Sandra Bernhard On Her NY Shows This Week, Happiness, & Her Legacy

Sandra Bernhard will perform tonight at Carnegie Hall at a fundraiser to raise money for music education programs for underprivileged kids. The Music of Prince show produced by Michael Dorf has Elvis Costello, D’Angelo, Talib Kwell, Bettye Lavette, Amos Lee, Devotcka, and many others performing Prince hits. The Roots are the house band. And on Saturday, Sandra will appear at the Tarrytown Music Hall in the namesake NY suburb. This is part of her national tour which will take her through the summer. Sandra was the go-to gal for me when I opened two clubs back in the day, She wowed them on New Year’s Eve a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away with an all-star cast that she assembled when the Palladium entrusted me to fill it. She also set the tone for me at Life when I first launched that fabulously famous joint. In both cases, I enjoyed the consummate professional who wowed us off and on the stage. This week, I caught up with Sandra and asked her all about it.

First of all, let’s begin where we first met. I booked you two times when I was running nightclubs. I booked you at the Palladium for New Year’s Eve, which was an amazing show. And then I booked you at the opening, or right after the opening at Life, a nightclub I ran on Bleecker street. 
Yeah! 
You were incredible. The first one was you, and you brought along Gianni Versace, Robin Byrd,  André Leon Talley, and there was one other..
It was Donatella Versace.

And we had Debbie Harry open, or after you performed because that’s the way it works. And the Psychedelic Furs performed for the first time in 10 years, and we had PM Dawn perform at dawn. 
Oh my God. 

So it was the biggest booking I think I ever did. 
Those days are gone. And sadly, cause I miss The Palladium. It was a great club. 

 
So you’re playing in Tarrytown this Saturday. Is the show the exact show that you’d do in Vegas or New York, or do you tone it down a bit for the local hoi polloi ?
I might just pull it back a bit, because you’re not gonna do a New York-style show in a place that doesn’t call for it. So in the sense of bringing all my wardrobe? No, I’m not gonna do that. But, I’ll be there with my band! We’ll have a great show. Apparently, a lot of NYers have moved to Tarrytown, as with all the surrounding areas of NYC, so you’re always gonna get a good audience wherever you are.

Tonight you’re playing with Elvis Costello, who’s amazing, at The Music of Prince at Carnegie Hall. What is the music of Prince? 
It’s a fundraiser for music education and it’s like 20 different people covering Prince songs. I’m covering “Little Red Corvette” with the band The Roots. You know, Questlove, it’s his band that’s the backup band. And other people are bringing their own bands, but I’m performing with Questlove. They’re backing me up.

You’re right in the forefront of the movement for LGBT rights. Under this administration, there seems to be exponential strides. Even Dirty Harry himself, Clint Eastwood, came out for gay marriage. Are you running out of material? 
That was never my thrust, the gay movement per se. That was certainly the backdrop, because that’s just sort of where the smart, forward-thinking people have always existed, and still do to a certain extent. But my material is much more eclectic than that and always has been. I mean, I never identified myself as, you know, a “gay performer." That’s just not where I’m at. My work is about taking all the things that I thought were sophisticated and important from all the different worlds. From the art world, from the music scene, the underground scene, from vaudeville, to Broadway, to rock ‘n’ roll, to burlesque, to the Black movement. I’ve always melded my shows together. I’m postmodern, honey. I don’t get caught up in one thing. Never have. 

I booked you back in the day because you know how to make a statement. 
And that’s what I’m still doin, honey, cause there’s plenty to make statements about. Now the statement is: how complacent can our culture be? How lazy can we be? How dependent are we on social media? And the lack of people putting themselves out there, meeting new people face-to-face, being inspired, which is the real human experience! That’s what makes people great and interesting. You can’t do that by hiding behind the veils of social media. I mean, it just cuts off people’s ability to grow as people. 

You have this band called The Flawless Zircons, which I think is an amazing name. Tell me about them.

Well, some of the stuff I’ve written and some of the songs are covers. I have a huge musical repertoire that I draw from depending on the night. I switch it up. I love that element of surprise, just the way I’m sure if you talked to The Stones the night before they did a set, they wouldn’t tell you their set-list  Nobody wants to hear ahead of time what they’re gonna be hearing, you know what I mean? And the name – I love to “wow” you with "the big rock" and it turns out to be diamond-wannabee Zirconia. It just makes me laugh.

