Category Archives: The Divine Miss M

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Have A Divine Day – It’s Bette Midler’s Birthday, Ya’ll – Yehaw!

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Stevie Nicks, Bette Midler reissue classics in expanded form

Miami Herald
Stevie Nicks, Bette Midler reissue classics in expanded form
OCTOBER 28, 2016 12:09 PM

getready album BETTE DELUXE

▪ Stevie Nicks, “Bella Donna (Deluxe)”, “The Wild Heart (Deluxe).” Stevie Nicks’ first two solo albums are remastered and expanded with demos and outtakes. “Bella Donna,” a No. 1 album in 1981, becomes a three-disc package, with a live disc from a short tour, highlighted by the 1981 outtake, “Gold and Braid” and a scorching cover of Tom Petty’s “I Need to Know.”

The outtakes include “Blue Lamp,” from the “Heavy Metal” soundtrack and “Sleeping Angel” from “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Also, a previously unreleased version of the non-LP track, “The Dealer,” and the title track’s demo.

“The Wild Heart” adds a second disc that includes a raw session outtake of the title track and “Violet and Blue” from the “Against All Odds” soundtrack. Also, unreleased versions of “All the Beautiful Worlds” and “Dial the Number” and the “Stand Back” single’s B-side, “Garbo.”

▪ Bette Midler, “The Divine Miss M Deluxe.” Expanded two-disc reissue of her classic 1972 debut includes demos (including a cover of Eagles’ “Saturday Night”), singles mixes and outtakes like the amusing “Marihuana.”

What makes Midler’s first album such a remarkable achievement, beyond the top-shelf musicianship from jazz and rock pros and a pre-fame Barry Manilow’s arrangements and production, are her expressive vocals. Midler can be brassy and campy on ’60s girl group covers like “Chapel of Love” but in her prime, here, no one could match her emotional connection to good material.

Every bit the actress, Midler inhabits her cover of “Superstar” so intimately — especially an alternate version on disc two — listeners almost feel as if they are intruding on something so personal it feels intrusive. But that’s an experience with the Divine that is to be cherished.

Midler, who would earn Grammy’s Best New Artist award and an Album of the Year nomination for this recording, was never better in the studio.

  • American Cinematheque Awards 1987
  • BetteBack November 27, 1973: Bette Midler Gets A Standing Ovation
  • BetteBack May 11, 1991: Diverse music fills everydey lives
  • BetteBack December 5, 1973: Bette Midler: PALACE, N.Y.
  • The 20 amazing Bette Midler facts you can share with your mates at the SSE Hydro
  • Read More

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    Thursday, September 15, 2016

    Bette Midler Reveals How She Got Her Nickname with Release of Deluxe Edition of ‘The Divine Miss M’

    Bette Midler Reveals How She Got Her Nickname with Release of Deluxe Edition of ‘The Divine Miss M’
    September 13, 2016


    Superstar Bette Midler is set to release the deluxe edition of her iconic 1972 album “The Divine Miss M” on Oct. 21.

    The 2-CD set includes the remastered album, plus a bonus disc of singles, outtakes and demos and liner notes written by Bette herself.

    In the liner notes, Bette reveals how she earned her divine nickname. “I began being called The Divine Miss M around 1969, when I made my first appearance at the Continental Baths, a gay bath house located in the basement of the Ansonia Hotel, at Broadway and 74th Street in New York. My best friend, Bill Hennessy, a hairdresser I met on ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ called me that for years. It was my first night at the Baths, and before I went on, the owner, Steven Ostrow, stuck his head into the dressing room and asked how I wanted to be introduced. I said, ‘Just tell them I’m divine!’ And that’s how it started.”

    The album hits store shelves Oct. 21, but will also be available for digital download the same day, and is currently available for pre-order via Amazon.

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    Rare Footage Captures Bette Midler’s 1971 Farewell Performance At NYC Gay Bathhouse
    Bette Midler Talks Hawaii, The Jewish Experience, Broadway, And Movies

    Bette Midler is ‘chanelling the 70s’ in stunning new ad campaign | BootLeg Betty Read More

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    Sunday, August 7, 2016

    What “The Divine Miss M” Re-Issue Could Look Like (One Man’s View)

    Reissue Theory: Bette Midler, “The Divine Miss M”


    Welcome to another installment of Reissue Theory, where we take a look at notable albums and the reissues they may someday see. Long before “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “From a Distance,” Bette Midler was blazing a path like few others before or since with her blend of outrageous comedy, musical invention and pure showmanship. Yet despite a treasure trove of unreleased material, Midler’s platinum debut, The Divine Miss M, has never been expanded on CD. What might such a reissue be like?

    “One bathhouse. We played one bathhouse….No, it was only ever that one bathhouse.”

    So responded Barry Manilow earlier this month to Vanity Fair when queried whether he was nostalgic for the bathhouses he played in the early days of the 1970s as Bette Midler’s musical director. But Manilow’s stint playing for Midler at New York’s Continental Baths has entered into show biz lore, as it launched not one, but two, superstar careers that endure to the present day. As Manilow explained, “[The Continental Baths] had a cabaret stage, and they hired me as the house piano player. They asked me, ‘Hey, do you want to play piano here full-time?’ And I was like ‘Sure, why not?’ I played with all of the acts that came through, all the singers. Bette was the best of them…so I stayed with her…She was fucking brilliant. I mean it. You never saw anything like it. It topped anything Lady Gaga is doing today. And she did it without any stage tricks or fancy effects. It was just Bette and me and a drummer.” And while Manilow may sound hyperbolic, many reports at the time confirm his recollections. Bette Midler was, and is, unquestionably an original.

