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My first concert

Do you remember your first concert?  I will never forget mine – it was a life-altering experience.  My first concert was in the summer of 1978, at the Las Vegas Hilton.  I saw Barry Manilow.  I am not ashamed!  I still love Mr. Manilow with a pure devotion.  If you would like to know more and/or begin judging, read on.

When I was 9 years old in the year 1978, a lot of important things happened to me.  I got my first pair of glasses, I cut off all my long hair into a Dorothy Hamill pageboy cut, and I developed my first obsession.

Imagine the ridicule I endured due to the fact that I was batshit crazy over Barry Manilow at the tender age of nine.  I had all of his records, which I played on my very horrible and tinny record player for hours on end.  I had a poster of him on my wall, and I had joined the BMIFC (Barry Manilow International Fan Club).  This was decades before the word “Fanilow” had been coined.  And although I still adore Mr. Manilow, I hate the word Fanilow, so don’t ever call me that if you value your life.

My favorite shirt was a banana yellow tee shirt with an iron-on photo of Barry in all his big-nosed, gap-toothed, poufy-haired glory.  I had worn it so often that the iron-on had cracks in it and was peeling off, but I kept wearing it.  It’s hard to believe that I wore this to school.  It’s not hard to believe that this was part of the reason that I had absolutely no friends at all there.  I was the tortured, tormented, bullied kid.  The reason I got picked on was probably because I was also a really high-strung, anxious kid who cried at the drop of a hat.

Still, even though Barry was the cause of my pain, he was also the balm that healed it.  On my walk home from school, I would sing Can’t Smile without You to myself and it would cheer me up.  The singing distracted me from the fact that I was walking alone and didn’t get invited to play with any of the other kids.

When I got home, I’d get out my music books and try to teach myself piano.  My parents had bought a tiny electric piano and I would wear headphones and try to teach myself.  I did learn how to play a few songs, although not very well.  The one I played best was I Was a Fool (To Let You Go), a deep cut from Even Now, which is still one of the most emotionally satisfying records that I own.

I think that 1978 was the peak of Barry’s power as an easy listening superstar.  That was the year Copacabana was released, and everyone had a little bit of Barry Fever.  He had won Emmys for his TV Specials (which I of course watched dutifully, and now own on DVD), and Grammys and every other kind of award that he could win.  I thought he was the greatest man that ever lived.

My deepest, fondest wish was that Barry would adopt me and be my Daddy forever.  (Paging Dr. Freud!)  This stems from the fact that my father was not the greatest, and also from the fact that I was raised Catholic by a Jewish mother (Oy, the guilt!).  Deep down, I think I should have been a Jewess, and I was trying to connect to my cultural roots by dreaming of being Michele Manilow.

My Daddy Manilow daydreams consisted of so many girlish fantasies: lullabies, piano lessons, singalongs in the car on road trips, going shopping together.  I imagined that I would help Barry pick out his stage outfits.  At the time those consisted of bedazzled, sparkly jumpsuits and jaunty scarves.  He also wore these fabulous 1970’s aviator sunglasses, and I liked to picture the two of us, each wearing our own Elvis shades, earning envious glances from passers-by.  He would play his new songs for me and I would tell him if they were going to be hits or not.  I would watch him perform from my special seat of honor up front, and he’d look to me for approval.  Oh, Barry, he was the greatest imaginary father of all time.

I vividly remember going to the local K-Mart and using the money I had saved up – my own money! – to buy Barry Manilow Live.  This was the first record that I had ever paid for myself, and I have it to this day.  The cover showed Barry in his best spangly jumpsuit, and his best Broadway pose, arms and legs spread apart in triumph.  It was a double record, but I mostly played the side that had the V.S.M., Very Strange Medley, which consisted of the ad jingles Barry had written early in his career.  If you heard them you’d know them in an instant, especially the State Farm jingle, which is still used nowadays.

Barry’s backup singers were called Lady Flash.  Reparata was the girl who got to dance with Barry during Bandstand Boogie, so I always pretended to be her.  (FYI, Debbie Byrd is now the vocal coach for American Idol.)  I would clear out some space in my room, and perform all the backup vocals, and make up my own dances.  There was no such thing as You Tube or a video tape so I didn’t know what the girls were doing while they were singing.  I was rehearsing for the day when I would become Barry’s backup singer and best daughter ever!

Every summer, our family took one of two vacations – we either went to California, or Las Vegas.  If it were up to my dad, we would have gone to Las Vegas every year, because he had a slight gambling problem. As a kid, Las Vegas wasn’t my idea of a good vacation. The summer of 1978 was going to be a trip to the beaches of California.

You’d think that would make an Arizona desert rat happy, right?  Wrong!  The reason for my unhappiness was that I had seen a list of tour dates for Barry in the summer of 1978, and he was playing the Las Vegas Hilton the very same week that we were planning to go to California.  “Why can’t we go to Vegas THIS year, Mom?” I whined.  “It’s not fair!” I cried.

