Bluefield Daily Telegraph
July 28, 1995
Suddenly softening her voice, sounding almost like a little girl afraid to tell the truth , Bette Midler confesses. For years, the Divine got no kick out of what she does best – singing.
It c a n â€™t be, b u t the w ords come from her mouth.
Singing no fun for B ette Midler, the divaâ€™s diva? Thatâ€™s crazy talk, like saying Einstein hated science or Lindbergh detested air travel.Â But sheâ€™s not kidding.
â€œIt used to be torture,â€ Midler says, curled up on a couch in a high-rise M anhattan hotel, protectively hugging her knees a g a in st the effects of an overactive air conditioner.
This woman is the spitting image of Bette Midler, but can this truly be she?
W here is th e outrageous, dow nright bawdy m eg ap erso n ality who first made a name for herself in the e arly 1970s singing at theÂ openly gay Continental Baths.
W here is the bombshell who sang â€œBeast of Burdenâ€ with Mick Jagger and the Stones?
â€œI am completely different,â€ she says shyly from beneath a mop of blond ringlets. â€œI like to sing now. I didnâ€™t always used to. It used to be really, really hard . Absolute torture sometimes.â€
The revelation is a shock.
Midler always made the sublime look easy, winning the h e a rts of m illions worldwide with a wink and a grin – and of course, that voice.Â Sheâ€™s willing to tell her deep, dark secret now because things have changed, her passion for singing reborn.
H er new album , â€œB ette of R o se s,â€ follows h e r stupendously successful 1993 co n cert tour, h e r first in a d ecade, which in turn had followed her triumph in a CBS TV version of the hit Broadway musical â€œGypsy.â€
Asked for details about h er past private hell, she only bites her lip and smiles sadly. One word answ ers confirm th a t perfectionism and bouts with low self-esteem were mostly to blame.
Maybe for singing to be fun again she had to prove to herself once and for all that she is a s great as her immense fame.
â€œI love everything about it now ,â€ she says. â€œI enjoy learning the songs, and shaping them into a version, learning the harmonies.â€
â€œGypsyâ€ was her emotional rescu e. Her film c a re e r had reached an unsatisfying stage despite fine work in â€œThe Rose,â€ â€œBeaches,â€ â€œDown and Out in Beverly Hillsâ€ and â€œFor the Boys.â€
H er salvation w as Mama Rose, a plumb m u sical part played by many through the years but defined historically by legendary sin g er EthelÂ Merman.
It didnâ€™t seemed so perfect at first. Early on, Midler panicked.
â€œI w anted to sing in Ethelâ€™s keys and I couldnâ€™t,â€ she says.
â€œThose songs were some of the toughest Iâ€™ve ever, ever had to sing.â€
She tackled the challenge with intense training to broaden her vocal range.
â€œI kind of stretched my voice a little bit,â€ she says, looking smart in a black pants suit and cute blue, suede flats. â€œI worked very hard, and it really opened a lot of doors in my singing voice that I hadnâ€™t had before.â€
Itâ€™s not surprising that an old time Broadway musical revived Midlerâ€™s natural love of singing.
It was a childhood excursion to a local performance of â€œCarouselâ€ in Hawaii that first inspired her.
â€œI never got over it,â€ she says, sitting up eagerly as a tray bearing cappuccino and Italian cookies is brought in. â€œOnce I saw that show I said, â€˜Oh God, they paint themselves and they dance and sing. Iâ€™m going to do that.â€™ And I never looked back.â€
The thrill of doing â€œGypsyâ€ led to her 32-city â€œExperience the Divineâ€ tour.
â€œOnce I got hold of that process, that newer, stronger voice, it really excited me,â€ she says. â€œActually, thatâ€™s the reason I went on the road. I got this new technique and I was really anxious to see if it made a difference with the old music.â€
The petite two-time Academy Award nominee and four-time Grammy winner also lost about 25 pounds on the road, and clearly none of it has crept back. At age 49, she remains stunning.
On â€œBette of Roses,â€ her new sound is easy to appreciate because she selected songs that show it off, many requiring difficult vocal gymnastics.
â€œMaterial opened up to me that wasnâ€™t there before because I couldnâ€™t hit the notes. Now I can,â€ she says, beaming.
â€œThe songs with th e wider range came to me and they had never come to me before. And since I could sing them , I did sing them.â€
Midler worked with veteran producer Arif Mardin on the Atlantic release, h e r 16th album . It fea tu re s a wide rang in g mix of material, including traditional ballads, folk-inspired ditties, the New Age offering â€œTo Comfort You, and the almost Western tune â€œI
Know This Town.â€
The most dramatic performance comes in a devotional love song by Maria McKee, â€œTo Deserve You.â€ Midler takes it on with style.