You do so many things in your career, but what would you like to be remembered as? What is Sandra Bernhard’s legacy? 
As somebody who constantly breaks down the walls of complacency. I love being somebody who can command attention on stage. Who demands attention. Who earns attention. Is somebody who not only entertains you, but makes you walk away at the end of the night and think, “wow, here’s somebody who shares my emotions, my fears, my hopes." There’s a wave that carries us through life, and throws us on to lots of different shores of interesting, exciting, ongoing, inspiring circumstances. But life should always be inspiring. It shouldn’t suddenly drop off the cliff and not be fun anymore, no matter where we’re at culturally or environmentally. We still gotta find ways of making life inspiring. 

How far is the real Sandra Bernhard from the stage Sandra Bernhard? Are you always on? Is it always you? 
No, not at all. I think I can drop into entertaining mode at the drop of a hat. But day-to-day, it’s work! You gotta roll up your sleeves, deal with so many different elements of this business. I’m on both sides of the live-performing and the creative side, and I’m also on the acting side. You can’t just throw it into somebody else’s lap because it’ll just fall apart. At different junctures, I’ve been with the wrong people, and you just gotta wrestle back control of your career, and be collaborative with people. 

Are you happy, or happier?
I’ve always enjoyed my life. As an artist and creative person, you’re always struggling to find level footing because you see things other people don’t see. If you didn’t see them, you would have nothing to talk about. You may lift up corners of rugs that are filthy, and no one wants to look at the filth, but if you don’t look at the filth then you’ve got nothing to talk about. So, when you look at things that are a little shocking or a little scary, they affect you emotionally and physically. That’s what artists do – painters, sculptors, writers, singers, funny people –  we look at things that other people aren’t willing to look at, and then talk about it in a funny or interesting creative way. 
 
So what’s the future? What comes next? 
Right now, a friend of mine is developing a great television series idea for me and another actress I don’t want to talk about because we’re right in the planning stages. We’re setting up meetings to go out and pitch the idea, and there’s nothing more irritating than when things are in transition. You just gotta let them fall together. But it’s a great idea with another fabulous, highly-visible actress who needs to be seen again, so it’s the two of us. I feel very positive about it, and that’s my next thing that I really wanna get done. 
I remember when you came in for sound check at Palladium, I hadn’t yet met you, and people were saying, " Oh my God, she’s gonna eat you up, and don’t do this…and that…" Then we heard you walk in, and from then on, you were just a joy. You were a joy to work with. So professional.
Thank you, and that’s what you gotta be. I mean, there’s no excuse for being anything less, and there’s no reason not to be. If you’re not professional, you don’t get anything done. You know that, and I know that. And thank you for that gig! It was a great, great night. That was the most fun night. 
 
Transcribed by BlackBook’s superstar intern Nicole Pinhas. 

Say ‘Hej’ to the Happiest Country in the World

The UN has released their 2013 Happiness Report, the second of its kind, surveying 156 nations. And the world’s happiest country is…

…Denmark! The tiny country of 5.6 million people (less than three quarters the size of New York CIty) snagged the top title for the second year in a row. And as 60 Minutes‘ Morley Safer reported several years ago, the nation has for the past three decades "in survey after survey…consistently beat the rest of the world in the happiness stakes."

Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Sweden round out the Top 5. The United States comes in at 17, behind Mexico and Panama, but beating the United Kingdom by five spots. And coming in last place is Togo.

According to the "Official Website of Denmark": "Back in 1973, the European Commission decided to set up a ‘Eurobarometer’ to find out about issues affecting its citizens. Since then member states have been surveyed about well-being and happiness. Amazingly Denmark has topped the table every year since 1973."

How do they do it? Why are the Danes so darn happy? Is it because they grow up on a steady diet of herring and Hans Christian Andersen? It’s not constantly making whoopie—they’re not in the Top 10 Sexually Satisfied Countries in the World.

Maybe there’s a clue in the welcome message on Denmark’s official site: "Explore the universe of Denmark.dk. The fast track to facts, articles and news about the Danish society." One of the main images in rotation on the site is a picture of people partying in the streets of Copenhagen. One crazy Dane is even bodysurfing.

The description for USA.gov, the official site of the United States, is downright depressing in comparison:

"Official web portal contains comprehensive information on government resources, services and forms for citizens, businesses and government." And it looks like an out-of-the-box site created in 1992.

Could the difference boil down to how elected officials perceive their own country? Or maybe Danes elect happy people and Americans elect…government agents. The Danish site zeroes in on "exploration" and "society," while the American site focuses on "forms" and "government." One is social and exploratory, offering a "universe." The other invites you to wait in line at the DMV.