The local stations were running ads for the show, and every time the ad came up on the TV, I would point to the TV and say, “See?  He’s coming to Vegas, but WE’LL be at the beach.”  Have I mentioned that I hate going to the beach?  I don’t like to swim, and Jaws scarred me for life so I can’t go in the ocean.  I don’t like tanning.  When we went to the beach as a family I would read a book while sitting on a towel and wishing I was somewhere else.  Now, if we had been going to Disneyland, perhaps I wouldn’t have complained as much.  Maybe not.  Probably not.

My mom took pity on me, and it didn’t hurt that she was also a Barry fan.  She talked to my dad and they decided that on the way back from the beach, they would take us to Las Vegas and we’d go see Barry at the Hilton.  They didn’t tell me about it because they wanted it to be a surprise.

Imagine my excitement when I realized we were going to Vegas after all!  I couldn’t believe my luck.  I now realize that a good portion of my luck was caused by my dad’s gambling addiction, but hey, at least I got to see the show, right?

We arrived that afternoon to our hotel room at the dreadful Circus Circus.  Due to my father’s love of the one-armed bandits, I saw more of this place than I ever need to for one lifetime.  I don’t go to Vegas very often anymore, but when I do, I avoid the Circus Circus at all costs.  A few years ago, I was forced to actually go inside of the hotel of my nightmares.  One look at the garish gold and maroon carpet, and I felt like I was suffocating.  I immediately walked outside and never looked back.

My brother and I would hang out in the mezzanine where all the carnival games and pinball machines were located.  Horrible people dressed as clowns walked around to “entertain” you, and there were acrobats and trapeze artists performing in the middle of it all.  I now have a great hatred of carnival games, acrobats, and especially clowns.  Just thinking about it gives me the heebie jeebies.  Oh, and my parents would leave us with some nasty old lady chain-smoking babysitters while they went to Boylesque or whatever the hell else they did at night.

This vacation was different.  This time, I was allowed to go out at night and see the show with my parents and my brother.

It turned out we couldn’t get tickets for the show that night because they were already sold out.  I have to give credit to my dad for getting up really early the next day to make sure we were able to get tickets.  He stood in line for hours, giving up precious time at the slots.

I was so glad I had packed a dress.  My mother was unpacking, and I saw her mink fur collar.  I immediately started begging and pleading with her to let me wear it so that I could look “fancy” for my “date” with Barry, because I was convinced that I was going to meet him that night.  Picture this: a 9-year-old mousy girl with glasses, a penis-head haircut, a long pink polyester dress with lace in the front, a mink fur collar, and freshly painted nails.  I was going to a fancy show with dinner at the Hilton, and I was dressed just like I thought any classy, moneyed, lady of society would dress for that occasion.

When we first arrived, the usher tried to seat us in the back of the room.  According to my mom, my dad slipped the guy a twenty and we got to sit at a table in the front of the balcony.  Everyone at the table was nice to my brother and I, and let us sit up front so we could see the stage without any obstructions.  Amazingly, I ate my steak dinner, even though I remember being nervous and excited beyond belief.  I was going to be in the same room as Barry!  Breathing the same air!  Watching him perform just for me, his biggest fan!

The show was completely over the top.  I remember that during Copacabana, Barry wore a silver flamenco shirt (which is on display at the Manilow Store in Las Vegas if you want to see it), and danced with actual Las Vegas showgirls who wore feathers in their hair and carried giant feather fans.  Just like Lola did in the song!  I remember there was a moment where the girls hid behind their fans with Barry and he breathed heavily.  I didn’t really get it then, but I get it now.  Barry, you minx!

For me, the best part of the show was Bandstand Boogie because he did do the whole dance sequence with Reparata.  It was a thousand times more amazing than I had ever imagined.  I knew then I could never be his backup dancer.  I was a terrible dancer, and had no coordination, and these ladies could shake it.  I still enjoyed singing the harmonies, though.   Now when I listened to my live concert album, I knew exactly what was going on. It was like I had been invited to go inside a secret club, and I knew the secret handshake.

This was the first concert I had ever been to, and the first time I traveled out of state to see the object of my obsession.  The happiness I felt while I watched that show was like nothing I had ever felt before, because I was able to escape my anxiety and just live in the moment.  I would spend the rest of my life recapturing that feeling when traveling to see other bands or other stars that I was enamored with.  The wheels had been set in motion.

Songs I awkwardly slow-danced to in the 80’s

It's a Dorothy Hamill haircut, right?

