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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Sandra Bernhard's creative energy is on high

August 23, 2009|Choire Sicha

Sandra Bernhard's new music album with Ted Mason, "Whatever It Takes," arrives Tuesday. Look out, because she is spending lots of time in L.A. this fall and has things to pitch, including a TV project with Rip Torn and his daughter Angelica. This year, she has been touring with an anniversary version of her famous one-woman production "Without You I'm Nothing."

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How was the 20th-anniversary show?

I have to say it was one of the greatest nights of my life. We planned a couple of extra special things. I got a trumpet player, who is actually a teacher at my daughter's school.

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It becomes the slightly suburban mom reunion show.

Well, the school she goes to is hardly suburban! Her teachers are as hip if not hipper than me. That's the beautiful thing about it. It's the next generation. Total hipness. But anyway. Then I came out and it was a kind of slow boil of a standing ovation? I was just stunned. And not in a Liza Minnelli sort of way. I mean, I love Liza, but I think she's used to getting standing ovations.

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With this album, you're traveling in both rock goddess and world music territory simultaneously. Complicated.

We put it together in the waning time of the Bush administration, so I feel like a lot of it was influenced by what was going on globally and people's fear of the world and people's fear of us. It was a nice segue into the Obama administration with everything opening up and blossoming like a beautiful flower.

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The flower's struggling a little.

Either too much water or not enough. But at least there's a flower that somebody's tending to as opposed to chopping weeds. That's a perfect metaphor. Dry, dead, lifeless crap that was never even alive to begin with. I think they brought it in just for him to chop it. So long, so depressing, so oppressive!

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Some people feel that way about now.

Yeah, well, I don't think anybody on that side could possibly feel -- there's no visceral reason for them to feel it, other than the racist fear-mongering that those people deal in.

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Do you think New York has changed in the last year in any fundamental way?

I think it changed so much in the previous eight or nine years with the kind of "Sex and the City" mentality: "We're going to go out every night and have mixed drinks and carry our expensive bags!" And those are just the men talking. So I'm hoping that like Michigan, like nature reclaiming itself -- well the High Line's the perfect example! This is something that's free, that people can just enjoy and don't need to be all dressed up and over the top and crazy and devouring each other and shoes and expensive dinners.

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How are your finances? Can you retire?

I can't retire! But I'm OK. As my friends will attest, I've always lived below my means.

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I like that you don't have a grand plan.

I never have. Maybe I'd have a lot more money and a certain kind of success that I don't have, but I'd certainly never have the fun that I have and I'm having. When you have that sort of machinery in place, you've got to serve that machinery. You can never say, "I'm taking a break from it," because the people go, "No, you're not!" You get so used to it. It's such a mechanism in your head. And then it just crushes your creative spirit too. But I'm of the mind that people that get caught up in the business side of it aren't really that creative anyway. I dunno, maybe that's why Michael Jackson just died. It just sapped his creative energy.

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The lawyers, the managers, the whatevers . . .

Just the people that come in and out! The spinning door. It's shocking. Who are these people? He was an extreme case, and I think he was also informed by his childhood or lack of childhood. No one should be forced to go through what he went through.

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And since 50 is the new 25, he was a young man.

Well, he was a self-loathing young man. With a lot of enablers. Like all these doctors and people who were on the payroll. What do they care?

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Maybe Britney's hiring.

Britney's never going to take it that far. Or make that much money. Those days are over.

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She needs a break.

Does she ever! Or we need a break. Bless her heart.

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So you have a fairly casual summer ahead of you.

Yeah. We're having the best time. Sara, my girlfriend, is always like, "Why don't you just enjoy yourself? Why don't you sit around in the afternoon and read and do nothing?" And I'm like, "I can't do that! I've got to keep going. I've got things to do. I've got to take care of the house. I've got to go grocery shopping." But now that [daughter] Cicely's at camp for three weeks, we're going out to dinner every night. Like last night we went out to dinner at 10 p.m. But it's just nice, we're having this mini-honeymoon/vacation/10-year-anniversary extravaganza. Very sexy and very fun. Getting ready to, you know, kick up the fall.

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She deserves some sort of medal probably.

She does, she does! But I do too. She's no lightweight, honey. And I say that with great respect. I wouldn't want to be with somebody at this point in my life who isn't as strong as I am. Especially when you're raising a kid together.

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So you're not getting married any time soon?

No, we're not into that. I think we have some sort of thing in California? What's it called? The civil equality or something. Domestic partnership! They sent us a piece of paper and it's like, oh, now what? She has her health insurance, I have mine. I'd put her on mine, but you know it's too much paperwork. We'll get around to it.

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