As you all know all too well, I am a fan of Taylor Swift. I have been hooked since the fall of 2006 after listening to her eponymous initial CD on repeat while driving home to Maine from a conference in Philadelphia. At that point, however, I had nearly half a century of music under my belt. In fact, by the time Taylor was born in December 1989 I was three weeks removed from defending my doctoral dissertation and had already left my former life as an aspiring musician and music major far behind.
So, who and what type of music caught my interest before Taylor Swift? The list is long, but in terms of impact on my life, it would have to start with Barry Manilow.
It’s true. Before becoming a Swiftie, I was a Fanilow.
We Made It Through The Rain (and snow)
My first Barry Manilow concert, and first pop concert, was at Harvard Stadium in the summer of 1978. I had not planned to attend the concert. When tickets went on sale in the spring, I had already completed my freshman year of college and had not yet started my summer job, so I volunteered to head into Boston and wait in line to get tickets for my younger sister and her friend who desperately wanted to see the show. Yup, you used to go and stand in line when tickets went on sale. You gave them cash and they handed you actual tickets. It’s like the virtual waiting room, but with other people. And it was those other people that made the difference.
I was caught up in the excitement of the crowd waiting in line and decided to buy a ticket for myself, too. (As I recall, my sister was thrilled.) The outdoor show was first modified (i.e., Barry alone on stage trying not to fall or get electrocuted) and then shortened by rain, but it was quite an experience. I was hooked.
Fast forward two years to the summer after my junior year in college and another outdoor concert. Barry was doing two shows at Tanglewood in western Massachusetts. My future wife was a huge fan. We were not yet dating at the time. Just two friends and colleagues, chairperson and vice-chairperson of the Dudley House Committee, driving 125 miles across the state to sit together on a lawn at night and listen to Barry Manilow.
Of course, it poured the day of the show, and I could barely see the road on stretches of the longest drive I had ever made. We made it safely to Tanglewood and the skies cleared before the show. The lawn was soaked, but a couple who had upgraded to tickets inside the shed let us use their lawn chairs. It was a magical night.
By the time tickets went on sale a couple of months later for Barry’s November concert in Boston we were dating. Thanks, Barry!
After spending the morning of Columbus Day studying together (sorry, that’s what the holiday was called in 1980), I took the T into the Boston Garden and stood in line again for tickets. (None for my sister this time. She had moved on.) The concert was indoors this time, but we emerged to a surprise November snowstorm. Just enough snow to give the night a Hallmark movie snow globe feel, and to give me an interesting drive home after dropping her off.
After those two shows, we were a couple. Barry’s Ready To Take A Chance Again was our song. (Don’t Fall in Love With a Dreamer by Kenny Rogers and Kim Carnes was runner-up.)
Barry was back in Boston on our 25th anniversary in September 2009. No lawn chairs or seats in the back this time. We spent the extra money for two seats in the first ten rows.
When we celebrate our 37th anniversary next week, you can be sure that there will be Barry Manilow music played during our weekend in New England. I still can’t smile without her, and it’s a miracle that she has put up with me all of these years.
Tony, Benny, Tony Bennett, and more
There was other music and musicians as well.
If Barry Manilow dominated the second half of the 1970s, the first half belonged to Tony Orlando and Dawn. As I told Tony when I had the chance to meet him after a concert on his 64th birthday, in the 1970s his was the only popular music that I could sit and listen to (and sing and dance along to) with my parents and grandparents. That was special.
As a young clarinetist, there was my idol Benny Goodman, The King of Swing. I wore out my uncle’s vinyl album of the 1938 Carnegie Hall concert and Sing, Sing, Sing. I was also introduced to the work of Aaron Copland through Copland’s Clarinet Concerto – aka The Benny Goodman Concerto.
And throughout high school, after our motley crew made the 3-mile hike from Boston Latin School down Huntington Ave and Boylston Street, through the Public Garden and Boston Common, across City Hall Plaza, and crossed the entrance to the harbor tunnel (where seven lanes of traffic converged into two without the benefit of things like traffic signals or lane lines) to reach the North End on early release days and other special occasions, we didn’t order the Sicilian pizza at the European until we had pulled out our quarters and selected Tony Bennett on the jukebox.
Of course, the music described here was just the tip of the iceberg. Music was everywhere in our lives growing up. There was Dylan, The Mamas & the papas, and the protest music of the 60s (Eve of Destruction), mixed with Big Band Music, Fats Domino, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, Louis Armstrong, mixed with Eddy Arnold, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Cash.
And I’ll never forget my 7th grade music appreciation class where our seemingly button-downed, gentle, church choir leading teacher (a great man) introduced me to songs like American Pie and Pinball Wizard.
Every family gathering ended up with someone at the piano (often my sister) while everyone belted out songs from the 1930s through the 1960s.
They say that music is the universal language and love is the key. And as we sang over and over again throughout elementary school:
All things shall perish
From under the sky.
Music alone shall live,
Music alone shall live,
Music alone shall live,
Never to die.
(Header image, the result of a happy accident via PowerPoint design ideas)