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Chaz on OWN, The Leopard Moment, Feminist Anita Sarkeesian

ChazChaz on Own

Mr. Cher Scholar and I have been home sick for the past two weekends. So it was a home-bound surprise to find that my DVR had taped Chaz on Oprah’s Where are they Now? show (first air date: 2/6/206) a few weekends ago. Chaz looked good, talked about new ventures including a clip from a new movie. Orpah and Chaz also had further discussion on life before and after transitioning and whether Chaz’s experience reading as a woman gives him any insight into that gender (spoiler: no it did not). There was also an update in regard to his relationship with his mom (sounds much better).

Disappointingly, I find Chaz can be kind of Sonny-ish on the topic of women. Interviewers probably set him up for this, as if to say “you’re a man now…say something sexist!” For instance, his example about not understanding women involved a comment about how they are so mysteriously offended all the time. He still doesn’t have any more insight into that.

How many stoic women do I know in relationships? A lot. How many men do I know who get easily offended, much more so than their wives and are uncommunicative about why? A lot.  I’ve never heard Mr. Cher Scholar say anything like this. I rarely, if ever, hear my contemporary male friends say this about their spouses. I don't think I've even every heard my Dad make a comment like that. But I have heard some of my friends with same-sex partners complain about it with their partners. The issue seems to defy sex and has more to do with character and relationship dynamics. So it’s kind of an guy trope, this thing complaining about how sensitive women are, and an old-man trope at that.

Having read as a woman for so long should have provided Chaz with some insight into the idea of, shall we call it, female hysterics, simply for the fact of possibly once being erroneously accused of it. I simply don’t buy the idea that you’re born with male prejudices. You opt to have them. Maybe I know some extraordinary guys. Chaz has the option to be an extraordinary guy.

The episode also included an awesome update on Linda Blair where she revisits her feelings about The Exorcist. As you know, William Friedkin is one of our peripherals here because his directorial debut was the Sonny & Cher epic Good Times. In just over a decade he would go on to make his most iconic classic. I still maintain that if you carve out all the gore and bugaboo from this movie, the scenes are quietly and delicately constructed. It would seem Linda has made peace with that movie and is also working an adorably furry charity venture. Her eyes still creep me out a bit though! Watch the show’s trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31SUgyocMZo.

Cher History

LeopardRemember the scene in Cher and Other Fantasies  where they tie Cher's hair and outfit up into a tree? A good tribute to that popped up online last week.  I love how Cher specials are getting some well-deserved revisionist love.

Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.

Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

There's also a great new interview/dialogue between Cher and Zendaya where they talk about girl power and fashion as empowerment. Great candid and friendly tone from Cher.

Relative?

Every few years my nieces or nephews will solicit me for magazines subscriptions for school fundraisers. I always purchase Time Magazine for a year and then spend three years reading it in the privy. In one issue from 2015 I recently came across a familiar name in their most influential people list: Sarkeesian. It’s only one letter away from Sarkesian! Amazingly I’ve been reading about this woman for years but have never put a name to a story! From Time:

SarkeesianAnita Sarkeesian, 31 year old activist  and gaming feminist advocate, one of Time’s 2015 most influential people. She became the “target of vicious, misogynist harassment, death and rape threats and pornographic vandalism on her Wikipedia page and an effort to have her Kickstarted flagged as terrorism. All of this because she wanted to have a conversation about the way women are portrayed in video games. Anita is just the latest women writer to prove the law coined by journalist Helen Lewis: that the sexist comments onany article about feminism justify feminism…Anita has refused to back down…As her detractors grow increasingly unhinged, we have proof that her efforts are working.” Written by Wil Wheaton.

Anita is actually Canadian but she went to college at Northridge in the Los Angeles area. She is the other Sarkesian you should be following. Wow. I never thought I’d have occasion to say that.If you don’t think we are still in need of feminists in the new millennium, just read her Wikipedia page.

  


Snuff Garrett and the Cher Brand

GuitarsMy parents had this album in their 70s record collection! It's one of his "50 Guitars" series that features Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Todesco.

Tommy Garrett (known as Snuff) died in Tucson December 16 or 17 at the age of 77. Some sites erroneously list his age as 76 but he was born July 5, 1938 according to The New York Times. Another one down in the last few months from cancer.

Garrett gained prominence as a radio DJ in Lubbock, TX, where he was the first to play a new artist local named Buddy Holly. Eventually he made his way to Liberty Records in Los Angeles and became a “pivotal producer.” His obit accolades include Gary Lewis & The Playboys, Del Shannon and Cher, although he had left Liberty Records by the time he started working with Sonny & Cher on Kapp Records.

Best Classic Bands website also claimed he was responsible for hiring Phil Spector to work at Liberty and first employing Leon Russell. He also produced the movie scores to Smokey and the Bandit II and Cannonball Run.

Cher has often said she doesn’t much like these Snuff–era songs. Bob Dylan didn’t like them either according to the story about the “Dark Lady” listening party of 1974. And Snuff Garrett himself didn’t sound too proud of anything he ever made. Or take much effort to defend it anyway. But luckily for me I am not Snuff Garrett or Cher or Bob Dylan and am perfectly free to like this music. In fact I would argue here is some of the most creative Cher music of all time, some of the most articulately original in tone, production and flourishes of instrumental inspiration. There is plenty of filler around as well. I can’t defend it all but the best is right up there with anything Cher has done.

