December 1, 1945– Bette Midler:
“I always try to balance the light with the heavy – a few tears of human spirit in with the sequins & the fringes.”
I have seen Midler live on stage more than any other artist. The first time was in Boston in the autumn of 1972, & the last time was in Portland in 2006, including the great concerts of the 1970s & 1980s: The Divine Miss M, Clams On The Half Shell Revue, Divine Madness & De Tour. Midler is probably the best live act ever. She has helped me get through the confused late teens, the druggie years, the slutty era, the married man decades, Boston, NYC, LA, Las Vegas, Seattle & Portland.
Midler incorporates the Gay Icon traits of those who came before her: Mae West’s bawdy wit, Judy Garland’s powerhouse pipes, Bette Davis’ acid tongue, plus Barbra Streisand & Liza Minnelli’s chutzpah. How gay is her appeal? Well, at the start of her career in the 1960s, Midler played the role of Tzeitel in Fiddler On The Roof on Broadway for 3 years & then performed at a gay bathhouse, with Barry Manilow at the piano, for heaven’s sake.
“The extreme characters you used to see in the Village in the 1970s, you just don’t see them anymore, & I really do miss them because there was a feeling I used to get that people were expressing themselves in the most elaborate of ways. Now the gay community has gone mainstream. It’s sort of ordinary now, & a little bit of the specialness has rubbed away.”
“It used to be the love that dare not speak its name & now it’s the love that won’t shut the fuck up. I’m happy to see how far it’s come & to see the community be more at peace with itself & I want to say, more homogenized. Even being considered a Gay Icon, which was something that used to be whispered & bandied about, has become sort of mainstream, & that’s a good thing.”
Midler has long been one of the ultimate icons & a friend to the gays. As “Bathhouse Betty”, Midler was thrown into the absolute adoration of gay men. Midler:
“Despite the way things turned out with the AIDS crisis, I’m still proud of those days. I feel like I was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement, & I hope I did my part to help it move forward. So, I kind of wear the label of ‘Bathhouse Betty’ with pride”.
I didn’t want to lose her when she seemed to stumble with her sentiments on Marriage Equality. A decade ago, Midler took some heat from gay fans after Larry King asked her what she thought about gay marriage. Midler’s reply:
“As soon as I’m gay I’m going to get married. What do you want me to say? I haven’t done enough research or reading on it to have an informed opinion.”
I thought: “Bette, why do you have research the love between 2 people who want to be together forever? Please do not forsake me.”
Like the Obamas & both the Clintons, Midler has evolved on this issue. Midler in 2011:
“I watch the news from time to time. To tell you the truth, I’m not on the front lines, I’m in the zone. But I’m all in favor of gay marriage. I think it’s fabulous.”
Midler now says that her concerns are for Human Rights around the globe:
“I’ve had no problem raising my voice and will continue to do so. Sometimes you get kicked in the face for it, but some people are always looking for someone to come down hard on. I say fuck ’em, because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
“Just look at the treatment of LGBT people & women around the world. I just think it’s ghastly what happens. There’s a gigantic threat there from all sorts of religions & I’m greatly concerned when I hear of things like women getting stoned because they looked sideways at some guy or gays being killed because of who they are. It’s just repulsive.”
Midler is The Gay Icon for our rock n’ roll, after-the-sexual revolution, post-Gay Liberation 1970s, after-the-activism 1980s gay person. She certainly captures our current dreadful politically correct era with her classic quip:
“Fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke!”
Midler even has advice for aspiring drag artists wanting to pay homage to her, suggesting:
“Start with a really good pair of shoes & a serious undergarment. If your panties fall down all around your feet, step out of them & keep on singing.”
In a career that has spanned 5 decades, Midler has won 5 Grammy Awards, 4 Golden Globes, 3 Emmys, a Tony Award, & 2 Academy Awards nominations. For me, her best film role was an astonishingly powerful debut in The Rose (1979). She never seem to top that performance, although I do enjoy the funny work during her fruitful Disney period: Down & Out In Beverly Hills (1986), Ruthless People (1986), Outrageous Fortune (1987), & Big Business (1988), when Midler was the studio’s #1 star.
I have a complete Midler music collection: 13 studio albums, 4 soundtrack albums, 5 live albums, a spoken word album, & 6 greatest hits compilations. I particularly enjoyed her recent albums, including last year’s It’s The Girls! (2014), a collection of tunes made famous by the great Girl Groups, with a heart wrenching, stripped-down version of 1990s R&B legends TLC‘s Waterfalls, one of my favorites of all Midler’s tracks.
“Oh, how I did love TLC, & Waterfalls was just a song I fell in love with the first time I heard it. To me it was always this terrible little tragedy, & I’ve always thought that because the beat was so captivating & the rap was so captivating that people didn’t really hear the misery in the lyrics behind the beat. So I’ve always wanted to do it as a ballad so that people could really hear the lyrics & the message behind them. I’ve carried that one around in my back pocket for years.”
This week she releases her 14th album, Bette Midler: A Gift Of Love, a collection of remixes. This summer, at nearly 70 years old, Midler toured worldwide in The Divine Intervention Tour. I had to pass on seeing this one, with ticket prices at $400 & the fact that I am so old that I can’t go for 2 hours without having to pee, even if Midler can. Instead, I re-watch her terrific Vegas act Bette Midler: The Showgirl Must Go On. My favorite Midler moment of all time was the serenading Johnny Carson with One For My Baby in the last minutes of his final farewell on The Tonight Show, where she was a frequent guest.
“Some people rescue dogs. Some rescue cats. I rescue old songs. I have rescued more oldies than Viagra.”
Midler is an urban garden advocate. She founded the New York Restoration Project in 1995 NYRP is a non-profit organization with the goal of revitalizing neglected neighborhood parks in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods of NYC. She & her group have had stunning success.
Midler gives really good tweets on her very active Twitter account & she plays the ukulele.
“I’m like vodka. Ageless. Odorless. & tasteless.”