KMB II Interview: Phoenix, AZ

She’s still divine
Randy Cordova
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 25, 2004 12:00 AM

Forget about Donna Summer singing She Works Hard for the Money. Bette Midler should lay claim to that tune.

After all, does any female entertainer work the concert circuit harder than the still-divine Bette? She dances like a whirling dervish, sings like a dream and delivers enough R-rated one-liners to make Joan Rivers blush. All that, plus she even dons a glittery mermaid outfit during her show.

The woman aims to please, but it puts a lot of pressure on her. Audiences go to see Midler expecting a full-blown extravaganza, not merely someone singing on a stage.

“I do think sometimes about standing up there in a beautiful dress for an hour or two, singing beautiful songs, songs I’ve always wanted to sing,” she says, calling from a tour stop in Dallas. “To be up there with a really great band, doing songs I love . . . ”

Her voice trails off, but she doesn’t sound wistful or sad.

“Forgive me if I sound tentative,” she cheerfully announces. “I’m just so old now.”

Hard as it may seem to believe, Midler turns 60 next year. Of course, she looks fabulous. She is trim and tiny, thanks to the South Beach diet. And her voice may even be more powerful than it was in the early ’70s, when she broke out of the gay bathhouse circuit.

“My health is really strong,” she affirms. “But I have to look after myself.”

That means no drinking and regular hops on the treadmill when she’s on tour.

“Traveling takes a terrible toll on you,” she says. “I am adamant about keeping my voice up. Other singers don’t pay attention to their voices and lose their top notes or they’re just getting by. I just don’t want to go that route.”

That seems unlikely, judging from how good she sounded during her last go-round in the Valley. At a concert in February, she offered a playfully swinging Stuff Like That There, a plaintive take on Rosemary Clooney’s Hey There and a bluesy, wailing rendition of When a Man Loves a Woman.

The songs are amazingly diverse, and Midler’s voice adapts perfectly to each one. It’s like getting a jazzer, a vocalist and a rocker all in one package.

“My audience is not snobs,” she says. “They love music and they are very embracing. They love to have a good time.

“Music isn’t easy. People who make music make it because they have to. They make it out of a sense of joy. I think my audience realizes that.”

She also finds that joy when she listens to other people’s music. She recently went out and bought some old Joni Mitchell albums on compact disc to update her library. Plus she loves “opera, folk music, Hawaiian music, mariachi music – almost anything strikes me.”

She even listens to some of the current pop stars. On the other hand, she figures if she were starting out in the business today as a young woman, she wouldn’t fit in.

“Forget about Video Killed the Radio Star – it killed it more than 20 years ago,” she says. “It’s a very curious time. I was able to find my fans and establish a fan base. I don’t think I would get that chance these days.

“And my fans are really loyal. I give them their show, and they like my point of view. My fans are wonderful.”

Some might even say, “divine.”

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