Music icon Barry Manilow may be 68, but he doesn't seem at all familiar with the word "retirement." The singer/songwriter currently has a running gig in Las Vegas, just released a new album, recently launched his own wine label, and is just as comfortable updating fans on Facebook as he is playing tunes on the piano for them. He's also begun lending his voice to something other than singing, working to raise awareness of a chronic heart disease called atrial fibrillation, which he was diagnosed with 15 years ago. The "Copa Cabana" crooner talked to omg! to share his thoughts on everything from "American Idol" to Twitter to how he's become an unlikely indie rocker.
Your career has spanned more than 40 years.What's been the biggest change you've seen in the music industry?
It's a double-edged sword. Because what they've come upwith -- these brilliant machines -- it's like heaven for a musician like me. I know all about ... Pro Tools and Digital Performer, and all the modules that you can get. I make my records all alone and then, after I'm done creating it, I go to the studio with real musicians. I love this way of writing music and, since I'm an arranger, I love arranging on my computer. The records that they're making these days are brilliant sounding records -- the rhythms, the sounds. However, what I miss is songwriting. I think the art of songwriting has taken a nose dive.
I think because all of the garage bands and all of the other stuff that is so tempting, is encouraging young people to make great sounding records, but it's not encouraging them to write great songs. Sometimes I say to them, "If you turned all of that stuff off, would you have a song? Could you just play that on your piano, or on your guitar? I'm not so sure." That's what I would miss. That's the change that I see.
You've been focused on raising awareness of a trial fibrillation. How did you discover you had the condition yourself?
It starts off very innocently, like your heart is skipping a beat, and everybody's had that. But then it felt different. There was something screwy about it. It kept getting faster and faster. It was totally random and it was out of control ... out of rhythm. I knew there was something wrong. It was the first time I actually paid attention to what was going on inside my body.
I went to see [my doctor] and he knew exactly what it was ... I went on a regimen of medication and very quickly my heart went back into rhythm, and everything got better. I never talk about ... my personal life, my health, but they told me that two and a half million people have this condition, and many of them don't do anything about it. Well, if you let this condition go, you are playing with fire, because it could easily lead to heart damage, heart attack, a stroke. When they told me all this I said, "Okay, let me talk to people about this."
What's next for you?
I've got a brand new album out called 15Minutes, which is a very interesting and a different album for me. It's about fame. I took the title from Andy Warhol's phrase, "In the future, everybody will be famous for 15 minutes." These days we see these young people become famous overnight from "American Idol." And it's interesting for me because it's all guitar-driven. There's hardly any piano on it. It's a very, very edgy album. And, it's on my own label and it entered at number one on the Indie Chart. I'm an Indie rocker. How about that?
Speaking of "American Idol," you did the show three times. What'd you think?
I did it when there were about nine of the contestants left, and what I discovered is they all have something and they're all very ambitious. The people that I worked with from Jennifer Hudson to Daughtry, all those kids have something, but what they needed was guidance. And they can't do too much of that on "American Idol." The kids have to figure that one out for themselves, but if you've got enough talent, you can do it.
Do you feel like you've connected with a new generation of fans?
I do see loads of young people out there every night.Certainly there are [also fans] that have been with me for years. But there's alot of young people out there, and you know, that might mean that they've discovered me through their families. I have discovered Facebook. I think that's a really good way of getting information out there. I don't do Twitter. I think it's just a little too intrusive for me.
I've got to ask. There was a story out a couple of months ago about you and your friend Suzanne Somers planning each other's funerals. Is that true?
Oh, we were just kidding around, you know? Because I've put together great shows. And she said, "You've got to produce my funeral."