When did you decide that you were real good? That, coming from a family of people who were musical, you were special?
When my sister said, “We have a soprano.” I just went, “I’m a singer, that’s what I do.” And when I went to first grade as far as I was concerned that’s what I was. I remember there’d always be a certain time of the day to get up and sing, you’d have to sing some hymn or the way you sing in churches. Everybody would be real embarrassed and wouldn’t want to do it but I knew I could. It didn’t occur to me that I wasn’t very good until I started to do it for a living. I realized that it was hard and I wasn’t real great.
What does the invasion of privacy do to your life?
What it does is it makes people look like enemies all the time, ’cause you never know what someone’s going to do. Somebody will come up and say, “Gee, you and some other singer (who you think is the worst singer in the world) are my favorite singers.” Or you’re trying to have dinner with a friend and not have people… I mean, it’s a distraction and it’s an annoyance and they don’t realize it’s rude. You see it coming and you start to wince and you start to get defensive, because as far as I’m concerned that person is going to hurt me. The only thing I can do is look cold or I can be rude — I can tell them just flat out, “Go away, don’t bother me” or I can sit there and put up with it and store a lot of pissed-offness. No matter what, it’s a no-win situation. This is one of the major icky side effects of my job and if I don’t want to go completely nuts, I’m going to have to put up with a certain amount of it.
Has it gotten a lot worse in the last couple of years?
A lot worse, yeah. There’s been so much press, you know. I went to some beach club on the Fourth of July and I couldn’t believe it. I mean we just got jumped on — literally jumped on!
Do you find it easier in New York than other places?
Sometimes it’s easier, but on St. Patrick’s Day I got chased by millions of people, literally chased. And I came running up the steps of the Plaza and there were these four little boys after me. They had locked the doors and they wouldn’t let anybody in unless they had a room key and my room key was in the bottom of my purse. I was sort of going, “But you don’t really understand. Those people are chasing me with green faces.” Basically, people are just rude. I mean, they just don’t have any manners. They’re only thinking of themselves. They’ll say, “But this is the only chance I’ll ever get to talk to you.” That’s not my problem, you know. There isn’t really any reason for them to talk to me. If they want to hear me sing they can go buy a record — that’s the way I feel about it.
Do you think that, to some degree, the reason you’re a star is because of people like that?
But I don’t think of myself as a star. I didn’t set out to become a star, I set out to become a singer. I would have sung no matter what. The star part is just something that they made up in Hollywood in 1930.
But you do play along. Your album covers are very sexy and you’re a sex symbol to people. How can you say you’re not a star?
I’m not saying I’m not a star, I’m just saying that that’s not what I set out to be. I wanted to be a success and being successful means that I have more freedom with the music, that I can have a bigger budget for my albums, that I can afford to hire better musicians who I really like to play with, and that I can become a better singer as a result of playing with really good musicians. And the more successful I am on the road then the better show we can present. We can get better monitors, we can hear better onstage, you can fly around in Lear jets. All of it makes us more comfortable so we can do a better show. The stardom aspect of it is an unpleasant side effect of success, because a businessman can become an enormous success without having his privacy completely destroyed.
So alluring album covers make it possible to do what you want musically?
Yeah, it’s just basically the same. What should I do, put out an ugly picture? People look at it and they go “Uuugh.” It’s incidental, you know what I mean. It’s nice to have pretty pictures. It’s part of the frosting on the cake for the audience.
Do you feel like you’ve taken control of your life in the last couple of years?
Yeah, I think I have.
What happened to get that going?
Well, I got a little older. It’s wonderful that age gives you this amazing perspective and a couple of extra little facts that you need to know. It really helps a lot. I’m kind of a survivor, and I don’t think that I could have gotten this far if I hadn’t been. Being a survivor doesn’t mean that you have to be made out of steel and it doesn’t mean that you have to be ruthless. It means that you have to basically be on your own side and want to win. The person that’s the best at that of anyone that I’ve ever met is Dolly Parton. She’s just amazing at being ambitious without being ruthless and at being so sensitive to other people’s needs. She’s a great lesson to me.