One of the most beautiful albums in the Gibb cannon, 1981’s Living Eyes.
Two days on and the feedback from Barry Gibb’s interview on Sunday evening’s episode of The Two has been overwhelming. That said, it’s fair to say that after all previous interviews I’ve done with Barry stretching back to 2005 (this is interview #5), the response from both diehard and casual fans has been immense and positive. But this was something else. People have called me on my talkback shows to say this was one of the most emotional interviews they’ve ever heard on the radio with anyone.
Hyperbole or not, this blows me away. As to how it happened, it could be for a number of reasons. One is that as the only surviving Gibb brother, Barry is now more free to speak about the complex relationships he had with Robin, Maurice and Andy – the three younger brothers he so dearly loved.
Another reason is that Barry knows he is in safe hands when I interview him. Then there’s the fact my co-host Pam Corkery approached this interview with the sensitivity and empathy that it required and used this to broach some sensitive topics. This is a man who has experienced the greatest of success as well as the most devastating personal loss and Pam got this beautifully.
And the final and most important factor I’d put forward as to why this interview resonated both so much for Pam and me, with our audience in New Zealand and with fans around the world is that quite remarkably, Barry is both at peace and is almost staggeringly humble. Not long before he died, Robin said he wondered if the all too frequent tragedy his family had suffered was some kind of karmic balance for their record breaking achievements. This jarred with some who are more inclined to believe that the rain falls on us all.
(UPDATE OCTOBER 31ST: See comments section below for a good extension to this particular topic from a reader of this blog regarding karma, Buddhism, Christianity and the thoughts that might go through our head when we are seriously ill.)
Contrasting with Robin, Barry clearly doesn’t think in terms of this kind of cruel karmic balance. It was so moving to hear a man who has been through such grief say that “someone must have been smiling on me,” when talking about the steadfast support of his wife Linda and the gift of his five children and six grandchildren.
Figuring out how Barry has reached this position of peace with the world is fascinating. During the interview he spoke to us in endlessly quotable sentences; phrases of real beauty. I am in the process of converting the full interview into a feature-length article for the Listener Magazine*, but in the mean time, here is a sample of what I am talking about.
BARRY:Ricky Skaggs was helping me through that darkest period. He is by nature a devout Christian and he took me there and made me understand. Letting me do those shows and knowing how much I love that music….you know they’re very pure [at the Grand Ole Opry], they don’t let people play with them if they don’t think it’s right. But there I am at the Grand Ole Opry and he just put me under his wing and we had a ball.
When I finished doing that, my love for that kind of music now will never go away, it’s in deep. And if you hear an album out of me in the future it will be a great mixture of that kind of music and Mr Skaggs will be on that album with me.
I then asked Barry about the detectable spirituality which implicitly rather than explicitly runs through some of his music. I mentioned about the late Billboard magazine editor Timothy White who believed this was a large (if subconscious) part of the Bee Gees appeal. Referencing songs like the stunning Spirits Having Flown, Too Much Heaven and most directly, a little known piece of understated magic from 1981’s Living Eyes called Nothing Could Be Good that features the lyric, “sing to the Almighty, if that’s what you need to do, love what is true,” I wanted to know if religion or spirituality was an ephemeral thing for Barry or something more.
BARRY: Religion in and of itself and spirituality are the absolute pure tools of a songwriter. For instance, if you listen to mountain music or immigrant music or bluegrass music, religion was the only subject. So when you listen to that kind of music you realise they didn’t have anything else but religion. So religion over the years and through rock ‘n’ roll and through people like Elvis Presley….listen to him singing gospel music, c’mon….it never went away, it never will and the idea of true faith is behind every artist that ever really gets to the place they want to be.
“The idea of true faith is behind every artist that ever really gets to the place they want to be.” That is a sentence of equals parts wisdom and intrigue. Thank you Barry, thank you for the music that means the world to me and thank you for the unforgettable lessons in humility.