Barry Manilow, the piano man who didn't write his big hits despite proclaiming otherwise in "I Write the Songs," is back in stores with his first album of original material in a decade.
"15 Minutes," a guitar-driven concept album he co-wrote with lyricist Enoch Anderson, details the rise, fall and possible redemption of a young musician. There are traces of Manilow in the storyline, but he says it can apply to anyone trying to make it in their chosen field.
The album debuted in the top 10 of the U.S. pop album chart last week, and is at No. 20 on the current UK chart. It will be released in Europe in September.
Q: This record indicates to me that you're a closeted rocker?
A: "Aha! I wouldn't call me a closeted rocker. I would say that I'm crazy about all sorts of styles of music. My only weak spot is singing them because I don't consider myself a singer. I've sort of fooled the public into thinking that I really could sing. Luther Vandross is a singer, George Michael is a singer. But I was able to get through because I can act the lyric. I can perform a song, and I think that was good."
Q: What parts of you do you recognize in the character?
A: "I didn't start off wanting to write an autobiographical story, but I had gone through just about every experience in every song except for the very last two cuts, which is when he's really down and I'm imagining him in a hotel room saying, 'What happened?' Thank goodness I didn't go down that far, but everything else I experienced."
Q: What's the closest you've come to derailing?
A: "Not very successful albums, some singles that were released that didn't make it, shows that didn't sell out. They really affect you when you're flying high. This fame thing is a rollercoaster. And I'll tell you something, if you do it for the fame you are asking for trouble. For me, I never did it for the fame, I did it for the music. I did it because I couldn't not do it. It saved my ass."
Q: If you're not self-destructive, when you look in the mirror what character flaws do you see?
A: "I got offered everything when I was starting out. I had to make a decision whether I wanted that life or not. My biggest decision was how was I treating people? When 'Mandy' hit and I had five No. 1 records in a row, was I being the guy that I was five years ago, or had I changed? I said, I changed and I had to make that decision to be a good guy again."
Q: Are you a good guy now?
A: "I try to be. I don't think I'm that ego, fear-based guy that I was when my life was out of control."
Q: How did you develop such a thick skin?
A: "I'll tell you one of the things that definitely helped. I had a lot of people around me who were very supportive. I had family, I had old friends. I had a record company. I had people around me saying, 'Don't listen to any of this stuff, you're doing great work.' They would boost me up. When Sinatra (reportedly in the 1970s) said, 'He's next,' that was a very, very important moment for me."
Q: To what extent do you keep a hand-on approach to the Barry Manilow business?
A: "I must say that I don't pay attention to the money as much as I should, because I did go bankrupt twice ... I should have taken responsibility for that. I just don't. It doesn't mean anything to me, it really doesn't. I'll miss it when it's gone."
Q: Do you work out?
A: "I do, three times a week. I eat well. I go to the gym. I got my hair. I'm telling you, so there you go, I'm lucky. I'm a lucky guy.