Review: Bette Midler’s “A Gift Of Love”

Bay Area Reporter
Divine Miss M‘s gift
Published 12/17/2015
by David-Elijah Nahmod

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Bette Midler recently turned 70 years old, and to commemorate this milestone, she has released A Gift of Love, a compilation of 18 favorite love songs. Midler hand-picked the tracks, which represent different periods of her extraordinary career.

Has it really been 45 years since we first fell in love with the Divine Miss M? It’s been a mutual love affair. Midler ”“ singer, movie star, concert-act extraordinaire ”“ has always expressed her support for equality. She stood up for LGBT people long before it was cool to do so. Midler paid her dues when she performed poolside for a delighted audience of scantily clad gay men at the Continental Baths in New York City, where recently out Barry Manilow was her piano man.

After fame came her way in 1973, Midler remained fiercely loyal to her gay audience. She never denied her bathhouse roots, and in fact flaunted her past. For many gay men and lesbians, Midler embodied that great old Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.”

Midler was often noted for her grand wit. “How would you rate yourself on a scale of 1-10?” she was asked by Barbara Walters in 1979. She responded, “I’m a 55!” Her stage persona remains one-of-a-kind. She’d leave her audience out of breath as she paced maniacally across the stage, telling jokes that might be considered unbecoming to a lady. Then she’d stop to sing. It was magic. Midler could switch gears from salty stand-up comic to elegant chanteuse. She’d dig deep into her own soul to find the song’s true meaning. The effect could be mesmerizing.

The new collection opens with “Favorite Waste of Time,” a lovely ballad from Midler’s 1983 album No Frills originally recorded by folk-rocker Marshall Crenshaw. Midler imbues the song with heartfelt joy. Midler’s biggest hits “The Rose,” “From a Distance” and “Wind Beneath My Wings” are all here. “The Rose” is still Midler’s strongest tune. Amanda McBroom‘s lyrics offer a dash of hope for those who want to be in love. There are lesser-known tunes as well, such as the plaintive “All I Need to Know,” a ballad about staying in love as one as ages. In Kate McGarrigle‘s “Talk to Me of Mendocino,” Midler yearns for love yet again. These tracks will touch your heart.

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