This story was originally published in the July 7, 1995, issue of the Boston Phoenix.
Barry White always made me crazy. I'd hear him on the radio and I'd just melt. When he said breathe, I'd say how deep. When he said take it off, I'd stay naked for weeks. I'd been loving Barry since 1982 – since my second cousin, Mary Sue, taught me to bus-stop to "Satin Soul" in her basement – and over the years my relationship with Barry just grew stronger. Once, in 1986, he winked at me on Soul Train. Another time, in 1993, he told me "Goodnight baby, I love you" on the radio in New York City. Then, a few weeks ago, I heard he was coming to visit – he got himself a gig at the Harborlights on July 9 – and, as you can imagine, the prospect of our first flesh-to-flesh date made me so nervous I couldn't work. I couldn't walk my dog. All I could do was eat caviar, watch my salt-water aquarium, twirl my baton to the Love Unlimited Orchestra ... do things Barry likes to do.
The other morning, though, my older brother, the investment banker, called. He said, "You realize it's a fat 50-year-old you're wrecking your life for," and I had to admit he was right. Barry, by typical standards, is not my kind of guy. He's a 300-pound ex-con with eight kids for four women, a two-pack-a-day butt habit, and a big cheesy house in Vegas. He's even been known to curl his mustache hairs with a curling iron, which, once I started cogitating more clearly, I could see was patently gross. Still – and this is what sparked my interest – I'm not some isolated case. World around, Barry is known as the Love Man, the Maestro, the Buddha of the Bedroom, the Walrus of Love. Sultans fetch him to play private shows. Lovelies pass out at their concerts. His latest single, "Practice What You Preach," reeled in a Grammy nomination, and his new album, Love Is the Icon, has gone platinum twice over.
It's weird, the Barry-as-heartthrob phenomenon. On the physical evidence, it's not what you'd expect. So after regaining hold of my mind, I decided to do a little research. What, exactly, makes Barry so sexy? Can science account for his appeal?
I turned my living room into a lab. I assembled the required gear: stereo, phone, Barry White catalogue, notebook, library card, Rolodex. For pre-lab, I surveyed the album covers: Barry indeed recorded he sexiest look when he was looking his nastiest (1975, "Love's Serenade," greasy skin and Jheri curls). So, confident that I'd tapped a ripe area for academic inquiry, I cued up some vinyl and dove in.
Reason one: Barry has a deep voice
This is like saying the Smiths are depressing. Barry can hit a low E. He can hit an A two octaves below middle C. Make Isaac Hayes sound like Curtis Mayfield. Makes you think your turntable's slow.