He Writes the Songs That Make the Neighbors Cry 'No More Barry Manilow!'
He Writes the Songs That Make the Neighbors Cry ‘No More Barry Manilow!’
A few Rite Aids in California tried blasting his music to drive away loiterers, but others pleaded for mercy; ‘I felt trapped in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” ’
By Kathleen A. Hughes
June 27, 2018 1115 a.m. ET
Barry Manilow, the singer-songwriter who has sold more than 85 million albums with ’70s hits such as “Mandy” and “I Write the Songs,” is in the midst of a flashy return to Las Vegas and other cities at age 75.
There are a few other places where, until recently, you could hear the popular crooner belting it out for free, all day long: some Rite Aid storefronts in San Diego, Hollywood and Long Beach, Calif.
Rite Aid employees say the intended audience wasn’t customers. The drugstore chain has been testing since early this year whether playing a few of Mr. Manilow’s songs outside the stores, over and over, and loudly, would deter loiterers and panhandlers.
The tactic seems to have worked, but it also has mystified and annoyed neighbors and shoppers,
who have been belting out their own feelings to store managers and on YouTube, Twitter and the neighborhood social-networking service Nextdoor.com.
Lisa Masters, a former professional drummer who moved into a new apartment in Long Beach on April 1, says she had been worried about noise from the local bar scene. Instead, Manilow all day long
she heard Barry Manilow—at all hours, and at top volume.
She couldn’t enjoy her patio or open her window without hearing “...oh Mandy...” “I thought some older man had died and left a Barry’s Most Depressing Hits CD on repeat,” she says. “I felt trapped in an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone.’ ”
She eventually tracked the music to the corner Rite Aid.
She says she called 800-Rite-Aid, and a regional manager called back and explained that neighbors had been complaining about the panhandlers, and that employees couldn’t keep them away. The Manilow technique had worked in other locations, he said, and it was working in Long Beach.
“His attitude was: would we rather have panhandlers or Manilow?” says Ms. Masters.
A Rite Aid spokeswoman said last week that customers had found it difficult to enter “a select few stores” because of loiterers, so Rite Aid was exploring various ways to make it easier, including the use of Barry Manilow. “We are in the early stages of exploring this approach and have not made any decision about the potential rollout of this to additional stores,” she said.
The spokes woman said Rite Aid has the rig ht to play background music through a deal with a company that supplies it digitally. On Wednesday, after a version of this article first appeared online, the music stopped at several Rite Aids, according to people who were there.
It isn’t the first time music, including Mr. Manilow’s, has been deployed as a weapon. A 7-Eleven store in Modesto, Calif., recently blared classical music and opera to banish loiterers. In 2006, a city council in Sydney, Australia, used Mr. Manilow’s greatest hits to drive away local youths hanging out in car parks, revving their engines and annoying residents, according to a BBC News report. A local official said at the time that Mr. Manilow’s music would work because it was “daggy”—Australian slang for uncool.
Mr. Manilow’s publicist says she had heard about the use of his music in Australia but not about the Rite Aid tactic. “It’s not very kind that people don’t want to stand around and listen to his music,” she says. “It’s odd. He wouldn’t comment on something like this. I don’t think he knows about it.”
Mr. Manilow, of course, has an enormous and devoted fan base, often referred to as Fanilows. The first six shows in his current tour, titled “The Hits Come Home” sold out, filling the 1,600- seat Las Vegas venue with screaming fans—at ticket prices from $19.75 to $329. His publicist says he has been ranked as the top-selling adult contemporary artist of all time, with 50 top 40 singles.
At the two Rite Aids in Long Beach, however, the volume on Mr. Manilow had been turned down in response to complaints, employees say. Ms. Masters says the store manager in Long Beach told her in April that Mr. Manilow would be placed on a timer, singing only from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and at a much lower volume. And Rite Aid had added some classical music to the Manilow mix.
Some customers had complained about missing the Manilow, one Long Beach employee says. He used to see people singing along and even dancing as they walked past the store’s windows.
Mr. Manilow has plenty of fans, including some seen singing along in front of one Long Beach Rite Aid.
At the Rite Aid in Gower Gulch Plaza in Hollywood, Mr. Manilow had been playing loudly since at least January. The store is surrounded by film studios such as Sunset Gower Studios and the new Viacom Inc. headquarters.
There are now posts on YouTube and Twitter by music producers, actors and comedians about the Manilow music—and reviews have been mixed.
John Fields, a record producer for the Jonas Brothers and Miley Cyrus, says he walked by the Rite Aid repeatedly when returning to his hotel from a nearby recording studio. “I like Barry Manilow,” says Mr. Fields, who is 49 and lives in Minneapolis. “But ‘Mandy’ was playing three nights in a row....It was so weird.”
He posted a selfie video on YouTube as he walked outside the store. “Somewhere Down the Road” is blasting. Mr. Fields muttered, “Another night with Barry Manilow.”
He returned on June 18 and noted in another YouTube video that Mr. Manilow was still playing “loud and proud.”
In late March, Debra DiGiovanni, a Los Angeles comedian, had just pitched ideas for a project at Viacom’s Comedy Central when she headed for the Gower Gulch Plaza Rite Aid.
That’s when she heard Mr. Manilow singing “I Write the Songs.” The tunes didn’t stop. So she sang along.
“It’s one of those beautiful moments,” she says. “I know all the words. When I was in my 20s we might have made fun of him, and now I’m in my 40s and he’s nostalgic. It reminds me of Mom and Dad in a lovely way.”
Alex Schindler, a personal assistant to a pop musician, was heading into the Hollywood Rite Aid recently as Mr. Manilow belted out “Somewhere in the Night.”
“I’m here once a week,” Ms. Schindler said. “It’s always the same two songs. It upsets me. It’s bizarre. By the time I come out, ‘Mandy’ will be on.”
Some customers made bets on which song would be playing as they approached. Lynne Kirste and Fritz Herzog, both film archivists, were walking toward the store late last month when they took their usual bets. “Mandy” was playing.
“I won,” said Mr. Herzog.
Others recommended keeping it all in perspective. “It’s like a low grade migraine,” said Cynthia Schick, a drug counselor who works near the Hollywood Rite Aid. “It’s like living next to a waterfall.”
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