Archive for August 11th, 2007


If I could only find the words then I would write it all down,

If I could only find a voice I would speak.

Oh, it’s there in my eyes, oh, can’t you see me tonight —

Come on and look at me and read ’em and weep


Ok, so I have to use Barry Manilow to frame my final remarks in this three part tome. Sue me. But this is the part where I get to give my $1.98 on what Clay might consider doing to “turn the Titanic around” (yet another song reference) and get on better footing with his career. Others share their opinions, sometimes liberally, so why not join them?


Before I go any further, let me say this: I have been called out as being too judgmental and negative in my comments about Clay. While this is typical treatment for anyone in the fandom who dares to criticize Clay in any way, those of you who have known me since the beginning of all this know that I love Clay’s voice and think that he has a promising future as a performer.


He intrigued me with “Always and Forever;”

blew me away with “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me”

and made be believe he had a real chance at stardom with “This is the Night.”


I always try to be affirming in my comments but also honest because I believe that there are too many people around Clay who say “yes” all the time – fans included. I’ll admit openly that it is really uncomfortable for me to do this in such an open forum. You see, if Mr. Aiken and I were real friends, I would take him out to dinner and discuss this in a non-threatening way over some great meal and wine. I prefer to talk of such things in private because I never want to embarrass anyone or make them feel badly in front of others.


Problem is – I don’t know the man and have no way of communicating with him in private so I am left to toss these ideas out into cyberspace and with any luck, he may just hear about them and give them a read. I will understand if it upsets him but I will try to be as gentle and constructive as possible – it’s the way I would like to be treated if in the same position. My objective is to share some of my insight being an older and wiser musician myself. While I cannot claim to fully understand the celebrity end of it, it’s the human side I’m more interested in.


To put this into some kind of frame work, I’d like to use the article I alluded to in the last installment, the one written by the son of a Claymate, that compared Clay to Barry and was looked upon by more than a few fans as a slam to Clay, which it really wasn’t. If you are wearing Claymate glasses, please take them off now because you need to see this through realistic eyes and know that what I say next is meant to be constructive criticism, the kind that helps a person grow.


Note: my comments will be in red


Presumably Clay has much more control over his live output than he currently does with recordings, and still he has presented himself as an old-fashioned entertainer, the sort who might regularly put out discs like “A Thousand Different Ways” and then embark on a slow-songs-with-orchestra outing like this one. Only during “Measure of a Man” (which got me to clap when his covers didn’t) and his co-written but shakily executed song “Lover All Alone” did Clay seize the opportunity to veer into something different – something to suggest he really wants to be contemporary. I don’t think Clay himself is certain as to which musical path to wander down but he can sing both classics and contemporary genres well – WHEN his voice is in top form. He was spot on the night I saw him live at Meadowbrook but some of the other clips I have seen and heard have shown a more fragile and tentative performance on more than a one occasion. I have posted my concerns over his voice over the years and so far, what I have predicted is playing itself out – and that pains me to no end.


Otherwise, he behaves like Barry Manilow, the soft-pop icon who has undertaken similar tours in the past – and whose routine now plays best in Vegas. There are MANY similarities between Barry and Clay – so much that it warrants its own separate subject heading. It’s a topic I’ve been meaning to write about and if you look below you’ll see that the writer picked up on some of the same ones I was thinking about. Maybe I’ll expand on these in a future blog.


Clay invoked Manilow’s name twice Saturday to top off self-effacing quips: “Only me and Barry,” that’s who gives you nights like this. I agree here – both performers know their audience (both are comprised of mostly women) and try to give them what they want. Difference is, Barry has a much tighter show than Clay but that’s because Mr. Manilow is a major control freak who needs to have everything as perfect as possible because he believes he owes that to his fans. Clay is still in the experimental stages of performing and he’s trying out things constantly to see what works for both him and his fans.


At times, though, it seemed as if he’d been studying Manilow’s playbook, incorporating some old tricks into his shtick. His talented, naturally engaging supporting vocalists, for instance – Quiana Parler and Angela Fisher – are not unlike Ladyflash, Manilow’s toned-down version of Bette Midler’s Harlettes. I noticed that from the beginning and when he had Jacob with him it was reminiscent of when Barry had Billy Kidd with him when he only had two women in back up (one being the very talented Idol singing coach Debra Byrd).


