Bee Gee Mania
The roar for another encore, after the mesmerizing show closer, You Should Be Dancing, is still thick in L.A.’s Dodger Stadium. But the Bee Gees are already safe inside their limo and inching up a subterranean ramp. Outside, hundreds of fans converge on the car. Flashbulbs light up the night, and the kids howl, scream, plead, tap on the tinted windows and pound their hands on the trunk. Some simply stand limp, overcome by the close sighting of Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb, or younger brother Andy, who is along for the ride. Among the youngest, braces sometimes chatter involuntarily and tears roll down their cheeks and onto their flowered, unautographed stationery as the limo whisks the Gibbs away to the next city.
For all the Bee Gee mania that the 50 evenings of Night Fever is spreading across America this summer, the mood inside the car is astonishingly serene. Barry, 32, exhausted and shirtless, drapes his head in a towel. Robin, 29, gazes impassively out at other drivers frantically peering in as they go by. His bearded fraternal twin, Maurice, starts up a tune. “I will follow him, follow him wherever he may go…” Barry picks up the cue automatically and whips around. “Leslie Gore.” Nope. “Wait,” he comes back, “Little Peggy March.” Right.
The ride to the airport, where the limo deposits them on a runway 10 feet from their chartered 707, is thus devoted to what Barry calls “Rock’n’Roll Trivia Time.” Here’s a question for the ages: Which late-’70s super group—in the Year of the Two-Hour Gas Lines, $15 Concert Tickets, Canceled Tours, Wilting Record Market and Ongoing Recession—was the object of the most sustained display of fanatical love since the Beatles? Correct. The Gibbs, B., R. & M. Footnote: Scalpers have fetched up to $700 for a pair of tickets. In L.A., with 56,000 fans (and more than 400 cops), concessionaires were taking in close to $3,000 a minute on Bee Gee programs, posters, T-shirts and trinkets as the brothers floated their gorgeous harmonies under a full July moon.
Yet their personal manager, Dick Ashby, confessed: “I’ve never seen them as nervous as they were before the tour started. They’re at the pinnacle of their careers, and people will try to tear them down.” Now, 13 cities later, Maurice declares: “This is the tour we have dreamed about all our lives and never, never expected to do.”
Once they kick off their 90-minute set with Tragedy, the crowd lets out a numbing, collective squeal that recalls a taxiing jumbo jet. RSO Records President Al Coury got what was coming to him after his company sold an unprecedented 27 million Saturday Night Fever LPs. “I couldn’t take it,” he winced opening night in Fort Worth. “I had to break off two cigarette filters and stick them in my ears.” It doesn’t bother Barry, who says, “We used to play to half-filled halls. We always felt people were never really listening to us. Now we’re having the time of our lives.”
Small wonder. The 707, customized and leased for $1 million-plus, is like a plush living room with a video playback system, gourmet cuisine served by stews in designer jeans and billowing Hawaiian blouses. The Gibbs have their own wardrobe woman (borrowed from Shirley MacLaine), an entourage of about 90 members, including their parents, two Gibb wives and three of their children. On the ground there is a caravan of seven semis and two customized buses (with 32 bunks) for equipment and crew. “I don’t even tune my guitar anymore,” laughs Barry. “There’s someone for everything.”
Of course the flip side of such elaborate division of labor can be delusions of grandeur. It’s a trap the Gibbs know too well, having flown and flopped as pop stars twice, including 1969, when they acrimoniously broke up the act. Barry admits that only the titanic success of Fever “saved our hides” from yet another dive when their movie version of Sgt. Pepper bombed. (They now call it Robert’s Follies, after their impresario, Robert Stigwood.)
One of the lessons they learned about stayin’ alive in their bumpy 23-year career, says Big Brother Barry, is to “stay straight, above all.” He means it. Manager Ashby, who lives in and works out of Barry’s Miami mansion, says: “If they hadn’t been up and down before, they’d be going haywire now. They can handle anything thrown at them.” One of their security men, an ex-FBI agent, says that before signing on, “I checked my sources on these guys. I wasn’t going to risk my rep on three rock stars who are into hard drugs.”
