Barry Manilow: The Brand Plays On


Schmaltz is a Yiddish term for rendered chicken fat. It doesn’t sound all that appetizing, so calling something “schmaltzy” (or its goy cousin, “cheesy”) is hardly a compliment. It means gooey sentimentalism, laid on thick.

But don’t turn up your nose too quickly — smeared around on the right occasion, schmaltz can make life more tasty. Case in point, Barry Manilow (né Pincus). The strobe-light glitz of his shows, his gauzy tours down memory lane, his “dream duets” with recorded dead celebrities: all orchestrated to provide comfort to his aging Fanilows. They eat it up, then beg for more with their frantically waving glow sticks.

And why shouldn’t they? Manilow may not write the songs that make the whole world sing, but close enough. He is one of those singular talents who by dint of vision, ferocious will, and perseverance have made their own world and populated it with admirers. Manilow has stayed true to his brand (himself) and respects what his customers want; that’s integrity.

Yet cultural critics often dismiss Manilow for reheating the same old schtick, something you won’t often hear directed toward such senior performers as Mick Jagger (like Manilow, 71 years young) or Tony Bennett (88 and still in good voice). Note that Mick, like Barry, also no longer writes hits, and Tony was never a songwriter.

Manilow soldiers on, moving onstage like a stiff-legged metronome on his ‘farewell’ tour dubbed “One Last Time” (yeah, sure…). But maybe he means it; maybe he won’t perform live again in large live venues. His followers certainly weren’t going to take the chance and headed this week to L.A.’s Staples Center to hear the master once again resuscitate such classics as “Even Now” and “Mandy.”

I didn’t grow up a Manilow fan; as far as the ’70s go, I’m more of a Led Zeppelin guy. Yet to my surprise I’ve now been to two of his concerts in the last couple of years (to keep my wife happy — honestly!). To my greater surprise, I had fun both times.

Manilow was an acquired taste for me, but it’s an undeniable pleasure to be among his devotees and give oneself over to the sing-a-long familiarity he whips up. Like his music or not, you have to admit he’s a total pro.

There will always be those who can’t stomach an act like Manilow’s. I say ignore the churls and cynics and freely make up your own mind, in all matters. If nothing else, embrace people who are authentically themselves, especially if their purpose is to give joy to others. A little schmaltz can be delicious… What could it hurt? Spread the love.

Social Media Hegemon Claims More Words

Face is about as common a word as you’ll come across, in any language. In English, that word belongs to a $100 billion corporation called Facebook. They registered it. So it’s theirs, at least as far as internet domains go.

They also own the letter “F.” Now they want to add the word “book” to their collection of intellectual property and patents.

Read more

Words Drive Us to Distraction

Carmageddon begins today. That’s what wags are calling the traffic nightmare that’s supposed to befall Los Angeles because of the three-day surgical closure of the Westside’s main artery, the 405 freeway. It might as well be called Karmageddon; it seems fitting that L.A.’s lifeblood mobility should come back to strangle it.

Since we’re avoiding the roads, we’re left to transport ourselves with thought, and here’s one that seems apropos: the English language is a lot of fun. We can play with it endlessly, savoring its ancient words and idiosyncratic pronunciation, while concocting new terms sharp or sweet with meaning.

Wordlovers are forever coming up with their list of favorites. (Wordlover is no more a “proper” word than carma- or karmageddon, yet. It’s just more descriptive than the more correct logophile. Common usage tolerates the violation. In fact it doesn’t give a damn.), cribbing from a blog called So Much to Tell You, recently presented a selection of 100 of the “most beautiful” []. Many selections shimmered on the (web)page – how can one argue with epiphany, sumptuous, or woebegone? Then there were “ailurophile” (meaning cat-lover) and “chatoyant” (like a cat’s eye). Uh … no. Honestly, when are you ever going to use those terms (and still have people willing to associate with you)?

Other offerings such as “ratatouille” made no sense at all. Love the word, love the dish, love the movie. But it’s purebred French. If that qualifies, then why not put Beaujolais on the list? Phooey is a more worthy candidate. Oh, well. Everyone spouts an opinion in a democracy, which English not incidentally fosters because it’s inclined to let people follow their bliss.

English is a mutt with French, Germanic, Latin, Greek and other parentage, and its best words tend to be resilient old simpletons and crazy bastards. Whatever their etymologies, English boasts an astounding hoard, more than half a million gems and nuggets, and its enterprising promiscuity adds to the trove each day like a smartphone does apps.

