THE BEE GEES MEAN TO ME"
(By Robin Green, Rolling Stone,
When I met the
Brothers Gibbs, the earth moved beneath me, the ground shook. Then the San Gabriel fault
in Los Angeles again came temporarily to rest. I saw that there were more Bee Gees than
three. The fourth was Hugh Gibb, the oldest, who is really a Fee Gee, the boys' father. He
travels with them and looks out for them. He also handles the lights and makes
suggestions. "Keep the guitar down, Maurice. You can't hear the fiddles with the
guitar that loud and it ruins the effect," he said at rehearsal. I kept thinking of
him as the Clean Old Man in Hard Day's Night. And he looked clean in a blue blazer with
his white hair, moustache, and twitch. Another member of the entourage was Barry's wife.
She stayed on the sidelines filing her nails, but attracted lots of attention in her red
patent leather boots, pink shirt and red leather hot pants, cheeks hanging out the back.
The boys look like everything rock stars should look like. Barry and Maurice with their
even white teeth and painful looking too-tight pants. And Robin, so ugly he's beautiful.
From their friendly attitude I gathered that my prayers had been answered and they hadn't
seen the Rolling Stone review of their album. I was so relieved I hardly cared that
their answers to my questions were the same as those I'd read in interviews they'd done
two years ago.
The Bee Gees are not at all political. They do not consider themselves an underground
group. They are showbiz people and have little to do with anything else. They think of
themselves as entertainers rather than musicians. "We believe in keeping the glamour
in show business and that's why we wear suits on stage. You've got to look smart. If you
walk out on stage and look like one of the audience, the mystique is gone. They pay to be
entertained, and you've got to give them a show for their money. You're supposed to be
They do philosophize, however, "Like we drive Rolls Royces. People see someone in a
Rolls and they want one too. They want to make it. If you don't have people in Rolls
Royces, then you don't have anyone trying to get one. Nobody wants to hit any heights, or
earn anything. You've got no business."
They don't see any change their two years apart made in their music or their approach.
They want to continue doing more of the same, giving the public what it wants. They said
their first performance together was a little rusty. "When we did Albany, it was
incredible. It was the first time we'd actually been on stage in two and a half years. And
once you make one mistake, that's it, you just wait for the next one. Nothing is
spontaneous on stage. Everything is made to look spontaneous, but it's all carefully
calculated. Robin forgot the lyrics in 'Really and Sincerely.' He used some from 'I
Started a Joke.' So when we got to 'I Started a Joke,' he just used the lyrics to 'Really
and Sincerely' that he'd forgotten and no one knew the difference. They think you've
rewritten it for the stage."
According to their agent, Robert Stigwood, the Bee Gees are not recognized as composers of
pop music as much as they should be. Their songs have been bought by performers like Elvis
Presley, Nina Simone and Janis Joplin. When I asked Mr. Stigwood if I could talk to him
for a minute, he told me he wasn't very articulate. I asked him what he thought it was
about the Bee Gees people found appealing. He said, "This may sound corny, but it's
their poetry. These boys are completely uneducated. They don't even know how to spell.
They write the lyrics out spelled phonetically. And the simple poetry of the words appeals
to the public."
After their tour of the US, they planned to go back to England and begin work on their
next album, Trafalgar. They've decided that it will be a double album, even though
they haven't written any of the songs for it yet. But that doesn't bother them. They work
very quickly right there in the studio, turning out songs like donuts. What they do is,
they start off with a title before anything else. 'Every Christian Lion Hearted Man Will
Tell You,' for instance, started out with the idea that if somebody put monks in a song,
it would sell.
"It's just like the title of a book," said Robin. "The title is just as
important as the song. Once you have the title the rest just flows from there. It's like a
spiritual thing when we write. We know what the other one is thinking, as if we had a
language between us. 'Lonely Days' was written in ten minutes. It was quick. I was at the
piano ten minutes."
That was to be my only meeting with the Bee Gees. We were supposed to spend some time
together the next day at their Malibu beach house, when I was sure I would find out what
the Bee Gees are really like. But that night between concerts, someone slipped them John
Mendelsohn's devastating review of their record, and Mr. Stigwood decided they shouldn't
play with Rolling Stone after that.
I went to the second show of the concert. I had been told that afternoon that there wasn't
going to be a full house, but I wasn't prepared for the morgue the Santa Monica Civic
Auditorium looked like. Hugh had said attendance would be down because of the earthquake.
Someone else said it was because the Beach Boys were playing the same hall the next night,
and the groups played to the same audience. But it all seemed weird. Here was a group that
had been a big concert money-maker two years before (third next to the Beatles and the
Stones) and now it was as if they'd never existed at all. The Santa Monica Civic
Auditorium isn't that big; it seats about 2800. It wasn't even half full.
The show was supposed to get off to a rousing start with the Staple Singers. But it was
announced that Pa Staples, the lead guitarist, had just come down with walking pneumonia
and was in the hospital. So his three singing daughters were a little depressed. They
bravely went through the motions of giving a performance for about twenty minutes. And to
that warm up, the Bee Gees made their appearance.
The Brothers Gibbs stood in front of the curtain, Maurice and Barry on each side of Robin,
who gave the group class by wearing a grey wool three-pieced striped suit. He stood stiff
and skinny, moved spastically like a puppet on strings and sang in his touching, trembling
sweet voice. They did a few numbers -their old familiar tunes- and then in the middle of
the third song, as its crescendo was building, the curtain behind them rose. It was a
fabulous moment. The audience gasped, oohed and aahed and finally burst into applause. For
behind the Bee Gees there sat a twenty piece orchestra dressed in evening wear, tuxedos
for the men, black gowns for the women. Violins, cellos, kettle drums, flutes, a huge
golden harp in the middle, everything.
From then on everyone was with the Bee Gees, rapt, wrapped up. They sang 'Holiday,' and
they sang 'Massachusetts,' they sang all the tunes that we all know all the words to, even
if we don't think we do. They sang 'I Can't See Nobody,' they sang 'I Started a Joke.' And
then Barry sang 'Words,' a ballad Elvis is recording.
When he finished the hall was silent for a bit, everyone was so moved. Someone sitting
behind me, a man, said in a hoarse whisper, "Bee-u-tee-full." And everyone
applauded like crazy.
They finished up the evening with their new Number One on the charts, 'Lonely Days,' and
the crowd, what there was of it, went a sedate version of wild. There was an encore or two
during which a few fans tried and, without much resistance, succeeded in getting
backstage. But when the Bee Gees made their exit, flanked by their bodyguard, no one tried
to stop them or interfere. It was eerie. Where have they gone, the screamers and the
chicky-boppers? What are they up to that's so important they couldn't come and scream for
the Bee Gees, just for old time's sake?
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