Interview: Bette Midler planning Divine intervention in Phoenix, 5/24
Ed Masley, The Republic | azcentral.com 10:17 a.m. MST May 20, 2015
Released last year, the album finds the singer paying tribute to a handful of her favorite girl-group records through the ages, from the Andrews Sisters through the Supremes and the Shirelles to TLC. An inspired collection, it definitely plays to Midler’s strengths.
So why is she talking about it as though she owes the world an apology?
“Sometimes, I do feel a little superannuated,” Midler says. “I am a woman of a certain age singing songs from my youth. But I don’t know. It’s jolly.”
“It puts a smile on my face,” she says. “And people liked it. They bought it and I got good feedback about it, so I’m a little bit thrilled. And this show is gonna be fun. I think it’s gonna be a little bit different. It doesn’t have a lot of pyrotechnics. But it does have screeching horns, which is a good thing. And the Harlettes are coming back. It’s gonna be a little less gigantic than the usual and a little more intimate.”
We caught up with Midler before she launched the tour in early May to talk about what she had planned for Phoenix, “It’s the Girls!” and how it feels to be hitting the road at 69 â€” an age we mention only because she brings up aging several times.
Question: Are you doing many songs from this new album live? It seems as though they’d be a lot of fun live.
Answer: It’s kind of hard to say. It remains to be seen which ones will be successful and which ones are not gonna work. When you put these shows together, it’s a little like being in a bubble. You don’t really know what’s going on in the outside world. So I don’t have much to say other than I really like the show. It’s Divine Intervention and there is a certain tension in the air. People are a little bit freaked out by certain things. There’s a lot of information coming to them that they’re finding harder and harder to process. So of course the Divine has come down from the heavens to solve certain problems. And that’s what Divine Intervention is all about.
Q: This is your first tour in a while.
A: It’s gonna be curious because I haven’t done this kind of touring in a while. I think the last time was 2007. I was in Las Vegas for a couple years doing one of those contracts. That was really rough. So this is really weird because the material from my shows stretches back all the way to the ’70s. I still have Barry Manilow arrangements. I kept all of it because I felt, well, it’s so sentimental. It speaks to my heart from my old days and all that crap. But then you start to put that stuff together and you’re like, “My God, I’m inundated with this stuff. Why didn’t I throw this stuff out?” I’m reading that Japanese book about decluttering and you know, you get to a certain age and think, “I’ve gotta get rid of this stuff.” So, a couple of years ago, I sold a lot of my costumes. And of course, now, I’m regretting it like the dickens. Oh my God! But I was swamped. You couldn’t even move in my house. So I got rid of a lot of it. And to go back into the vaults and get some of that old stuff out is to really relive a lot of your old youthful indiscretions and your triumphs and regrets and all that stuff. So it’s been very emotional. It’s been a real roller coaster.
Q: How far back did you start planning this tour?
A: You know, this time we didn’t have the luxury of the kind of time that we usually have. I think we started in January, really paying attention and putting the things together and, you know, getting out all that stuff and overseeing what would work and what was no longer serviceable. It’s a funny process, a Chinese menu. Two from column A and one from column B. Some of the stuff does not hold up. Some of it’s dated and you think, well, maybe if I fluffed it up and rearranged it, it would work. There are songs that you really do love to sing. And some songs as you age, they do rise to the surface. They mean more to you as you grow older than they did when you were younger. And that certainly has happened.
Q: Such as?
A: The song I always loved to sing was “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most.” I don’t really know why. I just love the sound of it and what it makes me feel and the world its orchestration conjures up. It’s such a different world than today. And in a funny way, I like revisiting that world. So I’m gonna bring that song back. And they’ve been agitating for me to sing “Fever.” I have tried for years to put that in the show and I’ve never been able to because I never really liked the Peggy Lee lyric. And I never understood why until I went back to the original lyric, which was Little Willie John‘s. It’s really a very simple lyric. It’s a love song. It’s not quite so witty but it’s very much more heartfelt. So I’m gonna give that a shot. And I haven’t sung “Stay With Me” in a long, long time. I do love singing it but it’s hard, you know. It’s a real gut wrencher and you think, “Well, I don’t know. What does this mean? Do I have to sing this every night? What is this going to do to me? Am I gonna be able to sing the next day?”
