Sunday, Mar. 19, 2006
10 Questions For Bette Midler
By RICHARD ZOGLIN
Photo: Thanks for the photo Sammy!
She started in the bathhouses of Manhattan and sang a famous goodbye serenade to Johnny Carson. Along the way Bette Midler, 60, has built a career out of making retro cool, from films like For the Boys to her latest CD, Bette Midler Sings the Peggy Lee Songbook. The Divine Miss M spoke with TIME’s Richard Zoglin about Mae West, Las Vegas and the next generation of divas.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO PEGGY LEE? I missed a lot of people growing up. I never saw her work live. Never saw her on television. But Barry Manilow sent me these songs, and I was really kind of stunned. In my excavation of cool–like Miles and Chet and the beatniks–she never came up. The women never came up. It was always the men. And she was cooler than any of them.
ARE YOU TRYING TO REPRODUCE HER OR DO YOUR OWN THING? She was very restrained as a singer. Very stripped down, no frills. It was a challenge for me to not get overly dramatic. Because I am a little bit overly emotional. But I’m not Mariah–I’m not an overembellisher. I like the song to be basically about the lyric and the melody rather than about my musicality.
WHAT SINGERS INFLUENCED YOU EARLY ON? I was crazy about Mae West. I used to see old films of hers, and she made a very big impression on me because she was very funny, she was very risquÃƒÂ© and she was also very beautiful in a kind of blowsy way. And she was very musical–she basically sang the blues.
IS THERE A FEMINIST THEME IN THE ARTISTS YOU CELEBRATE? Yes, I think there is, really. I’ve always liked kind of independent spirits, because they’re not fake. They’ve kind of accepted the fact that this is the way for them, and they’re not going to hide their light. I’ve always felt myself a little bit outside the mainstream. My parents never told me that there was any other way to be. They always insisted that I was going to work for a living, that I didn’t have to get married, that I didn’t have to take any old job, that I should fight for something that I really loved.
SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING NEXT? I’m creating diva boot camp. I’m going to tell all the little girls who want to be a big diva how to laugh.
YOU USED TO TOUR WITH BARRY MANILOW. PEOPLE SOMETIMES MAKE FUN OF HIM AS MR. ’70S SCHMALTZ. WHAT DO YOU LIKE ABOUT HIM? I love his sense of humor. I love his devotion to the craft and his devotion to this kind of music. That music is really the music of his childhood. One of my crackpot theories is that you never really get over that music. He’s never really budged off his music, which I think is really fascinating. When I was flagged, I said, Oh, maybe I better do something else, and didn’t have the courage of my convictions. But he really does. So good for him.
ARE YOU GOING TO TOUR AGAIN? I would like to go to Europe with my show. But things are so unsettled in the world, and I kind of don’t really know what to do. I’d like to get to 100 performances. I’m up to about 87. And I’m talking to people in Las Vegas because I think it would be nice to get off the road and not waste so much gas.
DO YOU LIKE VEGAS? I’m of two minds about Vegas. I think Vegas is strange, and I don’t know where their water comes from. But as a town and a place for an entertainer, there’s no comparison. There’s no other place you can go to where you can just sit and do six weeks at a time and have your band and your staff be so happy. On the other hand, as an environmentalist, I’m a little shaken up by it.
AS AN ENVIRONMENTALIST, WERE YOU HAPPY TO HEAR PRESIDENT BUSH, IN HIS STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH, SAY WE OUGHT TO LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVES TO OIL? I guess [the oil companies] made enough money. If he means it, not a moment too soon.
ANY OTHER THOUGHTS ABOUT THE PRESIDENT? I’m not going to be political. It is so ugly out there right now. And I don’t want to add to the ugliness. I have my views. Most people who know me know what they are. I will tell you that I’ve never lived through anything like this. And that’s all I’ll say.