Cher as Indian

20180106_150355So this story (finally) broke last year at Christmas, controversy about Bob Mackie and Cher's use of the Half Breed headdress and Cher's presentation as an Indigenous American or American Indian. And I knew I would need to address this story next but I've been putting it off, not because I didn’t want to talk about it, (because I do), but because there is so much to say, so much complexity in this social situation. Could I even sort through it? It involves liberals attacking liberals, it involves conservatives stirring the pot, cultural appropriation, contested appropriation and hundreds of years of history.

20180106_145347I took this image above of the Cher doll as I was taking down my Cher Christmas tree. Amazingly, one of the headdress feathers became caught in the hand of "out-of-the-box" Cher doll, and the image uncannily expresses my ambivalence and sadness around this issue. I'm calling the picture "VAMP with Cultural Feather." That lead me to take this "Sad Stack of Cultures" photo to the right.

I also thought about starting a poll on the controversy but got stumped imagining what question I could ask. Are you Indigenous American or American Indian and offended? Sounds kind of offensive and who would take a poll like that? I’m just hoping for some essay from Indian Country Today to surface on the issue.

So let’s begin with full disclosure, I’ve been a Cher fan for a long, long time and when I was a kid in the 1970s, I thought Cher was and American Indian until I was about 8 years old. I finally found her biography in the local library in St. Louis. And so since then I’ve considered Cher to be half Armenian and half 1950s blond bombshell (although her mom was not a natural blonde). Do most people even know Cher’s heritage? How many have read her biographies? Probably very few. And many may still assume she's Indigenous American (I'm going to stick with that term).

SNegraince the 1960s Cher has been interested in and wearing Indigenous-American-inspired clothing, sometimes on stage, sometimes to major events, sometimes at home. When Sonny & Cher started appearing on variety shows in the last 60s, they started theming their jokes around Sonny’s Italian-ness and Cher’s Indian-ness, to use their word. This was ramped up in their own television shows of the 70s. Cher also moved in and out of other culture areas in her TV performances, including French, Hispanic, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese and African American. Diane Negra talks about Cher’s fluid ethnicity in her book Off-White Hollywood, American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom. She essentially labels Cher as ethnically indeterminate and therefore map-able to many ethnicities. The cover of the book boldly advertises Cher in the Half Breed headdress.

This flexibility is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon if you want Cher representing your community or not. And the gravitas around the issue has evolved over the years. Before the 1970s, ethnicity was avoided on TV or un-apologetically appropriated. In the 1970s, consciousness was being “raised” about the value or “coolness” of ethic differences and this was often explored on hipper TV shows. Looking back now, from where an authentic identity has much more bitcoin, exploration and celebration look very similar to the earlier appropriations.

For years I’ve been wondering how Cher’s identification as Indigenous American and her choices to wear Indigenous-American-inspired clothing has landed from decade to decade. Older Native Americans seemed hesitant to weigh in. But younger activists seem to be taking more offense, but still below the level of what Paris Hilton (Halloween costume) and Wayne Coyne (stage costume) received a few years ago.

The issue is complicated for many reasons:

  1. There’s the song “Half Breed” from 1973 that no one seems to be taking issue with because a) it’s a song about harassment of minorities and b) it’s a bad song living nine lives due to its camp factor. On the one hand it has cheesy drum beats that might indeed be too ridiculous to offend. On the other hand, it showcases details like the offensiveness of calling an Indigenous woman a “squaw.”

  2. HeadlresslesscherThen there are Cher’s stage "costumes" which are the most visible element, the Half Breed headdress Cher has been wearing since 1974 is actually modeled after a male war bonnet and some in the Indigenous American community have equated it with wearing an unearned purple heart. And from their point of view, the bonnet is no more part of a “costume” than a Catholic clergy cassock is part of a “costume.” People don’t like to hear their religious objects demeaned by words with trivial connotations. Regardless, over the years this headdress became an “iconic outfit” for Cher, right up there with the Turn Back Time leather strap-on and the fur (possibly bobcat) vests of the mid 1960s. The controversy over the headdress exploded in December and Cher has since stopped wearing it in her Vegas shows (see a fan's picture to the right). Cher is still wearing the Bob Mackie design that goes with it. It’s interesting to me that the December scandal raised the issue again now when Cher has been wearing the headdress in her concerts since 1999. There may be a reason for that.