    Midler had played her first engagement at the Baths in August 1970, after she had already begun courting much larger stages with appearances on The David Frost Show, The Merv Griffin Show, and the biggest talk show of them all, Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. The girl from Hawaii who had played a lengthy run as Tzeitel in Broadway’s Fiddler on the Roof and then a stint in the off-Broadway rock musical Salvation had her eyes on mainstream success. She was an instant smash with Carson on her first appearance of August 12, 1970; she began at the Baths two nights later and returned to the Tonight Show and its smitten host on August 31. Barry Manilow came into her life in late 1970 or early 1971; though exact dates are fuzzy, he became Midler’s musical director by the time of the September 1971 stand at New York’s Downstairs at the Upstairs cabaret. Though she had become the toast of New York and television with her boisterous, outrageous stage antics and wild reworkings of old standards, novelties and rock and roll tunes, Midler naturally desired to become a recording star. A 1969 demo session including her then-trademark take on Harry Akst and Grant Clark’s 1929 “Am I Blue?” was shopped around but hadn’t led anywhere. Perhaps her bawdy persona and eclectic repertoire simply couldn’t be contained on vinyl?

    That all changed with the release of 1972’s The Divine Miss M on the Atlantic label. Though it received a remastered edition in 1995 and last month was reissued as an audiophile LP from Mobile Fidelity, the album has never been expanded on CD. Yet there a number of riches that still remain in the Atlantic vaults that paint a fuller picture of the hungry young performer, equal parts singer, actress and performance artist. Today’s Reissue Theory imagines a 2-CD expanded edition of Midler’s eclectic, electric debut. Hit the jump for a story involving Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, music legend Ahmet Ertegun, Philly soul architect Thom Bell, jazz guru Joel Dorn, Brill Building stalwart Doc Pomus, and of course, Barry Manilow and Bette Midler!

    Doc Pomus had always been a stickler for authenticity. The longtime bluesman and writer of “Save the Last Dance for Me” and “This Magic Moment” had little use for popular music in the mid-1960s. But according to Pomus’ biographer Alex Halberstadt, he listened to his friend John Leslie McFarland when the eccentric composer recommended he hear one Bette Midler. “It’s the same old shit,” McFarland reportedly moaned, “except for this white chick named Midler. She’s gonna be a big fucking star.” Pomus and McFarland were spellbound by Midler’s act, and before long, Doc was begging his old pal Ahmet Ertegun to take in a performance by Midler. When Ertegun at first demurred, Pomus turned Joel Dorn onto her talent. Meanwhile, Pomus had signed an agreement with Midler to become her musical director. Here’s where accounts differ, but one thing is clear. By the time the dust settled, Ertegun had signed Midler to Atlantic Records with Dorn producing, and Doc Pomus was out of the picture. Little did Dorn know that he would soon follow the legendary songwriter out the door.

    Sessions began on January 17, 1972 for the album that would become The Divine Miss M. Miss M was joined by Manilow on piano, guitar great David Spinozza, jazz bassist and CTI mainstay Ron Carter, plus Ray Lucas on drums and Ralph MacDonald on percussion. When it came to assembling material, Dorn was able to draw on a vast collection of roughly 50 songs Midler was already performing regularly. These ranged from Phil Spector hits (“Da Doo Ron Ron,” “Uptown”) to rockers (“Down on Me,” “Honky Tonk Women”) and standards (“That Lucky Old Sun,” “Ten Cents a Dance.”) Midler wasn’t about to be pigeonholed into one genre.

    Virtually everything about The Divine Miss M would be unexpected, most especially its choice of cover versions. Despite her brassy persona, the album would be surprisingly intimate. Most radical was Midler’s reworking of Bobby Freeman’s “Do You Want to Dance?” The Beach Boys had already recorded a high-energy cover version in 1965, but Midler slowed the song to a sensual, seductive crawl, breathily intoning each lyric. Manilow arranged the rhythm track, and in the final crowning touch, Thom Bell (on the verge of a major breakthrough himself with Atlantic’s newly-signed Spinners) was brought in to write horn and string arrangements for the song. With Cissy Houston among those adding background vocals, Midler’s sumptuous, sultry “Do You Want to Dance?” became the first track on the album and a calling card for the singer.

    Then there was “Friends.” Buzzy Linhart first recorded the song, co-written with Moogy Klingman of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, for his 1971 album The Time to Live is Now. Linhart took his song at a slow tempo, accompanied by the Ten Wheel Drive rhythm section. Dorn’s production of the song that would become Midler’s theme was spare, with Bette making off-the-cuff comments, speaking some of the lyrics and generally having a good time. It wound up opening the second side of The Divine Miss M, but the story of “Friends” wasn’t quite over yet.

    Between January and April, Midler and Dorn recorded an entire album’s worth of material, much of it from contemporary songwriters: Leon Russell’s “Superstar,” Joni Mitchell’s “For Free,” Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” John Prine’s “Hello in There,” and Alex Harvey and Larry Collins’ “Delta Dawn.” Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s “Teenager in Love,” an audience-participation staple of Midler’s live show at the time, was committed to tape along with an unusual version of the Andrews Sisters classic “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Unlike the dramatic re-arrangement of “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Boogie Woogie” hewed closely to the original version, with Midler doing triple duty as Patty, Maxene and LaVerne and Atlantic “house arranger” Arif Mardin’s horns as brassy as the singer herself.

    Yet by April’s end, Midler wasn’t fully satisfied with the material recorded. Neither was Ahmet Ertegun, the venerable head of Atlantic. Manilow passed a bootleg recording of Midler’s Carnegie Hall concert he had arranged to Ertegun. Biographer George Mair quotes Manilow: “Ahmet Ertegun heard it and said, ‘Yes, that’s what missing from the album. Can you fix it?’ And I said I’d try. We went back to the recording studio and ended up rewriting nine songs. The album came out half produced by me and half by Joel Dorn.”

