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Young, sassy & brassy: Bette Midler live at the Continental Baths, 1971
12.12.2014
07:36 pm
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Last year Richard brought us some awesome footage of Bette Midler performing in the Continental Baths in 1971—but unfortunately, the material was only available in individual YouTube files, and some of those weren’t even embeddable. I’m happy to report that some kind soul has uploaded the entire (it seems) filmed footage in a single file. Fifty-four glorious minutes, with tons of banter, and including the two songs Richard liked most but couldn’t embed, “Fat Stuff” and “Marahuana” (that’s how it’s spelled on Bette’s Songs for the New Depression, anyway). I think my favorites might be the one-two combo of “Superstar” and Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues” right in the middle of the file. When she essays the Dixie Cups’ “Chapel of Love” towards the end of the set, the place goes BANANAS.
 

 
The Baths, famously located at the Ansonia Hotel on New York City’s Upper West Side, were opened in 1968 by Steve Ostrow, who at some point mentioned to Bette Midler’s acting teacher that he wanted to start “a nightclub in my basement.” Midler had recently gotten a solid 20 minutes of material together, and she got the job. She told David Steinberg on Showtime’s Inside Comedy earlier this year that she wasn’t put off by the homosexuality at all, the only thing she didn’t realize before taking the gig was that many of the people there “were in towels.”

Do we know the date of this performance? She jokes that this is her “800th farewell appearance” and plugs an upcoming performance on Sept. 20, 1971. At the very end she does say it “really is” the last time she’ll be there for a while, which remark is met with disbelieving laughter. The Carpenters’ version of “Friends” had been released in May 1971. By the way, in case you are wondering, that is Barry Manilow on the piano in the back, she introduces him at the end. He co-produced her 1972 debut The Divine Miss M (and on occasion would perform at the Baths in a towel himself.)
 

 
If nothing else, the video’s worth watching just to hear some top-notch, vintage double-entendre gay humor in what must be close to its purest form. There’s a joke about Zsa Zsa Gabor in Cleveland, a joke about Joan Crawford’s sexuality, some patter about Martha Raye, etc.
 

Setlist:
“Friends” (The Carpenters)
“Fat Stuff”
“Chattanooga Choo-Choo” (Andrews Sisters)
“Superstar”
“Empty Bed Blues” (Bessie Smith)
“Marahuana”
“For Free” (Joni Mitchell)
“Easier Said Than Done” (The Essex)
“Chapel Of Love” (The Dixie Cups)
“I Shall Be Released” (The Band)

 

Posted by Martin Schneider
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12.12.2014
07:36 pm
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Be a fly on the wall when Bob Dylan and Bette Midler went into the studio together, 1975
07.21.2014
02:06 pm
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Bob Dylan and Bette Midler recorded together in October 1975 duetting on a cover of “Buckets of Rain” for her Songs for the New Depression album. Dylan apparently also wanted Midler to be a part of his Rolling Thunder Revue. Six years ago, a 27-minute long fly on the wall recording from this session started making the rounds on bootleg sites as part of Bob Dylan New York Sessions 1974-1975.

The original bootlegger says:

“It opens with some upgrades of the original Blood On The Tracks sessions from September 1974, and progresses chronologically through some early Desire sessions, winding up to the main event: almost half an hour of never-heard October 1975 session outtakes of the recording of Bette Midler’s cover of “Buckets Of Rain” with Dylan, which would show up on her Songs For The New Depression album the following January.”

At one point Midler demures saying, “I can’t sing ‘I ain’t no monkey,’” but Dylan gently coaxes her into it.  Moogy Klingman backs them on piano and at one point Dylan sings a full-throated version of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles “You Really Got A Hold On Me” with and Midler. The Divine Miss M also dishes on Paul Simon, who she says refuses to speak to her.

“This’ll show him!”

