This Thursday, I’m flying to Las Vegas. Naturally, I’ll be doing some singing while in town. My upcoming trip to Sin City will be my fifth time there; and as it approaches I’m reminded of some of the great times I’ve enjoyed in Las Vegas in the past. But I’m also reminded of a colossal disappointment that I suffered at the hands of Barry Manilow during a Vegas vacation in 2009. I’m going to reprint here, verbatim, the text of a heartfelt letter that I sent to Mr. Manilow (with a copy to his agent) in the aftermath of that incident; the letter speaks for itself regarding how Barry wronged me. Then I’ll share some parting thoughts.
Before I get to the letter, I also want to apologize to you, my readers, for the long interval between blog posts. In my previous article, I promised that the subject of my next posting would be my September 2010 trip to Easter Island. I’m still working on that essay; it’s a wide-ranging account of my experiences on the island also known as Rapa Nui, and it’s taken longer than anticipated to edit my recollections and photos into a coherent form that’s ready for publishing. (Also, in all candor, it can be tough sticking to a regular schedule when you’re writing for your own blog and don’t have an editor pushing you to meet deadlines.) However, I’ve reached the point where I no longer want my entire blog to be on hold just because of delays in completing one post. So while my Easter Island memoir will soon appear in this space, I’ll publish articles on other subjects in the interim — including some dispatches live from Las Vegas later this week! And now, without further delay, here’s the letter that explains my antipathy towards Barry Manilow.
I am writing to express how upset I am about your last-minute cancellation of your Las Vegas concert on Friday, March, 20, 2009, which my friend David and I had tickets to attend. Enclosed is a copy of my ticket order confirmation.
I have considered myself an ardent fan of your music for nearly two decades, and several of your songs have long been featured in my karaoke singing repertoire (in fact, during my law school days, one time when I was planning a karaoke outing with my classmates, one of my friends prepared posters that said, “Barry wrote the songs, but Harvey sings them.”). I have attended four of your previous concerts (two in Radio City Music Hall; one in Madison Square Garden; and one in Camden, New Jersey), and I was excited about what was to be my first time seeing your show in Las Vegas. You are the consummate performer, and Vegas seems the perfect city to showcase your talents.
It must also be mentioned that although I was visiting Las Vegas for four nights, my friend David (who had accompanied me to one of your concerts in New York in 1997) was meeting up with me for just one night, for the primary purpose of joining me at your show. A resident of Salinas, California, David flew from San Jose to Las Vegas on Friday afternoon, March 20, and he had to fly back home the next morning because, with his wife out of town at a conference, there was no one else available to watch his children for the rest of the weekend. Even for me, the planned attendance at your concert was a significant reason for this visit to Sin City (when I made my first-ever visit to Las Vegas in November 2008, I neglected to check your performance schedule before I booked my nonrefundable airline tickets. You were not appearing at the Hilton on any of the evenings that I chose for that stay. I therefore made it a priority to return to Las Vegas, with dates for this second trip that were timed to overlap with your schedule).
On Friday evening, March 20, after losing some money at the blackjack tables at one of the hotels on the Strip, David and I caught a taxi to the Las Vegas Hilton, full of anticipation for a night of our favorite Manilow hits. Upon our arrival at the hotel, we headed for the box office to retrieve our tickets. That is when we received the shocking news that your show had been canceled. I (the person who had booked the tickets) had received no prior warning, by email, telephone, or text message, of the cancellation. Had such notice been provided, at least my friend and I could have avoided incurring our ultimately useless round-trip cab fare to the Hilton.
In addition, I have never received an adequate explanation of the reason for the cancellation. The hotel representative with whom I spoke indicated that you had made the decision to cancel on the basis of “production control difficulties.” I have no idea what such a vague phrase means, or how it justifies the inconvenience, expense, and disappointment that my friend and I suffered when your concert failed to proceed as scheduled.
