Bluefield Daily Telegraph
July 28, 1995
Suddenly softening her voice, sounding almost like a little girl afraid to tell the truth , Bette Midler confesses. For years, the Divine got no kick out of what she does best – singing.
It c a n ’t be, b u t the w ords come from her mouth.
Singing no fun for B ette Midler, the diva’s diva? That’s crazy talk, like saying Einstein hated science or Lindbergh detested air travel. But she’s not kidding.
“It used to be torture,” Midler says, curled up on a couch in a high-rise M anhattan hotel, protectively hugging her knees a g a in st the effects of an overactive air conditioner.
This woman is the spitting image of Bette Midler, but can this truly be she?
W here is th e outrageous, dow nright bawdy m eg ap erso n ality who first made a name for herself in the e arly 1970s singing at the openly gay Continental Baths.
W here is the bombshell who sang “Beast of Burden” with Mick Jagger and the Stones?
“I am completely different,” she says shyly from beneath a mop of blond ringlets. “I like to sing now. I didn’t always used to. It used to be really, really hard . Absolute torture sometimes.”
The revelation is a shock.
Midler always made the sublime look easy, winning the h e a rts of m illions worldwide with a wink and a grin – and of course, that voice. She’s willing to tell her deep, dark secret now because things have changed, her passion for singing reborn.
H er new album , “B ette of R o se s,” follows h e r stupendously successful 1993 co n cert tour, h e r first in a d ecade, which in turn had followed her triumph in a CBS TV version of the hit Broadway musical “Gypsy.”
Asked for details about h er past private hell, she only bites her lip and smiles sadly. One word answ ers confirm th a t perfectionism and bouts with low self-esteem were mostly to blame.
Maybe for singing to be fun again she had to prove to herself once and for all that she is a s great as her immense fame.
“I love everything about it now ,” she says. “I enjoy learning the songs, and shaping them into a version, learning the harmonies.”
“Gypsy” was her emotional rescu e. Her film c a re e r had reached an unsatisfying stage despite fine work in “The Rose,” “Beaches,” “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and “For the Boys.”
H er salvation w as Mama Rose, a plumb m u sical part played by many through the years but defined historically by legendary sin g er Ethel Merman.
It didn’t seemed so perfect at first. Early on, Midler panicked.
“I w anted to sing in Ethel’s keys and I couldn’t,” she says.
“Those songs were some of the toughest I’ve ever, ever had to sing.”
She tackled the challenge with intense training to broaden her vocal range.
“I kind of stretched my voice a little bit,” she says, looking smart in a black pants suit and cute blue, suede flats. “I worked very hard, and it really opened a lot of doors in my singing voice that I hadn’t had before.”
It’s not surprising that an old time Broadway musical revived Midler’s natural love of singing.
It was a childhood excursion to a local performance of “Carousel” in Hawaii that first inspired her.
“I never got over it,” she says, sitting up eagerly as a tray bearing cappuccino and Italian cookies is brought in. “Once I saw that show I said, ‘Oh God, they paint themselves and they dance and sing. I’m going to do that.’ And I never looked back.”
The thrill of doing “Gypsy” led to her 32-city “Experience the Divine” tour.
“Once I got hold of that process, that newer, stronger voice, it really excited me,” she says. “Actually, that’s the reason I went on the road. I got this new technique and I was really anxious to see if it made a difference with the old music.”
The petite two-time Academy Award nominee and four-time Grammy winner also lost about 25 pounds on the road, and clearly none of it has crept back. At age 49, she remains stunning.
On “Bette of Roses,” her new sound is easy to appreciate because she selected songs that show it off, many requiring difficult vocal gymnastics.
“Material opened up to me that wasn’t there before because I couldn’t hit the notes. Now I can,” she says, beaming.
“The songs with th e wider range came to me and they had never come to me before. And since I could sing them , I did sing them.”
Midler worked with veteran producer Arif Mardin on the Atlantic release, h e r 16th album . It fea tu re s a wide rang in g mix of material, including traditional ballads, folk-inspired ditties, the New Age offering “To Comfort You, and the almost Western tune “I
Know This Town.”
The most dramatic performance comes in a devotional love song by Maria McKee, “To Deserve You.” Midler takes it on with style.