My best friend and Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow on the big screen

When we were growing up, my best friend and I were always on the periphery.

We were middle of the road students in school, and amongst our peers, were the only ones who really, really didn’t know what to do with our future because it seemed the only versions of the future that were available were either the “approved professions” in law, medicine and engineering, or if you did badly enough at the exams, the “approved fall back careers” in the lower rungs of the civil service or some multinational corporation.

We never really got on with our peers when they spoke about “honours”, “first uppers” and other such like. (Although I was shortlisted for a PSC Scholarship, and became the first potential scholar to actually fail the ‘A’ Levels).

But this is not a story about me, because while I eventually did attend law school (and didn’t finish), my best friend was bold enough to say from the start, “I want to be an actor/singer/performer”, simply because he loved being all three, and he felt he was really good at all three.

He did get a full time gig as an “administrator” at a local, fledgling theatre company for $400 a month, sweeping the floors and cleaning the toilets when he didn’t have to rehearse for a play, I remember him telling me.

While I was at law school, he told me about his singing for free at Chaplin’s in Holland Village and other pubs, singing his heart out until his mother found out from a friend, and threatened to disown him if he continued his rock and roll lifestyle.

It wasn’t really that rock and roll, actually. One of the things this best friend of mine loved was and is still considered by many to be decidedly unfashionable – he loved Barry Manilow.

He can sing almost every Manilow song and accompany himself on the piano.

So when Manilow came and performed in Singapore in 1996, he was probably one of the first in line to get the tickets to his idol’s show.

A week out from the concert, one of the production people for Manilow’s concert who knew my friend and his love for the man who writes the songs that make the whole world sing calls and says he’s one of the production people for Barry Manilow’s concert.

My best friend says excitedly, “Wow! Don’t worry, I bought my ticket already, I don’t need a comp(limentary ticket).”

The production guy responds, “No, we’re wondering if you’d be keen to be one of his backup singers, because we’re short of one due to illness, and we know that you’d have no problem at such short notice”.

I was in Australia then, and that evening, I received a phone call from this best friend of mine which consisted of a lot of screaming about “I’m singing back up for Barry! I’m singing back up for Barry! Oh wait, I should stop yelling cos I should save my voice for singing back up for Barry!”

Of course, singing back up for Barry wasn’t the pinnacle of his career – this best friend of mine has of course gone on and become the veteran performer/director that everyone loves and respects.

More importantly for me, what he’s gone and done in the last two decades has been to pursue joy, and to demonstrate that when you pursue joy, success follows.

Thanks mate.

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