  3. Then there's the issue of Cher presenting herself as Indigenous American on her TV shows. And although Cher presented herself as many international and national archetypes on the shows, she was most notably "Indian." A clear story has never emerged with documented proof about Cher’s alleged Cherokee identity. And documented proof is itself a controversy (see below).

  4. And then there was the Twitter fight with the activists, starting from a statement coming out of Donald Trump’s camp. Conservative and liberal politics added another layer of frustrations and communication misfires between Cher and activists and you'd think there would have been a statement ready from Cher’s public relations team, like crafted 30 years ago.

The Trump connection further complicates the issue for sure. (from Jezebel.com)

“In 2017, nobody in their right mind would take this seriously as an emblem of Native American cultures......except Trump’s new Canadian/American pop star appointee for Native American Ambassador on the National Diversity Coalition! Former Pussycat Dolls member Kaya Jones!”

Some American Indian activists took issue with Jones’ claimed heritage:

“Since the December 8th announcement that she will represent Native Americans on the national stage, Jones has been tagging herself as a #Halfbreed along with claims that her father is Apache Native American. When asked, she can’t name the reservation her father lived on or his tribal origins...but what she can do to represent Native American peoples is channel Cher. So now people previously unfamiliar with “Half-Breed” are taking Cher to task.”

Those being millennial Indigenous Americans. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with their feeling what they feel. Why should they remember cultural work that may or may not have happened in their lifetimes? All they see is Cher appropriating.

When Cher was on prime time American television she was a cool, hip superstar and giving airtime to images of minority women rarely seen elsewhere on prime-time, glamour television. Young girls and boys were seeing that and influenced by it. But that was cultural work done then, a perishable credential.  Some day we may look back on the cultural work of Will and Grace and see it as stereotypical, too. 

I’ve always had this gnawing feeling that Cher was somehow “getting a pass” on her “Indian look.” Why, over the last 50 years, was nobody was calling her out on it? That's not to say I didn't like it. But it’s impossible to believe that there have been no American Indian ticket-holders to the last two decades of live shows that have included the song and the headdress.

This was a bizarre related incident. I went to a show in 2013 with a white, Gen Y girl who became greatly offended by Cher’s Eastern Indian sari worn for the song “All or Nothing.” But she had no strong feelings whatsoever about the ceremonial Indigenous American headdress. (I've included a few existing articles below.)

I’m guessing here that Cher’s Indigenous American fans are older and this makes me think younger fans are feeling more offended because they have zero context to Cher’s persona in the 1970s. I could be wrong about this but there does seem to be a response difference in age groups. And newer kids have no context to “the way things were,” which has always been a thin-ice defense as it is.

Quite possibly the idea of Half Breed has outlived its previous pass. Which is making older fans feel very sad because they believe Cher as Indian was doing cultural work. (But maybe it’s also doing cultural damage now.) Older fans also feel the headdress is beautiful and they nostalgically love it and feel bad hearing that their love of something has been construed as bad or wrong. Do they then not have agency to love or appreciate? I feel for the fans here, too.

And that the whole issue beginning as a continuation of anger over Trumps position vis-a-vis Indigenous Americans just makes it all the more tragic, because the headdress issue has been lumped in with frustration over the status of the Keystone Pipeline struggle, Trumps dismissive Pocahontas comments, and his choice of an ambassador a woman with dubious claims to Indigenous American heritage.

And then there’s the very real issue of proving your Indigenous Americaness, which has controversy even within Indigenous American communities and leads to issues like blood quantum and time spent growing up on the reservation, how you get excluded and included even in your own communities.

“If you're Native American, there's a good chance that you've thought a lot about blood quantum — a highly controversial measurement of the amount of "Indian blood" you have. It can affect your identity, your relationships and whether or not you — or your children — may become a citizen of your tribe.” (NPR) 

So what a mess it all is. How can we even separate out all these issues for a second. Again, I keep waiting for a good essay on the Cher problem to appear somewhere. I want a method to proceed, guidelines, context, a way forward. But unfortunately life doesn’t always work that way.