But making it a beauty contest of websites is exactly something a dumb American like me would do. From Miss America to American Idol to Judge Judy, we are a society that puts an undo emphasis on evaluating others, while rarely taking a long hard look in the mirror. It’s a supremely anti-social and anti-exploratory attitude—the exact opposite of the one our exploratory and socially-inclined Danish friends have. Perhaps that’s where a lot of American discontent is brewed: the grass is always greener, keeping up with the Joneses and all that concern with everyone else’s reality. Not so in Denmark.

“The great thing about Danish society is that it doesn’t judge other people’s lives," says Christian Bjørnskov, an economic professor at Aarhus Business School and expert on the topic of happiness. "It allows them to choose the kind of life they want to live, which is sometimes not always possible in other countries, so this helps add to the overall satisfaction of people living here."

What he neglected to mention was that it’s also about choosing the kind of beer they want to drink. And the primary social lubricant is the perfectly balanced and complex pale gold lager, Carlsberg, which has been the nation’s most popular beer since it was first brewed in 1847. Germany, Belgium and England may be known for their world-class brews, but it was Danish mycologist Emil Christian Hansen who originally described the yeast that is used to produce lagers. And since he was working for the Carlsberg brewery at the time, the yeast was named Saccharomyces carlsbergensis. I experienced first Carlsberg in Copenhagen, and it immediately became one of my favorite beers. It’s also a common sight in bars and cafes across France, where it first arrived in 1945.

But before you book a ticket to the fabled City of Spires so you can wash down some fresh herring with a cold one (sitting by the statue of the Little Mermaid, of course), keep in mind that while you will likely get a dopamine boost as a traveler to Denmark, a good part of Danish happiness comes from the fact that Danes enjoy free college education, free emergency hospitalization and free basic healthcare. It’s the kind of satisfying policy that makes some Americans green with envy.

Sure, Denmark may be pretty swell these days. But it wasn’t always so. After all, Hamlet was a Dane.

Watch a TED Talk in which sociologist Emilia van Hauen asks and answers these questions: Why are Danes the happiest people in the world? What could other countries teach us about happiness? And why is the happy life not the same as the perfect life?

image: Denmark.dk

The ‘Miracle’ That Is Hurts

Over in the U.K. this morning, there was a lot of buzz about a skeleton, found in a parking lot, that to all indications was Richard III’s. “My kingdom for a Vespa!” and what have you. Well, in power duo Hurts, I think we find two other Brits who would be king—of stadium rock, anyway. And the hour of ascension may be at hand.

Exile, their follow-up to 2010’s gloriously overemotional synth epic Happiness, isn’t out till March 11, but the band has sold out every show from here to April and appears poised to shift into higher gear with this album. Take the first official music video, for “Miracle,” which takes place in and around some apocalypse so Gothic it makes The Crow look like a documentary about birds.

“Miracle” itself sounds as though (and I intend this in the most complimentary way imaginable) Coldplay and Muse were smashed together to form operatic pop that you actually wanted to hear. It’s clear that snarling, boomy guitars are being pushed to the forefront this time around, with everything bigger and more raw, taking some of the gloss off. The stylistic shift is apparent, too, in the album teaser below. Or have you felt enough feelings for today?

Follow Miles Klee on Twitter.

Study: Sex and Christmas Day Make Us Happy, According to iPhone App

 “Mappiness,” a new happiness-measuring app launched by the London School of Economics as part of a research project, is a tool used to research the contentment levels of 80,000 iPhone users through regularly posted updates regarding the respondents’ activities, locations and happiness. Research shows having sex makes us happiest, while Christmas won the title of happiest day of the year, with jubilance peaking at 1:50pm.

The study also found despondency at its height on Tuesdays, and specifically on January 31 at 8pm. Other mood-darkening activities include: lying sick in bed, waiting on line, commuting, and working. According to lead researcher George MacKerron, the app is an attempt to “better find answers on the impacts of natural beauty and environmental problems on individual and national well being.”
 
Okay, so the mission is a little highfalutin, but the research results underpin a pretty trenchant fact: most of our lives are spent doing what makes us unhappy. 
We put in far more hours a year commuting to work or at the grocery store, waiting in line for some bruised bananas and milk, instead of having sex. Even if we had sex on Christmas Day at 1:50pm under the gingerbread men garland and gold tinseled tree, the beatitude of the act would hardly carry over into the new year’s continual grind and flu-like symptoms.
 
Perhaps the US should give this app a chance. Thanksgiving at 4pm just might top Christmas.