Sunday, August 16, 2015

RRS: "Oh, Man(dy)! My night with Manilow"

I once took a Mexican girl who barely spoke any English to see U2, an Irish band, in the Dixie town of Nashville.

It was a diversity extravaganza.

It was 1987. I remember meeting her at a party where the music was loud enough to mask our difficulties communicating. I remember doing a lot of smiling and nodding. She was very pretty.

Eager to spend more intimate time in her company, I told her I had two tickets to see U2 on “The Joshua Tree” tour. Did she like U2?


I don’t know if the party music and my attraction to her had exaggerated my impressions of her English, but whatever fluency she had vanished the instant I opened the car door for her.

In fact, the only word of English I remember her speaking the entire evening was at the very end when I asked if I could kiss her good night.


I felt used.

It was the second time in six years a pair of tickets to a popular concert left me feeling that way.

And while U2 was a multi-cultural affair, the previous one was anything but. In fact, I remember it as the whitest night of my entire life.

Yes, in 1981 I attended a Barry Manilow concert at Pittsburgh’s Civic Arena.

My date was my father.

Manilow was here again on Friday for a well-reviewed show that the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette called “an escape into some kind of soft pop time warp.”

He played, “Old Songs,” “Can’t Smile Without You,” “Even Now,” “Trying to Get the Feeling Again,” “I Write the Songs,” and a score of other catchy hits from the 1970s.

And I love them all.

My musical bona fides are unimpeachable. My first album was Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” My first concert, Joe Ely opening for Tom Petty. I rocked back then to Seger, the Stones, Dire Straits and the Kinks. Still do.

But when Dad was driving us to early morning hockey practice, we’d often listen to Manilow. Had any other lip-reading motorists been paying attention, they would have spied us singing, “At the Copa! Copacabana! The hottest spot north of Havana!”

They were good times. My old man was the greatest.

But I was cool enough at the time to know Manilow wasn’t.

That’s why I was shocked to come home on Thanksgiving break from my freshman year at Ohio University to see that Dad had bought his young hockey fan two tickets -- not to a Pittsburgh Penguins game -- but to the Barry Manilow concert.

I still wonder if he was cunning enough to foresee exactly how it would all play out.

I remember sitting by the phone and coming up blank trying to think of the girl I could ask that wouldn’t respond with hysterical giggles. Manilow’s not exactly a great first-date icebreaker.

I certainly couldn’t ask any of the guys I know. The would all laugh me off the planet.

Well, all but one of them would.

And he was at that moment sitting in his recliner across the room immersed in “Bowling for Dollars.”

Uh, Dad, I was thinking . . .

“Sure! I’d love to go!”

There were many, many other male couples there that night, but I’ll bet out of the 17,532 Pittsburgh Fanilows, we were the only father/son duo.

Dad didn’t care one bit. In fact, he was euphoric.

Leaving the building, he kept gushing about how much he loved Manilow and how it was one of the greatest nights of his life.

I wish I’d have anticipated that reaction when he’d parked the car. See, Dad hated to pay premium prices for parking. This wasn’t a problem at many suburban venues.

But at sold-out Civic Arena shows that meant parking deep in the crime-ridden neighborhood known as The Hill District. That’s where Dad found a freebie spot amidst the abandoned vehicles and burned-out tenements.

I remember looking in the shadows for parolees ready to pounce. It was late on a school night, but no one was sleeping.

I know this because I kept seeing them look out their windows to see the middle-aged white man bouncing down the sidewalk singing:

“And it’s Daybreak! If you wanna believe!
It can be Daybreak! Ain’t no time to grieve!
Said it’s Daybreak! If you’ll only believe!
And let it shine! Shine! Shine! All around the world!”

As I said, I believe there’s a place for Manilow and his music. I just didn’t believe it was at midnight in the Hill District in 1981.

Of course, maybe I’m letting my prejudices get the better of me.

Maybe those young hoodlums were transformed by the sound of my Dad warbling Manilow’s greatest hits.

Maybe they set down their crack pipes and said, “Damn! You know, that old white dude’s right. It CAN be Daybreak!”

Whether or not it happened that way, I can not say.

But of this I’m certain:

If my date that night had been anyone other than my own Dad, I’ll bet I’d have gotten laid.

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