As a word nerd, I’m inherently interested in the evolution of offensive words, including a word like “costume.” We learn in etymology class, that culture is impossible to promote, protect or contain. That’s why it’s so hard to get everyone to use a certain word or not use a certain word, like “costume” or "Native American" or even more offensive words like whore and retard. It’s also why we keep wanting to “dress up” like nuns and ceremonial chiefs for celebratory events. Sometimes when you’re trying to learn or appreciate another culture, you try to wear another man’s hat.

You can say tone means a lot, but quite often even the tone is all wrong. And policing tone is full of problems. It’s unfortunate but culture has a massive mind of its own. Not that we should just let that stand and endure. But we should recognize that not everyone gets the memo, literally. But even emotionally and intellectually. Teaching empathetic understanding takes work, much of it teaching concepts that are abstract and painful to deliver and receive.

The fact that many conservatives dismiss word politics has to be addressed here as well. I have no doubt that if Cher was a member of their circle, they would be defending the Half Breed headdress to the ends of the earth, as part of their ongoing fight against the “scourge of political correctness.” In this atmosphere, other liberals become easier targets because they care at all. Which makes the headdress another casualty of the recent heightened awareness of Trumpian offenses.

So yeah, it’s 2018 and we’re focusing on micro-aggressions, which should be a good thing. We’re finally getting to the micro stuff, unintentional but still hurtful stuff. Problem is we’re losing focus on the macro-aggressions, which in no way have been wrapped up: discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, physical violence, bullying at an all time high. Our energy seems frayed and raw right now. Do we keep finishing work on the macro but not stop work on the micros?  Will the macro ever resolve itself? Will racism ever stop happening?

Another issue with liberal call-outs is when critics offer no way through. What is acceptable behavior between cultures? What are we working toward? We need examples of that and we need it on TV. What was so great about 1970s television as it began to integrate, (projects of which Cher was a part), was the fictionalization of race issues and examples of how to behave correctly. We’ve completely lost that with network and market-designed segregation of television programming and the self-segregation that occurs with too many segmented channel (and online) choices.

But if there’s no way through for offenders or victims, what could possibly change? Confusion and paralysis sets in. “I’m drowning here and you’re describing the water,” misogynistic Melvin Udall says in As Good as it Gets. At some point, calling out all the drownings becomes absurd. 

But I can hear the response: “it’s not my job to find a solution to the world’s problems.” I wonder whose job it is. And if it’s nobody’s job officially then it’s everybody’s job. So it is your job, long story short. And adding one more voice to the chorus of complaints will do nothing but ensure all our future suffering, and the suffering of all our friends.

 

Some discussion of the issue to date:

  • Native or Not (how controversial was “Half Breed” and were there protests?) (2008) From Mental Floss
  • "Is Cher Indian" (2013) from Waiting to Get There
  • "Cher in a Headdress Again" (2013) from Newspaper Rock
  • "The Controversy of Cher's Heritage" from Native Arts
  • Recap of the December 2017 drama on Jezebel.
  • "My Strange, Strange Holidays Arguing with Cher, yes, THAT Cher" (2017) from TiyospayeNow
  • "Why is Cher Arguing with Native Twitter" (2017) from Storify

Media History With Cher

GtI’m like a kid in a candy story with all this Cher scholarship out right now. Two more articles last week:

Cher Is Still Changing The Conversation In 2017 (BuzzFeed)

“Cher is still making headlines, after more than five decades in the spotlight, because she’s never stopped finding and mastering new outlets for her creative expression.”

The article talks about her “fierce tweets,” her “Cher-style viral disruption,” her ability to project an expression of a 'real' person, her outspokenness, her flamboyance, the way she “tends to downplay her hard work,” her history as a fashion trend-setter, a comedian, an actor, a “cross-genre, cross-generational pop artist,” her ability for “generating memes and moments for decades” and “meme-generating outfits.

Um, meme wasn’t even a word back when Cher was doing it.

The article credits her for a style that “that would eventually almost become commonplace on red carpets.” There’s a funny quote from her 1970s manicurist, Minnie Smith, who said, “What the hell different can you do with fingernails?” They found something.

According to BuzzFeed’s culture writer, Pier Dominguez, Cher has a “reliable self-awareness” and is able to maintain “a kind of “authentic down-home appeal” unfiltered and has become a “larger-than-life movie star” engaged in a “defiance of aging.”

