[Las Vegas Review Journal Report]
A Woman Who Knows
Sometimes we just rebel because we're under so much stress. ... To be good, 150 percent of the time, that's just too much to ask of anybody."
Natalie Cole is talking about Whitney Houston. But remember, Cole's 2002 album was called "Ask A Woman Who Knows."
So it's a thin line of separation when Cole, 55, talks about her inability to watch her long time friend Houston in the carnival sideshow that is "Being Bobby Brown," the summer's reality TV spectacle.
Houston's tabloid marriage and drug problems echo Cole's own devastating heroin and cocaine addictions, problems that began at age 23, before she had a hit record. Both grew up in show business families and both faced the pressure of being record label "earners" by the time they were 25.
"We're either stressed or we're just really confused or kind of influenced a lot by elements that are really not part of who we are," says Cole, who sings Saturday on the floating stage at Lake Las Vegas.
But, says Cole, "This is a strong, wonderful woman. I've known her since she was 18. I just believe she'll bounce back. I don't know how, I don't know when (but) I'm hoping that Whitney will come back to Whitney. We miss her."
Most people had given up on Cole before she finally began a six-month stint in a rehab clinic in late 1983. "When someone is wrong, what can they say? All kinds of people were friends and wanted to talk to me. After awhile, when they saw I wasn't listening, they said, 'We're here for you whenever you want.' That's all they can do."
Cole went on to her greatest commercial success when she embraced the legacy of her father, Nat King Cole, with 1991's "Unforgettable ... With Love" album. That branded her as a retro-standards singer for a long stretch that continued through "Ask," an understated jazz disc.
Now the singer is ready to close the door she kicked open. She's moving "a lot away" from standards and recording an album of remakes of "classic pop and R&B songs."
And you can rest assured that she doesn't listen to Rod Stewart's versions of standards in her car.
"I'm getting a little tired of hearing everybody jump up and do standards, and not everyone does it well. I'm ready to move on," she says. "If you don't know how to do this stuff you really need to be careful. It's one of the few kinds of music you can't fake, and it doesn't come off well if you can't execute it."
Las Vegas has been part of Cole's entire life, from the time she was a child and watched her father rehearse in the Sands' showroom. "But we never stayed at that hotel because they weren't allowing black people to stay that hotel. We stayed at the motel."
The family name didn't hurt in terms of Cole's being the rare contemporary pop act of the day to work Las Vegas showrooms. She shared the Las Vegas Hilton stage with Bill Cosby in 1981, started her post-cocaine comeback at the Golden Nugget in 1984 and rode the "Unforgettable" wave as a Caesars Palace headliner for most of the 1990s.
Though she wishes there were still "more choices" for her to perform on the Strip, fans who catch her outdoor concert can catch up with "a little bit of jazz, a little bit of R&B, a little bit of pop, all thrown in there together."
"My fan base is pretty aware that I'm a singer who does a lot of different stuff," she says. "My fans know I'm not just a jazz singer."
These days, the tentpole of Cole's repertoire isn't "Unforgettable," but "This Will Be," her 1975 breakthrough hit. The song has become almost a shorthand device for movie trailers to sell romantic comedies -- six by Cole's count -- and it was a centerpiece of the ad campaign for the eHarmony matchmaking Web site.
"It has gone from commanding a little bit of money to a lot of money," she says. "I'm really happy about it, (but) I just think it's hysterical that one song has gotten so much action over the past two years."
NEWSFILE: 29 JULY 2005
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