So it’s a real mix-and-match proposition. I know all the singers go through it, because you’re not a horn player, you’re not a guitar player. You can keep an instrument in tune but the voice is part of your body. And you really do have to pay a lot of attention to it. You do want to keep the voice intact. But age does have a way of creeping up on you. So you have to be realistic. All I can say is I’m gonna sing the best I can and give them the best show that I can possibly give them. Some old songs, a couple of new songs I’ve fallen in love with. It’ll be lively, beautiful, heartfelt. Bring your Kleenex. And be prepared for a bunch of surprises.
Q: It’s a good mix, bring-your-Kleenex moments and funny stuff. You don’t get that at a lot of shows.
A: Isn’t that funny? I think it’s because No. 1, they have no curiosity about the way things used to be done. I’m not slagging anybody. They’re just not exposed to it. I think the people who are exposed to it, who understand that, are genuinely funny. Like, Adele is hilarious in person. Michael Buble is always very funny. He’s very engaging. I’ve been listening to a lot of old jazzers and if you hear their old live albums, you hear them talking to the audience in these supper-club or nightclub settings where you had no choice. You had to talk. They were a foot from you so you couldn’t ignore them. I think it’s an art that’s definitely deserving of being resuscitated. Any time I meet anybody, I always say, “I love to hear you talk. Don’t just say, ‘Hi Cleveland.’ ”
Q: It helps draw the audience into the show when you talk to them.
A: Well, they like that. Little boys and girls, they don’t really expect it because they’re just screaming. But if you go to a Stevie Wonder show, he really does talk. And he’s funny and engaging. Paul McCartney doesn’t talk so much but you know, it’s two hours of wall-to-wall hits so you don’t really care because you’re just so mesmerized by your whole life flashing before you. So he doesn’t need to. He is genuinely funny but the music really does speak for itself. But I enjoy that stuff because I come from that tradition and I know how to do it. It’s very easy for me to do because I understand how it’s done. And I love it.
Q: You mentioned still using some of Barry Manilow’s arrangements. He’s out on his last big tour and I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that.
A: I am really shocked that he is saying that. You know, he doesn’t talk to me anymore. He quit speaking to me. Again. And I can’t say I blame him. I don’t know. I love him. But they always say to me, “Oh come on, tell them it’s your last show and then you’ll sell seats.” But I’m not lying. If they come, they come. I’m not gonna say that because then when you decide to come back, they say, “But you lied.” And I don’t want to be that kind of a liar. I mean, who knows? But when I go, I really will go. I’m not gonna come back. When I go, that’s it. The door’s shut. Do not try to open it again. I’m stubborn that way. So I’m not gonna say that it’s the end.
Q: But do you see an end on the horizon?
A: If I did, I wouldn’t say so. I really wouldn’t. It’s nobody’s business but my own. The idea that it might be? Eh. Let people draw their own conclusions. I’m a person of a certain age and it’s hard. I will not lie to you. It’s not easy to crank this machine up again. I mean, I’m doing it because I’m interested. I’m engaged. I like the last record. I look OK. I look good. I look fantastic. I’m a medical miracle. I still have the energy. I still have the will. I still have the interest. I’m not as driven as I once was because I think that recedes with age. But it’s great to see new people and see what the people are eating and wearing and how they’re doing (laughs). It’s fun to see as the years have gone by how they’ve muddled through, because you know, they think of me as a member of the family and I like that. I mean, I sometimes wish I was standing above it all, because I am a goddess after all. But the truth is I’m a home-grown goddess. I’m a grass-roots goddess.