Barry, who sips tea before shows, admits he tried cocaine last tour, but “my nose was like a block of concrete for a week.” Robin, a onetime speed popper, says now that even grass makes him confused, forgetful and paranoid. “If you can’t face reality and be happy with it, what’s the point of living? But we’re not choirboys either.” Maurice, who’s gotten his old drinking problem under control, says he hyperventilates on grass, doesn’t “know what LSD looks like,” and that if there is a silver spoon near his face pre-concert, it’s filled with honey.
Partying on the road is subdued and usually reserved for family. “People expect you to have a naked woman in every room,” says Robin, whose wife, Molly, and two children stayed home in England but will join him later on. Adds Barry’s wife, Lynda, a former Miss Edinburgh: “They’ve all grown up so much.” Traveling together, the brothers can spend hours sharing jokes—tending toward the scatological and what Robin describes as “the sordid sense of humor we were born with.” He adds, “There is no Happy Hour on this tour, where everybody throws a TV set out the window.”
“All that crap’s gone away now,” says Barry. “We can tolerate and cope with fame without the tantrums and outbursts. We disagree but we don’t hold on to it. This has been our long education. There are no more glory trips.” Indeed, as he peers out over his balcony at the Beverly (Hills) Hilton Hotel, he muses: “It’d be impossible to live here. Hollywood reminds me of a giant false religion.” Barry brags that the Gibbs have stayed away from all trendy consciousness-raising gurus. “Even,” says Robin, the group gagster, “Transcendental Constipation.”
Clearly, the buffering on tour by bloodlines rather than high-paid yes-men has filled the inner sanctum with pride rather than the usual impenetrable arrogance. Along are Dad and Mom (Hugh, 61, a retired bandleader in Britain and Australia, and Barbara, 58); superstar kid brother Andy, 21 (for part of the tour); Barry’s wife, Lynda, 29, son, Stevie, 5, and the roadie most likely to trash a hotel room, son Ashley, 2; Maurice’s wife, Yvonne, 29, son Adam, 3; and grandma Laura Pass, 80, who came over from Australia to hear the boys perform for the first time in 20 years. Even avuncular record-film mogul Stigwood has had a taste of the road, easing his fear of flying with J&B. (Says Maurice: “We all shake together on takeoff and go ‘Whooooooah!’ It scares him to death.”)
If they are more confident and sober this time around, the Gibbs are also considerably wealthier. With maximum tax rates about to be lowered in their native Britain (from 83 to 60 percent), Barry and Maurice may be spending more time living and working there. But Maurice dismisses rumors of permanent relocation away from their adopted home of Miami as “misguided.” Though he’ll educate son Adam in England, Dad will commute frequently from Florida in his own Falcon 10-seat jet. “I love the sunshine in my life now,” he says. Similarly, Barry’s lust for “speed on water” (80 mph in his 27-foot Magnum) and deep sea fishing should keep him moored at Biscayne Bay. Robin, Molly, 32, Spencer, 7, and Melissa, 5, live in Surrey, but even he’s bought a Long Island estate on the Sound.
What haunts the Gibbs these days is not rootlessness but insulation. “For all intents and purposes,” says Robin, munching a burger in his hotel room, “this tour is like being in prison. To go out and buy a shirt would require two hours’ planning for logistics and security.” (In fact, in Texas the Gibbs and 12 band members couldn’t see Alien until Stigwood made the theater manager an unrefusable offer to cordon off the entire balcony for them.) It’s hardly simpler at home. “If I want to acquire something,” notes Barry, “I call someone in the organization who then goes out and gets it. You can go crazy like that, living in a controlled, concealed world,” he frets. “It’s like Presley—pretty frightening.”
Still, Barry says it can all be “handled right—if you don’t start believing everything people tell you. When I am no longer a pop star, and other doors open up, then it will be reversible.” That may not be too much longer. Robin casually drops that this could be the last Bee Gee tour. (An NBC crew is recording it for a special next season.) The Gibbs also think there may be only one more studio LP before the brothers pursue non-performing careers as writers and producers. Robin would like to give acting another go after Sgt. Pepper. “We don’t want to be an old group again,” he figures. “No lasting images, like Nixon standing on the White House lawn with the chopper behind him, waving goodbye. We came into this world to work together, but we can’t be Bee Gees forever.” Why stop now? Says Robin: “We want to go out on top.”