I had an extremely awkward phase from approximately the age of 9 through…*checks watch*…yeah, it’s still happening. If you watch 30 Rock, then you can pretty much imagine me at 9 years old to be exactly like Liz Lemon in this clip that won’t embed. We even had the same haircut (a Pete Rose, but everyone thought it was a Dorothy Hamill.) Another thing I have in common with Liz Lemon – I was a D&D Dungeon Master.

I looked like this until I was 16.

Knowing this about me, you may wonder how anyone actually asked me to slow dance. My very first boyfriend (he wasn’t my boyfriend) was a guy who asked me to dance at a party so that his girlfriend would be jealous, because they were arguing. I thought he was my boyfriend for a week because he called me on the phone once. Then, years later, my actual REAL first boyfriend would leave me for a guy.

Oh, and my Senior Prom date?  Yeah, he came out of the closet two years later. (I was a total fruit fly.)

Since everyone I know loves listicles, I will now list out the songs that I awkwardly slow-danced to with boys who were either dating other girls, or dreaming about other boys:

1. Heaven – Bryan Adams (with D., the boy trying to make his girlfriend S. jealous. It totally worked…)

2. Waiting for a Girl Like You – Foreigner (with my church crush, S. I think I asked him to dance. We ended up having SUPREMELY AWKWARD makeout session at a high school reunion party 6 years later. Everyone knew we had messed around because I had my Cure tee shirt on inside out.)

3. Saving All My Love for You – Whitney Houston (with a boy who had a crush on ME…he was kind of a dweeb so I didn’t like him back. I’m sure he’s a multi-millionaire living in Bel Air now.)

4. Superheroes – Rocky Horror Picture Show soundtrack – (with my first boyfriend, R. He was Riff Raff and I was Magenta in some poorly done stage show. He left me for Frank N Furter. Can you blame him?)

5. Mad About You – Belinda Carlisle (with the aforementioned Prom date who turned out to be gay. I made out with him drunkenly in a hotel room at a party after the dance. I should have realized it then.)

I have retired from slow-dancing. I think it will make the world a better place.

In which I apologize to fellow concert-goers

My lovely friend K. sent me a bootleg of a Martin Gore concert I attended on May 7, 2003.  I was watching it and feeling so absolutely full of adoration for Mr. Martin Lee Gore, but something was ruining the atmosphere.  That something was my own shrieks and screams.  I know it was me because I was the only person screaming as if being chased around the kitchen with a butcher knife, which was my go-to concert scream.  I sounded like I was being waterboarded, or worse.  And now, eleven years later, I would like to tell myself to shut the fuck up!

This revelation has led to a public apology.  Since 1985, I have attended hundreds of concerts.  During most of them, I probably did something incredibly annoying.  A few incidents stand out as the most cringe-worthy, and the most in need of a public apology:

1.  I would like to apologize for collapsing and vomiting all over myself during the July 1985 Power Station concert.  I had heat stroke, and if puke got on your shoes, I am very sorry.

2.  Beastie Boys, please accept my apology for participating in the violent booing which caused you to leave the stage when you opened for Madonna in 1985.

3.  Whoever sat near me during the a-ha concert in 1986, I apologize for screaming hysterically that I could see Pal Waaktaar’s kneecaps through the holes in his jeans.

4.  Nick Rhodes should apologize for wearing a half-shirt that led me to faint when I saw his treasure trail in 1987.

5.  Daniel Ash, I’m sorry that I tried to climb up on stage and molest you during a 1988 Love & Rockets show.  You did step on my hand, so that makes us even.

6.  Morrissey, I apologize for screaming “take it off” when you started unbuttoning your shirt at a show in 1993.

7.  Everyone who sat near me during the 1997 Duran Duran winter tour, I sincerely apologize for the bloodcurdling screams that erupted from me whenever Nick Rhodes did his spoken word bit for “Medazzaland”.  I’m especially sorry to the gentleman who was sitting by me in San Diego who asked me to be quiet.  I yelled at him, “LET ME HAVE MY MOMENT MOTHERFUCKER!”  I am surprised I have never been beaten down at a Duran Duran show (at least on that tour).  I also want to apologize to my friend H. for bruising his shoulders when I squeezed them really hard during the spoken word bit (again) in LA.

8.  I’m particularly sorry for being the person at shows that sings along really loudly, to the point where others stare.  I’m remembering a Tears For Fears show in which I sang “Woman In Chains” at a volume rivaled only by fighter jets.  Sorry, dude who stared me down.

9.  I apologize for being the shithead who was constantly taking crappy pictures with a crappy camera at every concert I attended in the early to mid-2000’s.  I was trying to get a good shot for an earlier blog, and I utterly failed on every count.  I only succeeded in being that douchebag who takes pictures and gets in the way.

10.  I do NOT apologize for being the person who stands up and dances during concerts, because that is why people go to concerts.  Don’t tell me to sit down, why don’t you stand the fuck up instead?

Ah, I do feel better.  That was cleansing.