This is a very different Barry Gibb than the one who sat here two years ago, when his wife of 46 years, Linda — a former Miss Edinburgh whom Gibb met on Britain’s Top of the Pops in 1969 — came in one night to find him in his bathrobe, watching TV in the dark. For 50 years, his life had been defined by the hits he created with the Bee Gees, from the 1968 classic “To Love Somebody” to the indelible “Stayin’ Alive” in 1977. Following the disco backlash of the late ’70s, Gibb retreated from the spotlight, fearing he and his brothers would get “swept away” if they didn’t reinvent themselves as behind-the-scenes tunesmiths. And after the deaths of his twin brothers Maurice (in 2005) and Robin (in 2012), who were three years younger, Gibb felt like a man consigned to the past. “I was ready to quit. I was done. There was no point in going on any further,” he says now. “I’ve done solo work my whole life but never felt like a solo artist.”
By his own admission, Gibb was “moping around, meandering,” until his wife jolted him out of his funk that night. “She came in, and she said, ‘You’ve got to get off your ass,’ ” recalls Gibb. He told her he didn’t feel like making music anymore. “She says, ‘No, no, you still have your own life. You’ve got to live.’ ”
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That wasn’t an easy task. Here in his mansion, time feels frozen in 1981 — a vision of wealth conceived by a newly rich Brit for whom Victoriana, ornate chandeliers and East Asian art signified the apex of luxury. A wall of 80-odd photographs catalogs his glory days: Gibb with Roy Orbison, Gibb with Leslie Nielsen, Gibb with Michael Jackson (“Oh, we’ve both been blind drunk lying on this carpet,” says Gibb of Jackson’s visit to the house in the ’80s). And then there are the ever-present ghosts of his brothers (including solo act Andy, who died suddenly in 1988 due to inflammation of the heart likely exacerbated by years of drug abuse), their toothy grins and half-lidded gazes staring out from photographs on every wall, including the bathrooms.
But Gibb is finally emerging from this time capsule with his first solo album in 32 years, the hopefully titled In the Now. The Bee Gees, committed pop romantics, were never confessional songwriters. But Gibb’s new solo work is a departure: a kind of diary of his private world, with songs about his life “underground” (“Home Truth Song”), his outrage at current affairs (“Blowin’ a Fuse”), his skepticism of religion (“Cross to Bear”) and the abiding heartache of recent years (“End of the Rainbow”). Gibb, who indulged in drugs but was never an addict, calls himself “the one who will not fade away” (“In the Now”) but also paints a portrait of a man carrying the burden of tragedy: “If tears were diamonds, I’d be a rich man now” (“Diamonds”).
“The album is my opinion of life,” says Gibb, “my feelings and my journey with my brothers, and without my brothers, with my parents and without my parents, and with my own family, seeing my kids have their own kids.”
Speaking of whom, he conscripted the nearest available Gibbs in his orbit to collaborate: eldest sons Stephen, 42, and Ashley, 39. (Barry, who was married once before, has five children, including a daughter, all with Linda.) “They give me that youth,” says Gibb. “They give me that fire.”
Growing up in what Stephen calls “the Bee Gees bubble,” Gibb’s sons knew well how far their father had come, and how far he had yet to go. As co-writers on the entire album, they helped him articulate his feelings with lyrics oblique (and sometimes clichéd) enough to pass as pop, but honest enough to convey the saga of Barry Gibb and his family — the long and fractious relationship with his brothers and the evolving relationship with two grown sons who never quite escaped their father’s shadow. For Gibb, living in the now means facing down his past.