Great KMB Interview: Knocking on New Jersey’s Door: Let Miss M IN!!!!


Painting: Clayton Lefevre (I Love This Painting, Clayton…Hope you don’t mind)

Clayton Artworks

The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
So Divine, outspoken, and risqué

Bette Midler admits she set the standard for outrageous behavior onstage. But that was then, and this is now.”Those were such buttoned-up days. Anything you could do to tweak the establishment, people looked forward to seeing. … I just always felt that every occasion was an occasion for that kind of thing,” says Midler from Columbia, S.C., the latest stop on her “Kiss My Brass” concert tour. The tour – which has been on the road for months now – will make one of its final performances Saturday at Continental Arena in East Rutherford. The tour will draw to a close March 20 with a sold-out show at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

While fans can still expect plenty of the raucous Miss M they’ve grown up loving, she admits that the bar for “outrageous” is different now. Even from the days when she was singing in gay bathhouses in New York City. “I think my stuff is considered quite clean now. It’s wholesome, compared to what’s out there. It’s pretty dark out there,” she says.

Take the whole Janet Jackson-Justin Timberlake boob incident. Mention one word about it, and Midler’s voice shifts. It sounds more like her singing voice, now. Strong and firm, yet warm and unthreatening. Her inflections make it sound as if she’s talking to an old friend about something that’s really bugging her. “It’s ridiculous for the FCC to start bitching now. After everything you’ve seen on television? It’s a lousy breast. What are they whining about? All this culture stuff is bull. … It’s all a distraction. The truth is, there are deceptions and conspiracies everywhere. And they don’t want you to notice that. So if they talk about gay marriage and people showing their breasts on TV, this will distract you. And it works! That’s what kills me.”It really upsets me. People are so beaten up or so distracted or so worried their credit cards are going to be taken away. Or maybe they feel like life is too short, so they can’t be bothered? I don’t know. To me, there’s a lot to be bothered about. I try to be hopeful. I really do. I think people come to me and they want to see someone who still has hope. And yet I’m surprised there isn’t rioting in the streets by now. … Janet Jackson doesn’t matter. People are dying in Iraq every day.”

If, at the very least, people are coming to Midler for an escape from the harsh realities of life, she does her best to oblige. The “Kiss My Brass” show is a three-hour production with intermission. It combines many of her classic stage characters (like wheelchair-riding mermaid Delores de Lago) with old favorite songs (like “Wind Beneath My Wings”) and new covers of Rosemary Clooney standards from her latest release, “Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook.

“The idea to do a tribute to Clooney came from Midler’s long-time, on-again, off-again friend and musical partner, Barry Manilow. Manilow was Midler’s pianist in the early Seventies, when they were both rising stars playing clubs in Manhattan. One of the last times they saw each other was at a dinner to honor Clooney. A number of high-profile divas – everyone from Linda Ronstadt to k.d. lang – were there to sing. “He [Manilow] called me last year, remembering that occasion,” she says. “He said he had a dream, and that we should go into the studio. … He did all the work. I was really just the singer and it was a lovely, lovely experience.”

Midler has always been known for her big, almost Broadway-meets-vaudeville productions in cavernous arenas. But this one is among the biggest. “It’s a real meal,” she says. “It’s not just stand there and sing. It’s got everything. … It’s beautifully lit, the costumes are gorgeous … the band is all new, the horns are all new. … So it’s all new for me.”

In her spare time, Midler likes to talk to schoolchildren about the transforming power of music.

“When I go to talk to kids about music, I always say, ‘When people know you’re a musician, they are happy to see you. They know you are going to entertain them. Music represents fun. It represents partying, and joy, and dance,’-” she says. “And this show, even more than my other favorite show, which was ‘Experience the Divine,’ is very much like that. It’s an amusement park show. It takes place in an imaginary amusement park. It has freaks of nature and dangerous rides. I’ve had a lot of fun on this.

“That includes the standard amount of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, too. “The games have begun,” she says of her backup singers, band, and crew. “I’m having a ball. I have great girls. I have a great band. They’re all pranksters. … One night they came out wearing flippers and snorkel gear. Someone snuck behind the keyboard player and duct-taped his feet to the floor. They’ve been silly-stringing each other. It’s been ridiculous.”It’s also been exhausting, she admits. “We’re almost done. March 20. … The end is in sight. … I’m tired. We were in rehearsal since October. I had just finished ‘Stepford Wives,’-” she said of her upcoming movie.

“We left town in November and we opened the show in December. I’ve been gone a long time. It’s rough. The schedule isn’t so hard. The jumps are big so you can’t work every night,” she says of the far-flung touring itinerary. “But the flying is hard. Going up and down and up and down. And trying to stay in shape … not getting any fresh air. You have your little routines. You do your warm-ups, and you do your warm-downs. It’s really like living like a monk. The people who party? Forget it,” she adds, wondering how any touring band could handle the rigors of the work after boozing it up night after night.

Then again, married and with a teenage daughter at home, a more mature Midler is perhaps a little less wild than she once was. But that doesn’t mean she, her backup girls, and the horn section can’t still have a little fun on their night off.

“Tonight, we’re all going out bowling,” she says.

*Bette Midler, “Kiss My Brass Tour,” 8 p.m. Saturday, Continental Arena, East Rutherford. $47 to $252. Ticketmaster: (201) 507-8900 or*

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