, finally, there were the burnouts ... the bad kids, the druggies, the ones who were always in trouble, and yes - the ones everyone else avoided.  

So ... my friends and I - "browning" our lives away at our usual table by the window - would listen to David Bowie, Boston, and the soundtrack from "Grease" with little complaint, but every morning - EVERY morning - we had to hear Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall" played with sickening repetition.  To hear that thing played six times before the opening bell was not unusual; I think the burnouts (who surprisingly had lots of money) may have been trying to brainwash us.  For me, brain-bleeding was more accurate  Fortunately, we had successfully petitioned to have Barry Manilow's "Ready To Take A Chance Again" added to the box, so we decided (oh, who am I kidding, I decided), that for every time we had to listen to Floyd, they were going to listen to Manilow.  Well ... it didn't quite work out that way.  The very first week we tried to do this, the Floyd followers responded by banging the jukebox against the wall, causing Barry's record to skip.  Naturally, when Floyd came on, we did the same thing.  I vaguely recall this episode escalating into a shouting match with at least six students playing tug-of-war with the jukebox.  Sadly - but justifiably - we all got yelled at, and both Barry Manilow and Pink Floyd were forever banned from our  listening pleasure.  (Sorry, Barry - I meant well.)

At home, my parents just kept telling themselves my Manilow addiction was just some sort of hideous phase that was bound to magically end when I started acting like a normal teenager.  I'm not sure what a "normal" teenager would have been to my Mom and Dad, because they were constantly at war with my older brother and sister.  I think, though, my parents cherished some sort of twisted fantasy in which I would be this nice, stable kid who got A's, moved out of the house at 18, got married to some equally stable man and had a bunch of stable kids. When all that happened, maybe then I'd finally stop playing the "Live" album.  

But my Dad - who knew I was crazy - stupidly offered to drive me and my friends to Blossom to see Barry, which was kind of a big deal because none of us were old enough to drive yet.  He even sat in the parking lot during the show and waited for us.  I can still remember the sweet sound of Dad cussing non-stop when it took him two hours to get out of the Blossom parking lot, which embarrassed the hell out of me in front of my friends.  Dad sure could swear. He died in 2010. 

It's strange ... looking back on it all ... that I don't remember much from the actual show.  I'm pretty sure Barry was there - in all his gold-studded, white-jumpsuited glory - but I think the serotonin rush in my brain might have brought on a seizure that would explain the memory loss.  My diary entry from the day after isn't much help ... it's mostly incoherent babblings from somebody who might have just experienced the Rapture. But, in the end, all the suffering -- as only a 15-year-old can suffer -- was worth it.  

Here in 2012, it's 34 years later and yes, I have a ticket to see Barry Manilow at Blossom Music Center tonight (Aug. 2).  I never stopped being a fan ... probably because Barry never stopped performing, and I never stopped enjoying his performances.  I'm too old to care if Barry's cool. When it comes to temperature, I only care if I'm cool (especially at an outdoor venue in August).  My dreams and Barry have pretty much parted company over these last 34 years.  But tonight, when I sit back and listen to "Mandy," "Weekend In New England" and "I Write The Songs" one more time, I can close my eyes and, for a short precious while, pretend it's 1978 when nothing else mattered.  I know I'll have plenty of company during my time travel; I think Barry still sells out so many of his tour stops because the world is full of people who need to leave 2012 for awhile.  Tonight I'll be surrounded by lots of people who, like me, "deserve a break today."  We can all listen to his music and be 15 again. 

And maybe tonight I can even pretend that my Dad is still waiting for me in the parking lot. 

P.S.  Barry is still creating some incredible music.  Check out his latest single from "15 Minutes," his latest and greatest CD:


  1. Wonderful blog Brenda! I was right there with you every step of the way! Enjoy the show tonight!

  2. "All my dreams are dead" and "bunches and bunches of Pulitzer prizes" still make me laugh til I pee.

  3. Ah ha ha ha! I didn't attend that 1978 concert, but I know people who did. And yeah, I remember calling people "burnouts" and having a jukebox in the commons.... wow, that must've been a NE Ohio thing!