Posted on 20 Jun 2014 at 7:25am
You never forget, nor should you want to, your first life-altering experience with the Divine Miss M.
Bette Midler first hit it big in the early 1970s with her swing-influenced pop hits, then got serious cred as an actress in 1979 when she starred in The Rose, a thinly-veiled biopic of Janis Joplin. But I was a kid back then, who thought of swing as something in my backyard, and The Rose was an R-rated film I wouldnâ€™t be allowed to see for several more years.
No, my first exposure to La Bette was through her trashy, wildly unfocused quasi-memoir and tour diary A View from a Broad.
I didnâ€™t even know what I was looking at when I first picked up a copy as a freshman in Catholic school. I think it had been left on a bench by a forgetful priest, who probably secretly enjoyed the campy extravagance of Midlerâ€™s ribald jokes, tales of debauchery on the road in Europe and in-your-face out-there-ness â€” traits that have distinguished her, and built her gay following, since her days performing in the Continental Baths.
My teenaged eyes were scandalized by the humor of Madame Sophie, Betteâ€™s inspired-by-Sophie-Tucker alter ego who told racy jokes about her boyfriend Ernie. â€œSoph, youâ€™ve got no tits and a tight box,â€ Ernie said, and she retorted, â€œErnie, get off my back.â€
I dashed through the new re-release of A View from a Broad with the purposeful mission to relieve that exciting discovery, and right there on Page 106 it sat â€” or rather, sort of. The line is cut off, an editing error in the reprint that causes my heart to sink. Itâ€™s like seeing your hero out of makeup and realizing how frail he really is. I was let down.
But only for a moment. The dishy, collage style of the book â€” complete with a new introduction by Midler that puts the 34-year-old collection of behind-the-scenes photos, one-liners, gags, journal entries and factoids in some historic context â€” could never disappoint a true fan, because itâ€™s really all about her, arguably our greatest diva and most devoted ally. I may not see it through the eyes of a kid anymore, but it still has a power over me.
â€” Arnold Wayne Jones