I recently attended a Barry Manilow concert. I can’t believe I just said that out loud. If you ask any of my closet friends, they would be perplexed that I would pay money to see this septuagenarian shake his double hip/double knee replacement body on stage. Even my family would concur that I drown myself in rock and roll past, present and future. Play Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters or Springsteen and I am one happy woman. I also appreciate eighties rock whenever my husband plays his guitar and will go so far as to say I am enjoy listening to the Chainsmokers, Bieber or any current recommendations from my two favorite listeners – my twenty-something-year-old daughters.
When Laura sent out a group text last summer about attending a Barry Manilow concert, I confess she caught me at my most vulnerable time. Summer is when I will say yes to anything as long as food, friends and drinks are involved. I had not listened to a Barry song in years, and there nothing that resembles the Copacabana on my Apple music playlist, Pandora shuffle or even on the Sirius channels I sometimes switch between on long car rides.
There were eight women who attended the festivities. We had balcony seats and missed the first two songs because no one ever starts on time and we were enjoying a delicious pre-concert meal. We ran into the venue and Barry was up and shaking his hips in a red-sequined jacket and a head of hair that didn’t quite seem like it belonged to him. For the next ninety minutes, I found myself remembering the words to tunes long ago forgotten. After a few false starts with the lyrics, I was all in. It felt like doing a New York Times crossword to help salvage my memory. I lose my keys daily, but that night I recited lines I had not heard in 40 years. Here’s the other strange thing that happened. I suddenly got that arm hair tingly feeling. I was transported back to my sixth grade room with its rainbow painted wall, acrylic white desk and my beloved record player. Music was the thing back then, not just for me but for everyone I knew. My older brother would lock himself in his room for hours with his records, only emerging to feed himself. Music then and now is like a best friend; my go-to when my spirits are filled with love and my warm blanket when my heart needs mending.
You would have thought that my Barry girlfriends were at a karaoke-off. Each of our voices echoing in the balcony with what I assume was the weight of their own childhood memories. We swayed to Mandy with our glow sticks that Barry had generously supplied, we laughed when he played the beginning of Time in New England three times to appease the crowd. And we became somber when Barry’s fingers hit the notes of Even Now on his gorgeous piano. I could almost feel his painful memories when he sang this verse: “Even now, when I have come so far. I wonder where you are. I wonder why it’s still so hard without you.” Barry Manilow had loved and lost, just like me. And it made me think about all music. No matter what the genre, music is about love. From love lost, to love found, from love in the future to love in the past, every type of music touches on this powerful emotion. Music saves the mortal soul, as Don McLean aptly proclaimed in his anthem American Pie. I have thought what Don was trying to tell us many times over the past week.
I cannot count the number of concerts I have attended over the past five decades or how many different types of people that have surrounded me during these events. Concerts have always been a friendly event, a coming together of people of all walks of life for one thing — a reverence for music. Each time a show was over, and the stage went black without the promise of a third or fourth encore, we would all march peacefully away from our night of being transported and enlightened and continue on with our lives. Lives so very different yet forever joined by the memory of music.
I can’t wrap my head around the why of what happened in Las Vegas and I can’t even begin to grasp the where. All week long, I have listened to stories of people who perished and of countless others who have a long rode of recovery. I don’t know how those left behind can survive – it’s a black hole of sadness that plagues me. I ask myself one question too much lately. How could we have gotten so far away from love?
I don’t have the answers and I don’t proclaim to be an expert on anything. I do think, however, that we all need to find our way back to each other and the music community by continuing to attend our beloved concerts and plays and music festivals, both indoor and outdoor. By supporting artists and their creativity, we are fighting the battle against hatred.
I think about how my mere mortal soul was saved by music and how it made me who I am today. If Barry can write the songs that make the whole world sing, then maybe we can sing them together in peaceful harmony one day soon.