    Manilow returned to the studio, in the producer’s chair alongside Ertegun and Geoffrey Haslam. Dorn’s productions for “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Am I Blue,” “Friends,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Hello In There” were left untouched. Midler’s reading of John Prine’s heartbreakingly bleak song remains one of her finest performances. Manilow and a new rhythm section (Michael Federal, Dickie Frank and Kevin Ellman, also of Utopia) re-recorded “Superstar,” “Chapel of Love,” “Delta Dawn” and Jeff Kent’s “Daytime Hustler.” Other songs were discarded. “Leader of the Pack” was brought into the sessions.

    Most notable was a second version of “Friends.” Manilow knew Midler’s strengths, and his arrangement of “Friends” hit the sweet spot. He joined in on harmony vocals along with his friend Melissa Manchester, and the song builds to a crescendo in a way it never does on the Dorn version. Though more polished than her original, Midler still showed her playful side on the effervescent track. In an odd but effective move, both recordings were included on The Divine Miss M, and the second was released as a single. “Friends” remains a Midler classic, and its co-writer Buzzy Linhart has reflected that his universal song about the simplest of ideas (“You’ve got to have friends!”) took on a new meaning after the AIDS epidemic (“I had some friends but they’re gone/Someone came and took them away”) especially when sung by Midler, providing relief to those who had lost loved ones to the disease.

    The Divine Miss M was finally released in November 1972, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard album chart and eventually going platinum. It spawned three consecutive hits, “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Friends.” Robert Christgau of Rolling Stone reflected years later that “three ‘oldies’ and two ‘standards’ interspersed with five contemporary titles – conceptually, it seems pretty normal, a cover album Cyndi Lauper or Bryan Adams might try. But in 1972 The Divine Miss M was an outrageous assertion of taste.” Jon Landau, writing at the time for the magazine, felt that the album “proves Miss M to be one hell of a talent,” correctly pointing out that “Midler sings too much rock to be considered a cabaret singer and too much pop to be considered a rock singer. She doesn’t write them, but she sure can pick them.” Midler had brought the various strains of her personality together on the LP, with some critics pointing out that she had successfully incorporated elements of both a gay sensibility and a feminist one. But above all, The Divine Miss M is a triumph of good taste in songwriting and performance. That’s a bit ironic, however; her raunchy, flamboyant stage act exults in bad taste, by Miss M’s own admission!

    Our Expanded Edition includes the original The Divine Miss M LP as Disc One, appended by the single mixes of “Do You Want to Dance?,” “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Friends.” For our second disc, we round up the still-unreleased material produced by Joel Dorn in the early days of the album sessions. Two of the Dorn-produced songs, “Old Cape Cod” and “Marahuana,” were recycled for Midler’s third LP, Songs for the New Depression. (Through album producer Moogy Klingman, Todd Rundgren contributed guitars and backing vocals to the 1976 LP which also featured a duet between Midler and Bob Dylan on Dylan’s own “Buckets of Rain.” While it has to be heard to be believed, it’s been said that Dylan reportedly wished to duet instead on a new version of “Friends.” Wiser heads prevailed.) We’ve included the original mixes here. As was common in those days, the Quadraphonic mix of The Divine Miss M featured alternate instrumentation and vocals, and different edits than its stereo counterpart. We’ve included the two most notably different songs from the quad mix, “Delta Dawn” and “Do You Want to Dance?” although the entire quad mix deserves to be released on DVD form as part of Rhino’s Quadradisc series! (Are you reading, Rhinos?) We’ve also included “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in its stereo single mix. Lastly, we’ve included four of the early Dorn recordings that were supplanted by Manilow’s later versions for the final album.

    Riding the success of the album, Manilow returned to co-produce (with Arif Mardin) Midler’s self-titled follow-up, which was released one year and one week after The Divine Miss M. Bette Midler followed the same formula as its predecessor but Manilow smoothed out the questions of the singer’s identity by placing the torch songs on the first side and the boisterous, campy material on the second. Though the album reached No. 6, lead-off single “In the Mood” failed to hit, despite echoes of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Bette Midler, too, could potentially be expanded by the addition of 15+ known outtakes.

    By the time of the release of Bette Midler, Barry Manilow was already off and running with his own recording career, even covering “Friends” on his own self-titled debut for Arista. After “Mandy” and October 1974’s Barry Manilow II, though, he no longer needed to play piano to pay the bills. He and Midler didn’t reunite professionally until 1988. That was the year of Oliver and Company, an animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures with Bette as the voice of pampered poodle Georgette. Manilow was called on to contribute a song, and “Perfect Isn’t Easy” marked his reunion with The Divine Miss M. In 2003, they reteamed once more for their first full-length project together in thirty years. Bette Midler Sings the Rosemary Clooney Songbook was a surprise hit, and so it was followed in 2005 by a similar set devoted to Peggy Lee. Rumors abounded of a Laura Nyro tribute, but nothing has materialized. (This project would seemingly be the most fitting; Midler included Nyro songs in her early stage acts, and the writer of “Stoney End” and “Wedding Bell Blues” remains one of the biggest influences on Manilow’s style, especially in his formative years.) Manilow has drawn on his early experiences on the road to fame for his new LP 15 Minutes.

    Without further ado, we present our hypothetical expanded edition of The Divine Miss M! Let the divine madness begin.

