Dear music fans, I present to you a very special conversation with a true legend.
Wednesday morning I was sitting at my desk doing whatever it is I do when an email came in. Not just any email mind you, but an email asking if I’d like to do a phone interview with singer Melissa Manchester.
My mind immediately went back to 1978 when I was a young kid obsessed with the movie “Ice Castles.” Yes, the movie with Robby Benson about the skater named Lexie (played by Lynn-Holly Johnson) who is blinded after a wine-fueled massive fall on the ice.
I wanted to be Lexie despite not being a particularly good skater and not having long blonde hair. The film, which my friend Lee and I are still obsessed with (she owns the DVD) contained a massive hit for Melissa Manchester. The song is “Through the Eyes of Love,” and if you make fun of it, I hope you also fall on the ice (with minimal injury of course). There are regular power ballads and then there are hardcore, super-deluxe, not-fooling-around power ballads and this song, written by Carole Bayer Sager, Marvin Hamlisch and Peter Allen, is one of them.
Here’s a video…with lyrics. Sing it loud and proud with me!
So back to the email. I wrote YES so fast my hand throbbed for a hour afterwards.
About four hours later my phone rang and I answered with my usual “Press Herald, Aimsel speaking” greeting. The response: “Hi Aimsel, this is Melissa Manchester.”
And just like that I was chatting up a storm with a living legend and a still incredible vocalist and songwriter.
I found this awesome clip on YouTube recorded earlier this year. Just listen to that voice. Timeless. Gorgeous. Classy. Charming. 100% Manchester.
Manchester, 63, lives in Los Angeles and is in her fourth year as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music.
“I was invited to give a master class and that was very interesting and then they invited me back and I said yes.”
When asked what the teaching experience is like, Manchester says she completely digs it. “They really listen. I learn as much from them as I teach…they taught me about crowd-funding.”
I told her I thought that was entirely awesome and that crowd-funding seems to be the way that many musicians are funding recording projects. She agreed.
“We’re in an industrial revolution. It’s no longer coming, it’s here. Its created the democratization of making music and purchasing music and it was really an adventure I didn’t want to miss,” she said. “My students not only helped my tour manager and I organize this, they became our street team. It was really wild.”
The class Manchester teaches is “The Art of Conversational Singing.” I know. How cool is that?
Many years ago Manchester took a songwriting class of her own at New York University, taught by a visiting guest artist. No big deal. It was just Paul Simon.
“What I teach is all of the parts of what I’ve learned. As I tell my students, I teach the parts that won’t be changing. If you want a very long career as I’ve been blessed to have, you’ve got to stay strong and there are different tools that I teach them all the time. Because their brains are so young I’m giving them advice and exercises and philosophy. Of course we talk about their song structure, compositions and performance techniques and all of that,” said Manchester.
“I give them context. I assign songs from the first volume of the American songbook so they can understand what a different aesthetic feels like in the body when you sing it. And frequently tears fall because the space of those original melody-driven songs are so deeply resonant. That’s why they’ll never really go away and that’s why many songs of today will,” she said. “They learn and I learn and it’s beautiful really.”
Manchester said the forthcoming record, her twentieth, is called “You Gotta Love Life” and it will drop in February. The collection of songs are mostly original and you’ll hear guest appearances by Stevie Wonder, Al Jarreua, Keb’ Mo’, Dionne Warwick, Dave Koz and Joe Sample. The first single is “Feelin’ For You.”
I had to know what it was like working with the likes of Wonder. “It was a dream come true. I have history with all of them. ”
Manchester’s current tour schedule starts in Maine on November 8 and then she’s off again until December 6. Yep, she’s flying across the country just to play here. “We’re making a special trip just you.” “I have a fan that’s actually driving in from Las Vegas to attend the concert,” she added.
Manchester plays piano and she’ll be accompanied by Stephan Oberhoff on piano, keys and guitar as well as percussionist Susan Holder. “The three of make a lot of noise,” she says. I’m not inclined to doubt her.
As for the show, Manchester says to expect plenty from the new record with the classic songs mixed in. She also does something that not every artists is willing to do and something that, as a fan, I very much appreciate. “After the show I go into the lobby I shake hands and give hugs and listen to people and get to know them and it’s very sweet.”
At this point in the chat I got down to brass tacks. I needed to know if Manchester still plays the aforementioned “Through the Eyes of Love.”
I got the only acceptable two word response: “Of course.” Whew…
I asked her if she had any idea that the song was going to be so popular.
“You never know what the end result of a song is going to be but I was writing partners with Carol Sager at the time. Carol and Marvin (Hamlisch) were dating and they were offered this movie, “Ice Castles” to write the theme for. They offered the song to me as a gift and my gift to them was my live performance and our collected efforts were nominated for an Academy Award.” She also said that the touching thing is that the song has taken on such a life of its own because it has serenaded so many brides down the aisle and has been the first dance at so many weddings.
“You never know what the life of a song is going to be and you never really know what you’re a part of in the moment, you just do the best you can.”
Although it’s been a few years since Manchester’s had a “hit” song, she’s been active the entire time writing song and playing shows.
“It’s a wonderful version of normal for me to use life and reflect it back in my songs,” she said.
Next up was my question to Manchester about a dream collaboration. It could be with anyone, regardless of whether they’re still among the living.
“If I could write lyrics to a George Gershwin melody I’d be very happy.”
Another name she mentioned was a singer we share a love and appreciation for.
“To have Judy Garland sing one of my songs would have been really extraordinary.”
She pulled one other name out of the hat. “There’s still time, but I would love to do a collaboration with Tony Bennett.”
No interview would be complete without asking about Manchester’s early days in the wold of jingle singing. She and longtime friend Barry Manilow were both part of a wildly successful group of singers that included Patti Austin and Ashford & Simpson.
Does Manchester have a favorite jingle that she sang on? Indeed she does. “Probably McDonald’s. It was one of the first choral pieces.” This was back in the 60s.
Manchester said that through her friendship with Manilow she met Bette Midler and the two of them became founding members of Midler’s back-up singers The Harlettes.
Melissa Manchester, it was a pleasure chatting with you. I’m a true Fanchester.
Oh and dear readers, did you REALLY think I wasn’t going to post this song? I will NOT keep it inside.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: The Chocolate Church, 804 Washington St., Bath
TICKETS: $55 in advance, $60 at the door.