Author: George Varga
flip side of Midler
Midler does not play trumpet on her engaging new album, "Bathhouse Betty."
But she cannot resist a recent invitation to toot her own horn before she addresses
some more (and less) serious issues.
wore corsets before Madonna," crows the redheaded singer and actress fondly
known by her devoted fans as the Divine Miss M. "Yes, I was a seminal entertainer!"
operative word here, at least as far as Miss Midler is concerned, is "was."
she still is a household name to at least one generation of music and film buffs,
this vital entertainer is alarmed and annoyed by what she perceives as the growing
ageism in the entertainment industry.
used me and then threw me out, right after Dan Aykroyd and I hosted the first
MTV Video Music Awards show in 1984," says Miss Midler, a three-time Grammy
Award-winner, lamenting her 14-year descent from hipness to squareness.
is understandably dismayed that she is no longer welcomed by MTV, which regularly
aired her 1984 video for her version of the Rolling Stones' "Beast of Burden"
(which featured a prancing cameo by Mick Jagger). But she is even more upset by
the current state of commercial radio.
other gifted pop-music veterans, Miss Midler, 52, has discovered she is persona
non grata on radio. Her trademark stylistic eclecticism - pop, blues, swing, country,
rock, torch ballads and more - makes it impossible for myopic radio programmers
to pigeonhole her in their rigid niche-formatting system.
a result, her typically diverse new album, "Bathhouse Betty," has been
largely ignored by radio.
don't pay any attention to me," she says, speaking from her New York home.
do what I do, and you can't force them to play what they don't want to play. They
are such Nazis and
such fascists in their tastes. And I think it's bad for the business. I'm talking
like an accountant, but truly, it's bad for the business."
Miss Midler know of a remedy?
shoot them all," she replies. "The first thing we do, to paraphrase
Shakespeare, is kill all the marketing people. I don't know what to do. Everything
is so fragmented, and the niches are so tiny, and it's only gonna get worse. It
is the Balkanization of music and society, and it panders to really stupid people."
all her frustrations, though, Miss Midler is savvy enough to realize she is now
at the flip side of a cultural generation gap she first experienced several decades
ago from the opposite perspective.
is a new generation every five years, and radio and MTV goes on twisting these
kids into these robotic people," she says.
just throw the other generations aside as soon as they get too old, which is what
we did to our own parents and what is happening to us now."
child of rock 'n' roll, Miss Midler cites the electrifying rock 'n' roll of the
late Janis Joplin and Tina Turner as pivotal musical moments.
saw them perform, separately, at New York's fabled Fillmore East in the late 1960s.
Her life was irrevocably changed, and music supplanted acting, her first passion.
worlds came together when she portrayed a Joplin-like character in the 1979 film
musical "The Rose," for which she earned a best-actress Oscar nomination.
instantly understood what Janis and Tina were doing, what the power of that energy
was. And I'd always had it, and decided I was going to harness it," Miss
once I saw Esther Williams, I said, `That's for me.' But you've never seen me
her attention to Miss Joplin and Miss Turner, Miss Midler says: "I'd heard
of them. But I had never seen them live before, because I was desperately poor
growing up and never had the money to go to shows.
remember when I saw Janis, I strained my ankle the next day because I was so overwrought.
I was so distracted and so tense. It was the kind of thing where (after) you saw
it, you were still up two nights later."
and creating various poses and gestures has long been a strong suit of Miss Midler,
who is able to shape and occupy myriad personas with ease and authority, be it
in song or onstage. Since releasing her debut album, 1973's "The Divine Miss
M," she has distinguished herself equally in music and film, drama and comedy.
scored two of her biggest hit records with "The Wind Beneath My Wings"
(which was featured in her 1989 film "Beaches") and, a year later, "From
a Distance." But these melodramatic ballads are hardly representative of
her multifaceted musical career.
after all, is a singer whose first hits were her exuberant versions of Bobby Freeman's
"Do You Want to Dance?" and the Andrews Sisters' "Boogie Woogie
Bugle Boy," both in 1973. The former is one of three Midler-sung numbers
prominently featured in the Meryl Streep film, "One True Thing."
is fabulous," says Miss Midler, whose ballad from the film, "My One
True Friend," is also her latest single.
has cancer in `One True Thing.' And, of course, I have cancer in my next movie
(`Isn't She Great,' due out next year). But I have to say that her cancer is much
better than mine. Mine was much more `show-business cancer.' "
1974, the same year she won a best new artist Grammy, Miss Midler scored a hit
with her version of Glenn
Miller's "In the Mood" - more than two decades before the current neoswing
revival ignited. Coincidentally, her new album features a rousing collaboration
by Miss Midler and Royal Crown Revue on the Big Maybelle jump-blues classic "One
Monkey Don't Stop No Show."
Betty" also features a sassy, rap-styled declaration of self-affirmation
called "I'm Beautiful," which recalls "I Look Good, " one
of Miss Midler's most popular concert numbers.
fluid scat singing on "I'm Hip," like her svelte phrasing on "
Junkman," sounds like heartfelt homages to Ella Fitzgerald, the late, fabled
queen of scat.
I love her," Miss Midler says of Miss Fitzgerald. "To me, Ella was the
greatest `white' singer who ever lived. I mean, I know she was black. But her
singing was so pristine and elegant, and I loved her. Yes, I did. And when I listen
to her, I don't know how she did it. She never hit a wrong note, and she hit everything
like a piano that's just been freshly tuned - right in the middle of the note
- and that is so unbelievable."
Midler hopes to eventually do a concert tour to promote her new album, although
nothing is planned at this point.
George Varga, The flip side
of Midler. , The Washington Times, 12-19-1998, pp B1.