New York Times oct 4 2016
All I think about is yesterday,” sings Barry Gibb at the start of his first solo album in 32 years, in a staccato familiar from his decades in the Bee Gees. “I need you here in the now.”
His plea appears to address an elusive lover. But, on a deeper level, it alludes to the many family members he has lost over the years. That list includes his youngest brother, Andy (gone at age 30, after a history of drug abuse, in 1988); his two siblings in the Bee Gees, Maurice (who died of an intestinal blockage at 53 in 2003) and Robin (of cancer at 62 in 2012); as well as their 95-year-old mother, Barbara, who passed away in August.
The song, “In the Now,” serves as the title track of Mr. Gibb’s new album, due on Friday. “I really wanted to show people everything I’ve experienced,” Mr. Gibb, 70, said. “This is my life flow.”
He said that he could fully explore it only after losing all his brothers. “I’ve always had to deal with people not wanting me to put solo albums out,” he said, with a laugh. “It’s a group, you see, and no one wanted us to do anything on our own.”
In fact, two earlier solo attempts by Mr. Gibb were never released: “The Kid’s No Good,” recorded in 1970, whose masters were lost, and an unnamed work in the late ’80s. Mr. Gibb’s sole previous solo effort to be issued, “Now, Voyager,” arrived in 1984. In a sense, even the new album came about by default. “It would never have crossed my mind that someday I would be in this situation — where there was no one else around to make music with,” the singer said.
From his home in Miami, Mr. Gibb spoke by phone about the survivor’s guilt he has experienced as the last living Bee Gee, his complex relationship with his brothers, as well as the new songs that aim to put it all into perspective. These are edited excerpts from the conversation.
Your father, who died in 1992, acted as your first manager when you and your brothers performed as teenagers in Australia in the early ’60s. How popular were you there?
As kids, we were always on television in Australia. It took a lot of gall and strength for us to leave the country I loved to try our luck in England. We went because the Beatles and the Hollies were doing all of these fantastic harmonies and we knew we could do that. The month that “Strawberry Fields Forever” came out in 1967, we tried to get signed. We didn’t have any money, and me and my father went to all of the agents and nobody wanted to sign.
After Robert Stigwood did sign the Bee Gees, you had two very separate periods of success: First, in the late ’60s — with hits often sung by Robin, like “Massachusetts” and “I Started a Joke” — then in the mid- to late-’70s, with the disco-era songs fronted by you. What effect did such a pitched career arc have on you?
Our career was an up, then a down, then an up, and then a down again. We would have a huge hit, followed by a flop. We never had a chance to build an ego, or a strong attitude towards what we did, because we were always on the defensive to prove ourselves.
There was also pressure from within the group, correct?
There was always an enormous competition between me and Robin. Over time, he was becoming more and more distracted, probably by substances. We all had our problems with smoking or pills or booze. But Robin almost came to the end of his rationale at one point. Some people have said of us, “You were competing with Abba or with the Jacksons.” But, to us, we were competing with each other. Whatever Phil Collins had with Genesis, we would all have liked to have had that.
You wrote the song “End of the Rainbow,” which appears on the new album, for Robin, though he never told you directly that he was dying of cancer. Was there resentment over him withholding that information?
I suppose there is. But I try to put myself in his place and maybe I wouldn’t tell him either. Robin didn’t want to be treated as an invalid. He denied he was sick until it was obvious, visibly. Robin was passing and I came to the hospital in London and sang the song to him, although he was in a coma. I don’t know whether or not he heard it. But it helped me.
The track “End of the Rainbow” is a country song. Wasn’t the whole new album originally meant to be country?
I began by gravitating towards the music I particularly loved when we started. You’ve got to remember that in Australia in 1958, country music was rock ’n’ roll. Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash were rock stars, though now we know them to be country stars. I spent so much time in Nashville, but my record company told me that they’d have a lot of trouble getting me on country radio, and I think that’s probably true. You don’t just walk into Nashville and say, “Accept me.”
At one point on the album you sing, “If tears were diamonds/ I’d be a rich man now.” Given all your losses, have you experienced any survivor’s guilt?
Absolutely. First of all, I’m the oldest brother, and being the eldest always makes you want to watch out for your brothers, even when they don’t want you to. I thought I should have gone first. Once you lose three brothers, what you learn is very, very deep. At this time in my life, I think of birth and death as two elements of the same thing. This is going to happen to us all, no matter what. So now I seize this very moment.