Just as 30 years ago Manilow would detour into his “Very Strange Medley” (a hodgepodge of jingles you’d never have guessed he wrote), so does Clay indulge his TV tribute and “uncool” roundup. I think that’s what’s bothered me about the medleys – difference is that Barry wrote about half of the jingles and sang the rest for the TV spots so he really OWNED these pieces. Then there is the GONZO medley of Barry’s that is a romp through his greatest hits – Clay’s no where near that yet.


He even repeats the master’s stock lines, placating husbands who got dragged to his show by reminding them they might get lucky later that night. That’s straight out of Manilow 101 – as is decrying radio with these-kids-today disdain, which Clay did more than once to hearty applause from a largely older and female crowd (a devoted fan base that nonetheless fell far short of filling the Greek). I’m finding out more and more that there are a bigger number of younger Clay fans around that no one accounts for. If he was on more radio playlists this segment would grow by leaps and bounds.


But, see, Manilow can get away with bagging on the new because he once dominated – and still co-rules his domain. He remains a soft-pop maestro, a gifted pianist of considerable variety, and a strong, distinctive vocalist. Clay is just Clay – a nice charmer with an undeniably powerful (albeit hardly to all tastes) voice that is already showing signs of strain and aimlessness when he goes for glory notes these days. Barry IS the superior musician, hands down, yet even he admits that Clay has the better voice. The one thing Barry can do with his voice is use it as an interpretive tool better than anyone I have experienced in all my years as a singer. He is my musical Idol for this reason and I have spent years trying to emulate and perfect that ability in myself. Do I think Clay has the same talent in him? Yes, I do but he has yet to fully develop it. When he finally does and if he can develop a more solid musical foundation, then he will rival Barry as the “greatest showman of his generation.”


Clay will never be but a fraction as talented as Manilow, something he surely realizes, – Don’t be so sure and don’t count him out yetbut you can’t deny he’s on the right track. He’s got a witty way about himself, and banters off-the-cuff exceptionally well. Mind you, he almost talked here as much as he sang – not entirely a bad thing – and his habit of tumbling into and out of songs while chuckling isn’t cute so much as unprofessional. This is where his lack of musicianship shows the most. I was taught never to let the music suffer – to always know both my notes and my words and never cheat the audience out of the best I could offer. But I found his asides more appealing than his songs, just as I enjoy his interviews with Jimmy Kimmel more than his performances whenever he’s on. Clay needs to pay attention to such critique, unless he wants out of singing and wants more of a non-musical career.


If he’d just settle into this as a career path – and maybe he is – he still has a very promising future as a new sort of Wayne Newton. Only Clay knows the answer here and, then again, maybe this is what he is struggling with. There is absolutely NOTHING wrong with a Vegas career unless he really wants to concentrate on television. At some point he will have to choose or he could end up with neither.


So, if I were to advice Clay on what he should do next, this is what I would tell him:

***get out of the public eye for at least a year or more to give all this hoopla a rest – reinventing oneself has worked for many people, Barry included

***while on hiatus, work on a new sound and hone your craft with professionals – Barry took acting lessons to help his stage performance and Clay could use some formal music training to help him feel more comfortable contributing to his overall “sound” instead of relying on someone else’s vision


***learn that “no comment” says more than you’d like it to say because it leaves others to fill in the blanks – defending one’s “honor” is still a good thing to do in measured doses


***surround yourself with people who are HONEST with you about everything – you need to “keep it real” and while stroking is nice, it only leads to a distorted view of life (and you don’t need to be a celebrity to learn that lesson)


I don’t have all the answers. I’m not perfect myself. I have no hidden agenda whatsoever. However, I have and always will believe in Clay and his talent and only want to see it reach it’s full potential. That’s all.


It’s there in my eyes and coming straight from my heart,

It’s running silent and angry and deep!

It’s there in my eyes, and it’s all I can say,

Come on look at me and read ’em . . . and weep!

(READ’EM AND WEEP – Music and lyrics by Jim Steinman – Sung by Barry Manilow)


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