The hotel representative did mention that patrons who held tickets for your canceled March 20 show could exchange their tickets for a chance to possibly see you on the following night, Saturday, March 21. However, she said only that you “might” be appearing on March 21, and could not confirm that the March 21 show would, in fact, occur. More importantly, I already had a ticket to see a different Las Vegas show on March 21; and my friend, who had been looking forward to joining me at your show on March 20, would not have been able to attend on March 21 due to his need to return to California earlier in the day.
Thus, I had no choice but to accept a refund for the price of the tickets to your show. The Hilton has assured me that such a refund is forthcoming; however, no one has offered to reimburse me for the cost of my transportation from the Las Vegas Strip to the Hilton, or to compensate my friend David for the several hundred dollars in airfare that he squandered in his ill-fated attempt to enjoy your concert. Moreover, my friend and I were deeply disappointed that we were deprived of the opportunity to see your show.
As mentioned above, I have long taken pride in being one of your biggest fans. But this incident has badly shaken my faith in you.
In light of what has occurred, I request two things: First, I would be most appreciative if you could tell me what happened that led you to cancel your March 20 concert on such short notice. Second, I would be grateful if you could find a way to, in some manner, make up to my friend and me the disappointment that we experienced, and the out-of-pocket costs that we incurred, beyond the refunded ticket prices, due to the cancellation.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
So that was the letter that I sent to Barry and his agent. And I never heard back from either of the epistle’s recipients — not even so much as a form letter thanking me for my interest in Barry’s music. Moreover, Barry’s blog failed to even acknowledge the last-minute cancellation of his concert, let alone provide an explanation. (At the time, the website contained a “latest news” ticker. Under the heading for March 20, 2009 — the date of the canceled concert — Barry stated that he was planning to appear at his fan club’s upcoming convention, but made no mention of the cancellation.) It was Barry’s failure to take ownership of what had occurred that ultimately turned me off. Oh, and by the way, the occurrence discussed herein was not the only time that Barry canceled one of this shows at the last minute with no explanation given to his fans. Take a look at the first two reviews listed here.
As alluded to in my letter, during the early years of my karaoke career, Barry Manilow was my muse. My very first signature song was his “Copacabana”; and several other hits of his, such as “I Write The Songs” and “Mandy,” were also in heavy rotation in the H-Bomb canon in that era. One time when I was in law school, I rented a videotape of one of Barry’s concerts so that I could watch his stage moves and try to emulate some of them when I performed the same songs. (Yes, it was a VHS videotape; technology was very primitive in those days.) I even memorized a few lines of uplifting monologue that he spoke between songs at one point on that tape: “Growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, I learned one thing. You can give in, and you can give out. But never give up!” For a while after that, when singing one of Barry’s songs at karaoke, I would periodically utter those words myself while waiting for the song to begin — even though I’d never been in Brooklyn in my life, let alone come of age on that borough’s streets. That’s an indication of just how much Barry influenced me.
But in the wake of Barry-gate, I lost interest in his music and rarely felt the urge to perform any of his material. It’s not so much that I hold a grudge; I recognize that grudges can be destructive. But it hasn’t been easy to get over the searing pain that I felt when Barry let me down. I do acknowledge that it’s possible to separate the artist from his artistic output, and to appreciate one while loathing the other; for example, many people enjoy the operas and other masterworks of Richard Wagner despite the fact that Wagner was an anti-Semite who inspired Hitler. The ability to compartmentalize in that manner is the only reason that I still perform the occasional Manilow song. I have to admit, the guy who writes the songs wrote (and recorded) some pretty good ones.
And that’s the thing about karaoke: the songs of Mr. Manilow, like the thousands of other song choices available at most karaoke venues, don’t belong exclusively to the star who originally recorded them. I can take a song like “Copa” or “Mandy” and make it my own.
On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll ever pay to see Barry in concert again. 🙂
See you in Vegas!