‘Ready to Take a Chance Again,’ Again
Having reached 50 singles on the adult contemporary chart, Barry Manilow is still performing before large audiences. He returns to Washington to play A Capitol Fourth on the West Lawn of the Capitol on Thursday as part of a concert that will include Candice Glover, Scotty McCreery, Darren Criss, Megan Hilty, Jackie Evancho, the cast of Motown: The Musical, John Williams and the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jack Everly before the fireworks kick in. The 33rd annual event will be broadcast live on PBS.
Recently over the phone from Palm Springs, Manilow chatted about the performance and its key pyrotechnic turn, the prospects for him becoming a judge on American Idol, the mellowing of critics, how young pop stars handle fame and how older ones continue.
Q. I can’t believe you’re 70.
A. You and me both. It’s so odd. That number just doesn’t make any sense. When my grandfather was 70, the best he could do was to bring up phlegm.
I still feel the same way I always have. I’m creative and energetic and never stop. It just doesn’t make any sense, but frankly I’m just grateful that I’m healthy and working and still got my hair. What more can I ask?
Q. Has your touring slowed at all?
A. When I began, I used to tour for months at a time. I don’t do that anymore. I do weekends. I do one-nighters. But I don’t tour the way I used to. That got to me.
Q. You’re back for A Capitol Fourth for the first time since 2009.
A. Back by popular demand I guess. I thought it’d be 10 years before they asked me back, and it’s only been four years. I certainly am looking forward to it. It was a great experience last time. Especially to be able to play my song Let Freedom Ring with that orchestra and those fireworks, wow, it was really fantastic.
Q. Will Let Freedom Ring be the climactic song again this time?
A. It will be. I’m pretty sure I’ll close the evening with that song. I’ll have a huge choir, and on the last key change, they hit the fireworks and it’s really something.
Q. Are there other songs in your repertoire that tend to resonate with the patriotic theme?
A. I wrote a song called One Voice, and I wouldn’t call it patriotic, but it’s an inspiring song. But Let Freedom Ring is right on the head. I’m doing three or four more songs at the beginning of the show and then I end with Let Freedom Ring.
Q. Have you had any problems playing outdoors?
A. You just do it. You just get through it. I’ve done it for so many years. If we’re doing outdoor shows, we’re usually lucky enough to have a roof over the band. If we don’t have a roof over the band, then that’s a problem, because the musicians’ instruments get wet, and the electricity goes out. But it’s really the audience that gets wet because they have no roof over them. I remember when we did the July Fourth, I think there’s a roof over the orchestra and the area that we play, so I guess it’s the audience that’s going to have to bring umbrellas.
Q. A couple of the other performers on the bill are from American Idol — Candice Glover, the recent winner; Scotty McCreery. You’ve had some experience there as a mentor. Is that something you’d like to return to?
A. I love doing it. And I hope I helped them. I did it three times. I worked with the kids before they got onstage. I worked with them for a week before they got onstage on arrangements and gave them some suggestions, and I hope it helped. I loved doing it back then.
As far as being a judge, it’s not really my thing. I can’t be a wisea-- or even criticize, that’s not what I do. But I sure did like helping them.
Q. Does having so many hits to perform in concert sometime crowd out some of the new songs you’d like to do live?
A. I know what the audiences want to hear these days. I can tell. They want to hear the songs they know. And I’m happy to do them. Now and again, I throw in an album cut and they’re very polite. They put up with me doing a song they’ve never heard, then I do Ready to Take a Chance Again and the roof caves in.
Q. One of your recent albums of original material, 15 Minutes, was a commentary on contemporary pop stardom.
A. I did it from the point of view of a young guy who wanted fame. But it could happen to a businessman, too. They could be successful and famous, and how do they handle it? Are they good to their people? Do they become brats?
It’s not just in the entertainment world. But, certainly, my album was about a young musician who wanted to be successful. And my story was: He wanted it, he got it, he blows it and then he has to start again. It happens all the time. We see it in the newspapers all the time. . . .
You know, when Mandy came out, I was 29, and it nearly knocked me over. One day you’re going to the grocery; the next day there’s the paparazzi out there. How do you handle that? Especially when you’re 19 years old?
Q. Did you get any reaction from any of the younger people who may have learned a lesson from what you were writing about?
No. No. We did get some really good reviews. And you know, me and the critics have never been friends. But they kind of liked that one.
Q. What is it about those critics?
A. When they started to kill me, and this happens to every one of us, is when you become very successful.
In the beginning, I started off playing little clubs, and I got great reviews. There was one song Could It be Magic, based on a Chopin prelude, followed by a jazz piece followed by a pop song. Oh, they loved it.
As soon as Mandy went to No. 1 and the sold-out signs came out, they hated me. So I think it really has a lot to do with the success.
Q. It could also be the label ‘adult contemporary’ that makes you a target.
A. Yeah, but I like it. It’s melody, filled with beautiful words. And if you listen to the radio these days, there ain’t no melody anymore. There ain’t no beautiful words. There’s no emotion. There’s a lot of rhythm, and a lot of anger.
But if you want to call me the King of Adult Contemporary, that’s a very proud title that I will accept.
Q. Is retirement conceivable for you?
A. No. What a terrible word. Terrible word! Not for me.
There’s always a couple of ideas in the pipeline. I’ve got a couple of album ideas that I’m going to have to start to get to, and, of course, I have ⅛my musical⅜ Harmony to work on until it opens ⅛in September in Atlanta⅜.
I’ve always got a million ideas. Just a million ideas. And like I say, I’m happy there are people out there interested in what I’ve got to do.
“A Capitol Fourth,” with Barry Manilow, John Williams, Candice Glover, Scotty McCreery, Megan Hilty, Darren Criss, Jackie Evancho, the cast of “Motown: The Musical” and the National Symphony Orchestra, will be presented Thursday at 8 p.m. on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. It will be broadcast live on PBS, 8 to 9:30 p.m.