If you’re a certain kind of person it can leave you feeling a little giddy. (Does nerdy rhyme with wordy for a reason?) Bang, dazzle, glee, languid, mist, perky, pesky, pipsqueak, resplendence, sigh, silly, smidgen, soft, velvet, whimsy, whisper, zephyr … Whoa, I feel dizzy.

Of them all, I particularly favor the word laugh. You can’t help but smile just saying, or even looking at, that word. It gladdens the heart. “Love,” “joy,” and “grace” prompt much the same response – how can you resist them? They’ll help see us through any -mageddon life throws at us.

The Business of Writing

Ah, the allure of freelance writing. The creative freedom. The flexible work hours. The intellectual stimulation. The grinding poverty.

Consider freelance business journalists. While no one expects them to earn as much as the people they cover, you might think given their field they had made a financially sound, strategically minded career decision. They typically earn about $25,000 a year (and no benefits or pension, of course). That’s according to a survey by Society of American Business Writers and Editors, which also found that three quarters of respondents made considerably more when they had salaries.

There are fewer of those full-time jobs in journalism, of course, with the outsourcing of the writing trades, and the technological extinction of the newspaper and magazine business. Their replacements, online content mills, do need copy of course … they’re just not willing to pay much for it, if anything. They’re inclined to interpret that “free” part of freelancing literally.

So do you really want to be a journalist today?


OK, not all freelancers are suffering. Specialized music writers can make $70,000 a year, according to research by Berklee College of Music, so biz writers might want to follow that Pied Piper.

And there is further hope, if only by way of analogy. Smartphones with their high-resolution cameras have pretty much obviated the need for traditional point-and-shoots. But sales of more powerful cameras like SLRs have increased nearly 29 percent since 2009, according to research firm NPD. Independent writers might think of themselves SLRs and market themselves accordingly, offering something that can’t be duplicated by some mug in Bangalore or Kiev cranking out keyword-laden ad bait at $5 a day.

Or look at the ongoing popularity of wristwatches. People surely don’t need them to tell the time (their smartphones do that too, and usually more accurately). They’ve gone from a necessity to an anachronism. But against the odds, against all reason, they go on and on. Maybe quality journalism will go that route.

Regardless, those freelance business writers probably don’t care. Two-thirds of respondents to that same SABEW survey said they’d never go back to a full-time job. You gotta do what you love. Food, shelter, and health insurance can be overrated.

Inspiration Is Bunk

What does it take to do great work? Whether we’re talking about writing a novel or building a successful company, the answer is the same: Focus and persistence. Being in the right place at the right time (a.k.a., luck) helps, but inspiration has little to do with it. It’s mundane plodding that wins the day.

“I think inspiration is nonsense, actually,” famed author Salman Rushdie told interviewer Max Miller for

Writing, he says, requires deep attention – definitely not inspiration. Concentrate on your characters, he advises, live in their world and tell their story. Stick with it until you finish.

“Every so often, I mean like one day in 20 or something, you will have a day when the work seems to just flow out of you and you feel lucky,” Rushdie says. “I wish there were more of those days, but most of the time it’s a lot slower and more exploratory and it’s more a process of discovering what you have to do than just simply have it arrive like a flame over your head.”

You can develop skills of concentration, which is something that strengthens over time (unlike, say, energy level). That’s good news not just for artists, but for careerists and entrepreneurs.

Fail, fail, fail … until you succeed. That’s the story of art and technology, of social progress and individual success – in every walk of life. Keep your focus. Concentrate intensely. Be persistent and never give up

Simply keeping one foot in front of another is how many walked their way to fortune. “A surprisingly large number of people have made fortunes because … they just have unbelievable focus on accomplishing what they sent out to do,” says Peter Bernstein, co-editor of All the Money in the World (Knopf, 2007), a book about the richest people in America.

As you slowly propel yourself forward with your art, business, or life, what’s the most important thing to keep in mind? “No. 1: Don’t look back,” Harold Hamm, the 13th child of sharecroppers who made himself an oil billionaire, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “You can never get good direction from looking backwards. Just know that you’re going to make mistakes. Learn to survive those errors and hope they’re not so critical that you can’t survive them. Learn and go on.”

The key is to move forward, forward, forward. “Persistence is everything,” Hamm says. “Very few people have the persistence that they need to achieve the great things. I can’t say hardly enough about that. It’s so important to have persistence to see something through.”

Wouldn’t Mr. Rushdie agree?