Barbra Streisand: The Way She Is, Part Two

More tales from a GRAMMY legend
  • Photo: Firooz Zahedi
    Barbra Streisand performing at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1993
February 11, 2011 -- 9:06 am PST
By Paul Grein / GRAMMY.com

Barbra Streisand will be honored as the 2011 MusiCares Person of the Year on Feb. 11 at a special tribute performance and dinner in Los Angeles, recognizing her accomplishments as an artist and humanitarian. MusiCares' mission is to ensure that music people have a compassionate place to turn in times of need while focusing the resources and attention of the music industry on human service issues that directly impact the health and welfare of the music community. Watch Person of the Year arrivals and other highlights Friday, Feb. 11 at GRAMMY Live.

Read Part One

In the '90s, there was talk in the media about Sen. Streisand.
Oh no. God.


I figured it was a media fantasy, but we've since seen Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sen. Al Franken. Did you ever even consider running for office?
No. Every time I give a speech, they think I'm running for office. No, I'm not cut out to be a politician. Politicians have to be political in their actions and in what they say. I would never do that. I'd rather be free to say what I feel and not care about losing votes; not care about raising money.


You're a role model — the role model — for a couple of generations of female artists, from Celine Dion to Beyoncé. That must be very gratifying.
It's very nice. It's very flattering. Did you see the Kennedy Center Honors? Queen Latifah had a wonderful introduction about her childhood in Newark and how she looked up to me. It was really lovely. I'm glad to be a role model for these women.


You have never burned out or gone off the deep end. There are so many cases where stars were burned by fame, especially when they achieved fame at an early age. How were you able to steer clear of the excesses that have brought so many artists down?
Hmm. Maybe because I never liked alcohol and never liked drugs.


That's a big head start right there.
I just never liked to…I don't know. That's an interesting question. I was always kind of normal.


And I would say "centered." You have a life with husband James Brolin, you have a son, Jason Gould. You have a life apart from it. There are some artists who didn't. They lived and died by their chart numbers.
It's not about results for me, really. It's the journey, the process. And yet, when I was younger, I must have had results in mind. When I was younger, I wanted to be a star. I wanted to be famous. I wanted to have people know I existed, which I never felt as a child; that I counted or was thought of in a way. And when I achieved stardom, I didn't like it. I didn't care about stardom. As a matter of fact, I run away from it.


Have you made your peace with it, I hope?
I try to avoid things that have to do with stardom. I don't go to opening nights. I was always too lazy to do that. You've got to get a dress. You've got to do your hair. That wasn't my speed. And then be photographed. And then they pick the lousiest photograph. It never interested me to be in the public eye. I just thought that the work was enough, and that's the way I still feel.


Your performance with Neil Diamond of "You Don't Bring Me Flowers" on the GRAMMYs in 1980 is one of the most memorable GRAMMY moments. The staging couldn't have been simpler. It proves that "less is more."
Do you know that I staged it?


No, I didn't know that.
Well, what happened was I came to the rehearsals and they wanted to have three stools there. The one in the middle would hold a bouquet of flowers. And then Neil and I would sing this song. I said, "Do you mind if I give you my opinion on how this should be staged?" I said Neil and I would come onstage from two different sides. There would be no announcement of our names. I made up a whole backstory about this couple. We've [been] married for 15 or 20 years and we're breaking up. We really are sad to do it, but we've had it. We don't give each other anything anymore and so we slowly walk together. To me, that's the way it should have been staged — very simply and coming together to say goodbye in a sense.


You were basically directing the performance, and this was three years before Yentl.
I always kind of functioned as a director. When I was 19 and I was sent up to see Arthur Laurents and David Merrick for "I Can Get It For You Wholesale," I said to them, "I have an idea for how this should be presented. I think it would be very funny to sing this song ['Miss Marmelstein'] while I'm sitting in a secretarial chair." So I was always thinking of the production; of the whole; of the staging.


In each of the three films you have directed, you directed another actor to an Oscar nomination, Amy Irving in Yentl, Nick Nolte in The Prince Of Tides, and Lauren Bacall in The Mirror Has Two Faces.
I like that. I'm proud of that.


Have you ever had the desire to produce an album by another artist?
No.


In the cases where another artist produced you, did their being an artist make a difference?
Well, the easiest album I ever made was with Barry [1980's Guilty, which Barry Gibb co-produced with Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson]. It was like three weeks. He just had me sing each song 10 times and he did it. It was just a delightful experience.


How about Guilty Pleasures, the 2005 sequel?
That was harder.


It's hard to recapture magic.
Yeah. I don't remember the songs on it, even.


You're not one to move around. You've been with Columbia since 1962. And you've been with manager Marty Erlichman even longer.
It will be 50 years [this] year since we started together. I'll tell you a great story. After I wrote "Evergreen," I played it for several people. When I played it for Marty on the phone, he said, "That will be a hit" and he even gave me the month. And it came true. He really was amazing. When I played it for certain other people, they thought it was nice, but Marty went nuts. That's what I love about him. He's very strong in his opinions. I like opinionated people. A lot of people don't. I do.


Never mind charts and GRAMMYs. What do you think are your best albums?
I would say The Broadway Album and Back To Broadway. It's where the material was so extraordinary. The record company didn't think I could have success with The Broadway Album. They wouldn't pay me until it sold 2.5 million copies. They wouldn't even let it count as an album on my contract. They wanted me to do a pop album and I said no.


We've seen Tony Bennett and Clint Eastwood remain active and vital well past the standard retirement age. Do you still want to be professionally active when you're their age?
It all depends on what I'm inspired by, what charges me up. I'd like to direct a movie that I'm not in. That would be fun. I might go sing in countries I haven't been to.


How was the experience of writing your book?
I like the process of writing because it's private again. But it's very hard to look back at your life. I don't like looking back. I like looking forward.


(Paul Grein is a veteran music journalist who writes the weekly Chart Watch blog for Yahoo.com. He has written extensively about music for Billboard and the Los Angeles Times. He has covered the GRAMMYs since the late '70s. He attended the show for the first time in 1977 and still remembers the sense of excitement in the Hollywood Palladium when Barbra Streisand stepped onstage to present the award for Record Of The Year.)

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