Looks like he made it
Barry Manilow’s first album of original songs in a decade, “15 Minutes,” hits stores June 14. The 67-year-old crooner is based in Las Vegas, where he’s the resident headliner at the Paris Las Vegas.
Your new album, “15 Minutes” -- everyone knows the reference, but what inspired it?
First of all, I’ve been having a wonderful run of luck with cover albums, songs I didn’t write. I had five pop cover albums and two Christmas albums, and they were all very successful. But I did miss writing. So I looked around, and what I saw was a lot of young people becoming famous very quickly, overnight. I’ve done three “American Idols,” and it was an amazing thing to watch these young talented people becoming household names within months. And I remember when I got hit with it, with “Mandy,” that I was an adult. And yet when “Mandy” hit, it knocked me for a loop. It turned me into a person I didn’t like.
I didn’t like how I was treating other people. I felt I was being demanding. I felt like I was not treating people kindly. But most of all I didn’t like where I found myself. I remember this night in Florida about five years, four years into my beginning of this trip -- I don’t like the word “celebrity” -- my fame trip. And I was outside in a rocking chair looking at the stars, and I realized that everybody in my house that I was renting on a beach in Florida I was paying. Everybody around me I was paying. My friends had seemed to have disappeared. And this craziness becomes a job, a job that I’m grateful for and that I like, but it’s not my life. I had to rethink everything.
How old were you then?
I was 29, 30. I was an adult. I wasn’t 15 years old. But the thing that started this album off was my collaborator [Enoch] Nick Andersen, the thing we started to think about was when Britney Spears was being hounded by the paparazzi. They were driving her crazy. She couldn’t have a life without them pulling up next to her car and following her and driving her crazy to the point where, that was around the time she shaved off her hair. I think they actually helped to drive her crazy. We all looked at it in horror, and Nick and I said, “Is this what happens these days?” So it seemed like a thing to be writing an album about.
You talked about how this was your first album of original songs in 10 years, but hadn’t there been a long break before that album as well?
Yeah, it does take me a while, doesn’t it? In the beginning when I started with my first album through “2:00 A.M. Paradise Cafe,” which was about 10 albums in, eight albums in, it was a little easier because the public hadn’t heard my pop songs. But these original albums these days take a little longer for me to figure out because they’ve got to be more interesting for me as a creator. To write a love song that might be able to make it on the radio, that is something that is terrifying to me. But I can definitely write a song about that chair over there. That I can do, but to sit and write a pop song out of the clear blue sky, that is very difficult and I admire the people that can do it.
So here you are in Vegas. Do you feel at all imprisoned by your past? You do have to sing your hits in Vegas, right?
Yeah, that’s the job, and I love it. I know you must think I’m not telling the truth, but I really mean it. I look forward to it every weekend. And audiences just flip out night after night.
This whole Vegas thing began when I had had it with touring. Touring is a young man’s game, but after 30 years of it, I want to stay home. And I got this offer to play at the Hilton. And I said, “Oh, God, is this the end of my career? Is this where old singers go to die, Las Vegas?” But it doesn’t feel like that at all. It enables me to stay home, and I have a life -- I’ve got dogs, I’ve got friends, I go to the movies, I have dinners -- and then I go to work over the weekends. And then I do go out on tour, but I do one-nighters here and there. I just finished doing four nights in London at a big arena called the 02 arena, and we sold out four nights of 15,000 people a night. But no touring.
I wanted to ask you about “Harmony,” the musical you developed with Bruce Sussman at the La Jolla Playhouse in ’97. I know you fought to get the rights back and finally won them back in 2005. Do you have any plans for the musical?
We do have the rights, and it hurt so bad that Bruce and I decided we were going to put it away for a while until we get our strength back. It was a very, very difficult experience. It’s a beautiful musical, and it says some very important things, we think. And my work on it is probably the best work I’ve ever done, and Bruce feels the same way. But it took a long time to get it up, and when it was up at the La Jolla Playhouse it felt like this was going to be a home run; we’re going right into New York. And from that moment on, it fell apart. We dealt with three different producers, and it crashed on the first two. The third one was a real mess until we had to sue to get the rights back.
I read that the stress was so intense that you ended up being hospitalized at one point.
Actually, all of us who had anything to do with it had a lot of trouble. Bruce went bankrupt. My manager went right into the hospital. I went to a heart place. And that’s what happens with these Broadway musicals. You put your soul into these things, and when they’re successful, it’s fantastic. When you go through this, it gets you in the gut.
So I was surprised to learn that you wrote the music for “Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”
I wrote a lot of those in those days.
That’s probably your biggest hit. Do you still get royalties on that?
I got $500. They buy you out. And in those days I was happy to get the $500.