Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bette Midler – "Superstar" (1972)

Your guitar, it sounds so sweet and clear
But you're not really here, it's just the radio

It will probably come as no great surprise to you that when Bette Midler was a Honolulu high school student, she was voted “Most Talkative” her sophomore year and “Most Dramatic” her senior year.  

Midler moved to New York City when she was 20, appeared in some Broadway and off-Broadway plays, then began to sing regularly at a gay bathhouse.  Her accompanist was Barry Manilow, who produced her very successful first album – The Divine Miss M – in 1972.  

Bette was still a relative unknown when she sang “Superstar” during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson the year before her album was released.  Richard Carpenter was inspired by her performance to start work on an arrangement of the song for the Carpenters.  

Karen Carpenter wasn’t a fan of “Superstar,” but Richard eventually persuaded her to record it.  The result was a single that went all the way to #2 on the Billboard “Hot 100.”  (Rod Stewart’s “Maggie May” kept “Superstar” from reaching #1.)

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Bette Midler told jokes that belittled Karen Carpenter in her live act in the early seventies.  Years later, she apologized publicly for her mean-spirited gags.  

The Carpenters and Midler in 1974
From a 1990 article in the Syracuse Herald Journal:

Bette Midler says she doesn’t know why she was so mean to Karen Carpenter in her old stage revue.  “I regret making all those Karen Carpenter anorexia jokes,” says Midler, whose stage act used to brim with put-downs and nasty one-liners.  “I cannot tell you how much I apologize. From the bottom of my soul, I apologize to her and her family.  Harry (her husband) and I have a house in Orange County, and every time we drive by the area where Karen lived, I think about her.  She had tremendous talent, and I was a jerk for saying those things.  I was young and stupid and crazy and thought I was doing profound and enduring stuff. But I wasn’t – I was adding to the ugliness in the world.”

Bette’s apology was a little late: Karen died in 1983 (she was 32) from heart failure, which was  triggered by her severe anorexia nervosa.  But better late than never, I suppose.

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I couldn’t find a recording of Midler’s Tonight Show performance of “Superstar” on YouTube or elsewhere.  I’m guessing that it was similar to the recording of the song she released on The Divine Miss M a year later – which is infinitely inferior to the cover of the song by the Carpenters: 

Click below to buy the song from Amazon:

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