BetteBack: The Trouble With Bette Midler

Santa Fe New Mexican
Saturday HBO special features Bette Midler
Gannett News Service

The trouble with being Bette Midler is that the world keeps catching up with you. She used to be new wave avant garde. Now she’s just wave and garde.

But Midler – who has a new HBO special premiering Saturday – insists she hasn’t mellowed. It’s just that the world keeps getting stranger. “I would like to feel that I had some kind of hand in paving the way.”

There was a time when she was the most outrageous person around. She loved wild clothes, low-cut dresses, brassy manners. During the 1983 Academy Awards ceremony, she offered the only sign of human life.

But times and images changed. “With all those drag queens, it’s hard to be unusual,” she said.

Boy George (or, at least, Cyndi Lauper) may have become the new Bette Midler. But what’s the old Bette doing?

Well, she’s about 41 now, and she seems to be interested in almost everything. Get her started and she’ll talk about life’s
horrors, which include computers, TV and her last movie.

She’ll also tell you why she loves the piano so much that she quit playing it.

And, of course, she’ll tell about that HBO special. Last year, Midler spent 10 months on tour. “We really hauled ourselves around the country.”

As the tour was ending, she taped the special at the University of Minnesota. It includes a lot of music, she says, and only
about 10 minutes of talk. But that talk will include her thoughts on the machine revolution.

“People are always talking about floppy discs, like that was the whole world. Well, I can’t even plug in a toaster…

“The studios used to be eighttrack. Now they’re 32-track, 54-track. People forget about the important thing, which is still
the song.”

In short, Midler’s theme is: “Just tell me I don’t have to go back to school.”

Now she’s taking it easy in California, a place and pace she doesn’t understand. (“They eat a lot of lunch in Hollywood.”)
She’s also hoping to revive her movie career.

After the success of her “The Rose,” Midler had the so-so “Divine Madness” and the disastrous “Jinxed.” That last one was roundly rejected. “It put me in the toilet for two years.”

Now she has a script called “The Big Kiss” (from playwright John Guarre) that she’d love to star in. In the meantime, she can comment on any subject:

– TELEVISION: “It’s this terrible thing that comes into your home. It’s so horrible, so terrible. TV is toxic, and there’s so much of it. There are 150 channels, and there’s still nothing to watch.”

PIANO: Midler recently took lessons. “I got so excited about it that I knew if I didn’t quit, I’d have to learn to play the blues.” She quit.

– HER MUSIC: “What I would like to do is to have a band of my own again.” For years, she’s settled for pick-up groups. Indeed, the last real Midler band was headed by a then-unknown pianist named Barry Manilow.

– THE OSCAR CEREMONIES: Midler agrees that the 1984 ceremonies were a dreadful bore. Then why didn’t she appear and liven things up, the way she did in ’83?

“I seem to have made quite a .splash with that. I didn’t know what I could do to top it.”

Midler hasn’t had a hit lately, but she’ll wait. “You have to have something that captures the public’s imagination. And that something changes every year…

“Maybe the public will get tired of silly English boys with high cheekbones.”

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