Last year, Gerald Ishibashi of Stonebridge Productions mounted a “Concert for Peace” at the Aratani Theatre with headliner Jackson Browne. On Saturday, Aug. 2, he’ll produce the second annual event, this time starring old friend Melissa Manchester.
“Melissa’s a prolific talent across several idioms,”Ishibashi said. “She’s done pop, she’s done Broadway, and she’s definitely a consummate professional. She’s a pro’s pro… Last year, I saw her at the Catalina on Sunset and she did ‘Plant a Seed,’ and we were thinking about this ‘Concert for Peace.’ And you get these ideas and then you know how they swim around and then it triggers a thought, an emotion? We felt that that song would be appropriate for our event. It’s about hope.”
Manchester told me, “[Gerald] said, ‘I have an idea (laughs).’ And I immediately said I would love to do part of it. And not only that, he wanted to do something as a children’s musical number.”
She’s only done “Plant a Seed” — a choral piece for adults and a children’s choir — “a couple of times” before, “so we’re going to do that. I’m very excited.”
The concert coincides with the Aug. 6th 69th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the 20th annual Sadako Peace Day named after Sadako Sasaki, who developed leukemia from the bomb’s radiation and hoped that by folding 1,000 origami cranes, the gods would grant her wish to be cured. Although legend says she only finished 644 before dying, apparently she made it past her goal but still succumbed to the disease at the age of 12.
Of the bombing, which possibly killed about a third of the city’s population, the singer says: “The thing that’s heartbreaking, as a young kid, you sort of hear this stuff and go, ‘OK, I guess the grown-ups know what they’re doing.’ But you know, when you think of how many children and women and old people were decimated, it’s just all of that ‘collateral damage’ — awful! It’s heart-wrenching because this can’t be the way we’re supposed to resolve conflict, but we seem to get more effective wars but not yet more effective peace. I’m holding on for that.”
Manchester was inspired to write “Plant a Seed” (which she’s yet to place on one of her albums) after attending a Million Mothers March in Washington D.C. with her two daughters. “It’s really a list song, particularly the bridge of it. The song is a reminder to children that they are of value. And then in the bridge when the children’s choir starts singing, it’s a conversation. It’s like a call and response, like in the black churches. The children posit the question, ‘If I feel afraid/If I feel ashamed/If I make a mistake,’ and then the grown-ups respond lovingly: ‘You can always come home/You’ll never be alone/We’ll find a way to make it through/We’ll respect each other.’
“So I wrote it for children to be able to refer to in terms of what it takes to raise a good child and what children need — that grown-ups often forget. Most people haven’t heard ‘PAS’ because I don’t get a chance to work with a children’s choir that often. So it’s a real treat for me when I do it.”
Between 1975 and 1982, the Bronx-born singer/songwriter (who now lives in Los Angeles) placed seven hits in the Top 40, three of them in the Top 10, including her composition “Midnight Blue.” She could’ve had a fourth with a song she co-wrote with Kenny Loggins, but the head of Arista Records — the legendary Clive Davis — didn’t think there was anything special about their duet. So Loggins partnered with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and took it to #5 in 1978 — “Whenever I Call You ‘Friend.’”
Manchester’s second Top 10 hit as an artist came later that year — an outside song with a confusing message sung in a confusing way. “Don’t Cry Out Loud,” originally recorded softly by Peter Allen, was turned into a power ballad by Manchester’s producer, who expected her to shout it, contradicting its very message.
“Well, you know, that’s a very keen observation because Carole [Bayer] Sager [who later married Burt Bacharach, with whom she wrote classics like ‘Theme from “Arthur”’ for Christopher Cross and ‘That’s What Friends Are for’ for Dionne Warwick and friends] and I, up to that point, had been writing all of these songs about crying out loud and showing our feelings and claiming our voice and standing up for what we believe. And suddenly there’s this great, big phrase of ‘Don’t Cry Out Loud’ and it was loud,” Manchester said.
“And I thought, ‘Oh man, what are people responding to?’ That took me several years, actually, to really get clear as to what people were hearing, what they were responding to so positively. I mean, I’m certainly not looking a gift horse in the mouth, but you know, I would get fan letters of how this song was helping people through trying times and all that.
“And I realized in the end that the song is about coping, which in the end, we all must learn how to do… before we reach maturity, we’re hoping that someone will save us. But you know, as you mature, you realize that you have to cope and save yourself, mostly,:
Look for Manchester to do it the “quiet” way at the Aratani.
