Over the summer I read the Carly Simon biography that came out a few years ago, written by Stephen Davis who was famous for writing Hammer of the Gods in the 1980s about Led Zepplin.
Considering the couple Carly Simon and James Taylor and their love-song decade, the sad pining and avoidance the book describes between Carly Simon and James Taylor makes the story of Sonny & Cher seem quite functional in retrospect.
True, Carly Simon seems a tad bonkers with her long list of of lifetime neurosis and insecurities but Taylor comes over like a self-concerned, (albeit depressed), ass in his own right. As a result, this is one of those biographies I wish I had never read. I came out of it thinking much less of both of them and somewhat better about the acknowledged dysfunctions of Sonny & Cher who, although they had their bouts of not speaking to each other and trash-talking, never devolved into the kind of pathetic heartache and shunning Carly and James still seem to be indulging in. Sonny & Cher could have dissolved into much more extended legal battles that they did, similar to what professional partners Porter Waggoner and Dolly Parton went through, or the old-age bickering and breakup of Captain and Tennille. Sonny & Cher did seem melodramatically dysfunctional back in the mid-1970s, but doesn't time always do a number on the smug?
There was, however, some Cherness in this book. Carly Simon was pregnant she made Hotcakes album (see cover) and I've always liked it. There's "Mockingbird" and "Forever My Love," (I really love this song, but Sonny & Cher never went that far), and the Simon-classic "Haven’t Got Time" for the Pain." Her album label Elektra had just merged with David Geffen’s Asylum label:
“Hotcakes quickly sold nine hundred thousand copies, but it was hard to get attention amid all the hoopla for Carly’s label mates. David Geffen had assured Carly that she was going to have a solo release and it would be promoted individually, but it didn’t happen. (Geffen said later that he’d been distracted in this period by his torrid romance with Cher.)"
Darn that Cher!
The book also gives us a great definition of the torch song tradition, an explanation that sheds some light as to why Cher's fans love her torch songs so much:
"Torch songs were an enduring artistic legacy of the Roaring Twenties. 'Carrying a torch' for a lost lover was a “modernist” female thing, a romantic agony personified by singers such as Libby Holman (1904-1971) who famously married the heir to a Carolina tobacco fortune and then accidentally shot him to death as he was trying to break into his own house when he’d been locked out. Torch songs were retro-noir, semidesperate expressions of female disappointment and lust.”
The book also reminds us that Norman Seeff, who took the amazing shots of Cher for I'd Rather Believe in You, also took the amazing shots of Simon for her Playing Possum album.
In detailing the production of her My Romance album:“Carly…gave the tapes to the legendary Marty Paich, who wrote the orchestrations.”
I did not know he was legendary.
The book also defined Film Noir as characterized by suspense leading to violence, shadowy, tense, forboding, populated by jaded femme fatales. Cher's dalliance with the ideas and characterizations of film noir happened mostly in skits from her television shows, consistently playing femme fetales who persevered which, I think, contributed in large part to her icon image today.
Like Cher, Carly Simon was also rejected from residence in Manhattan's Dakota building.
The book did peak my interest in Carly's early work with her sister, Lucy in The Simon Sisters back in the 1960s. Daughters of one of the co-founders of the corporate publishing house Simon & Schuester, these were privileged kids. And it shows. Their folk music is pleasant but lacks the street-saviness of their compadres.
For instance, they made a French version of "Blowin in the Wind," called "Encoute Dans le Vent" and it is actually a good version but you know they didn't learn French on the street. Their big hit was "Winkin Blinkin and Nod."
My friend Christopher sent me the LA Times review of the Britney Spears "Piece of Me" show in Las Vegas:
“Whatever the scale of the number, the singer’s presence felt so diminished, her dancing a tentative shadow of what it used to be, her vocals apparently lip-synched for the majority of the show – as if to make the production’s title seem a taunt...[The show] neither revisits her old mode effectively nor presents a compelling new approach…Instead of looking forward, Spears (and her handlers) are playing a dangerously cynical short game, exploiting the interest her name still inspires without regard for how the act’s shoddiness may limit her options. Spear’s turn at the table needn’t be over, yet she’s cashing in all her chips.”
Contrast this to the reviews of Cher’s shows (From her Heart of Stone reinvention to the current show), how important a "compelling new approach" seems to be and how eternally authentic and human she seems to come across. She stands out even among young pop divas, maybe because even her foibles seem more authentic than theirs, less like publicity stunts or their staid and overly-produced attempts at life as performance art.
In doing research for my novel about New Mexico, I've been reading many New Mexico art books and art magazines. Santa Fe has a family of Sarkisian artists.
In a magazine, I also found a very funny pop surrealism spoof of Lady Gaga's meat dress done by artist Mark Ryden (see right).
Turner Classic Movies was also promoting a new book called Mom in the Movies, I don't know if any of Cher's moms are in there but Cher has played a special kind of flawed mom in two of her movies. In Mask she's a good mom but on drugs. In Mermaids she's quirky and self-involved, with a subtext of unavailability. She's mostly played single characters in Chastity, 5 & Dime (couldn't have kids), Silkwood, Suspect (works too hard), Moonstruck (probably over the hill), Tea with Mussolini, Stuck on You (we only see her at work), Burlesque (we only see her at work). Maybe we could say she was mom to the little dog Scoongie in Good Times.
Also of note, my boss at ICANN sent me this clip over the summer: a man doing 29 celebity imprssions in 1 song, including Cher.