‘I want to go thoughtfully’ – Bette Midler on her new album, covering TLC and touring again
By Mark Kennedy, The Associated Press November 3, 2014 7:52 AM
NEW YORK, N.Y. – The Divine Miss M is hitting the road next summer, but this time you might want to call her The Divinely Green Miss M.
Bette Midler’s plans for a 22-city North American tour to promote her new CD “It’s The Girls!” will take a page from a younger artist’s playbook and try to limit her carbon footprint by minimizing the show’s bells and whistles.
“I don’t want to travel with 40 trucks. I don’t want to travel with 90 people,” said the Grammy- and Tony-winner. “Bruno Mars is my hero. Bruno Mars has eight trucks. If I tour, that’s how I want to tour. I don’t want the confetti cannons.”
Midler is hoping the new music – out Tuesday – supplies all the special effects: It’s an eclectic collection of covers of 15 famous songs by seven decades’ worth of girl groups, from The Andrews Sisters to TLC.
There’s “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” from The Shirelles, The Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love,” The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby” and a stripped down, haunting version of TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
“It’s like finding a beautiful piece of jewelry or clothing that you’ve totally forgotten about and it’s a little down-at-the-heel,” she said. “You polish it up or you put some starch in it. Suddenly, it looks new again.”
Midler will kick off her tour on May 8 in Hollywood, Florida, at The Hard Rock Live and will make stops in cities including New Orleans, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Detroit, Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C., before winding up at Madison Square Garden in New York on June 25.
Marc Shaiman, the Tony Award-winning lyricist of “Hairspray” who has produced albums by Mariah Carey and Harry Connick Jr., started the process last summer when he and Midler drew up a list of potential songs and whittled it down.
“We tried to turn a few of them on their heads and change the arrangements and the feel. And a few of them I tried to stay as close as we could without her feeling like she was at a karaoke bar,” he said.
“I literally had to pull her into the vocal booth to sing on ‘Be My Baby.’ She was like, ‘I can’t top Ronnie Spector.’ I was like, ‘It’s not about topping Ronnie Spector.’ She forgets that people just love the sound of her voice and her delivery. She can’t help but make it her own.”
Midler has a story for each of the ones that made the cut on the album, her 25th and first studio offering in eight years. She included “Bei Mir Bist Du Schon” by The Andrews Sisters because her mom and dad sang it to her as a kid. She covered “It’s the Girl” because “that was the first record I ever had in my house.”
“I picked the songs that had the most meaning to me,” she said. “This is the music of my generation.”
The cover of the TLC song is perhaps the boldest, with Midler turning a rap-dance number into a piano-led torch song. “I fell in love with it the first time I heard it and I could hear through the beat to what the story really was. It’s a classic ballad.”
Midler turns out to be quite a TLC fan, having caught them live a number of times. “A lot of their work was underappreciated,” she said, adding that their song “No Scrubs” is “genius.” She thinks they paved the way for other groups like Destiny’s Child.
“If it hadn’t been for ‘No Scrubs,’ I don’t think you would have ‘Bills, Bills, Bills,'” Midler said, “which is also one of the greatest songs written, as far as I’m concerned.”
Midler’s new album and tour almost never happened. She had recently come off an exhausting solo Broadway show “I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat With Sue Mengers” and was contemplating leaving the business. A new management team “talked me out of hanging up my dancing shoes.”
“It’s such a different world. It’s a completely different world. I came up with no Internet. I came up when people actually bought vinyl,” she said. “You made your record and you would do a tour to promote it. It’s not like that anymore. Now you make a record to promote a tour. It’s a very steep learning curve for me.”
But Midler, 68, is nothing if not savvy, even though she self-effacingly professes, “I’m so old now I can’t remember anything.” She tweets regularly about environmental affairs, weighs in on politics and offers one-liners. “Adapt or die, baby,” she said, laughing.
The tour – emphasizing her green streak – fits easily into the modern mission of minimizing the environmental impact of our society. “I want to go thoughtfully. I want to go in a human sized-sense. I think I can.”