BootLeg Betty

A Q & A With Ms Midler

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Brassy Bette
Midler Tops Off A Great Year With Two Concerts At Mohegan Sun Arena
By GREG MORAGO
The Hartford Courant

December 25 2003

When the champagne corks are flying and the “Auld Lang Syne” is being sung at Mohegan Sun on New Year’s Eve, expect Bette Midler to be kicking up her sparkly heels. Everything came up roses (to borrow from one of her juicier movie roles) for her this year, and she’s looking at more bouquets in 2004.

Why? Well, she’s in one of those rare times in a performer’s life when the planets seem to be perfectly aligned: She’s got a hit record (“Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook,” which reunited her with Barry Manilow after a falling-out); a Grammy nomination (for the “Songbook”); a new movie in the wings for ’04 (the much-anticipated “The Stepford Wives” with Nicole Kidman); and she’s on the road for the first time in four years, with her “Kiss My Brass Tour.”

That tour rings in the new year when it makes a stop at Mohegan Sun Arena on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. “Kiss My Brass,” which features an extensive brass section, will blend comedy and drama and feature beloved Midler characters as well as selections from her new album.

We talked to Midler from Milwaukee, the fourth stop on the tour, which began Dec. 10 in Chicago and continues through March 2:

Q: Is this the “Divine” one?

A: Yes, yes, hello.

Q: How are you doing?

A: I’ve had a rough couple of days.

Q: Aw, but how is the tour so far? How did Chicago go?

A: Fantastic! I’m just tired. It’s hard to sleep on the road, but you have to get up and do those shows. Sometimes you sleep; sometimes you don’t.

Q: How long has it been since you’ve been on tour?

A: It was for the millennium, so it’s been a few years. And lots of stuff has happened since. It’s a different world – for me, too.

Q: What’s the reception been like for the new material from the “Rosemary Clooney Songbook”?

A: Good, pretty good. I sing “Come on-a My House” and “Tenderly,” that’s one of my favorites in the whole world. And “White Christmas,” which I’ll be singing through the holidays.

Q: How is this show different?

A: We have horns with us this time. It punches everything up. It makes the arrangements sound really good. It’s as beautiful a show as has ever played in an arena. It’s based on Luna Park in Coney Island. They outlined all the buildings in incandescent light bulbs. I had never seen it until someone brought it to my attention. It’s a very pretty show. It’s got some sad moments, some poignant moments. I’ve got the girls, and the band is new. The crowds have really been excited.

Q: “Songbook” is wonderful. What did you learn about yourself as an artist in making that album?

A: Well, I learned to listen to someone else, and that person was Barry [Manilow]. I said, “Let him do the heavy lifting.” And I did, and that was great. That gave me some confidence. I love the material but wasn’t really sure that it was the right thing for me to do.

Q: A Grammy nomination, though …

A: In the same category [traditional pop vocal album] as Rosemary’s “The Last Concert”! I feel like an idiot! For me, I don’t even care if I win. It’s been an amazing experience. The label [Columbia] has done a fabulous job. People have embraced it because they’ve wanted me to sing those songs. Sometimes my records are a little jumpy. But this one isn’t. People really want that now.

Q: You got great reviews for it. But I bet you’re just as happy that the album brought you back together with Barry Manilow.

A: Absolutely; that was really fabulous. I learned a lot. I really wanted to be in the studio with him again. When he rang me up and said he had this idea, I looked at it as not just a chance to honor Rosemary but to honor him and tell him how much I missed him in my life. He said I’d be in very good hands and to trust him. For someone like me, who is naturally suspicious, it was a very big deal. It was a big leap for me. And the tour is the same way. I’ve had some ups and downs with the staff of this tour. And I decided to trust them, and that worked out, too. I’m learning!

Q: Linda Ronstadt [who sings a duet, “Sisters,” on the “Songbook”] couldn’t say enough about you and the beautiful things you found in your voice. Do you think you did?

A: Yeah, I do. Also, Barry kept kicking me in the behind. He kept saying, “You’re not listening! You didn’t give enough energy!” It was really good – like going back to school. I needed that.

Q: And what great material.

A: I know these songs! I was a kid when these songs were popular; that was all you heard. I know this kind of white pop, American pop that was popular in the military. I grew up in Hawaii. I was brought up in Pearl Harbor. I was surrounded by that for most of my life. My parents had the radio on all the time. We had no record player until I was maybe about 11. We didn’t have enough money to buy a record! I read an interview of Joni Mitchell where she said she had three records. That was me! We only had three records. They were 99 cents, and that was beyond [our means]. We didn’t have the plenitude. Kids today don’t know that. When I hear Rosemary, it always brings me back to when I was a very little girl. It’s my youth; it’s the music of my childhood. I know it inside and out.

Q: This seems like a good year for you. Like you’re in a really good place. Is that just me, or do you think so, too?

A: I started working again pretty regularly. And then Barry came in and asked me to do this record. And the movie.

Q: Tell us something about “The Stepford Wives.”

A: It’s going to be a real crowd-pleaser. It’s a comedy. It’s updated and backdated. It’s got all the sort of ’70s hair and clothes, and it’s mixed up in a very contemporary way. It’s very strange. It’s very lavish. I finished in October.

Q: Shot in Connecticut. What was that like?

A: I went exploring on my lunch hour. We were in Greenwich. I thought Bel Air [in Los Angeles] was something! Greenwich – who knew? I realized everything in Hollywood was based on Greenwich, when you see those old Katharine Hepburn movies. I had never seen the real thing. I had only seen it in the movies. It was overwhelming. I had no idea people live like this in this country. How ignorant am I?

Q: And Darien?

A: I saw this barn there, a European barn. I had never seen anything like this in America. They had a sign that said “no trespassing,” but you know me, I went there and took a digital camera. When we went back, there were police there. I said, “What is this?” They said, “This is a private family’s.” We got someone to drive us into this estate. I thought I was going to pass out. The horses were living better than I do! I was just beside myself with the beauty of it. It was fascinating.

Q: How will you be celebrating New Year’s Eve at Mohegan Sun?

A: I haven’t sat down with my staff. We have to do something good. We’re just so happy to be touring.

Q: And your hopes for 2004?

A: Peace!

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