He links to that crazy 1975 television duet with David Bowie. This clip has become a popular reference point since David Bowie died. For years I’ve never been able to decide whether these song mashups were brave or ridiculous. Probably bravely ridiculous.

And this NPR story by Desire Moses, Shocking Omissions: The Resilient Reinvention Of Cher's 'Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves' (NPR).

This piece talks specifically about the song “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” as a vehicle for Cher’s “signature contralto” and androgynous vocals and that was a step away from Sonny’s “straightforward, cheerful music.”

We are reminded here that Cher lost a Grammy for this to Carole King’s Tapestry (not too shabby). Moses explicates the song  as ”a story of classism, sexism and racism,” and Cher's performance “whose strength lies in her embodiment of the character.” It’s the story of a woman who has been “shafted into the same life as the generations of women who came before her.”

I feel like a whole new generation has discovered this song.

“Cher’s emboldened drawls [a perfect way to describe her singing style] transformed the song into an urgent, beguiling pop smash” and “established a pattern of storytelling reliant on exoticism,” Moses says, in reference to “Half Breed” and “Dark Lady.” Moses calls Cher a “red-carpet trailblazer” and the “poster child of 70s glam,” an innovator one step ahead of the times.

This year's statements, my Cherfriends, are not things that have been typically said about Cher by the press. This feels like a pretty big shift toward sainthood.


Tons of Cher Scholarshiping

BelieveOver the summer I did a bit of Cher scholarship and some awesome scholarship came to me.

Chart Masters

One of the most exciting things was this analytics data Cher scholar Aurélien sent me, this study conducted by the site Chart Masters. I love this nerdy stuff! Numbers have been crunched to combine physical sales, compilation and live album sales with digital sales to get a better understanding of a song or artist’s overall popularity. For longtime Cher fans, there aren’t many surprises in this report, but it's still fascinating nonetheless, especially the streaming aspect. Madonna fans in the comments took great umbrage with the new Cher moniker “goddess of pop” (was this a fan label or a press one, I never did know). This week my friend Ann suggested the title "the Nefertiti of Pop Music," but the article suggests possibly a more accurate alternative moniker: the “Godmother of All Divas.”

Something to keep in mind, these statistics don’t take into account Cher's popularity in movies, television programs or any other products and these diminutive sales might prove that Cher’s true popularity lies more in other products beyond music, which makes the longevity of her career making music (to date: 1964-2017) and the Billboard record breaking stats all the more mysterious.

BelievealbumRanking of Top Albums

The first section lists the sales of albums, both physical and digital. I’ve re-ordered the list by top albums by total world sales. However, early 60s and 70s albums numbers were  hindered by the fact that apparently few people invested in buying full albums (is this true?) and there weren’t many international sales. The deep catalog is also severely compromised by the fact that almost a decade of Cher’s output has never been officially released digitally (on iTunes, Spotify, YouTube).

  • Believe – 11,800,000
  • Heart of Stone – 6,000,000
  • Love Hurts – 3,500,000
  • Cher (1987) – 2,050,000
  • Burlesque Soundtrack – 1,375,000
  • Look at Us – 1,300,000 (the best of 60s albums)
  • Living Proof – 1,125,000 (said to be bomb because it landed next to Believe but it doesn’t seem awful, like other Cher bombs below)
  • Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves – 1,000,000 (strong comeback for the time)
  • It’s a Man’s World – 850,000
  • All I Ever Need Is You – 700,000
  • Half Breed – 600,000 (half of Gypsies)
  • Closer to the Truth – 600,000
  • Take Me Home – 550,000 (not as good as Half Breed)
  • All I Really Want to Do – 450,000 (second best of the 60s)

CherishedRanking of Albums That Didn’t Do So Well

  • Foxy Lady – 375,000
  • The Sonny Side of Cher – 325,000
  • Dark Lady – 300,000 (I was surprised at this low ranking considering the album had a #1 hit attached to it; but maybe being in the middle of a highly publicized divorce with the sad end of a popular television show compromised its chances. But it’s nutty to me that Foxy Lady outperformed it.)
  • Cher (1966) – 250,000
  • With Love, Cher – 250,000
  • Wondrous World of S&C – 250,000
  • In Case You’re in Love – 250,000
  • Good Times Soundtrack – 150,000
  • Stars – 125,000 (sad results for three of Cher’s best albums, Stars, Backstage and 3614 Jackson Highway)
  • Backstage – 100,000
  • 3614 Jackson Highway – 100,000
  • Bittersweet White Light -- 100,000
  • Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer – 75,000
  • I’d Rather Believe in You – 75,000
  • Prisoner – 75,000
  • Cherished – 50,000
  • Two the Hard Way – 50,000
  • I Paralyze – 50,000

Single Rankings

The single “Believe” is a legitimate phenomenon and all the more so for Cher being 52 at the time.

