Barry Gibb says he can’t watch the entirety of the documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. He told CBS News’ Anthony Mason, “I think it’s perfectly normal to not want to see how each brother was lost, you know?”
But you should. I saw it on HBO last month. The film was directed by Frank Marshall.
This is the story of Barry (b. 1946) and his fraternal twin brothers Robin and Maurice (b. 1949), who lived in Manchester, England. They were more like triplets, Barry said, listening to the same music and by 1955, singing together. The family moved to Queensland, Australia, where they achieved their first chart success with Spicks and Specks, their 12th single.
They returned to the UK in January 1967. Producer Robert Stigwood began promoting them to a worldwide audience. They wrote and sang a series of hits, including To Love Somebody, Words, Massachusetts, and I’ve Got To Get a Message to You. But fame is not forever, and their excess lifestyles caused division in the trio.
461 Ocean Boulevard
A change in venues, to Miami, and the right compatriots, got them back on track. In fact, they lived at the same location that Eric Clapton had stayed when he created his “comeback” album, 461 Ocean Boulevard.
They created the Main Course collection, with the hit Jive Talking. Then the enormous, and unexpected success of the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. And, coming along as a complementary artist, was baby brother, Andy Gibb (b. 1958), with hits of his own.
As dance music was co-opted, and pale imitations of it were created – think Disco Duck – a backlash ensued. It was epitomized by Disco Demolition Night, a Major League Baseball promotion on Thursday, July 12, 1979, at Comiskey Park in Chicago.
One of the ushers recalled that there were LPs of several non-disco black artists, such as Marvin Gaye, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield, and Stevie Wonder among the recording to be destroyed. The fans rioted during the event, and the White Sox ended up having to forfeit the second game of the doubleheader.
This time of changing fortunes, the brothers were able to pivot to becoming primarily songwriters, for Barbra, Celine, Diana, Dionne, Dolly, and Kenny, among others. This allowed them room to reach their next act in their careers. It was supposed to be with Andy Gibb as an official member of the Bee Gees. Unfortunately, he died on 10 March 1988, at the age of 30, as a result of an inflammation of the heart muscle.
Barry, by himself
Then Maurice, the chief negotiator between Barry and Robin, died unexpectedly on 12 January 2003, at the age of 53. He suffered a heart attack while awaiting emergency surgery to repair a strangulated intestine.
The surviving brothers bounced between solo gigs and the occasional duet. Late in 2011, it was announced that Robin Gibb had been diagnosed with liver cancer, which he had known about for several months. He died on 20 May 2012 of liver and kidney failure. He was 62.
The Bee Gees, though in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame since 1997, has been, to my mind, undervalued and unnecessarily vilified. Their resilience and reinvention over the decades alone are praiseworthy. Recorded music they’ve performed and/or written is in the hundreds of millions of units.
The documentary had a few new insightful interviews with other artists. Eric Clapton was also signed to Stigwood. Nick Jonas and Oasis’ Noel Gallagher amplified the tricky balance of performing with one’s brothers.
Barry is still performing and recording. But he noted that he’d give up all the fame if he could have his brothers back. How Can You Mend a Broken Heart indeed?
“I can think of younger days when living for my life
Was everything a man could want to do
I could never see tomorrow, but I was never told about the sorrow.”