    Bette Midler, The Divine Miss M: Expanded Edition (Atlantic LP 7238, 1972 – reissued Rhino/Atlantic, 2011)

    Disc 1: The Original Album – Plus Singles

    Do You Want to Dance?
    Chapel of Love
    Daytime Hustler
    Am I Blue
    Hello in There
    Leader of the Pack
    Delta Dawn
    Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy
    Do You Want to Dance? (Single Version) (Atlantic single 2928, 1973)
    Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy (Stereo Single Version) (Atlantic single 2964, 1973)
    Friends (Single Version) (Atlantic single 2980, 1973)

    Disc 2: Outtakes and More

    For Free
    He Was Too Good to Me
    Empty Bed Blues
    My Freedom and I
    I Shall Be Released
    Teenager in Love
    Old Cape Cod (Original Joel Dorn Mix)
    Marahuana (Original Joel Dorn Mix)
    Do You Want to Dance (Longer Quad Mix)
    Delta Dawn (Longer Quad Mix)
    Chapel of Love (Early Take – Recorded 1/17 & 18, 1972)
    Daytime Hustler (Early Take – Recorded 1/17 & 18, 1972)
    Delta Dawn (Early Take – Recorded 4/12/72 – Strings Version)
    Superstar (Early Take – Recorded 1/19/72)
    Tracks 1-8, 11-14 previously unreleased
    Tracks 9-10 released on Atlantic QD-7238, 1972

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    Tuesday, August 2, 2016

    Good News Dept: The Divine Miss M Re-Issue

    Good News Dept: The re-issue of Bette Midler‘s The Divine Miss M CD should be available some time in October. I’ve been told there will be “lots of bonus tracks on deluxe version of release.” So you heard it here first. Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint. I can’t believe it. The first time we’re actually going to get some real bonus material.

    Also the theme of the Hulaween event has been set: it’s “Witches ball at the haunted hotel” Hope that helps with all the happy Hulaweeners!

    Bette Midler: Bootleg Betty's photo.

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    Friday, July 8, 2016

    BetteBack December 17, 1973: Newsweek – Here Comes Bette!

    Here Comes Bette!
    December 17, 1973
    By Charles Michener


    When I’m out there, I work. If people are paying money, they’re entitled to see an artist work his buns off. I want to do something beautiful that will last forever. Maybe I’ll never do it, and maybe everyone will laugh at me and say, “She’s just a fool.” But I don’t think I am.

    It was a Fool’s entrance in the oldest, best sense. Suddenly, at the end of the long shaft of spotlight, Bette Midler was there-skittering across the stage of New York’s fabled Palace Theatre to the band’s fanfare and the huge applause, a tiny, spectacularly busty dress-up of a girl wearing a low-cut, shimmery taxi-dancer dress hiked up on one thigh, an orchid in her frizzed-up, fire-red hair, teetering scarlet platform shoes and a smile as big as a half-moon. As the applause died down, she grabbed the mike, her smile turned serious, and in the sudden hush she sang in a small, breathy voice: “And I am all alone / There is no one here beside me / And my problems have all gone / There is no one to describe me …” Pause . . . then whoosh! She unclipped the mike from its stand, her arms began waving like those of a child just learning to dance, her feet started skittering again, the band picked up the beat and out came a big, wrap-around voice with the refrain, “You gotta have frieeeeeends …” – the words that have become Bette Midler’s rallying cry to a whole new kind of popular-music audience.

    Rally them she did – with an all-embracing sweep that is probably broader than that of any singer since Streisand. Straight and gay; aboveground and underground; unisex and due-sex; Middle American and radic-lib; chic and frumpy; escapees from apartments for singles and escapees from retirement homes – they had all turned out last week for the Broadway opening of the one performer on today’s scene they could all share with equal enthusiasm.

    They were not disappointed. Tearing from one end of the stage to the other like a frantic hostess trying to make everyone feel welcome, she proceeded to relocate her listeners in a musical landscape that spanned 40 years of American popular song.

    From the late ’20s came “Am I Blue?” confided smokily without a trace of condescension or apology. From “the fabulous ’40s” came a show-stopping “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, her most recent hit single, with Bette and her trio of girls, the Harlettes, proving that they could instrumentalize their voices with the best of the seat singers. From the late ’50s and early ’60s a “Philadelphia medley” of “Uptown and “Da Doo Run Run” propelled Bette across the stage in a frenzy of strutting, scampering and shimmying that brought back the pseudo-toughness of “American Bandstand” at its most exhibitionistic. Of more recent vintage was the Helen Reddy hit, “Delta Dawn,” which Bette first turned into a mournful white country lament and then retransformed into a hand-clapping black gospel. And in special honor of her surroundings, she dressed up her version of “Lullaby of Broadway” by sashaying down the instep of a giant shoe-a silver sling-pump.

    When Bette wasn’t singing, she was talking – in a patter that ranged from outrageous jokes a la Lenny Bruce (“If Dick Nixon would only do to Pat what he’s done to the country …”) to the kind of palaver delivered from the limp-wristed, hip-out stance that has earned her the sobriquet “The Divine Miss M“: “Whose idea was it to play this dump?… Well, are you ready for low-rent retro rock and roll? . . . I want you aaaall to know from the outset that we really busted our buns on this next one” (wiggling her own).

    Burlesque? Parody? Camp? Yes – but only on the surface. For whether’ in song or patter, what galvanized the audience’s tumultuous cheers and laughter was Bette’s ability to reveal an unmistakable vulnerability, a heart-stopping innocence that has been the not-so-secret weapon of every great entertainer from Fanny Brice to Judy Garland to Janis Joplin.

    It’s safe to say that not even Garland’s legendary appearances in the great old house ever aroused so much anticipation as Bette Midler’s Palace debut. Scheduled as the climax of a triumphant four-month, 35-city tour that has grossed some $3 million, Bette-at-the-Palace racked up the biggest one-day sale in the history of Broadway (8148,000) when tickets for the three-week engagement went on sale in mid-October. And in recent weeks, the Midler mania was further fueled by the release of Bette’s second album for Atlantic Records – which, by the end of last week, was on the verge of attaining “gold record” status by raking in sales of $1 million. In this age of pseudo-phenomena, Bette Midler is the genuine article – and a surprising one at that. For there is nothing exotic, glamorous or “crazy” about the 5-foot-l, 28-year-old young woman who, when asked offstage about her success, says simply: “I’m taking my vitamins, I’m getting ten hours of sleep, and I’m trying not to take it all too seriously. But if the show’s not perfect, I disintegrate.”