  • Believe – 7,020,000
  • I Got You Babe – 2,870,000
  • Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves – 2,370,000
  • Half Breed – 1,850,000
  • If I Could Turn Back Time – 1,780,000
  • The Shoop Shoop Song – 1,710,000
  • Bang Bang – 1,570,000
  • Dark Lady 1,510,000
  • The Beat Goes On – 1,360,000
  • Baby Don’t Go – 1,300,000
  • All I Ever Need Is You – 1,290,000
  • Little Man—1,270,000 (I’m very surprised this song made the list; I always assumed it was a minor hit.)
  • Strong Enough – 1,170,000
  • A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done – 1,140,000
  • Just Like Jesse James – 1,010,000

Take Me Home doesn’t even make the list. Due to the funkiness of the disco era where they were counting 12-inch singles and chart rankings based on units shipped, the single was certified Gold and it charted #8 on the U.S. Billboard chart.

Other songs that charted in the U.S. but did not make the sales list: After All, Walking in Memphis, The Way of Love, You Better Sit Down Kids, I Found Someone, We All Sleep Alone, All I Really Want to Do, Love and Understanding, and Heart of Stone.

I found it interesting that even for streaming statistics on old catalog albums that have been released digitally, the blips that did occur in sales were usually for single releases, even non-successful singles, for instance a song like “Carousel Man.“ Sometimes music companies make strange choices for singles, (“Sing C’est La Vie” instead of “I Got You Babe” being a famous example of Sonny having to fight the ideas of Ahmet Ertegun at ATCO). You’d think streaming would even the playing field a bit, especially for young people who don’t have the cultural memory of what those unsuccessful single releases even were. According to MJD, this is because most users on Spotify rely on playlists, which just reinforce the "best" of an era.

Some of the charts also have misapplied orphan songs that really belong in another artist category, (Cher versus Sonny & Cher), are actually from soundtracks or live albums or may just be bootlegs.

The brutal summary is that Cher has a dead catalog compared to other artists Chart Masters has studied. I don’t know how she compares to other artists her age or other artists who began releasing material in the 1960s, (besides The Rolling Stones and the Beatles). But Chart Masters does list the records she has broken: longest span between two hits (she’s 8 years ahead of Michael Jackson), oldest artist to have a top Hot 100 song, “Believe” is also the most successful album from an artist over 50, and she’s one of the few artists to win an Oscar, Grammy, Emmy and a Golden Globe.

Cher in Music Guides (It's Never Pretty)

I posted this article a few months ago (http://www.ninjajournalist.com/entertainment/secrets-cher/) but I revisited it over the summer. I like the thematic dissections of Cherness and the article points out that the Burlesque soundtrack was nominated for Grammy. Really? It was and it also won the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association Campy Film of the Year. It must have been a camp-free year. They  also call out the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Good!

But the article doesn’t debunk the silly rib removal story, passes an impersonator photo off as Cher, in once place Cher is spelled “share,” and the article claims S&C sang harmonies. They really didn’t. In one place it says Cher excelled in school despite her dyslexia and then later states she always got Cs and D.

Most interestingly, the article quotes writer Nicholas E. Tawa to say Cher’s voice is “bold, deep, and with a spacious vibrato.” That sounded like a rare compliment so I looked up the attribution. In his book Supremely American: Popular Song in the 20th Century (2005) Tawa spends a paragraph on Cher. Here’s the excerpt from Google books.

One small paragraph full of so many common inaccuracies about Cher.

“During the seventies, too, a new kind of performer came into view – the chameleon, always ready to adapt his or her public personality and tailor a singing style to suit the prevalent fashion.”

