As the last surviving member of the iconic pop group The Bee Gees, Barry Gibb explained during the new HBO documentary “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” which charts the history of the hit factory behind “Stayin’ Alive,” that he thinks often about his deceased brothers — and still hasn’t fully accepted that they’re gone.
Gibb founded The Bee Gees with his brothers Robin and Maurice in 1958, and they remained the core of the group through their early success in the 1960s through their disco-infused superstardom in the 1970s and beyond. Their youngest brother, Andy, was too young to join the band but he became a musical star and teen idol in his own right in the late 70s and early 80s. Andy unfortunately struggled with drug addiction that eventually killed him in 1988, when he was just 30 years old. Maurice meanwhile died of a heart attack at age 53 in 2002, and Robin from cancer at 62 in 2012.
Near the end of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” Barry remembered his brothers and said that he’d sacrifice everything — the music, the fame, the lifestyle — to be able to spend another day with them. “I just hope and pray that the music lasts, you know? Because I begin to recognize there’s not as much time in front of me as there is behind me,” he said.
“I can’t honestly come to terms with the fact that they’re not here anymore. Never been able to do that. I’m always reliving it. It’s always, ‘what would Maurice think, or what would Robin think,’ and Andy. It never goes away. I’d rather have them all back here and no hits at all,” he said.
Barry also revealed that there were several periods during their 5 decades in music when he, Robin and Maurice didn’t get along, most notably after their initial rise to fame in the late 1960s fuled by hits like “To Love Somebody.” Robin and Barry in particular began to fight over who deserved to be the group’s frontman as they were equals in vocal skill and songwriting talent. And in archival footage featured in the documentary, Robin said he felt at the time that he had been sidelined by the band’s manager, Robert Stigwood (who also managed Eric Clapton’s Cream).
After the band released its 1970 album “Cucumber Castle,” Robin began to pursue a solo career, and the band began to perform without him. From then until the mid-1970s, Robin and Barry exchanged public barbs in the press, each calling up a tabloid after the other to spill gossip or simply complain about the other’s recent behavior. Maurice Gibb said that during this time, he was often the go-between for the two; each would call him and ask him to ring up the other to pass on a message. “I would say no, Robin, you call Barry and Barry, you call Robin,” Maurice said. “They each would say, oh no, and that went on for 18 months.”
Despite the falling out, the brothers eventually reconciled and in 1975 entered the most successful phase of their career with the release of “Main Course.” Building on soul and funk influences, the Brothers Gibb would eventually craft their own take on the emerging disco sound that would eventually go on to define the genre in the eyes of most people — for better and sometimes, given the backlash against disco in the early 1980s, for worse.
But fortunately, historically speaking the backlash was short lived and today the Bee gees are rightly recognized as songwriting legends. Staying alive indeed.