    Few performers since the Beatles have been so heralded as the harbinger of a new era”- or analyzed so seriously by the media. In March, the normally sober National Observer called her, in a feature that top-headlined the front page, “probably the brightest, hottest superstar to rise above the pop-music horizon in the ’70s.” In August, Ms. magazine put her on the cover and asked a number of commentators (from artist-playwright Rosalyn Drexler to Yoke One) to answer the question: “Why Bette Midler?’

    Why indeed? Is she brilliantly exploiting the nostalgic craze for old songs, old movies, old chic-with dashes of contemporary irony and funkiness thrown in? Is she, like Alice Cooper, Elton John and David Bowie, capitalizing on the trend toward sheer spectacle in rock? Does her parodistic bawdiness feed our lingering hunger for the risqué – as opposed to the pornographic? Is her affectionate, welcome-all style an antidote to the angry, divisive music of the ’60s?

    The answer is yes – to all the questions. How else could she have launched herself three years ago by performing regularly on both Johnny Carson’s ‘”Tonight Show” and in the place where she found her first fans – a Manhattan Turkish bath for homosexuals?

    At the Continental Baths I was playing to people who are always on the outside looking in. To create the semblance of someone like that can be wonderful. And so I created the character of The Divine Miss M. She’s lust a fantasy, but she’s useful at showing people what that outsider’s perspective is.

    It was lust something I felt, something live happening on that stage,” recalls Stephen Ostrow, the proprietor of the Continental Baths, of his first encounter some three years ago with Bette at the Improvisation, a New York night spot that gives aspiring talents a chance to show their stuff. In those days, Bette was only a slight cut above the thousands of other stage-struck girls in New York, waiting for a break. After a stint in the chorus of “Fiddler on the Roof,” she had been elevated to the role of Tevye’s eldest daughter and in her off hours had taken up singing in small showcase clubs. Though it hardly looked like much of a break, she accepted Ostrow’s offer of $50 a night to come to his steamy establishment on weekends and entertain his towel-clad, all-male clientele.

    Enter The Divine Miss M. “She first tried out ‘Miss M’ on me,” recalls talent manager William Hennessey who was Bette’s hairdresser in “Fiddle;” and has since traveled with her as a gag writer. “She had another friend then,” says Hennessey, “a dancer named Ben Gillespie, who was a ’30s and ’40s freak, and the three of us used to hang around all the old-movie houses in New York. Afterward Bette would do take-offs of people like Charlotte Greenwood, Martha Raye and Joan Davis.”

    Egged on by the boys in the baths (“the tubs,” as Bette called the place), Miss M soon became “divine” – a frizzle – haired burlesque of a little-girl / woman who had rummaged through some dusty theatrical trunk and come up with Spring-o-lator shoes, a black-lace corset and gold lame pedal pushers; who had unearthed a stack of old sheet music and warped 45s, and refurbished such dubious classics as the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and the Shangri-Las’ “Leader of the Pack” so that they seemed at once hilariously dated yet as fresh and catchy as if they were new; who called anything she didn’t like “the pits,” and described herself as “trash with flash” and “the last of the truly tacky women.”

    “It’s easy to say her appeal to homosexuals had a drag-queen aspect,” says Hennessey, “but more basically, they saw her as a non-threatening, breast-feeding mother.” Says Ostrow: “She was always insecure about her background, her lack of musical training, her appearance, the fact that she was Jewish. Without those insecurities, the energy, the talent wouldn’t have been the same.”

    Whatever it was, Bette quickly became the reigning cult figure of New York’s restless underground – a cult that went aboveground when she moved to supper clubs like Downstairs at the Upstairs and the Bitter End, and then expanded into a national following when she began appearing regularly on the “Tonight Show.

    I was dying to make it big. You know why? Because I wanted to be somebody else. I didn’t know who. Edith Piaf perhaps, I don’t know. Well, it was so much bull … The more of stardom I see, the sillier it gets.

    To Johnny Carson, Bette Midler wasn’t merely a bizarre freak show from the underground, buy a major talent with antecedents in the mainstream. “When I first saw her on the show,” he says, “I saw a quality that reminded me very much of Streisand. Bette really grabbed the audience. There was an empathy, a rapport that was hard to equal.”

    Since the medium inhibited and confined her during the musical numbers, she achieved her greatest rapport during her rapid-fire chatter with Carson between songs. On her most recent appearance, she talked with Carson about a subject that had been very much on her mind of late – her childhood in, of all places, Honolulu, where she had just the week before made her first homecoming as a star.

    CARSON: Last time you were there, you were picking pineapples, you said.

    BETTE: NO, putting them in cans. There’s a great difference.

    CARSON: Of course.

    BETTE: it was a remarkable adventure returning home …

    CARSON: Your parents were there [at her two concerts]?

    BETTE: NO, one parent was there. My mother came, but my father, oh, he just said, “Oh, I just can’t.” He’s read some things about me, you know, and he’s very conservative. He likes Lawrence Welk. He doesn’t like too much cleavage. In fact, every time I went over there to dinner, he made me safety-pin my dress together … O God, my mother got a charge, though. She kept screaming, “Faaaabulous, faaaabulous” . . . I used to have a lot of trouble when I was living there, you know. ‘Cause I was a Jewish girl growing up in a Samoan neighborhood . . . I left . . . and, you know, the old story about “I’11 show them” . . . I really felt that way and I had a lot of anger built up in me from those years . . . Read More

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    Wednesday, July 6, 2016

    BetteBack September 1973: Bette Midler – She Brings It All Back Home

    September 1973

    Bette Midler during Bette Midler Opening at The Palace Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

    Bette Midler during Bette Midler Opening at The Palace Theater in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

    SHOWTIME AT THE HIC arena: house lights dim and the last strag­glers are fumbling for their seats as on stage bursts a five-foot female tow­er of power. Orange curls bouncing above elastic features, she is constant animation; dancing, posturing and shimmying her way into another con­cert.

