BetteBack September 9, 1979: Bette Drops Manager And Records New Album (Interview)

Pacific Stars And Stripes
September 9, 1979


Bette Midler has started writing songs, which she describes as “innocent, with a touch of dementia.”

She says, “I don’t write by myself because I’m not an instrument player. But I’ve started to write again with Randy Kerber, a keyboards player.

“My songs always come out off-the-wall. They’re rarely straight-ahead love songs. They’re mostly whimsical, childlike songs. I guess that’s what my view of the world is. Innocent with a touch of dementia.

“I’d like to grow up one of these days. I’d like to kick off this childhood. I want to be able to deal with the world.”

She is told that she looks mature, at 34, in a black dress, stylish unconstructed purple blazer and her hair tight to her head, in rolls at the back. “This is my Heidi imitation. It means nothing in terms of maturity. Beneath this exterior is the heart of a child.

“I like being childlike. I don’t like being childish. One eventually has to take responsibility for one’s life, one’s career. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Six months ago, Miss Midler decided to be her own manager. It’s a lot of work but she calls herself a work-a-holic.

“It’s great, not having a manager. It might not always be. For the time being it is wonderful. When it isn’t pleasant any more I’ll find someone else.”

This summer she finished a new album, her sixth for Atlantic, “Thighs and Whispers.” It’ll ‘ be released in November.

“It is pretty jolly,” she says. “It’s got a good deal of disco music on it. The form lends itself to lot of theatricality and big arrangements and Arif Mardin is a brilliant arranger. There are songs on it that caught my ear a few months ago, some ballads, mostly rhythm ‘n’ blues ballads. There’s James Taylor’s song ‘MillWorker.’

There is the 1930s song, ‘Big Noise from Winnetka.’ Arif had Bob Haggart, who was one of the writers of that song, play bass. It turned out great.

“I used to do songs of that period a lot. they kept shoving me into that, and I didn’t want to go. Now I’m back to loving songs of the period again. I was getting stuck in this nostalgia act business, and I didn’t want to do that.

I’m well out of worrying about it now. I figure as long as it’s good music, who cares?”

Miss Midler’s recent hit single, “Married Men,” will be on the new album. So will “Hurricane,” a disco song she wrote with Kerber. “I think this is a good album,” she says, “the best I’ve made in a long time. I’m happy with the way it sounds and the way I sound. I love the charts. It’s very light-hearted and giddy. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier with a record.”

Her best selling LP was “The Divine Miss M,” when her image was vivacious camp, dressing like the 1930s and ’40s, singing songs of those decades, in her liveappearances including some brash “dishing” in her monologues. Then the public gaze moved away from the young performer who described herself “trash with flash.”

“When I got to the third album, I was in a pretty bad way,” Miss Middler says. “I was fairly depressed about the whole thing. I went off in a different direction. I think I’m back on the right track now.

“Actually, that album, ‘Songs for the New Depression,’ had some wonderful songs on it. It was a gentle, whimsical, rather than camp album. I didn’t want to be screaming and high camp, so I calmed myself down a bit on the third album.

“I thought everybody would understand what I was doing. Unfortunately, I was terrifically mistaken.”

All careers have their peaks and valleys, Miss Midler says, and what you do about that is keep working.

“At present I’m in a very good frame of mind, looking forward to the ’80s. I don’t think I’ve ever been happier.”

“I’ve kind of made my peace with my camp image,” she says. “It bothered me for a long time. I didn’t want to get thrown into a corner marked camp, so I fought against it.”

“But now I see that it has a certain value. There are camp things on the new album. Camp doesn’t embarrass me now. If people like it, well, we should all enjoy ourselves.”

Last summer Miss Midler finished shooting the leading role in “The Rose,” a film about a rock star which will be released in November.

“Originally it was a fictionalized biography of Janis Joplin,” she said, “and I wasn’t interested. I didn’t think I could impersonate Janis, and I didn’t think there was anybody around who could.”

“Still, I liked the idea of singing rock ‘n’ roll and the idea of the range of emotions the character was allowed to play. They kept redrafting the script and it got less and less Janis, and I thought it got better. My manager at the time said I should do it.”

Now, will Miss Midler make a lot of films? “I think I’m going to start making a lot of albums and never make another film,” she predicts.

“It’s seven years since the first album; I figure after seven years of lean it’s time for the fat to come rolling in.”

“I wouldn’t say they were beating down my door with movie scripts. There are people who are interested in working with me. But they’re not beating a path exactly. They’re treading quietly.”

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