Manilow hopes to conjure up memories, instruments in Pittsburgh tour stop
By Kellie B. Gormly
Published: Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
If you're competing on “American Idol” or otherwise trying to break into singing, let fame be the byproduct of your talent, rather than the goal itself.
That's the advice from old pro Barry Manilow, who has served as a guest singer on the hit Fox show. The singing-songwriting star's worldwide fame didn't come until he was almost 30, but Manilow, who performs April 19 at Consol Energy Center, says he is glad it happened that way, after many years of hard work and maturity.
“When fame hit me, I was already 29 years old, and it knocked me over,” says Manilow, a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. who now lives in Palm Springs, Calif.
“I never thought about being a performer; I never wanted to sing, get up onstage,” Manilow says. “For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to do was to be a musician. If ... at 19 years old, I became a very famous musician … it probably would have driven me a little nuts.
“You can't do it backwards,” he says. “You can't go for the fame first. You need to go for the work.”
Manilow explores this young-star meltdown phenomenon — inspired, he says, by often-troubled pop princess Britney Spears — in his most recent studio album, “15 Minutes,” which was his first work in rock-opera style. The album's 16 songs lyrically tell the story of a fictional singer who strives to become famous, and makes it, but the euphoria doesn't last for long. Soon, the singer starts falling into the dark side of celebrity, described in “Wine Song,” and his partner withdraws. He becomes demanding and delusional, and spins into ruin. But the album ends on a happy note with “Everything's Gonna Be All Right,” where the singer starts to patch up his broken life, and seeks a new beginning.
“15 Minutes,” Manilow says, is “a story album about somebody who wants fame, gets it, blows it and starts all over again.”
“It was more of an edgy, pop, guitar-driven album than I'd ever made,” he says. “I loved doing it.”
Sadly, we see the results of young people trying so hard to be famous all too often, with stories about addictions, mental breakdowns, trouble with the law and other difficulties abounding in the media, Manilow says. He and lyricist Enoch Anderson explored this pattern when they were thinking about what kind of album they would write for Manilow's next project.
“What we kept finding were these stories in the newspapers and on the Internet about these young people and their ambition is to be famous,” he says. “You can be famous by jumping off a roof, too.”
When these young people become famous overnight and aren't ready for it — and they face the downside of fame, like the paparrazi stalking them — the results can be ruinous, Manilow says.
“It's very, very dangerous for young people to be thrown into this world of fame without any experience,” he says.
“Make sure you're surrounded by your family and old friends — people who know you as the person you were before this insanity hit. People are going to treat you different when you're famous than when you're just a regular guy.”
Since “15 Minutes,” which came out in 2011, Manilow released “The Classic Christmas Album” in October 2012. Meanwhile, Manilow is turning his tour into a charitable drive for local schoolchildren.
Manilow asks Pittsburgh fans to support his Manilow Music Project charity (www.manilowmusicproject.org) by donating a new or gently used musical instrument — guitar, saxophone, drum or flute, for instance — in exchange for two free tickets to the concert. Manilow will donate the instruments, along with a Yahama piano, to Pittsburgh Public Schools for the district's music programs. Instruments can be exchanged for tickets up to 4 p.m. on the day of the show at the Dick's Sporting Goods Box Office at Consol Energy Center.
Manilow's project, part of the Manilow Fund for Health and Hope, provides musical instruments to high schools and middle schools in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
Many schools, facing budget cuts, are cutting music and arts classes and can't afford to replace broken down instruments, Manilow says.
“Which is just killing me, to think that these young kids are not going to have music in their young lives,” he says. “I don't know what I would have done had I not had that orchestra class. It pointed me in the direction I needed to go.
“Music classes are not just playtime,” Manilow says. “Every teacher I speak to, several principals, every superintendent, they tell me that ... these kids that are in music classes, their grades go up, they become better students … they become better people.”
Kellie B. Gormly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7824.
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