    But this September night’s show is more than just another concert. For Bette Midler, formerly of Aiea, the weekend of Sept. 7 and 8 is a public homecoming – a chance to finally strut her stuff for the local folks who’ve watched from afar as her sing­ing career soared like a skyrocket on New Year‘s Eve.

    For the girl who made it from the pineapple cannery to the Philhar­monic, that career now includes club dates, national tours, a pair of albums, a Newsweek cover and three upcoming ABC television specials. And, though her smoky voice and out­rageous brand of entertainment are familiar to millions, this is Bette’s first chance to bring it all back home.

    “I’m going to pull out all the stops for Honolulu,” says Bette. “I’m going to wear more sequins per square inch than ever before.”

    Will she do her New York show for the hometowners?

    “Sure – don’t you think they’d like it? But I’ll do my pidgin English number and I think I should do some of those trashy Hawaiian songs ­like Maunawili Boy and When Hila Hattie Does the Hila Hop and The Cockeyed Mayor.”

    This will be Hawaiian music as never heard before.

    Onstage, the local-girl-made-good is all wild arm-waving and suggestive slinking – a heady mixture of vamp and camp. Dressed in Salvation Army gold lame or gaudy white satin, face painted, as someone has noted, for the last days of the Weimar Republic, she comes on strong: “I’m the last of the tacky women – trash with flash!”

    Backed by a quartet of musicians, Bette (pronounced Bet, she says, be­cause that’s the way her mother thought Miss Davis pronounced it) unleashes an electric barrage of songs. From the Andrew Sisters to Leon Rus­sell: rock, blues, swing, oldies but goodies.

    “It’s not what you sing that matters,” she’s said. “It’s the fact that you love what you do that makes you hot.”

    The Shangri Las, the Dixie Cups, Patti Page; all are recalled. Her abil­ity to recreate the musical mood of days gone by is uncanny. She sings Old Cape Cod and Martin Block and the Make-Believe Ballroom come a­live. Then into Leader of the Pack, Chattanooga Choo-Choo, or two of her biggest hits, Do You Wanna Dance? and Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy. All woven together with her own brand of raunchy comedy.

    The Divine Miss M, as her rabid fans have dubbed her, exudes more New York than Honolulu which is understandable since Fun City has been home for nearly a decade.

    “She’s the biggest thing here ever,” exults Wendy Morris, Bette’s New York publicist. “She’s so popular you can hardly get near her concerts. We get ticket requests from all over and people on the street even imitate her – the way she talks and the things she says. She’s so busy, I have to spend all day just taking care of Bette Midler business.”

    These days, it seems, nearly every­one has heard of Bette; everyone, that is, but Mayor Frank Fasi. “When we wrote to your mayor about her homecoming,” said Miss Morris, “he wrote back and asked, ‘Who’s she?’ He called her Betty.”

    For the cover subject of last month’s Ms. and Playboy on the Scene magazines, it all started right here ­by the battleship-gray waters of Pearl Harbor.

    Back in the ’50s, home was the con­verted barracks of Halawa Housing, where funny-looking, frizzy-haired lit­tle Bette found herself one of the only haole kids in gradeschool. Her father was a housepainter for the Navy and, for the six Midlers, life was something less than luxurious.

    “Growing up in Hawaii,” she remi­nisced, “I had fancies about the South Seas. But there was no romance, no moon of Manakoora where we lived.”

    For three summers she packed pine­apple for Del Monte and, for old times sake, Ms. Morris tried to line up her Honolulu press conference on a packing table, inexplicably at Dole rather than Del Monte.

    Whoooooooooomyaaaaaaaaaak came Bette’s roaring hoarse laugh as this reporter told her Dole had declined. Her publicist had forgotten to tell her of this great press agent’s dream.

    “Whoooooooooomyaaaaaaaaaaaak, it’s the wildest idea I ever heard of. The greatest! ”

    Even in those pine-packin’ days, the life of the celebrity had its appeal. “I used to call people ‘dahling.’ ‘Oh, my deah,’ I would say.” From there, apparently, it was a natural progres­sion into drama and speech at Rad­ford High where she was senior class president.

    The acting bug persisted, and after graduating in ’63, she spent a year in drama at the University, then snared her first theatrical job, a bit part as a seasick missionary wife in Miche­ner’s Hawaii. The part was small, but the pay was good, good enough to take her to the Big Apple and a seedy room in the Broadway Central Ho­tel, a move that proved beneficial to her breath control. “I developed a lot of wind,” she said, “running from all manner of strange people.”

    Her father was not enthusiastic about her stage career. “He wanted me to be a secretary – I think he still does,” says Bette. “But my mother thinks what I’m doing is great.”

    After roaming the village – go-go dancing, waiting tables and working kiddie shows – she found herself in the Broadway production of Fiddler on the Roof. For three years Bette sang in the chorus and played Tzeitel, Tevye’s No.1 daughter. Then came restlessness.

    “I came to New York to have a career, not to be in one show,” she told the New York Times. “I thought ‘time to move’ and I had a bunch of experiences that related to that move. I was getting very high and I was with people who were brilliant and they were flashing things across my brain. I was getting freaked out on everything that was going on, so I just started singing.”

    And taking acting lessons. It was a teacher at these studios who turned her on to the singing job at the Con­tinental Baths, a homosexual health spa and cabaret on Manhattan’s West Side. The “tubs,” as she calls this somewhat unusual hangout for a Jewish girl from Aiea, turned out to be her career catapult.

    “I wouldn’t trade a minute of it,” Bette said. “The tubs encouraged me to explore satire and the audience there wouldn’t settle for half-ass. If I’d kept my distance they’d have lost interest because there were too many other things going on in the building that were more fun.”

    Making a big splash in the tubs, her popularity pyramided. From fruit stand to supermarket she went, grow­ing into a cult idol of New York’s underground chic – and of national television audiences.

