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If your Superbowl money, like mine, was on the Redskins, the game started to go wrong even before the Raiders blocked that punt in the fifth minute. The game went wrong before it began. It went wrong when ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ was sung by Barry Manilow.

How can such an intense feeling as not being able to stomach Barry Manilow put you in a minority? But such is the case. Nobody you know can stand four bars of him. Yet everybody you don’t know thinks he is marvellous. Apart from those people with whom you are personally acquainted, the entire population of the world worships Barry’s loose trousers just because they are draped around the jutting, bony bottom which poses and pouts on top of his pipe-cleaner legs like a second face even more impertinent than the first.

When he flutters the eyelashes on his first face in the feigned self-adoration that is really self-adoration, untold millions of people actually like him. They want more instead of less. How can this be? You can start finding out with Barry Manilow in Concert (Guild), a tape which does for the Manilow fan what the old EMI COLH Beethoven piano sonata LPs with the green sleeves did for admirers of Artur Schnabel.

An open-air crowd the size of the one at Gandhi’s funeral is already roaring in a collective frenzy before a bongo crescendo brings Barry on in a detergent-blue suit with diamanté trim. ‘Seems I’ve been away-ayy! For ever!’ The fans let him know that for him to miss them is as nothing compared to them missing him. He is moved by the mere fact of this rapport. Underneath the mock-nervous self-criticism of his patter (‘Ah, come on Barry, relax!’) is the supreme confidence of a crowd-pleaser whose crowd is already pleased just to have obtained a ticket.

But though the deal is all sewn up in advance, Barry sings as if the adoration of the multitude were forfeit. When he sings of the love between himself and a woman, the emphasis is on the near-impossibility of a passion so fervent being durable as well. There is a lot about givin’ it a try, gettin’ through, we can work it out, we can make it last. The enraptured fans clearly believe that they are all included. He loves them so much that there will have to be a miracle, lest the fire consume itself.

After the opening set he mimes exhaustion. Were he to quit the stage now it would be like Byron leaving town: they would be slashing their wrists. But Barry, true to his code, remains. All he does is remove his jacket, thus to reveal a dinky white waistcoat defining a chest which it would otherwise take weight-training to render visible. This is not your standard macho stud body. From certain angles this is not even your standard lamp. But it has resilience. Barry is not just skin and bone. He is also cartilage, especially in the nose.

Barry’s hair, a tea cosy woven from carrot peelings, surrounds a knowing smile. Something is about to happen. The spotlight turns inside-the-refrigerator blue. He claps his hands. His long feet shuffle forward with the weird syncopation made possible by two knees in each leg. He cries ‘Ugh!’ just off the beat while twitching his pelvis forward, as if goosing a sheep on roller-skates. ‘It’s got to be the Noo York rhythm in my life!’

From then on, Barry is unstoppable. He roams the stage like a wild beast unleashed — a gerbil on the rampage. He can say naughty things because every woman out there is his mother. ‘We have been rehearsing our little buns off, gang!’ This is the rap on the move, a technique of which he is the most accomplished exponent since Sammy Davis Jr, with the difference that Barry, careful not to infringe the rule by which the only thing he can do that the audience can’t is sing in tune, never says a single even remotely funny thing. ‘Hoo, Hey! All right!’ To which the audience replies ‘Ayy!’ As Wallace Stevens once remarked, art must be abstract.

But sing in tune Barry does. Nobody, not even John Denver, ever got to be a big star by accident, especially in middle-of-the-road music, where people know what they want, even if the rest of us find it hard to believe they want it. Further out towards the edge, there is more room for the occasional freak with nothing to offer except nausea, but even there the ability to persist is nearly always a sign of virtue.

Britain’s very own Kate Bush has carried on like a dingbat from day one, but only the deaf deny she is gifted. It has to be admitted, however, that only the blind appreciate her straight away. A healthy, well-shaped girl, she dresses to frighten the horses. Her costumes, décor and dance-routines — all controlled, like her music and lyrics, by Kate herself — are well to the fore on Kate Bush: The Single File (EMI). The video pop single is allegedly an up-and-coming art form, but surely after Kate it can only be down-and-going. This has to be the apex.

As you might expect, Kate’s monster hit single ‘Wuthering Heights’ is on early. Wearing a négligé which might just conceivably have belonged to one of the Brontë sisters if any of them looked like Donald O’Connor and wore diamond earrings in bed, she makes a deceptively normal start by dancing the number in multiple image to sub-Martha Graham unarmed-combat choreography.

Things warm up later on, until with ‘Suspended in Gaffa’, — yet another addictive tune, with yet another set of demented lyrics — we find her clad in palest lilac pedal-pushers and aluminium gauntlets, crying ‘I don’t know why I’m crying’ while doing Kung-Fu calisthenics in a South-East Asian warehouse full of dust.

Your eyes get a quieter time with Kate Bush Live at the Hammersmith Odeon (EMI), since with a stage show she can’t change drag for every number. But you still have to contend with the way she looks when, instead of miming to playback, she is warbling and trilling into a microphone wired directly to her skull, so that she may be free to dance herself silly in a Superman leotard, plus leg-warmers, pith helmet, flippers, etc.

Kate is full of serious messages — she has sussed out, for example, that nuclear war is bad for you — but a deep and true showbiz instinct tells her that they are best delivered per media the maximum possible concentration of production values. That’s what she’s doing upside-down in a silver bubble making mouths like Carmen Miranda: getting your attention by impersonating a yodelling embryo.

In the days when Kate was a real embryo, Elvis Presley was already getting old. As we now know, he got old faster than most people because of the various toxins he was pushing into himself. A less well-appreciated fact is that the end of his career was almost as productive as the beginning.

Elvis Presley on Tour (MGM/UA) shows him in his dotage. The high-collared costumes designed to minimise his jowls make him look like one of his own look-alikes. A few tired passages of pastiche karate have to fill in for the body language that wowed the world when he was young. But never since his first Sun records has he made such hard-driving music. The big ballads are the usual tedium, but the Nashville guitars on the blues-based and country songs bring the melody out of him as if the spring were still clear instead of clouded. Rhythm, his sixth sense, was still there even after the other five were gone.

Observer, 29 January, 1984
* * *

When, after ten years, I gave up my Observer television column in 1982, there remained the question of how best to work out my contract. Video seemed a logical area of further interest. I started to write about it once a month, with the idea of choosing, from the already endless supply, tapes to fit a given theme each time. Really it was a chance to write about anything, but a difficulty soon emerged that I might have expected at the start had I been less eager. The reading public had not been watching the same tapes. So the luxury I had enjoyed with the television column, of writing to topics which were fresh in the reader’s mind, was not there. Too spoiled to do without that, I dismantled the project before the first year was up. While it was running, however, I gave it my best attention, and the three pieces here included could have been written on no other pretext. The opportunities were infinite. That was just the trouble. There is also the possibility that I had grown soft. Making a spectacle of myself on television, I had begun to feel too much sympathy for anyone else doing the same. Not even Barry Manilow could arouse ire: just awe, and a kind of bitter gratitude, as an unfrocked priest might feel who watches an evangelist making lonely women weep.