Barbra Streisand, a Voice to Be Reckoned With


SEPT. 12, 2014

Ryan Pfluger

Barbra Streisand is releasing “Partners,” a collection of duets with John Legend and others.

Barbra Streisand is very excited about the new iPhone. She thinks “The Goldfinch” is good, but not quite the masterpiece it’s being hailed as. She can’t get enough of “The Americans,” is ambivalent about “Boyhood,” and thinks there are too many action movies these days, although she enjoyed “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

“For one of those kinds of movies,” Ms. Streisand said, “it’s not bad.”

Such were the musings of Ms. Streisand at 3 p.m. last Wednesday when this perpetually unapologetic poly-hyphenate — singer-actor-director-lefty activist — was hanging out in her friend Donna Karan’s living room in East Hampton, N.Y.

The furniture was white, white, white, giving a kind of camouflage to Ms. Streisand’s Coton de Tulear, who was perched on a linen covered sofa nearby.

“That’s Sammie,” Ms. Streisand said. “She is like my daughter with fur. She is brilliant. She really understands English. Even though she’s French.”

Members of Ms. Karan’s staff came in and out, delivering cucumber sandwiches and sliced plums for Ms. Streisand to eat. (Ms. Karan was in New York, preparing for fashion week.) Her publicist Ken Sunshine sat nearby, watching as a photographer packed up his gear.

Posing is one of Ms. Streisand’s least favorite things. She frets about the angles, and whether the left side is still her good side now that she’s getting older. Beyond that, she has trouble relaxing. As she put it during the shoot, “I hate smiling.”

Ah, the price of having a record to promote. This week, Ms. Streisand is releasing “Partners,” a collection of duets she recorded over the last year with an all-male lineup including John Legend, Michael Bublé, Andrea Bocelli and Billy Joel. It also features her first studio-recorded duet with her son, Jason Gould.

She has performed many of the songs before, but on this album, she’s given them fresh arrangements. For “Evergreen,” a song that she wrote with Paul Williams and first performed for the 1976 film, “A Star is Born,” Ms. Streisand tapped the R&B singer Babyface to croon alongside her.

“People” was Ms. Streisand’s breakout hit from the 1964 Broadway musical “Funny Girl.” She redid it with Stevie Wonder.

There is a virtual duet with Elvis Presley (“Love Me Tender”) and an update of “The Way We Were,” with Lionel Richie.

The album is certainly not a reinvention, and it may not bring Ms. Streisand a new fan base. But her pipes remain formidable, her audience is somewhat less likely to download it illegally, and she had fun singing alongside these just-as-famous guys. “Everybody was so incredibly talented,” she said.

As it happened, Ms. Streisand looked great, sitting at a round table at Ms. Karan’s, with a view of the bay in front of her. She was dressed all in black, including a pair of stretchy pants and a cardigan-like jacket that she was proud to announce cost almost nothing: “$59.95 at an outlet store,” she said. “It’s my favorite.”

Her hair was wavier than usual, her nails were long and painted white at the tips and her skin was silky smooth. She has used fillers over the years (“of course,” Ms. Streisand said) but is careful not to overdo it. Her figure was taut, but not taut enough for her liking.

At the end of the summer, Ms. Streisand and her husband, James Brolin, traveled the Mediterranean, and she said she is suffering for it now. “I got back having gained six pounds,” said Ms. Streisand, which she felt was ironic given that the book she read abroad on her Kindle there was “21 Day Tummy: The Revolutionary Diet That Soothes and Shrinks Any Belly Fast.”

Still, she isn’t going carb-free, like so many other celebrities. A member of Ms. Karan’s staff walked in, and Ms. Streisand called her over to compliment her on the cucumber sandwiches. “What do you put in them?” Ms. Streisand said.

“Olive oil.”

“It absolutely tastes like butter,” Ms. Streisand said. “It’s incredible, Susie.”

Then, as Susie walked away, Ms. Streisand grew serious, talking about the state of the world and what she sees as a tendency of women not to band together.

She would very much like to see her friend Hillary Clinton run for president and is dismayed by the reception Ms. Clinton, the former secretary of state, has received since the release of her book “Hard Choices” this summer.

Ms. Streisand is certainly caught up on current affairs. She has been an efficient fund-raiser for the Democratic Party and has been a trailblazer on causes like same-sex marriage. She also has an unwavering habit of seeing, in every struggle, a parallel to her own celebrity narrative and her interactions with a sometimes hostile public.

She believes many of the journalists who have swiped her over the years are anti-Semitic or anti-female, even when (or especially when) those critics are Jewish or female — or both.

Mike Wallace once did a tough interview with her for CBS. “He had this very powerful Jewish mother, and I thought ‘Whoa!’ ” she said.

“After ‘Yentl’,” Ms. Streisand continued, “the most vitriolic reviews I got were from women, who never discussed what I was saying in the movie in terms of a celebration of womanhood and the fact that they could have babies and be smart and study and be scholars, that they could do the whole thing. It was all about the costumes, the lighting, the lip-syncing. Things that are trivial.”

Recently, she has been using a spiral notebook to write down her thoughts on Israel, some of which may go into a memoir she’s writing. A paragraph in it began as follows: “The world envies success.”

Last year, an Off Broadway play called “Buyer & Cellar” told a fictionalized story of a underemployed actor who worked in a fancy schmancy shopping center that Ms. Streisand built under her Malibu home to store her collectibles.

Ms. Streisand didn’t see it. “How could I go see a play that’s about my basement, and my stuff?” she said. “I would be so self-conscious.”

Plus, there were a couple of zingers in it about her son, Jason, and that upset her. “I could have almost stood it about me, but when it was about my son, I didn’t think we should go,” she said.

Still, Ms. Streisand seems mostly happy these days.

Her relationship with Mr. Brolin has lasted where the others did not. “I can’t believe we’ve been together 18 years,” she said. “It went by so fast. There’s a whole mystical aspect to life.”

How often do they fight? “Not that often,” she said.

And she’s very engaged, both with her friends and with her charities, which includes work to stamp out women’s heart disease, a silent killer that she sees as evidence of lingering sexism. “The reason I’m so obsessed with it is that it’s about gender discrimination,” she said. “Women still seem to be second-class citizens.”

Recently, Ms. Streisand has taken up painting and drawing, which enable her to stay busy without having to go out in public and deal with the paparazzi.

She’s also grown fond of landscaping. Around 5 p.m., a member of Ms. Karan’s staff arrived with a pair of rose cutters, and Ms. Streisand moved outside, where she began chopping away at the juniper.

“It’s a stupid plant,” she said.

Then she looked over at the bamboo that was obstructing the view of the bay.

“They’re afraid of cutting too much,” Ms. Streisand said of the gardeners. “You have to be bold with it.”

So she went in herself and hacked away.

Correction: September 21, 2014

An article last Sunday about Barbra Streisand’s musings on her life and career as she prepared to release her new album, “Partners,” referred incorrectly to the origins of her hit song “People.” It was written for the 1964 Broadway musical “Funny Girl,” not for the 1968 film version.


Related Links:

Back to Library