Barbra Streisand on Her New Album, Directing Again and the Only Time She Smoked Pot

It’s 3 p.m. on a beautiful Southern California day and Barbra Streisand is in bed. “I’m still in my nightie,” she says. “I love being in my bed.”

Of course, her dogs — Miss Violet and Miss Scarlett — are by her side. “They take their naps in my bed,” Streisand tells me on today’s episode of the “Just for Variety” podcast.

Leave it to Streisand to work from her boudoir. She’s promoting her new album, “Release Me 2,” a collection of 10 recordings from the EGOT winner’s vault that have never been released. On the recording that debuts Aug. 6, she sings “I’d Want It to Be You” with Willie Nelson on a recording that was first produced for her 2014 album “Partners.” “The Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog was recorded in 1979. “I did it basically for my son [Jason Gould], who was a big fan of ‘The Muppet Movie’ and watched ‘Sesame Street,’” Streisand says of working with the late Jim Henson. “And he loved it.”

She may have been working on the album during the pandemic, but lockdown and limited travel also meant more time with James Brolin, her husband of 23 years, and their family. “I’m enjoying my grandchildren and there’s nothing like family and home and pure love and joy and connection,” Streisand says. “That is the most important thing to me now.”

How does Barbra figure out what’s in her vault and what she wants to put on this album? I imagine you have hundreds of tracks that could possibly be on it.

Probably, but I rely on my A&R man Jay Landers, who goes to the vaults and listens to a lot of things and picks out things that he thinks I’m going to like, most of which I do. And some of them I forgot that I recorded, like “Rainbow Connection.”

When you recorded with Willie Nelson, were you in studio together? I want to imagine Barbra Streisand and Willie Nelson in a recording studio together.

We were not together. We heard each other, we said hello and stuff, but then he had to do it when he had time. And I did it myself and then tweaked it. We had met each other through Kris Kristofferson, our mutual friend, I think during the time of “A Star Is Born,” my “A Star Is Born” (from 1976). We had a connection. It was fun to have it all pulled together.

I was imagining Willie Nelson pulling out a joint and he starts smoking. I imagine you wouldn’t like that.

Why not? One night I really did it onstage when I was doing the Forum concert in the 70s, it was part of my shtick. [Laughing] I talked about pot and I was working with [producer] Richard Perry, so that’s why. [Laughing]

Were you are a pot smoker?

No, no. I tried it once and I didn’t like the way it made me feel. So I never did it again.

Do you like to drink?

I like beer with Chinese food or Italian food and I also like non-alcoholic beer.

You can take the girl out of Brooklyn but you can’t take the Brooklyn out of the girl, can you? A beer with some Chinese food.

Yeah. That’s true.

Do you still consider yourself a full-fledged New Yorker, no matter how many years you’ve been out on the West Coast?

Yeah, I think so. There’s something about growing up in Brooklyn and living in New York so many years. It’s a very realistic point of view, earthy.

I grew up in Queens and my parents grew up in East New York. When we talked for “The Guilt Trip,” my mother told me to mention Argyle Road to you.

Argyle Road, I remember that. Nostrand Avenue, Newkirk Avenue.

My dad went to Thomas Jefferson High School and my mom went to Franklin K. Lane.

Girls went to football games there. I wasn’t part of that. I was writing book reports on Stanislavski, because I was an oddball.

Let’s talk more about this album. How many tracks did you listen to before you know what you were going to include.

Not that many. Jay has been with me over 25 years. He knows what I like or what will have a chance. It’s like we’re in sync. I loved “Be Aware.” I loved “You Light Up My Life.” I loved “Sweet Forgiveness.” I loved “One Day” because it’s about climate change. My first big grant from my foundation was to the Environmental Defense Fund. When I heard about global warming, it frightened me. It was a quarter of a million dollars, which I couldn’t afford really at the time. But I was so frightened by the thought of it that I had to do that.

Any chance you’ll do another concert in your backyard as a fundraiser? [Streisand’s “One Voice” album and companion HBO concert film were recorded and shot at her Malibu home in 1986 to support Democratic candidates, the environment and other causes.]

No, probably not. But nothing is impossible was my motto from “Yentl”. Nothing is impossible. You know, I may have to.

Are you hopeful now after the four years of Trump?

Disaster. Removing climate change facts from a website even? I mean, not being allowed to mention the phrase climate change. That was four years in a black hole. Unforgivable. Four years of people dying unnecessarily because they didn’t tell the truth. The truth is so important. Tell people the truth, they can deal with it.

How are you feeling today? There’s the pandemic, but Biden is President.

I love Biden. I love his compassion, his honesty, his integrity, his love of facts, not fiction. He is a good-hearted soul, intelligent. Years in the Senate. I’m a big fan.

Do you think the country’s headed in the right direction?

I think the country is certainly headed in the right direction. What’s so hard to understand is all the hate and violence that Trump invoked during his years and how that manifested itself in the January 6th insurrection and the falsities and the lies that are still floating around about an election that Biden won by 7 million votes. When you think of it, Al Gore lost the election by 537 votes. Hillary Clinton lost the election by 77,000 votes. But Trump lost the election by 7 million votes. I think they should show that every day on TV.

Did the Democratic party ever come to you to run for office?

No, no, no. That was funny when I was in Washington and talking to people and writing stuff in the papers, it was like, because I’m friends with Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright that means that I can run for office? No.

Did you ever think about it? Your passion and your empathy are there.

It is, but it doesn’t mean I’m qualified to run for office. I know my limits. I’m a pretty smart person, but not that smart.

