Shock and Bawd
Divine Miss M back on tour
Alameda Times Star
By Chad Jones
Friday, February 06, 2004 – ANYONE who loves pure, unadulterated entertainment appreciates Bette Midler. The 58-year-old actress and singer’s career has had more ups and downs than a cheap airline, and yet she perseveres.
Back on the road with the appropriately titled “Kiss My Brass” tour, Midler hauls her cookies into San Jose’s HP Pavilion on Saturday and the Oakland Arena on Tuesday.
This is the Divine Miss M’s first tour in four years, and she promises lavish sets, expert backing vocals by the Staggering Harlettes, and the usual eclectic Midler mix of high camp and true pathos. She’ll reprise favorite characters like wheelchair-bound mermaid Dolores del Lago, tell dirty jokes and — here’s something new — sing a duet with the late Fred Rogers.
Midler is back center stage where she belongs, but it’s taken her a few years to remember that.
Her highly touted 2000 TV series, which was supposed to turn her into a Lucille Ball for the new millennium, flopped. Besides which, Midler, who commuted to work in Los Angeles from her home in New York, hated the grind of weekly television and didn’t hesitate to share that fact with the world.
A native of Hawaii, the 5-foot-1 bundle of blond-ish energy known as Bette Midler — she was named after Bette Davis but pronounces her first name in one syllable — has veered wildly all over the show-biz highway. She revels in being campy, tacky and deliciously bawdy. She can also be schmaltzy or heartbreaking. She can sing embarrassingly tacky disco songs or turn you into a puddle of emotional goo with a ballad like “Delta Dawn” or the Beatles’ “In My Life.”
She used to love flashing her bodacious bazoom to ardent gay fans in New York bathhouses. Now she’s Mrs. Martin von Haselberg (the couple celebrates 20 years of wedded bliss in December) and has a 17-year-old daughter named Sophie Frederica Alohilani von Haselberg.
Music career returns
As has happened numerous times in her bumpy 32-year career, Midler has positioned herself to re-emerge in a big way. For one thing, she finally seems to have her pop music career on track. In September — after being bounced from longtime recording home Atlantic Records, then being unceremoniously dumped from Warner Bros. after only two albums — Midler hit her stride with “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.”
The album marked a reunion with Barry Manilow, the skinny, funny-looking kid who used to play the piano for Midler in New York’s Continental Baths when she performed for gay men wearing towels. Manilow produced Midler’s first two albums, then the two had a falling out. He went on to write the songs that make the whole world cry.
Recording a tribute to the late Clooney was Manilow’s idea, and now Midler has a hit album and her first Grammy nomination in years (she already has three Grammy Awards).
The irony is that Midler’s album is competing against Clooney’s final album. In a rare display of good taste, Midler offered to withdraw her album’s nomination.
“I’m mortified,” Midler said in a statement. “I’d really like Rosemary to win that Grammy. I can’t believe I’m up against her. I’m going to look into withdrawing. I just think it’s bad form if I won. You know, she never won a Grammy.”
All about Clooney
But Midler re-considered. Apparently Manilow told her not to worry because in the category of traditional pop vocal, Tony Bennett always wins. (Bennett is nominated this year for his duet album with k.d. lang.)
Still, Midler insists that if she wins, she’ll give the Grammy to Clooney’s family.
Midler’s Clooney tribute went gold (500,000 copies sold) within a month of release last fall and is still selling well — something that could not be said for Midler’s last few middling recordings. The Clooney album was said to have been a “one-off,” meaning she hadn’t signed with Columbia. Given the album’s success, Columbia reportedly has been hot to record a follow-up.
There has also been talk of recording a live album of the “Kiss My Brass” tour, which would be Midler’s first live recording since the soundtrack to “Divine Madness” in 1980.
Back on the big screen
This year may also mark Midler’s return to form on the big screen.
Her last film, the Jacqueline Susann biopic “Isn’t She Great,” was a disaster, and Midler was unintentionally hilarious. But this summer — June 4, to be exact — we may be laughing with Midler instead of at her in the satirical re-make of “The Stepford Wives.”
Even if she never makes another good record or movie, Midler always will be a hit on stage. She knows how to work a crowd and can just as easily wring a tear as crank a cheap laugh.
When Bette Midler says, “Kiss My Brass,” we faithful pucker up and say, “Please.”