AlliConsider the first guitar strums of All I Ever Need is You, the heartbeat of the muffled drum. This is the inaugural moment of Sonny & Cher in the 1970s. Consider that Garrett managed to get Sonny to sing better than he’d ever sung before. Garrett unveiled a comparatively pristine sound for Sonny & Cher with violins and horns. They cleaned up good those two. Garrett could have taken them down a completely dull, adult contemporary path; but the songs here are infused with western elements and Cher’s beautiful honey-flavored voice is pulled forward. There are some unforgettably well-crafted songs on this album including "A Cowboy’s Work is Never Done" (who else could invoke comparisons to Enni Morricone?) and "Somebody." More on the album.

According to Garrett he worked fast and kept his eye on the dollar. Allegedly, nothing else mattered much . And all while dealing with Cher’s broken manicures. Are we to believe he stumbled his way into some of Cher's most iconic songs? Was he being disingenuous or subtly self-abusing? This from an obsessive hit-maker who, like everybody else, could never deconstruct or predict the elusive formula of a hit single. Most of his songs for GypCher were hit-less, all told. How then can we explain how "Gypsys Tramps and Thieves" has become the timeless, enduring track it has? You don’t need to add a symlin in there to get a hit record. Ask anybody, "Gypsys Tramps and Thieves" doesn’t stand the test of time because it has a hook or was a gimmick record. Who’s still delighting over "Monster Mash" or the "Surfin Bird" besides Elvira or Peter Griffin?

Not only is hit prediction practically impossible but cynical hits drop away from public consciousness pretty fast. We could argue this was the fate of maybe "Half Breed." But not "Gypsies." I would argue not for "Dark Lady" either. Garrett’s version of “He Aint Heavy (He’s My Brother)” is also a lovely and subtle rendition.

But it was “The Way of Love” that took Cher to a whole other level and has become her definitive example of torch. What’s so hit-sure about that big to-do of a song? Those heartbreaking strings and the soft-build execution? But what an opening to an album!

FoxyThe Foxy Lady album sounds like it was a drama-filled experience behind the scenes. This seems reflected in the mishmash of its song lineup. But "Living in a House Divided" is another breathtaking opening to any album. The first cascading note unlike anything you’ve heard on a single anywhere. Shakers, horns, Cher’s anger at the end. What is formulaic here?

HbOf all Garrett’s albums for Cher, “Half Breed” has the most inexplicably subdued entrance with a Paul McCartney ballad (“My Love”). This strikes me as her most feminine album. “Carousel Man” is a thrill of texture. Garrett could have overplayed the carnival sound but he made the song more adult, more sinister than cotton candy and tilt-a-whirl music. Cher’s voice does the hard work of expressing life on the carnival grounds.

And I’ve always found “Chastity’s Song” better and more sincere than the original. Decide for yourself.

The "Dark Lady" tracks, like much of Cher’s work with Garrett, are not perfect but they are always ambitious and flavorful, much more so than either have ever admitted.

We’re back to a creative opening track here with that train whistle of the blues-pop sounds of “Train of Thought,” Cher singing through cigarette drags. The song is a suicide by gun, manic desperation, the keyboard sound evoking train travel, the backups doing the train’s horn. Truly delightful! And then the spiraling end. Who does all that work for a quick-off single?

Darklady“I Saw A Man Who Danced With His Wife” is the movie Casablanca on big band night. Then comes “Dark Lady” where Cher sings the word “laugh" like a cackle. This song is a perfect depiction of French folk/gypsy. And let’s be honest: a song like this would have created a sink hole on the charts if it hadn’t been perfect. The concept is too heavy, too near-cartoonish to bear any misstep. Only a master could have stepped so gingerly over this thing. It’s impressively un-embarrassing. It’s not one of my go-to songs, I admit, but I come back to it from time to time and I respect it. Some critic called it “grimly comedic” but considering its popularity with children in the mid-70s, it’s more like a Grimm’s lost fairy tale.

And THEN we get “Miss Subway” and Cher’s vaudevillian Mae West. And THEN we get the southern ballad Dixie and THEN the R&B cover “Rescue Me” and THEN the Great Gatsby’s Irving Berlin ballad “What’ll I Do” with Cher sounding full-bodied and contemporary compared to the tinny and sad original.

All this variety and no song feeling like it doesn’t belong together in the overall atmospheric and glamorous album set.

For all its faults Cherished even begins evocatively with violins and the sounds of seagulls. An accordion means sailors are about. Nothing feels as sharp on this album as other Garrett albums but there are lovely ballads here (“He Was Beautiful,” “Again”) and that cotton-gal song “Dixie” which always entertains me. This Cherishedis the only Cher album from the 70s that truly devolves into kitsch.

Like Cher, Garrett wasn’t perfect but there are more creative elements in these songs than you’ll find in earlier and later hits. And despite all claims to the contrary, they all feel less formulaic.

Cher’s career is nothing if not ironic on many levels. And the fact that Snuff Garrett gets no cred for his work on Cher music in the 1970s is most problematically ironic. These songs built Cher’s reputation as a gypsy. Garrett played no small part in her success during that decade and in solidifying her eternal image as an icon evermore. It takes more than a Bob Mackie to get there.

 


Cher Reviewed

SparklesMetro Weekly posted an essay of Cher’s best albums. The author, Gordon Ashenhurst, published a similar list as Diva Incarnate back in 2012, another review which Cher Scholar reviewed.

Cher’s Twitter oeuvre was also recently explicated by The New York Times. (Thank you for the heads up by Cher scholars Michael and Robrt). I actually think this piece provides a good theory about the phenomenon we’re seeing with Cher tweetage.