On a recent afternoon in Hollywood, Barry Manilow, the Brooklyn-born singer-songwriter who has sold more than 80 million records worldwide, has one of life's curious surprises waiting for him in suite 12D of the W Hotel & Residences, where he's holding an interview in support of his new album, 15 Minutes.
Manilow, who turns 68 this week, looks trim in dark slacks and gray jacket. He sits on a couch with a view of the Hollywood Sign. Across from him sits a redheaded journalist whose mother, Beanie, was one of Manilow's good friends when they worked together at CBS in New York City in the '60s.
Manilow attended Beanie's wedding in 1967, his records were endlessly played at the journalist's home during his childhood in the 1970s, and the singer regularly sent Christmas cards to the family. The singer and Beanie's son, however, have never met. When the journalist explains all this, the singer says he feels like he's going to cry.
"We were close," Manilow says, moving to the edge of the couch. "Your mom got me through the days of CBS. It was a very gray office, with a lot of people and serious bosses. It was typical office work. She was a bright, shining light in the middle of all these gray, serious businesspeople."
He thinks, and says, "If she only knew how important she was to me in those days."
Manilow smiles and reminisces about the old times, when he would sneak away from the CBS mail room and play a piano in a nearby rehearsal hall, Beanie covering for him. Manilow also drafted her to be in Off-Broadway productions.
"I used to do some conducting for local theater stuff, and she was in those shows. She did The Pajama Game with me, and she might have done Bells Are Ringing with me. She was fun. She was funny."
Since Manilow's new, guitar-driven album examines the pitfalls of fame and a celebrity-obsessed culture, the journalist asks if that rise from the CBS mail room to the top of the charts taught him any lessons.
"Well, your mom would remember," Manilow says. "I was always into the music. I was not into becoming famous. I was not into making money. I was just into the music. And everybody remembers me as a musician. So this new album kind of says, 'Don't do it for the fame. Do it because you have something to say. Do it because you can't not do it.' That's what I did."