Bette Midler on Donald Trump, Adele, and The Divine Miss M reissue
BY KEVIN O’DONNELL
October 19, 2016
Bette Midler, 70, is reissuing her 1972 debut, The Divine Miss M, on Oct. 21. The collection features unreleased recordings, and now EW is excited to premiere the alternate version of “Superstar.”
Here, the pop icon looks back on the record that launched her career, opens up about her Twitter habits, and shares why she’s obsessed with Adele. Hear “Superstar” below.
It’s been more than four decades since The Divine Miss M’s release. What’s your most vivid memory of making the album?
It was a bit stressful! I had come in with Barry Manilow and my band. And I had asked for Joel Dorn to be the producer. But Barry and Joel didn’t get along. Ahmet [Ertegun, the head of Midler’s label, Atlantic] decided it wasn’t what they were looking forward to–it didn’t capture the craziness and energy of our live shows. So we invited a lot of people [to the studio] and we had Chinese food and then we did our show. A bunch of the album is live, and the rest is cut in the studio.
Many of these songs were part of your set at a gay bathhouse in New York City, where you were discovered. What do you remember about those days performing at the Continental Baths?
It wasn’t bizarre. I could understand how other people would think it was odd. But I was in community theater growing up and I understood that world. The thing that was strangest was the dressing room. It was in the middle of the floor, in this circular room, a barbershop. You’d go up some stairs, do your makeup, then come down, go through the crowd and up onto this little stage, which was maybe the size of a rug.
Why do you think the album connected with a gay audience on such a deep level?
I think the word of mouth was serious–people talked about it. And we really packed them in at the bathhouse. We also played nightclubs around the country and were on the road for close to two years. We built up a following. Like Bruce Springsteen has often said, if you want to become successful, get a band and start playing in the bars. That’s the truth.
After Divine was released, you won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1974. Were you shocked?
I wasn’t shocked–I was thrilled! I was also kind of mortified. Because I had tweaked Karen Carpenter at the time. [Carpenter presented the award to Midler, who had made light of the singer’s eating disorder in concert.] She was so gracious and beautiful. I didn’t deserve her kindness.
What singers do you admire these days?
I’m a mentor on The Voice this season, and these kids are so talented, just extraordinary voices. And I cannot talk enough about Adele. She has a magical voice and great chops, great sensitivity, wonderful songwriting skills. And she’s hilarious. The men are another story: I listen to old-school country like George Jones. I didn’t know what to do when he passed away! Life does come to an end, my dear.
Any current male musicians you like?
I heard Shawn Menendez the other day. Menendez? No, those are the killers. Mendes! [Laughs] I mostly listen to the women–I love BeyoncÃ© and Lady Gaga. I can sing along with them. With the men, it’s harder to sing in their ranges.
You’ll be performing in Broadway’s revival of Hello, Dolly! next year. How are rehearsals going?
I have a little trepidation because it’s a steep learning curve, but I’m excited!
As someone who is vocal about your disgust for Donald Trump on Twitter, what’s your mood going into the election?
I’m hopeful common sense will prevail. The last time people voted for the man they wanted to have a beer with, we wound up in a lot of trouble. [With Hillary Clinton], even if it is four more years of the same, at least we know it’s a steady ship and there’s not going to be too many surprises. [But] it’s been so terrible–the anguish over this race.
Are you obsessed with Twitter?
It’s fun. It’s easier to write short than long because you can find yourself falling asleep. I look at it as entertainment, but I don’t need that much entertainment in my life. Then you feel like you’re missing out on your life. I don’t have that much time left, so I’m going to spend it looking around and observing and thinking and memorizing poetry.
You’re throwing your annual Hulaween bash at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria this month. What’s in store?
We have Kathy Griffin, she’ll be the hostess. And Darlene Love–I’ll probably sing with her. We’re honoring Bobby Kennedy and Dan Lufkin, who helped create Earth Day. It’s the last time we’re doing it at the Waldorf. The booze is going to be top-shelf!