Since I knew Vic was an accomplished musician, I decided to ask him about his love of music. The answer I got was the longest of the interview, and one of the most fascinating. But perhaps you Full Metal Alchemist fans just want to know what I asked him about that show. That question is near the end of this post.
G: When did you first become interested in music, and what kind of music is your favorite to listen to?
V: When I was very young, I starting singing. I would sing in church. I didn’t play any instruments, but I sang. My mom played the piano in our church. So I would sing in church a lot, and I would sing in school. When I was seventeen years old, I was attending a boarding school. I was going to a boarding school in South Carolina, 12 hours from my mom, where I lived, and a friend of mine invited me to go with him to Kmart. He said, “Hey, I’m going to Kmart, wanna get a ride with me?” and I [was like], “Sure.”
So I got in his car — I’ll never forget [it]: [a] yellow Camaro. And we got in the car and he put in a cassette tape, actually an eight-track tape, of Barry Manilow. Now the school that I went to — this is an important point — the school that I went to was a very strict Christian school. We were not allowed to listen to music like Barry Manilow or secular rock, pop music. So, it was a bit of a coup that he was doing this secretly, in his car, y’know, so as not to get in trouble. I sat in the passenger seat of his Camaro, driving to Kmart, and I’m listening to this music and I’m like, “I like this guy. He’s unpretentious. There’s an honesty, an emotion to [it]. I like the music. And he kind of sings in the same vocal range that I do. I like it.”
We got to Kmart, he said, “You comin’ in?” I’m like, “No, I’ll sit in the car and listen to the music.” He came out, we went back to the campus, and…Christmas break was a few weeks after that. When I went home for Christmas break, what do you think I did? I went to the music store and I bought every Barry Manilow record I could find, and I took ’em home and I listened [to them] and I fell in love with his music. He plays the piano. I didn’t play the piano. I didn’t play anything. But, I went back to school, after Christmas break, and I started telling my friends [whispers], “I love Barry Manilow. Don’t tell anybody. I like him.” And I told that to one of my friends named Jay.
Jay was a year younger than I was, but Jay played the piano, and Jay liked Barry Manilow, too. And Jay said to me, “Hey, why don’t we write a Barry Manilow song, like a [Barry Manilow] style song, like that?” He’s like, “I’ll write the music, and then I’ll record myself playing it on a cassette. And I’ll give it to you. You listen to it, in your dorm room, and you write the lyrics.” So that’s what we did. And I listened to that cassette ALL the time, while I was working on the lyrics. So I memorized that song exactly the way Jay played it on that cassette. I could hear every note, right?
One day, I was walking across the campus and I was walking by these little practice studios. I don’t know if you’ve seen ’em. A lot of schools have them. It’s basically a closet. A row of closets with a piano. And it’s where musicians would go to practice their instrument. Tuba…piano, guitar, violin, whatever. So I’m walking by one and I go in and sit down at the piano. [Demonstrates with his fingers] Started plinky-plunking around; I didn’t know what I was doing. But little by little…I sounded out…what sounded like.. a chord, of the song that Jay had recorded on the cassette. And then I started moving my fingers around, to what I heard, what I remembered the song sounded like, and before I knew it, I had figured out how to play that song exactly the way Jay played it on the cassette.
From there, I started playing the piano more and more and more and more. I learned theory, I learned chord progressions, and I learned how to transcribe music on manuscript paper. I continued writing, playing, singing, to the point where anything I heard I could play, and then I started writing songs and then I started recording those songs, and like…forty years later — [whispers] thirty-five years later — music has become such a huge part of my life. I’ll sit down at a piano and play anything that I’ve heard, and…love it, and it’s all because [of] Barry Manilow. So imagine my elation at getting to meet him, last year, at a concert that he did, and tell him what a huge impact he had on my life.
At this point, I was told by Sakura-Con staff that I had time for one more question, which was perfect, since I only had one question left. Vic, for his part, apologized for taking so long with his answer.
G: [In response to Vic] That’s okay [laughs]. No worries. All right, so one of my friend’s sisters wanted me to ask you this question. If you were Edward Elric, would you have done anything differently in your quest to find you and your brother’s bodies?
I probably would have started drinking milk.
V: Probably would have made me stronger, maybe have made me a little taller…
G: Thank you.
V: You’re welcome.
While that was the end of my interview, I have a postscript. Talking about Barry Manilow encouraged one of the other people in the room to ask him, privately, if the rumors are true that he hates gay people. His answer was to all of us, so I’ve included it here. Since I’m working off notes, instead of a recording, the wording captures the spirit, if not the letter, of his reply. This was the only time in the room that he got remotely angry. He denied the allegations, and then zeroed in on why he thinks people have attributed these rumors to him.
V: You know what it is. It’s because I’m a Christian, so I must hate gays. Am I a Christian? Yes. Do I hate gays? No.