Getting the Feeling Again

I’ve had a spring in my step, humming Copacabana to myself — Her name was Lola! — all day today. Yes, it’s Friday. But I’ve also been overdosing on Barry Manilow.

I’ve always had a soft spot for him. My mom had a bunch of records when I was a kid and, later, greatest-hits tapes. I used to rotate those records through my regular play list, which included Sesame Street Gold, Mickey Mouse Disco, and the E.T. soundtrack. (Turn on your heart light!)

He always made me think of New York. It was his accent. And something about his sense of style. These days, I guess he’s more a figure of Las Vegas and cruise ships, but now that I live in New York, listening to him still brings it all back to mind, and it’s still very New York to me. But it’s an old New York. It’s a faded, grainy color TV-screen, Solid Gold, polyester, white patent leather, pre-MTV, Chorus Line, afros and bell-bottoms sort of New York.

It’s so delightfully old-fashioned. No one writes songs like those anymore. In our age of irony, no one can afford to be so earnest. But that’s his schtick, and he can still work it. “I am music and I write the songs”? It’s very hey-let’s-put-on-a-show!

I’ve had a craving for a while now, so I recently downloaded a bunch of stuff the other day. I look around myself on the train in the morning. He’s got hip hop. She’s got reggaeton. Judging by that one’s thrapping fingers and expressive eyebrows, he’s probably listening to some sort of emo band. And I’ve got string arrangements swelling as Barry waxes melancholic over and over about Mandy. If they only knew, I would so get beaten up. I love it.

My mom and I sometimes listened to her tapes while cleaning house or sitting around on vacation. Up at the cottage one summer, we were listening to “Weekend in New England,” and my grandmother put down her National Enquirer, folded up her glasses and declared: “I think he’s a queer. Don’t you?”

I’ll never forget that. I think it was the first time she had brought up the topic. She regularly had a litany of offensive pronouncements about Blacks and Asians — without ever quite understanding why they were offensive. (“It’s how I was raised,” was always the excuse.)

“Nah,” said my mom, vaguely put off, not because she was disappointed by my grandmother’s deragatory tone, but because she saw no reason to discuss the love that dare not speak its name.

“You don’t think so?”

“Well, he’s singing about women, Ma.”

“Huh,” she said. “I don’t know. Just something about him, I guess.” Then she picked up her glasses and began to read again.


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the untallied hours

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