    First David Frost, then Johnny Carson began boosting her on their talk-shows. As something of a regular on the Tonight Show, Bette became a heroine of high camp, dressed in tacky black lace, chattering absurdi­ties, singing with the Doc Severinson Orchestra and making occasional ref­erences to life in Hawaii. After a year and a half with Carson & Co., she found herself playing such show­cases as Las Vegas’ Sahara Hotel, Chicago’s Mr. Kelly’s, Los Angeles’ Troubadour and Upstairs at the Downstairs and the Bitter End in New York City.

    She was signed by Atlantic Rec­ords, cutting her first album, The Di­vine Miss M, last year and another this summer. And on New Year’s Eve, she sold out both performances at New York’s Philharmonic Hall in Lincoln Center. This year, she has embarked on major tours; one earlier this summer, around some of the Western states and another, starting last month, which finally brings her to the HIC stage.

    Her sequined tawdriness is some­times left in New York when Bette goes on the road. “I don’t dress up at all in some towns,” she said. “The people couldn’t deal with it. They’d say, ‘What? What?’ In New York, I have a huge following of the most wonderful gay creatures and when we do it, we all do it together, so it’s like an event.”

    Her parents (now living in Manoa with son Daniel) have never watched her work in the flesh in her own show, a prospect about which Bette has expressed reservations. “They’ve seen me on TV,” she told the Times interviewer, “but I would never work live in front of my parents. My father would die.”

    But Ruth Midler, her mother, has other ideas. Says Mrs. M: “I don’t know about that – we’ll be there.”

    And what does Bette think of the jump from audiences wrapped only in towels to those in everything from jeans to jewels?

    “I just want to give it to them and if they dig it, they dig it, and if they don’t dig it, they don’t – but it’s scary. I’ve had so much fun up until now. I have had such a good time in this thing.”

    But there’s nothing frightening about returning to Honolulu in tri­umph. A heroine’s welcome at the HIC is a far cry from life in Halawa Housing during the ’50s.

    And, come concert night. it’s a sure Bette that that elusive moon of Mana­koora will shine brightly for the Divine Miss M.

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    Tuesday, April 28, 2015

    Midler’s Almost-Forgotten Debut Album Still Remains A Classic Of The ’70s Nostalgia/Camp Boom

    The A.V. Club
    With The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler went from bathhouses to The Tonight Show
    Midler’s almost-forgotten debut album is a classic of the ’70s nostalgia/camp boom.
    By Noel Murray Apr 28, 2015 12:00 AM


    Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.

    On May 21, 1992, NBC aired the penultimate episode of The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, which included one of the most memorable images in the show’s history: Bette Midler, softly speak-singing the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer favorite “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road),” while the camera catches an enraptured Carson watching from his desk. Carson and Midler had history. She was a frequent guest over the previous 20 years, since first appearing on the New York City incarnation of the Carson Tonight Show in the early ’70s. She was even briefly the opener for Carson’s Las Vegas stand-up act. That night in 1992, they looked like old friends and even older showbiz pros—representatives of a fading era.

    Back in 1970 though, it was a quietly subversive move for Carson to book Midler, who was becoming a rising star in New York by performing regularly in a gay bathhouse.

    In Stephen Sondheim’s song “I’m Still Here,” an aging star sings, “First you’re another sloe-eyed vamp / Then someone’s mother, then you’re camp.” Bette Midler took that trip in reverse. She moved to New York City from her home state of Hawaii in 1965, and spent her early 20s trying to make a go of it as a Broadway baby before she landed at Continental Baths in 1970. Performing alongside whiz-kid pianist, arranger, and songwriter Barry Manilow, Midler quickly became a sensation in New York’s gay community, which responded to her bawdy humor and her big voice. While audiences around the country were getting a proxy version of ’30s Berlin decadence in the musical Cabaret, gay New Yorkers were living the real thing at Continental, complete with libertine sex and their own personal Sally Bowles.

    Not long after Carson legitimized Midler by putting her on TV, she began to round off some of her edges. She kept the smutty jokes, the colorful costumes, and the mix of contemporary pop and old standards, but the context started to change. As the larger culture got nostalgia-happy—in the era of Grease, Sha Na Na, Happy Days, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and The Manhattan Transfer—Midler emerged as savvier and classier than her competition. She played the showbiz historian, who could talk about her act in relation to vaudeville legends like Sophie Tucker and The Andrews Sisters. Continental Baths possessed an element of avant-garde theater when Midler and her backup singers The Harlettes (choreographed by Toni Basil) sang “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” But flattened out for television, Midler’s shtick came off as more straight-faced: good-time music for a generation that felt alienated by rock ’n’ roll.

    All of which makes Midler’s 1972 debut album The Divine Miss M a fascinating artifact. The record gives a little taste of what the Continental show was like, via the jokey asides and the clamor of voices in the side-two opener “Friends” (a Midler staple), and in the tongue-in-cheek covers of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Leader Of The Pack.” But beyond her wit and brassiness, Midler was beloved because she could sing the hell out of just about anything. By the end of the ’70s, she had recorded covers of songs by the likes of Bob Dylan (“I Shall Be Released,” “Buckets Of Rain”), Tom Waits (“I Never Talk To Strangers,” “Shiver Me Timbers”), and Neil Young (“Birds”). She had also played a fictional version of Janis Joplin in the movie The Rose, in which she sang Bob Seger’s “Fire Down Below” and Sammy Hagar’s “Keep On Rockin’.” On The Divine Miss M, she mades John Prine’s tearjerking ballad “Hello In There” sound like a ’70s update of a Depression-era standard, and she gave Leon Russell and Bonnie Bramlett’s AM Gold classic “Superstar” a cinematic treatment to rival Bruce Springsteen’s “Jungleland.”

