The Daily Orange
November 13, 1973
She made me stand in the cold for 90 minutes and I was nearly crushed by the frozen, frenzied crowd. She called me a guttersnipe. She called me trash. She told me to stand up. She told me to shut up and sit down.
She told us “Honey, they were hot for me in Potsdam and that’s the truth.” By the end of Friday night they were hot for Bette Midler in Ithaca, N.Y. And that’s the truth too. ‘
If you haven’t seen you couldn’t imagine. Sometimes the energy just escapes and her body goes berserk, the arms flailing, the legs charging across the stage in short, choppy, violent steps.
Seconds later she pulls up short with incredible discipline and the music slows and Bette Midler stands there, her body swaying lightly, the left wrist extended just a bit, the raunchy rhinestone bracelet flashing slowly in the spotlight.
She closes her eyes and begins. “For I am all alone. There is no one here beside me.” Soft and easy, until she explodes into “Friends” sending the crowd to its feet.
The clapping hands go up into the smoky light and she’s ripping back and forth in a purple top and black trousers and a large, horrible belt singing the word so it sounds like “Fren-zy.”
In Ithaca College’s Ben Light gymnasium she babbles brilliantly so you don’t know what is adlibbed and what is left over from the last concert town. The voice is Brooklyn with a hint of Paul Lynde. After a while you can’t tell the raw ham from the raw Midler.
You give up trying when she says, “Honey, I hope you weren’t expecting Karen Carpenter. I really do,” or “Honey, we’re all greasers in the eyes of God,” or “This next one is for all you guttersnipes out there.”
“Delta Dawn” is followed close on the heels by “You were bad sex. Sex with you was bad. I swear I never had such bad sex.” (That’s the song for guttersnipes.)
She picks up a stool and swings it around. “Oh I just love a gym. I feel so athletic! We’re gonna go out back and cut holes in the bathing suits.”
She slips into a “Superstar” that transcends the album cut. Long ago and oh so far away. Between verses she walks out of the white spot into the purple, slips her hands into her pockets, turns her back on the audience. And then “Loneliness is such a sad affair.” Yes, yes, yes.
Then a Philadelphia medley of greaser tunes (“low-rent metro rock and roll.”) She closes the first set with “my favorite song in the whole world, `I Shall Be Released’.”
They say every woman needs protection
They say every woman has her fall.
But I swear I see my reflection
Somewhere high above this wall.
I see my life come shining
From the west down to the east.
Any day now,
Any day now …
Before the music has faded she simply turns around and walks away, bent and exhausted. Someone helps her down from the stage.
Pianist Barry Manilow opens the second set with three of his own songs, accompanied by Bette’s female back-up trio, the Harlettes, gotten up in pink and white maid costumes (strange).
Without warning she’s back in a slinky pink sparkle-paint gown slit up front to the thigh and a brilliant, multi-colored boa. And there’s more frenzy.
“Brighten up girls. Just a little more tit-shakin’ and this group will be happy.” From that to “Do You Wanna Dance?”
She shifts moods with incredible precision and control. From gentle jabs at Helen Reddy to “all the trash of Ithaca” to Dick Clarke’s 20th anniversary show. “Honey, he had a chance to make a work of art and he made a piece of crap.”
There is a whole raft of Richard Nixon jokes. “Honey the way things are going in this country I don’t wanna be an American any more, ya know? All those guys leaving the government. Dick’s in big trouble. I decided its a question of ships deserting a sinking rat.” Applause. .
There was a Linda Lovelace-Dick Nixon joke. “Before I tell this I want you to know I just loathe Linda Lovelace jokes. I just loathe them! Anyway, President Nixon has a copy of `Deep Throat’ and he’s seen it, oh, 10 or 12 times. He’s trying to get it down pat.”
It’s that way all night. The boa comes off. The gown comes off.
She makes love to the audience, to the band, to the whacked-out Harlettes.
She shakes her tits and her ass. Her body is a projectile to be hurled and restrained according to the moment.
She reaches and wrenches and purrs. She offers herself in a blur of motion and then pulls it out slowly and precisely, note by note by note.
The crowd ends on its feet, stomping through a furious “Leader of the Pack” and then swaying and singing to “Chapel of Love.”
The crowd ends on its feet.