October 8, 1973
By the time Bette Midler began the second half of her sold-out Popejoy Hall concert – dressed in red sleaze and carrying “recycled” fox carcasses – her voice was falling apart.
It had been a bad few days for Bette. One of the members of her back-up trio, The Harlettes, had been busted for drugs in Phoenix and Bette was mad as hell about it. She was also getting sick – she has, after all, been on tour since Aug. 25.
Later, she moved into John Prine‘s song about old people, “Hello in There,” not an easy melody to sing at the best of times. The voice cracked, she whispered her way through it and she brought if off.
For a moment, it was like being in a time-warp; Judy Garland, at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, drunk or stoned on too much of something, trying to get through “Stormy Weather” with the audience pushing for her as hard as it could.
But only for a moment. Miraculously, the voice returned and the raunchy lady soon had the entire house on its feet, clapping and screaming (and, some of them, smoking grass) to “Chapel of Love.” Quite a sight for Popejoy Hall. Unprecedented.
At the beginning of the Thursday concert, when the ovation before she had opened her mouth was overpowering, she asked if Albuquerque was “starved for entertainment?” Albuquerque – the part of it in the audience – roared back an indistinct but affirmative answer. Those inside the house felt lucky at that point – because outside, in the chilly October night, there were clusters of people offering large amounts of money for tickets to those that had them.
Inside again, and Bette pacing the floor of the Popejoy stage like a hopped-up dance-hall hostess, wailing “Leader of the Pack” while the two remaining Harlettes synchronized in the background – Andrews Sisters with soul.
AND AFTER ALL the flash, and the glitter, the sequins, the flaming orange hair, the fright make-up, the trashy songs, the political and sexual innuendo (of Nixon; “In your heart, you know he’s not a well person. I’ve got my bags packed, but there’s no place to go”), The Divine Miss M sat on a stool and sang “Am I Blue?” with a force and conviction that had the audience in dead silence and even the spotlight seemed to dim in comparison to the incandescence shimmering on a wooden stool.
Bette Midler was a star then, right up there with the biggest and best of them. Out of trash – art. When she left the stage, Albuquerque made her come back. She coughed, and explained that she really was getting sick, and – touchingly – said she was touched by the reception. Out into the night with her, then, carrying a bouquet of roses that had been handed up to her during the course of the concert. And also carrying with her a southwestern city she pronounced Al-ba-ker-cue. She carried it in the palm of her hand.