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- Posted on Jun 13th 2011 2:00PM by James Sullivan
Spinner recently spoke to Manilow to discuss the perils of fame, his recovery from tumors and why he's not going to Vegas to die.
We'll ask you the question you ask on the album: Fame -- is it worth it?
That's exactly not right. The quote you're looking for is on the cover -- "Fame -- can you take it?"
But there's also a lyric that asks, "Is it worth it?"
Well, I say it's worth it if you're doing it for the right reasons. I hear some of these young people saying "I want to be famous," and I clench up. You need to do what you believe in. Do it because you can't not do it. If you do it for money, applause, or to be famous, that's dangerous. If you do it because you can't not, whatever your field, you have a better chance of having a happy life.
The album seems clearly influenced by 'American Idol,' which has condensed the process of becoming famous. How much of the story is autobiographical?
We were really writing about our fictional character, but halfway through, I actually found myself in every song. I'd been through every experience in every song, except the very last two. Thank goodness I've never gone down that far, although I went down pretty far.
But you've had a fortunate career, without too many down periods.
It's been a roller-coaster ride. If you're lucky, you explode, and from that moment on, it's a roller coaster until it's over. I've certainly had my share of failure, though I always felt I'd get through it. After 'Read 'Em and Weep' I never got another [Top 40 hit], and that makes you feel terrible. When I left Arista the first time I couldn't get a record deal. Everyone was interested in R&B in those years.
This album is obviously a labor of love. Was it hard to get it made?
It wasn't hard. It was complicated, because I wanted it to be guitar-driven and I don't play guitar. In the studio, we had this batch of great guitar players, and they looked at me like I was crazy. When I handed the music out, they said, "That's not the way we would play." It took months of communication with these brilliant people to explain what I was hearing in my head. I was playing air guitar in the middle of the studio.
There have been so many album-inspired shows on Broadway recently. How much were you inspired by things like Green Day's 'American Idiot'?
Oh, it never even entered my mind. When I started writing the album, I didn't just want to write 12 pretty songs. I wanted to do an album that had an idea to it instead of 12 pop songs. Frankly, I don't know how to do that. I know it sounds crazy, but for me, the most difficult thing to write is "I love you, I miss you." That's torture. Give me an idea, a situation, a character to write for and man, I'm there. But I don't really feel like this could be onstage.
But you must have people around you saying it could be.
One or two people, yeah. But I've been down that road, Broadway musicals, and listen, that's not the way you do it. You don't take an album like this and put it onstage. At least that's not how I would do it. The way I learned, you take a story and find the places for the songs. There are rules to writing a Broadway musical.
You must have met Andy Warhol at some point.
Never! Though I'm from New York, believe it or not, I was too young. How many times will I ever say that [laughs]?
Not at Studio 54?
That wasn't my life. I was already in [places like] Wisconsin, on the road. I did take the album title, of course, from that phrase that he's famous for.
Who do you think of as your peers?
Oh! Um ... I don't know.
Neil Diamond? Elton John?
Yeah, but Neil and Elton started 10 years before me.
Neil Sedaka, Billy Joel?
He's the greatest songwriter we have, Billy Joel.
But none of their careers match up precisely with yours. Elton was obviously outrageous, and Sedaka is considered from a different decade. Your career kind of stands alone.
I have a little piece of the pie. It's small, but it's mine. I can't compare to those guys -- they're so brilliant. Most of them have written their own material, and I didn't really get the chance to do that. Most of them have their own style. I went everywhere -- big band, show tunes, jazz. They're creators, songwriters. One thing I love most of all is arranging songs. I was going to be Nelson Riddle or Don Costa when I grew up. Or George Martin, with the Beatles. Those were my idols. I had to learn how to become a performer.
A few years ago you had benign tumors in your mouth and plenty of dental work. That had to be awful for a singer.
Yeah, it was touch and go for a while there. They patched me up, but for a couple of years, I nearly spit those two front teeth at the audience. I had a big cyst up there, and they had to remove a piece of my palette. It was a rough patch, but I'm all better now.
You've been in Vegas for years.
I may be breaking Elvis' record.
Are you happy to be off the road, or are there times when you feel like you want to see the rest of the country again?
A little of both. I was so done with the road, and I was lucky to get the offer to go to the Hilton. Touring is for a younger person. I'd done it for 25 or 30 years. But I must tell you, when they offered, I had that feeling, like, "Oh, God, isn't that where old singers go to die?" My fear was that I'd fade away into the distance, but that didn't happen at all. We did really good work at the Hilton, and now I'm at the Paris, and I love it. I'll do a couple nights out, here and there. I just came back from four shows at the O2 arena in London. They were sold out -- an insanely great experience.
Playing in Vegas seems like it might be a hindrance to introducing a record like '15 Minutes,' where you almost need to tour with all the songs.
I would never do that anyway, even if I was touring. Those audiences come to see what they're paying for. I know what they want. We did it in London, one or two songs, and that's about as much as they can take.
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