Friday, January 25, 2013

Hey, Barry, this one’s for you!

Barry Manilow greets his fans following a show
recently in New York. It's been nearly a quarter
century since he last played on Broadway.
If, as the aging Borscht Belt Joke Suggests, one of the smallest books in the world is a compilation of Jewish Sports Stars, then I imagine one of the largest would be the tome focusing on Jewish Entertainers.

For a moment forget about all the “members of the tribe” who are producers, directors and actors; TV personalities and broadcasters; comics, impressionists and clowns. Even push aside all the iconic Jewish composers and musicians – from Berlin and Bernstein to Heifetz and Perlman – and focus on that tiny group of talented entertainers labeled as singer/songwriters.

Add the sub-category of pop culture to the mix and we’ve now whittled our list down to a toe-tapping group of mega-stars that would have to include Arlo Guthrie, Carly Simon, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Cass Elliot, Bette Midler, David Lee Roth, Gene Simmons, Neil Diamond and Billy Joel. That’s the short list – the very short list!

I mention all this as a long and rambling way to share a recent adventure my wife Wendy and I had in New York. We like to visit the Big Apple in the winter, when the temperature is frigid and the smell of roasting chestnuts and hot pastrami fills the air.

We stayed busy this trip eating our way through several delis, taking a special food tour of Chelsea Market and the Meat Packing District and purchasing a few babkas at Zabar’s on the Upper West Side – and, yes, food is a big part of all our trips north.

We also generally manage to make it to one or two shows on Broadway and this time around was no exception. In search of something a little different, we took a chance on the Tony-winning musical “Once”, a bittersweet story filled with boisterous production numbers and melancholy ballads. It was splendid!

Then there was Barry Manilow. He’s the entertainer that I think might be found snuggled up between Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan in the mega-star list above and, it just so happened, he’s playing Broadway once again after a 23-year absence.

Manilow is what you get if you stir together equal portions of pop music, pop culture and a little twist of yiddishkeit. He’s sold over 80 million records and in the years between 1975 and 1983, the kid from Brooklyn had two dozen top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Mandy,” “Could It Be Magic,” “Looks Like We Made It” and “I Write the Songs.”

Those are exactly the tunes – along with a dozen or so more – he offered up for me, Wendy and the 1,700 other fans packed into the St. James Theater, just around the corner from Times Square.

Given the mega-sound systems and pyrotechnics at the heart of most concerts these days, I’m pretty sure Manilow seems a bit of a snoozer these days. I’m also pretty certain that the people rocking out in the aisles, waving light sticks and screeching like they were at a Taylor Swift concert, weren’t asleep.

From the moment the lights lowered and Manilow stepped onto center stage, the St. James became a joyful, riotous celebration. For people of a certain age, the songs he sang are the songs of our lives, melodies inextricably linked to first loves and first heartbreaks.

Time, well, boogied to a stop and for a moment we were all kids again, swaying and cheering and singing along to the fading memories that filled the theater. After all, many of us once had the same disco hair and disco duds that a youngish Manilow sported on album covers that were part of the show – just one additional way to sweep away the years.

Much of the show's magic, in fact, was lingering in the past. That became clear when Manilow slowed things down a bit and offered up a few warm memories of his yiddishe grandfather, the man he credits with first recognizing his musical potential.

He used a scratchy old recording that he and his grandfather produced decades ago, along with a little video of a man and child walking together and a lot of sentimental schmaltz to euphonically blend it all together.

Then it was back to the waving and swaying; singing, dancing and cheering. It took Manilow himself to help it all make sense when he shouted out to the crowd, bathed in their loving adulation, that, gosh, “I was the Justin Bieber of the 1970s!”

I’m guessing that’s a good thing.


Monday, January 21, 2013

What can you say about a 13-year-old dog who died?

The first time I met Joey he stayed busy following me about. He wasn’t alone. He and his doggie sisters, Maggie and Ella, were all pretty much underfoot.

Joey, a golden retriever, and Maggie, a black lab, were two hairy and huge freebies that were part of the package that brought Josh into my daughter’s life. Lauren, meanwhile, had a little canine of her own, Ella Rufus.
So it was that when Lauren and Josh said “I do” four years ago, about 250 pounds of unconditional love was part of the equation.
Joey was majestically special. He reminded me of the older brother in many large families – the quiet, brooding, protective type. At times he seemed indifferent to all the Sturm und Drang his younger – and smaller – siblings could cause and stoically went about his business.
Yet he was always there, ready to push his weight around if there was a little extra kibble to be had or – even better – a friendly pat on his noggin was available. Truth to tell, there was a world-weary melancholy that hovered about Joey, a sense that in some doggie fashion he comprehended stuff that was just outside the realm of human understanding.
A few years ago, when Lauren and Josh were out of the city, the lovely Miss Wendy and I were handling dog-sitting duties. Wendy begged off after the first night and I found myself, literally, bedding down with three hairy hounds one evening.
Ella nuzzled up against my side and Maggie rested her head across my chest. Joey stood off to the side of the bed, examining his options and, apparently, waiting for a special invitation. I did mention he was huge, right? If he stood up on his haunches my noggin would be the logical place for him to rest his paws.
I glanced his way, lifted an inquisitive brow and in an instant he was standing over me. For the next few minutes he did that little doggie dance of slowly chasing his tail, looking for that special, elusive sweet spot before settling down across the foot of the bed.
He let out with a contented sigh, rolled over on his side and began snoring. And this is the crazy thing about it all. The little twitching and murmuring and, yes, even the snoring was bizarrely comforting. Go figure.
And so it’s with apologies to Eric Segal that I finish this remembrance by paraphrasing the opening line of his sappy novel, “Love Story”.
What can you say about a 13-year-old golden retriever who died? Well, actually, lots of stuff. But mostly, at the moment, I’m thinking the important thing is that he was loved.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

What guns might say if they could only talk

I was feeling good. Once again he had his hands wrapped around my slender butt and life was grand.

He gently caressed me, then held me out at arm’s length, whirling me about in a feverish dance. I was too much in the moment to even notice that he was showing me off to the small crowd in the distance.

He actually seemed to be, well, aiming me in their direction. No matter, I was all oiled up and ready for action. And then he cocked me and gently pulled my trigger – again and again and, yet again. When the smoke cleared and I saw the carnage all about, all I could do is smile.

After all, guns don’t kill people.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hot, Cold and thinking about the Falcons!

Life is grand, here in the Land of
Cotton; temps are high and the
Falcons are soaring!
PHOTO / Nor Grebnief
Apparently someone forgot to tell Mother Nature that it’s winter. Here we are in the middle of January and the temperature is hovering around the century mark!

Okay, not really; it just feels that warm! If my high-tech inside/outside thermometer has it right – and that’s not a given – it’s in the low 70s here in the Land of Cotton.
I’ve been staying cool and calm most of the morning, dashing about in gym shorts and a tee-shirt. Another few days of these unseasonably warm temps and my azaleas will start budding and the weeds in the lawn will start stretching out their tendrils! Can you say yard work – sheesh!

What’s particularly bothersome is the vibe is all wrong for the Falcons – I’m referencing football here, not the feathered, winged, bipedal, endothermic, egg-laying, vertebrate animal. The, um, birds will be taking the field tomorrow to face off against the Seahawks – yes, another football reference.
I imagine the feathers will be flying, in one fashion or another, and today’s warm temps will grow even warmer inside the Georgia Dome.

And just to carry all this weather talk to its logical conclusion, I’m thinking it will be a cold day in hell before the Falcons actually make it to the Super Bowl!