Her third Top 10 also confused her. 1982’s “You Should Hear How She Talks About You” was written by two friends of hers, but she had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the studio to record it.
“I was known as a balladeer and to have this disco dance song was so weird. But you know, at that time, I was sort of allowing myself to try different musical styles because my management was saying, ‘Try this, it might work and blah blah blah.’ And I’m being a good girl and trying things. And it worked out, oddly enough, and I got the Grammy for it [Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female], which was really odd, but you know (laughs), I was very grateful for it.
“I sing it very joyfully now. For a while after the Grammy came out, I had to stop for a while ’cause I needed some distance to make sense of what was going on. Because you know, this is such an unlikely song for me, but it was a gift and now I can laugh with the audience because it’s a cheerful memory.”
As ’80s productions became more high-tech, Manchester got tired of the artistic compromises. Since 1989, she’s recorded material that’s more satisfying and has given up the Top 40 rat race. And she’s not bothered that one of her finest performances, 1979’s “Looking Through the Eyes of Love (Theme from ‘Ice Castles’)” — despite being the follow-up to the #10 hit “Don’t Cry Out Loud” — inexplicably peaked at a lowly #76.
“These songs have endured. That’s all I care about. I mean, it’s fantastic when they get to the top of the charts, but oh gee, you know, it was nominated for an Academy Award, audiences know it whenever I sing it, and it brings back a welcomed memory. And that’s what I’m saying. I’ve done this for four decades now, and I have outdistanced everything that is a barometer for things that are ‘current’ because things that are ‘current’ aren’t terribly interesting for me. Things that are timeless are much more attractive to me.”
Manchester’s first album in 10 years, “You Gotta Love the Life,” featuring duets with Dionne Warwick (they sing a song Manchester co-wrote with Burt Bacharach’s former partner Hal David — his last one) and Al Jarreau and instrumental guests like Stevie Wonder and Dave Koz, will make its debut the weekend after the “Peace” concert in Las Vegas and become available to those who helped partially underwrite its costs through the public funding site indiegogo, in September. It’ll be officially released early next year.
Manchester’s set is expected to run about 75 minutes. The concert also features David Lindley (he sang the falsetto on Jackson Browne’s 1978 remake of “Stay”), and a singer/songwriter nephew of Sadako Sasaki. For tickets ($30 general, $60 VIP), call (213) 628-2725 or go to www.jaccc.org.
Into the Mailbag Department: From Ron Shapiro, with whom I mixed “American Top 40” in the mid-’80s: “Sammie Tong was the only reason to watch ‘Bachelor Father!’ I remember as a kid my mom explaining how he died. I didn’t understand then, and am still saddened by his demise today. I’m glad the reruns are back, even though they moved it to overnights. Thanks for bringing one of my favorite ‘characters’ to the attention of a new generation … Back in the ’80s the cable channel that eventually became ABC Family used to show the program in reruns. Then it wasn’t on until Antenna TV started airing it again a couple years ago. I was searching everywhere to see if it was available on tape/DVD in between. No luck, obviously.”
Paul Bens added: “Sammee Tong was brilliant in that show and, honestly, the only cast member interesting enough to keep me watching. Even [John] Forsythe was boring as hell … but Sammee brought it to life every time he was on screen. He and Jack Soo are two sorely missed members of the comedy community.”
Former high school classmate Audrey Hardman-Hartley of Las Cruces, New Mexico, wrote in response to my question if Casey Kasem, while sedated, understood me as I spoke to him via phone two days before he passed away: “As a former administrator of an assisted living community, and as someone who has sat with many of our residents with dementia who were entering the other side, I can promise you this: he heard every word you said. AND, that helped him to bring closure.
“We know that the last thing a person has is his or her sense of hearing. Your familiar voice and your loving words helped him to cross over knowing that the rest of us who love and admire him will carry on and will make his legacy that which he so richly deserves. Well done … and not ‘Rorry Raggy!’ Now, on with the Countdown…”
Tara K. Inouye-Hill on Casey’s private memorial: “Beautiful, my friend, a fitting and eloquent tribute to a great man! So happy you were invited to attend and speak, but then, you deserved that, too, as you were a true friend and supporter!”
And finally, from my old NCRR colleague Suzy Katsuda: “When I read your very moving Rafu article about Casey Kasem, I cried. He must have been a remarkable man. I wish I had known him. You were lucky.”
’Til next time, keep your eyes and ears open.
Guy Aoki, co-founder of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, writes from Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.