Read about my ill-fated 1975 date with The Divine Miss M, Bette Midler; how I was punished by the legendary producer, Phil Ramone; and the name that Steely Dan gave me as the final humiliating blow, in my memoir,
NEVER SAY NO TO A ROCK STAR:
IN THE STUDIO WITH DYLAN, JAGGER, SINATRA AND MORE
Here’s an excerpt:
One Friday afternoon in 1975, at the end of a long week at A & R Recording, I was given the assignment to make, and deliver, a cassette copy of some rough mixes to Bette Midler. This was my job, because, at nineteen, I was assistant engineer for the monster engineer/producer, Phil Ramone.
In those days, Bette was hot in more ways than one. Having found her audience in the nascent days of gay liberation at a place called The Continental Baths, her debut album, titled The Divine Miss M, sold over a million copies and landed her the best-new-artist Grammy award in 1973. She was more chanteuse and comedienne than rocker, and in the looks department she was no Beyoncé, but she had a personality and a set of boobs that cut through all categories in those ambisexual days of the mid-seventies. She was a rising superstar.
Bette was doing some work on her third album at our studio. She, and her producer, the venerable Arif Mardin, were trying in vain to find a suitable direction for her musical growth. She was all over the place. The work was going nowhere.
I called the Divine One up to see when she would be around so I could bring her the tape. When I heard her voice on the other end of the line, I became inspired. Bubbling up from some source of late-adolescent supreme cockiness, total unconsciousness, and massively denied insecurity, I said, “Hey Bette, since I’m coming down to deliver these tapes, would you like to go out for some dinner?” I heard my own voice asking Bette Midler out on a date.
With a sparkly and wicked smile in her voice, she said, “Sure.”
I had not only asked Bette Midler out on a date, but she had said yes!
I traveled the Seventh Avenue Subway line down from the studio in Midtown to Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village, with my cassette tape in tow. What seemed like centuries before, when I was thirteen, I had taken the subway in the other direction, north from Brooklyn, and had come to the Village for the first time. The moment I ascended those stairs as a newbie teen, I said to myself, This is where I want to live. Now here I was, the coolest assistant engineer in the world on my way to the house of the hottest babe on the planet.
Yes, it was all too hip, but I was so far out of my depth, I would be lucky if I didn’t get the bends. I was wearing the worst pair of shoes.
As you travel south on the granite island of Manhattan toward its narrowing point, you move back through time, to where the city had its birth. Once you get below 14th Street on the West Side, the city loses its easily-traversable grid and becomes a tangle of irrational pathways. I somehow found my way through the confusion to Barrow Street, a charming, narrow lane of early 19th century townhouses. I followed the numbers until I stood in front of her building, number thirty-six. I walked up the stoop stairs, and rang the bell.
Bette, petite, with a mess of red hair, knowing eyes, a funky nose, and an ample, sensuous body, opened the door and invited me in. She lived in a typical, one-bedroom Village floor-through on the parlor floor of the building. You walked into the living room. There was a tiny kitchen to the left.
She asked if I wanted a glass of Chablis, as I followed her into the kitchen. I remembered the first lesson the studio manager, Tony, taught me when I began my internship at A & R: whatever the artists ask, your only answer is yes. I also figured that agreeing to whatever she said was the best way to conceal that I was a total dork. Once she brought me the glass, I figured out that Chablis was white wine. I was a quick study.
Bette was bright, savvy, funny, and a great conversationalist. Where I had always felt so awkward and tongue-tied around Paul Simon, the artist I was spending my days being tormented by (another story, another chapter), with Bette I felt clever. Sitting at her kitchen table, sipping the wine, she told me she had just met David Bowie, and we talked about what he was like. She said he was smart – that I’d like him. We were getting along, having fun.
She asked if I wanted to grab some dinner at Alfredo’s. I gave the right answer. READ MORE