    Atlantic Records didn’t sign Midler to make a cult record. They gave her the resources to churn out an eclectic, well-rounded ’70s pop album, with broad, cross-cultural appeal. It could be argued that The Divine Miss M arrived too late, and missed the edgy performance artist that Midler once was. In Ed McCormack’s 1972 Rolling Stone cover story “The Gold Lamé Dream Of Bette Midler,” Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegün is quoted as saying that the label considered recording Midler’s Continental act, but that the star balked. (“She didn’t want to be known only as ‘That girl who sings at the Turkish baths.’”) So instead they produced an LP that stays connected to Midler’s roots while creating the template for the safer albums to come.

    The Divine Miss M was a critical success, to a degree that some of its early champions later seemed to regret, after Midler became more popular and less weird. Under the first Rolling Stone Record Guide’s four-star Divine Miss M review, editor Dave Marsh writes, “As a Seventies answer to Barbra Streisand, she was perfect,” and adds, “This is the album that created nostalgia as we currently know it.” Of her later records, Marsh says, “Bette wilted in the spotlight, and little that she has come up with since is sufficient to explain her rabid cult.”

    In Robert Christgau’s A- review of The Divine Miss M, he talks up her live act, saying, “People who’ve seen her like this record more than people who haven’t, which isn’t good. But as someone who’s been entranced by her show many times I’m grateful for a production that suggests its nutty quality without distracting from her voice, a rich instrument of surprising precision, simultaneously delicate and vulgar.” Yet in his reviews of the subsequent work, Christgau takes shots at her following (“This record is perilously close to the ostrich nostalgia of her dumbest fans.”), her choice of covers (“Is the redemption of Billy Joel fit work for a culture heroine?”), and her aesthetic (“What makes it not good enough is the curse of Broadway rock and roll—the beat is conceived as decoration or signal rather than the meaning of life, or even music.”).

    How Midler went from transcending schmaltz to embodying it—at least in some critics’ eyes—may have a lot to do with the perception of her original intentions, and with the intelligentsia’s level of comfort with razzmatazz. When it looked like Midler and Manilow were conspiring on a send-up of a Liza Minnelli/Barbra Streisand-style revue, hip critics were delighted. But when Midler was starring in her own Liza With A ‘Z’/My Name Is Barbra-like TV specials, some wondered if they’d been suckered. (It didn’t help that Manilow’s subsequent career represented for many ’70s critics the nadir of what Stephen Holden in The Rolling Stone Record Guide would call “flavorless housewife hits.”)

    Frankly, the major rock writers of the ’70s didn’t always acquit themselves well when they dealt with music that was gay-friendly—not when they were routinely tossing around adjectives like “fey” and “fruity” to describe music they found insufficiently rollicking. The political and social progressiveness of rock criticism’s first wave sometimes clashed with a disdain for the repetitiveness of disco, or the theatrical flamboyance of glam-rock.

    Even in McCormack’s largely glowing Rolling Stone write-up of Midler’s early career, the author (a close friend of Lou Reed’s, and no stranger to the demimonde) couldn’t resist playing up the lurid quality of Continental Baths:

    The hunkering, buggering manmeat herds were packed into the subterranean lounge like cattle in a boxcar, waiting for Bette Midler to make her triumphant return to The Tubs. There were a surprising number of fully clothed heterosexual couples as well, who had come to witness a Fellini fantasy in the flesh. They were not disappointed. Out on the dance floor, barely toweled young men enacted a rock & roll ritual, dancing like maidens in some primitive puberty rite, while tribal elders overflowed chaises around the pool. It reminded you of a scene out of William Burroughs’ novel The Wild Boys, in which wild boypacks raised in a womanless society run amok and lay waste to the remnants of Western Civilization.

    To be fair, even those who looked askance at Midler’s later career remained steadfast in their praise of The Divine Miss M. (The fourth edition of Rolling Stone’s record guide, from 2004, still has it as a four-star album, with writer Mark Coleman saying that its “shameless delights… will melt even the sternest objections to cabaret music.”) And they’re not wrong about the Midler albums that followed being inferior—though that’s largely because The Divine Miss M is so special.

    The great trick of Midler’s debut LP is that it spins so merrily and freely through American popular music, seeing no real difference between the faux-blaxploitation of “Daytime Hustler” and the bubbly adult contemporary pop of “Friends.” Midler and her co-producers Manilow, Joel Dorn, and Geoffrey Haslam (with a last-minute finishing assist from Ertegun) made a strong statement with the opening two songs: first reworking the rock/R&B chestnut “Do You Want To Dance?” into sultry, Carole King-inspired mellow-out music, and then following that with the resounding, full-on Phil Spector homage “Chapel Of Love.” On side two, the producers and arrangers get even more ambitious, with the overtly retro “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” (filtered to sound like an actual product of the ’40s), the wiggy version of “Leader Of The Pack” (complete with a dramatic middle portion that Tina Turner and Meat Loaf alike would envy), and a drawn-out, show-stopping “Delta Dawn.” This is not the Bette Midler of “Wind Beneath My Wings”—although this Midler probably could’ve come up with a version of that song that would drain its sap.

    The question then is why Midler, always a firecracker on stage, later began to settle for blandness as a recording artist. Had she been playing a character in the early ’70s: “Bathhouse Betty,” the saucy diva? Or did she just mature in a way that made her less interesting, distancing herself more and more each year from the tradition of raunchy dames like Mae West?

    Or does any of that even matter, given what Midler has represented? On The Tonight Show, bantering with Johnny, she’d sometimes treat her life story as an off-color joke—a Jew from Hawaii (ha-ha) who struck it rich by performing in a place where gay men gathered to fiddle around (ha-ha-ha). But Midler’s early success was really a triumph of American eclecticism, proving the value of a society where subcultures can intertwine, and ultimately weave so cleanly into the mainstream that before long, what was once called “bent” begins to seem square.

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