Sunday, July 12, 2015

Heaven Much Better

If you're looking for a little diversion for a Sunday (or any other, for that matter) evening, may I recommend the above?  Here, in its glorious entirety, is the video record of the Divine Miss M.'s Depression Tour, which is best known as the basis for her epic double album (remember those?), Live at Last, but which was apparently (and unknown to me) also turned into a cable special called The Better Midler Show.  I just love finding essential pop ephemera that I should have known about during the Carter administration...

Filmed in beautiful downtown Cleveland in February of 1976, it catches Bette Midler at the height of what might be thought of as her First Era.  The next year she became a network television phenomenon thanks to her first special, and soon after that was The Rose and her rise - uneven, but eventually in her '80s comedies for Disney, tremendous - to Hollywood stardom.

I have for years practically had Live at Last memorized ("In a fit of sisterly generosity, I have donated my Cher!"), but I've only just stumbled on this, and it's enormous fun.  While it omits my favorite track from the album - the strange and oddly haunting "Bang You're Dead" - it nonetheless has riches aplenty, ranging from her spectacular take on tawdry loungedom, The Vicky Eydie Show, to an excellent iteration of her trademark ability to shift at lightning speed from utter vulgarity to heartbreaking tenderness (just watch as she tells the Fried Egg Lady story and then goes into its totally unexpected segue).

But perhaps my favorite bit that did make the cut is when she and the Harlettes cut loose on a minor late Supremes song, "Up the Ladder to the Roof." Is there anything more purely summer than this song, than its hope that some special someone will come along and "run across the sky / And illuminate the night"?

I suppose that kind of good feeling is on my mind this week, for among other nice things that have been happening, the Mister and I celebrated our second (legal) anniversary (in this our twelfth summer together).  Now that we're legal pretty much across these United States (a couple of Luddite holdout neighborhoods in benighted places like Kansas aside), it's all the more satisfying.

We had a lovely and unexpected anniversary dinner, at which our dear friends the Superannuated Bikers sprung on us spectacular and matching bouquets.  Here is mine, an intoxicating mix of lilies and white roses, in a quiet corner of our drawing room, just to add a celebratory note.  Mister Muscato's is a riot of vast yellow roses edged in a sort of ombré way with crimson.  How those two knew exactly what we like, I shall never know, but the house smells divine.

And in general, life goes on apace.  I had a vigorous session with Kevin-My-Trainer this morning, and he put me through my paces with a decreasing level of Mercy-to-the-Invalid which is probably good for me, but goodness, I'm feeling parts of my body that I don't think have come to mind since the end of my dancing days a few decades back.  Still, I've been a busy boy, and on the stove is sitting a most promising turkey tarragon mustard ragoût, and I think we'll have a lovely Sunday dinner, once the sun sets.  Ramadan ends on Thursday, and I can't tell you how I look forward to eating at a less civilized hour...


  1. It al sounds heavenly, especially the turkey ragout.

    And that cover of Up the Ladder has to be the briskest turn that tune ever got.

    1. Indeed - this was actually the version I was aware of first, and it was a surprise later on to discover how... languid the Jean Terrell-led Supremes original is.

      And the turkey was, I have to admit, rather a triumph.

  2. It was (inevitably) Miss Midler - her 1984 "Art or Bust" tour video rather than "Live at Last" - who provided inspiration for my future life. Miss Vicky Edie's wheelchair-dancing creation "Dolores Delargo, the Toast of Chicago" coined a nom-de-plume, and the rest is history... Jx

    PS Happy anniversary!

  3. Anniversary greeting to you fine fellows!

    I, too, had the entire album committed to memory (48 hours after buying it brand new), for I had just seen this tour live at Shady Grove Music Fair in Gaithersburg. If remembered at all by the Divine One, that show is probably not remembered in the fondest of terms. You see, Shady Grove was a venue in the round; a fact that became clear to Herself only upon arrival. So with hardly any time at all, the entire show had to be restaged (omitting those wonderful set pieces) to play to an audience that surrounded the stage. Needless to say, we got an astonishing show in spite of the limitations. And needless to say we were treated to such unscripted sentiments as, "Welcome to Shitty Grove! This place has all the fucking charm and finesse of a Ramada Inn".

    p.s. So glad to hear you single out "Bang You're Dead". It is my favorite of the album and I've been known to drag the record out (yes I still have it) to play that track alone.

    1. Those in-the-round venues must have been murder for tours of all kinds not designed for them. I first saw Carol Channing in Dolly at the Valley Forge Music Fair, and it was clear that she just decided to do what she does, and devil take the hindmost, with the rest of the cast struggling just to keep up (she spent all of the title number going up and down each of the many aisles, with waiters trailing in confusion behind her). Roberta Peters, by contrast, did The Merry Widow standing stock still and staring at the conductor, in the apparent hope that her colleagues would waltz around her enough to make it look like a staging.

      And I just don't understand why Midler never did "Bang You're Dead" in the studio.

    2. My first exposure to in-the-round was at Melodyland in Anaheim, CA, well before it became a church. Licia Albanese sang Butterfly, and the Japanese exchange student in my class could barely contain her amusement at the very un-Japanese acting. Of course, the gut-chilling gasp from Butterfly when she sinks the knife into her abdomen was somewhat diluted because half the audience could see what was happening behind that screen. Now I feel old. Not too old, though, to wish you and the Mr. a very happy anniversary and many, many more!

    3. I have to assume it was worth it, still, to hear Albanese. My only fully staged Butterfly was with Scotto, sadly a good while after she really ought to have tried it. I don't demand verismo acting and have nothing against the old-fashion diva style - but it does require a bit more than a shred of voice and some temperament...

  4. Happy, happy anniversary, dear Muscato & Mr. M! Sounds like a delightful way to celebrate.

    My husband and I are coming up on two years legal and will be together twelve years next week.

    I don't have speakers at work so I can't wait to get home tonight and watch the Divine one on the You Tubes. I'll of course be sharing it with my mister as he likely knows every word of all her early albums.

    We recently caught Bridget Everett at Joe's Pub. There have been numerous comparisons to Midler during her Continental Baths days. Ms. Everett was bawdy, vulgar, outrageous, hilarious, and turned to soulful and tender on a dime. It was a brilliant live performance. I'm looking forward to see how it translates to other media and to see where her career goes.