Meeting Barry Manilow in Heaven
By Mark Nizer

In fifth grade, David Toubichaw (I have changed his name to protect his identity) sat in my closet listening to Barry Manilow and singing our brains out. We were still too young and innocent to think this amazing music was not cool or to feel weird about sitting in a closet together listening and singing to Barry Manilow. To be completely honest here, I think the guy is a genius. I was first introduced to him via the Columbia Record Club. (For those of you under 40, records are rounds discs that gave you music like iPhones but could melt in your car.) Once I heard the glory that is Manilow, with its comforting tones and poignant lyrics, I was hooked. This was my first foray into the power of music and it was a transforming experience. We knew every album, song and word. To say we were his biggest fans would be an understatement. 

Fast forward 20 years and I found myself living my childhood dream. I was opening for Barry Manilow on his North American Tour. Traveling on his private jet, we appeared at massive outdoor amphitheaters, some nights performing for as many as 30,000. As his opening act, my instructions were clear: take up time until the sun went down, then get off.

After my 20-minute-or-so set, I would go back stage and continue to practice to make sure I maintained my much longer 90-minute show. So one night, there I was, bouncing a volleyball on my head while juggling four rings. I had a good practice and was ready to wrap things up as I could tell Barry would be done soon, as he was just on the other side of the main drape about 20 ft. to my right.

The ending of the trick I was practicing involves bouncing the ball 15 feet up off my head, pulling the four rings down around my neck, then snapping my head back to flip the rings off my neck and catch them right before they hit the ground between my legs. But I immediately noticed my head bounce had sent the ball way in front of me. I really wanted to successfully complete this catch to end on a good note. I was bent all the way forward after making the four-rings catch and began to sprint to snag the wayward ball. As I launched into the darkened wing, I failed to notice the steel lighting truss used to store stage lights in the semi trucks. So ... I ran full speed, head down into its sharp corner and WHAM! I was out cold. 

To this day, I really have no idea how long I was out. What I do vividly remember is being in total blackness, my head spinning and not knowing if I was dreaming, dead or both. As my senses slowly returned, I figured I was probably dead and transitioning to the afterlife. I could actually hear the angels, quiet at first, then slowly swelling, until the sound took over my entire consciousness:

You came and you gave without taking,
But I sent you away.
Oh, Mandy.

Wait … what was that last word? Mandy?

Instead of this realization bringing me back to reality, it was simply confirmation in my dazed mind that I was dead and, as expected, the playlist in Heaven does, in fact, include Barry Manilow!

You kissed me and stopped me from shaking,
And I need you today.
Oh, Mandy!

As I stumbled to my feet, ready to begin my ascension, I slipped on the substantial pool of blood on the floor from the large gash in my skull. Luckily, all giant venues are required by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to have a doctor on site, so I found a security dude who wrangled the doctor for me.

He wanted me to go to the hospital, but since I would miss the jet and the rest of the tour, we negotiated for him to super glue the skin flap down and that I check in with the doctor at the next venue. He wrapped my head in gauze and sent me on my way. 

I looked terrible. I knew the band members, who had become my friends, would rag on me to no end if they found out, so I went to front of house and bought the only head covering available – an official Barry Manilow baseball hat. I stuffed the bloody gauze up into it and before I knew it, I was back on the jet sitting directly across from Mr. Manilow as usual, except, as his biggest fan, I was now sporting an official Barry Manilow hat – and an epic headache.

Dreams really do come true!!!



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