I was a teenage Barry Manilow fan

I suppose I’d better come out and say it: I was a teenage Barry Manilow fan. Between the ages of 13 to 15, I was obsessed with all things Manilow. I guess you could call me a Fanilow. (And as all Fanilows know, today is his birthday.)

As a teenager, I always felt like the biggest misfit on the planet. I couldn’t get any gawkier. Buck teeth, reading glasses, a hopeless center parting. Being the weirdos we were, my friends and I were drawn to the emo scene (Fall Out Boy was LIFE back then). Yet I had a secret that I didn’t share with my friends.

I had bought an iPod classic, which had enough memory to store my entire music collection, plus that of my parents. My mother has an astoundingly cool CD collection. Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, the works. One morning I was rummaging through it when I found one with an odd cover on. It was this guy in a suit stood on a stage. His hands were outstretched as if he was so pleased to see the audience that was out of shot. Ooh, very showbiz, I thought. I’d made no secret in school that this emo kid also had a taste for Broadway shows and all the camp and glitz that accompanied it (the world of Broadway was very appealing to a girl who grew up in a dull town in Northern England and longed to get out). He looked campy and glitzy. Let’s give this a try.

Listening to Manilow’s greatest hits was enjoyable and confusing. This wasn’t the Beatles by any stretch. His lyrics amount to a just a bit more than “moon, June, spoon.” But I felt what many other Manilow fans had come to feel over the years. He’s singing to me, I thought. He is singing about my life.

There’s this one song called “I Made It Through The Rain,” where he sings about, erm, making it through the rain. He “kept his world protected and found himself respected by the others who got rained on too.” I had been rained on! I was being bullied for being different and here this guy was singing about what I was going through! It is cheesy as all hell, but I loved it. It was my comfort song. I would flit between that and “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” by Fleetwood Mac if ever I was in one of my teenage sulk modes.

I remember finding one of Manilow’s live shows had been uploaded in its entirety to Youtube. I was right about the camp and glitz. It was a massive cheese fest; schmaltzy, OTT and absolutely wonderful. One side of the stage was made to look like an old-timey piano bar, and above the piano was a sign that spelled out in twinkly lights ‘Dew Drop Inn.’  Then of course, there was the showstopper of “Copacabana,” which was performed with showgirls in feathers and sequins, crazy strobe lights and some sort of crane that lifted Manilow over the crowd. Copacabana was my jam.

Now picture this: I had a shockingly bad emo bangs, I liked wearing baggy jeans and oversized band tees. I went to a super trendy under 18s rock music club night every week with my friends. They had no idea about my Manilow fandom. It was time to come out of the closet. So I did it as casually as I could, over lunch in the school canteen. We were just talking about who we were going to write our projects about for music tech class. I told them, between heavy, mid-comfort-eating bites of a tuna sandwich, that I chose Barry Manilow.

“Barry Manilow?”

They were baffled to say the least. But hey, like all good people they chose to live and let live. I even managed to persuade one of them to come watch Barry with me. (Yes, we were on a first name basis. Thanks for asking.)That show was insane for all the reasons. There was confetti and laser lights and a huge production with an orchestra and dancers. And Barry. Barry with his super syrupy songs and super sparkly jacket. It was amazing.

The best thing about it was that before every performance of “I Made It Through The Rain” he made a little speech about what the song means to him. I knew this moment was coming so before he started talking I yelled, after everyone had quieted down, “BARRYYYYYYYYY!”

I have no intellectual reasoning as to why I did that. However, it paid off. Through the darkness, Barry saw who had yelled his name, squinted and waved at me. He waved at me. He waved at me! Yeah, I know it could have been in my general direction but whatever. IT WAS ME.

And that was that. As a fan I got what I wanted. After the concert my fandom for Manilow died down. So when the news broke recently that Barry had married his longtime partner, I was reminded of the crazy, weird, comforting two years where I was a Manilow superfan.

So, thanks Barry. Without your music, the chicken soup of rock and roll, I might never have survived adolescence.

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