The amazing thing is that despite all this pop art removal from quaintly dated material, Bette Midler and the girls never lapse into a parody of the musical periods they pass through; instead they move right inside of various idioms and invest them with new energy and life. Even a silly groupie lament like "Superstar" is performed with a semblance of real emotion which sidesteps its kitsch and transcends its essential banality. Then, singing John Prine's beautiful ballad of loneliness "Hello In There," she actually becomes its narrator:
We had an apartment in the city
Me and my husband liked living there
It's been years since the kids are grown
Left us alone. . . .
Her shoulders hunch, her face contorts; you see a sad old lady standing forlornly in some tenement doorway, wearing an old cardigan sweater and worn tennis shoes, the standard sad old lady costume of proletarian New York. . . .
Like some washy Peter Arno cartoon in the New Yorker come suddenly to animated life, the New Year revelers rise up several times to award her standing ovations. She puts the finishing touches to the concert with "Higher And Higher" and her simmeringly sexy, slow tempo version of Bobby Freeman's rock 'n' roll evergreen "Do You Want to Dance" – alternating it enmedley with the faster-paced "Do You Love Me." Then, after romping through "Chapel Of Love," Bette and the girls file teasingly off. Brought back for an encore by the thunderous applause, she does a very stylized version of the Band's "I Shall Be Released," in which the lyrics are paraphrased beyond recognition and the song becomes a personal statement of feminine masochism. She finishes up by going into her theme song, "Friends" again, with which she whips the bathos to a fever pitch before going off, leaving her audience standing stunned in all their finery in the aisles. . . .
* * *
After the concert, the promoter, Howard Stein, threw a party for Bette in the cocktail lounge downstairs in Philharmonic Hall. There was a buffet table and wine – rather skimpy fare for a New Year's Eve bash for an elegant bunch of people like these, but that's what there was, take it or leave it.
By the time she got down from the dressing room, Bette was famished from that workout onstage, but she didn't get a chance to eat as her admirers, having given her a standing ovation merely for entering a restaurant, began to close in for the kiss.
Toward the end of the party when she finally managed to disentangle herself and work her way over to the buffet table, all the food was gone. They had put aluminum lids over the empty trays and Bette even lifted up the lids and looked under them and then clanged them around a bit hoping to get someone's attention who might bring her something to eat, just a little nosh, anything at all.
But it was too late; everything had already been devoured by her adulators. While she was standing there, those who were filing out began to stop in front of her, as though it was a receiving line they were on. The homely little redheaded girl in the long pretty dress stood there graciously bidding each of them a separate goodnight. She endured a hug from Alice Cooper, let women kiss her, and men famous for their homosexuality embrace her as though they were her very own studs. It was alright, everything was, and Bette Midler would sleep well tonight. She had made it, honey; she had made it all the way from the pits to the Heights.
This story is from the February 15th, 1973 issue of Rolling Stone.
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