And you’re still working on your memoir or have you finished it?

I’m almost finished. I have one more long chapter called “The Epilogue.” My book ends with my marriage to Jim (in 1998), but then the epilogue has to take me further on.

You’ve been married 23 years.

Yeah. 25 years together. That is a quarter of a century. Can you imagine?

What’s your secret?

The secret is to listen carefully. I think to be a good actor, you have to listen. To be a good person, you have to listen. To be a good marriage partner, you have to listen. Hear the other person. Agree to disagree.

Why hasn’t there been an official documentary yet about your life?

We’ve been putting together a documentary for the last, I think, 20 years. I just haven’t [had time]. I’ve been busy. After I finish my book, I will think about the documentary.

How about a scripted feature along the lines of Elton John’s “Rocketman” or Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”?

After I’m gone. Not while I’m alive. No, no, no, no, no, no. I’d just say, listen to the truth in my book and portray me truthfully, but not while I’m here. I get upset when something’s false or something’s a lie. That’s why I wrote the song, “Don’t Lie to Me.” I couldn’t help making a video. I probably really lost a lot of people, a lot of fans doing that. But you have to face the truth. I have to face my own truth. I have to face what I think is going on in the world. That’s who I am. I just believe in the power of the truth.

Were there any parts when you were writing the book that were really hard for you to go there? Were there parts where you thought, “You know what? I don’t know if I want to revisit those times.”

Yeah, there were moments like that.

How’d you get through it?

Sometimes I didn’t. You know how many pages the book is so far? 824 pages. But how about this? My lucky number is 24. My last Grammy was on February 24th. I didn’t think I was going to win against Madonna and Tina Turner and a couple of other girls that were wonderful and contemporary.

Is there any duet that you didn’t get a chance to do that you always wanted to do?

Oh, my God. That’s a good question. Maybe with some younger women now.

Is there any one in particular?

I like so many of them, like H.E.R. I already did Ariana Grande. That was fun. She’s a kick. There’s just some good ones out there.

Do you listen to contemporary artists today? Or do you stick with the more classic stuff?

I don’t listen to music much because I’m so sick of it by the time I’m mixing and listening to the mixes. I get so I get so sick of it. Thank god my son gave me his car. The car is seven years old so it still has a CD player in it. [Laughs]. I always like my mixes on a CD.

You’re driving around in the seven-year-old car or is it just parked in the garage when you want to listen to a CD?

No, because during the quarantine, the Mercedes was costing a few thousand dollars a month and we weren’t using it. So I said, “Bring it back.” And Jason said, “I’ll give you my car,” because he bought a Tesla. I love his car. I mean, it’s so great. This seven-year-old car that looks fantastic, drives fantastic and has a CD player.

Did you pay him for it or he just gave it to you?

I gladly would pay, but he said, “No, mom. You’ve given me so much. Please take it as my gift.” I said, “Thank you so much.”

So when are we going to see you back on the big screen? The last time was a while ago, “The Guilt Trip” in 2012.

It’s one of the reasons I could focus on my book, because I couldn’t get “Gypsy” made. I wanted it as a bookend to “Funny Girl.” It was meant to be. It was the perfect thing to end my film career, but you can’t control things like that. You can control a book, but you can’t control getting a movie made, like making the Margaret Bourke-White story. I couldn’t make those films. And that’s when I said, “Fuck it. I’m going to really settle down and finish my book.”

So are you done with movies now or is it never say never?

Well, never say never, because I also have another piece that I was going to do. Maybe I’ll do it because I can do it with handheld cameras. It’s something that I worked on years and years ago called “Third Time Lucky.” I started photographing it with my iPhone, just finding locations with it and I thought this could be interesting.

Come on. You gotta do it. Are you in it? Or are you just directing?

It was written for me, but at this point I could play it as an older woman and make the kid that I’m in charge of my grandchild rather than my child. But we’ll see, I don’t know. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying my grandchildren and there’s nothing like family and home and pure love and joy and connection. That is the most important thing to me now. We’ve all gotten closer during this time and more grateful. And I’m grateful to the fans who will even buy my record. So it’s a time of gratitude.

I’m full of gratitude, too. Before we go, I have to thank you for all the work you do for heart health issues. [Streisand funds the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in Los Angeles]. I’m actually at Cedars in a drug trial. It’s a cholesterol drug that may be able to reverse plaque in my arteries. Basically, I give myself a shot every two weeks for 18 months.

We care as much about men as we do women. Just women were under researched. Women were not considered equal to men. Hence the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center, but we do research on both genders and we care about both genders. What did your cholesterol numbers go from what to what?

I just started the trial about four weeks ago so I haven’t gotten new numbers yet.

You don’t have any side effects from it?

No, nothing. Not at all. But also during COVID, my husband and I stopped eating meat and poultry and I’ve gotten rid of sugar because we learned that my family does have a history of heart disease. It was time for me to take care of it.

The reason I got involved with the Women’s Heart Center was because my friend, who was a man, was told he needed a heart operation. But the doctor who heads my center, Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, said to him, “Just don’t eat anything with a face.” That includes animals, even fish. Guess what? He never had to have his heart opened. He never had the surgery. He is 94 years old. This is in 2007. Look at him now. So I think it’s wonderful that you’re taking care of yourself and meat is also very bad for the environment as you know. So it’s a very good idea, everybody. Get vaccinated and cut down on your meat.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Listen to it in its entirety above. You can also find “Just for Variety” at Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.

 

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