Fellow Passengers: This week’s Poetry Passage* (Psalm 35) transports me to the fourth move my wife Kim and I made, this time finally opening some of those boxes that had been transported from one storeage closet to another, and finally ending a running argument we had been having for years. She had accused me from our first year of marriage, and our first move, of throwing away her Barry Manilow albums. Whatever disdain I had carried throughout my life for the music of Barry Manilow, I knew that I hadn’t thrown any albums away, and sure enough, they finally showed up in one of those storeage boxes, and now have a place of honor on our shelf of albums next to the record player. I’m not the only one in the world who has struggled with the “hate Barry Manilow” affliction. Stephen Colbert has dealt with his in a very public way, after getting beat out by Barry for an Emmy. Columnist Dave Barry talked about having to go with his wife to a Manilow concert: It was all over in about 90 minutes, and I can honestly say that it was not the worst 90 minutes of my life, because I have had a colonoscopy. There’s a blogger out there who titled one of his posts: I Hate Barry Manilow! and wrote about how much Barry’s recording of the Best Songs from the 80s disgusted him: Would you like to know who doesn’t have a very special place in my heart? Barry Freaking Manilow! And before any of you crazy Fanilows try to get all up in my business about this issue, know that I will defend to my very death the contention that Manilow should be tarred, feathered, hung and shot for this dastardly deed! Terri Gross, in a Fresh Air interview with Barry, asked him about whether this phenomenon bothered him, and he admitted, Now and again it does, I’m human, . . .I go into self pity for a while and pull the covers over my head like any human being would do, but it never really stopped me, mostly because I believe in what I do. . . I was always surprised at the critics, when they felt like they needed to be so mean-spirited in their opinions, to somebody they never even met. It was after hearing this interview that I began really asking myself – why did I hate this guy so much? What had he done to me? You can always turn the dial if a song you don’t like comes on the radio, so why did I find him so odious? Why did I react to him, like so many people have done, with such harsh emotion?
Barry Manilow was certainly not the first musician to have people react to him with irrational hatred. The singer-songwriter David, harpist and lyricist for so many of the Psalms, prays in today’s song for God to take care of all those critics who hate him without reason, who roll their eyes at him in disdain. Of course, we know enough about David’s life to surmise that there were people out there who had legitimate reasons for hating him. He had done some dastardly deeds. But I don’t think he’s writing about them here. He’s writing about people who haven’t given him a chance, who react with an automatic gag-reflex at the very mention of his name for no good reason. He’s praying for God to do something about those folks who start venting vitriol, heaping scorn and contempt on him whenever they hear one of his top ten hit Psalms coming across the airwaves. In the end, David didn’t let these folks slow him down, any more than Barry Manilow let his critics slow him down. He kept on praising the Lord, he kept on penning lyrics and playing his harp.
I remember my long-held irrational feelings of disdain and hatred for Barry Manilow now when I see various ways that people here and abroad react with irrational hatred toward a political leader or a nation or a religious practice they find odious. It just reminds me how easily we can fall into patterns of hate that have no basis in reality. We all have the capacity for it. Barry Manilow didn’t do anything to merit my contempt. He is a gifted artist, with a large following. After all, he gave us many of our most memorable commercial jingles, as well as Mandy and Copa Cabana and Looks Like We Made It, and he can transition through key changes better than anybody around. But there are people out there, just like I was for many years, who fall for the bait of hate. Whatever it is – musical, political, religious, cultural – there are people who are ready to let the irrational feelings of disdain take over and control their actions. The anti-Muslim movie-maker who has stirred up hatred around the world is nothing more than a hate-baiter, when you get right down to it, a person who should be ignored and forgotten. But, the Islamic world has its version of the Klan, people of hate who are ready to take the bait and start their version of cross-burnings. In such a world, maybe the best thing we could do is take one of Barry’s albums off the shelf and try to get that feeling again, that feeling of love and grace and freedom that will once again allow a world of diverse cultures and religions and musical tastes to co-exist in peace. I’m looking, high, low, everywhere I possibly can.
How about you? Where does this Poetry Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.