Midler cattily refers to Patti Smith as well, saying “At least I can sing in tune!” What exactly she is referring to here is not spelled out, but in an interview with Barry Miles, Smith tells the story of Midler throwing a beer in her face at a Dylan-related private event in New York around this time. Maybe she saw Patti as competition for Dylan’s affections? (Midler later revealed that she got to “first base” with Dylan in his Cadillac, so perhaps that’s what the remark and the beer incident was all about?)
 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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07.21.2014
02:06 pm
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The Divine (and very young) Miss M: Bette Midler performing at the Continental Baths, early 70s
12.03.2013
03:25 pm
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Although for myself, I can’t even comprehend not liking Bette Midler—for me it was love at first sight—I am told that she is an acquired taste; and one that my darling wife—who has great taste in music and everything else, I hasten to add—has not acquired. This morning, I was blasting her first LP, The Divine Miss M from 1972 —I haven’t heard it in years—and it simply knocked me out. Produced by Barry Manilow, Ahmet Ertegun and the Grammy-award winning producer Joel Dorn, with a crack set of session musicians and back-up singers like Cissy Houston and Melissa Manchester, The Divine Miss M is nothing less than the unveiling of a very major talent on the world, as Midler’s 40+ years at the top of her profession attest to. She didn’t write any of the songs, but trust me, she owns them all. She’s one of those people who just oozes talent and concerning the quality of her voice and its incredible power, well, she belongs in that smallest circle of diva divas, like Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli and Ethel Merman. She’s got the lungs, no two ways about it.

This morning I was poking around the Internet reading about Bette Midler’s early career and there are a lot of interesting things I discovered, especially for those of you reading this who think of her more as the Midler-of-the-road songstress of “From A Distance,” than the raunchy, brassy young broad she started her career as.

The short story is that she was a talkative Jewish chick with a BIG personality who grew up in a mostly Asian neighborhood in Honolulu, who was dying to get out of there from an early age. She moved to New York in 1965 at the age of 20 and by 1967 she was playing the small role of Tzeitel in the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof, with Zero Mostel, Maria Karnilova, Bea Arthur and other notables.

Midler really came into her own, however, in the cabaret of the Continental Baths, a pioneering gay bathhouse where gay and straight culture mixed in the 70s. An Aretha Franklin album hit Midler like a bolt from the blue and she decided to become a singer, mixing campy classics like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Leader of the Pack” with her wacky thrift store fashion sense, quirky personality and dirty jokes. A friend suggested that she might want to consider launching her unconventional stage show at an unconventional place and so Midler took up a residency at the Continental Baths, playing next to a waterfall to an audience consisting of male bathhouse patrons wearing nothing but white towels and “chic” straight couples looking for an unusual night out.
 
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It was here that Midler’s brassy “fag hag” persona (“I am the last of the truly tacky women”) took shape and it was imperative that she do everything she could to capture the attention of the Continental Baths clientele: after all, there was basically a Dionysian orgy going on all around her. When Midler opened her mouth to sing, the orgy parted like the Red Sea. Her musical director for her formative years was the aforementioned Manilow, who would perform, it has been said, wearing only a towel himself, as he sat at his piano.

While this underground residency was going on, Midler was performing regularly on mainstream talkshows like David Frost’s, Merv Griffin’s and even the super straight (but unfailingly sweet) Mike Douglas’ show. Where her star really rose, though, was when Johnny Carson took Midler on as a sort of protege. She appeared on The Tonight Show quite regularly for 18 months and even opened for Carson in Las Vegas. By the time The Divine Miss M came out, she was already a known quantity and Midler went on to win a Grammy that year, the album selling nearly a million copies.

Bette Midler is an important figure in the history of gay rights in this country. Not for any one thing that she did, more for what she stood for. When her show came to town, it was an excuse for her gay fans to come out in force, dress up and get their freak on, at a time there would have been few opportunities to do so in most American cities. With her big personality and “trash with flash” Midler became a rallying point for young gay men of the 70s, not in a political sense, but a cultural sense, Midler injecting sassy gay sensibilities into the mainstream via her megawatt talents.

Here are links to some clips of the Divine Bette performing at the Baths. Considering the scarcity of consumer video cameras at that time, it’s a wonder that any visual records of Midler’s performances there exist at all, but here they are, thank you to the glory of YouTube. The two best clips, “Marajuana” and Fat Stuff” are not embeddable. “Fat Stuff” has a lot of good stage banter. (I liked one of the YouTube comments: “Wow, this was back when you had to be talented to have a career!” Too true, too true…)
 

 

 
Short local NY news story from the 90s on Midler and the Continental Baths:
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger
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12.03.2013
03:25 pm
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Bette Midler is Wonder Woman: Comic book characters painted onto vintage albums
09.06.2013
12:21 pm
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Wonder Woman LP Painting
 
Artist Robert Jimenez reworked iconic vintage LPs with with Marvel and DC comic book characters. I’m dying over The Divine Miss M cover!

Sadly, each one was selling for around $40 and they’re all sold! Maybe he’ll make more?
 

Batgirl LP Painting
 

Dr. Strange LP Painting
 

LOBO LP Painting
 

Batman Catwoman LP Painting
 
Via Laughing Squid

Posted by Tara McGinley
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09.06.2013
12:21 pm
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