The trouble with being Bette Midler is that the world keeps catching up with you. She used to be new wave avant garde. Now sheâ€™s just wave and garde.
But Midler â€” who has a new HBO special premiering Saturday â€” insists she hasnâ€™t mellowed. Itâ€™s just that the world keeps getting stranger. â€œI would like to feel that I had some kind of hand in paving the way.â€
There was a time when she was the most outrageous person around. She loved wild clothes, low-cut dresses, brassy manners. During the 1983Â Academy Awardsceremony, she offered the only sign of human life.
But times and images changed. â€œWith all those drag queens, itâ€™s hard to be unusual,â€ she said.
Well, sheâ€™s about 41 now, and she seems to be interested in almost everything. Get her started and sheâ€™ll talk about lifeâ€™sÂ horrors, which include computers, TV and her last movie.
Sheâ€™ll also tell you why she loves the piano so much that she quit playing it.
And, of course, sheâ€™ll tell about that HBO special. Last year, Midler spent 10 months on tour. â€œWe really hauled ourselves around the country.â€
As the tour was ending, she taped the special at the University of Minnesota. It includes a lot of music, she says, and onlyÂ about 10 minutes of talk. But that talk will include her thoughts on the machine revolution.
â€œPeople are always talking about floppy discs, like that was the whole world. Well, I canâ€™t even plug in a toasterâ€¦
â€œThe studios used to be eighttrack. Now theyâ€™re 32-track, 54-track. People forget about the important thing, which is stillÂ the song.â€
In short, Midlerâ€™s theme is: â€œJust tell me I donâ€™t have to go back to school.â€
Now sheâ€™s taking it easy in California, a place and pace she doesnâ€™t understand. (â€œThey eat a lot of lunch in Hollywood.â€)Â Sheâ€™s also hoping to revive her movie career.
After the success of her â€œThe Rose,â€ Midler had the so-so â€œDivine Madnessâ€ and the disastrous â€œJinxed.â€ That last one was roundly rejected. â€œIt put me in the toilet for two years.â€
Now she has a script called â€œThe Big Kissâ€ (from playwright John Guarre) that sheâ€™d love to star in. In the meantime, she can comment on any subject:
â€” TELEVISION:Â â€œItâ€™s this terrible thing that comes into your home. Itâ€™s so horrible, so terrible. TV is toxic, and thereâ€™s so much of it. There are 150 channels, and thereâ€™s still nothing to watch.â€
â€”Â PIANO:Â Midler recently took lessons. â€œI got so excited about it that I knew if I didnâ€™t quit, Iâ€™d have to learn to play the blues.â€ She quit.
â€” HER MUSIC:Â â€œWhat I would like to do is to have a band of my own again.â€ For years, sheâ€™s settled for pick-up groups. Indeed, the last real Midler band was headed by a then-unknown pianist namedÂ Barry Manilow.
â€” THE OSCAR CEREMONIES:Â Midler agrees that the 1984 ceremonies were a dreadful bore. Then why didnâ€™t she appear and liven things up, the way she did in â€™83?
â€œI seem to have made quite a .splash with that. I didnâ€™t know what I could do to top it.â€
â€” AND THE FUTURE:
Midler hasnâ€™t had a hit lately, but sheâ€™ll wait. â€œYou have to have something that captures the publicâ€™s imagination. And that something changes every yearâ€¦
â€œMaybe the public will get tired of silly English boys with high cheekbones.â€