This is both true and not true. Sonny, Cher's first producer, was a bona fide folk rock artist. He picked the material and he didn’t change in the 1970s. He just handed Cher over to producer Snuff Garrett and so her music style changed. Cher never endorsed adult contemporary and fared only adequately with it (aside from 3 #1 hits), considering how long she was assigned this style by producers). Cher critics are constantly having it both ways. Tawa sees Cher as an exploiter of styles and cynical chameleon (when actually she felt powerless at the time to choose her material). Tawa even admits further down that some artists are “steered hither and yon.” But he must not be thinking of Cher here.

Tawa calls Cher a “case in point” of someone “who gave careful consideration to advancing her career.” If you’re a real student of Cher, you know her career is not Madonna-esque. It was always a fly-by-the-seat music career with occasional attempts at steering, some of which worked, but most of which did not. 

The Chart Master’s study above proves all this. As I said in my comments there: “Cher has never been a successful pop star in comparison (to Madonna) and yet she is consistently accused of being simultaneously too popular and calculated (by rock artists who never have pop hits) and not being popular and calculated enough (by fans of young pop hit-makers). This survey proves she is neither calculated nor popular. Which just makes her icon status all the more mysterious and remarkable.”

From Tawa, this is poor scholarship:

“In order to prove irresistible to her audiences, she had her nose and teeth straightened, her teeth capped, her breasts firmed up, and her body reshaped” and that this is why she succeeded.

First of all WTF does having your body reshaped even mean? That could simply mean twelve months at the gym. Secondly, Cher did have her nose and teeth done in her mid-40s, starting at her third decade of her career after the bulk of her music career was ostensibly over with. Those were fixes for her acting career, beyond the scope of this book on popular music. Other body amendments were allegedly made after pregnancies or in the 1990s and beyond. Tawa implies that she did all this as a young woman in order to make it in the music business. His chronology is completely off base but he plunges ahead with his conclusions.

When he lists her music styles, he includes 60s folk-rocker (true), pop-rock (true), wailed power ballads (is wail really the word one would use if Cher weren't a woman? Does Bon Jovi wail?), disco numbers (true, but why are disco songs always called “numbers”?),  New Wave glitter rock queen in the early 80s (one album of New Wave that was as far as queen-dom as you could possibly get, see album's ranking above), punk (ah, no), an exponent of arena-rock (ok maybe), and in a later reincarnation tried hip hop (is this a reference to It’s a Man’s World?). He leaves out dance (or as some would say Eurotrash) and the biggest hit of her career.

The Poet Scholar

A while back I posted the text of a poem called “Cher” by Dorianne Laux, who does a lot of pop culture pieces. The poem made the rounds again on a fan site and I decided to give it a closer reading and research other comments about it. There are some factual errors in the poem. And I hate to a Nelly-Nit-Pick but…a poem is all about particulars so...

  • Cher's labeled as tall. I guess she was perceived as tall on television but in reality looks tiny.
  • Laux says “before the shaving knife/took her…before they shoved/pillows in her tits” --Cher has never had huge breast implants, only breasts lifts…and even if she has had some, they are not quite “pillows inserted.” That was a huge recurring joke on the television shows, how flat Cher was. She may be bustier now...but not at a pillow level.
  • In general the language is vague and presents a weak ending that doesn’t really say anything: “singing in a sloppy alto/the oldest, saddest songs.”

But there are some really great lines too:

  • “bony shoulders draped/with a curtain of dark hair”
  • “nonexistent butt…I wanted to wear a lantern/for a hat”
  • “throaty panache, her voice/of gravel and clover, the hokum/of her clothes….bullet-hole navel….her crooked/teeth, hit-and-miss beauty” - all this stuff is great, if sometimes backhanded.

The poem originally appeared in a book called The Book of Men in 2011 but Laux re-published it in a book with her husband called Duets (2017). Laux says,

"All the poems are about music and musicians. I love rock ’n’ roll and pop music so my poems feature Cher and Dolly Parton, Mick Jagger, and Paul Simon. And Joe loves jazz and the blues so his poems are about Bo Diddley and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Ray Charles and Monk, among others.

And here:

"I’ve written poems about some of the icons of my time (Cher, Mick Jagger, the Beatles), and I’ve written poems about the artist Manet and his subject, Olympia, a failed poem about Van Gogh’s room in Arles. Those are obvious influences. But I think other influences are subtler and more profound. The music of my time included the harmonic complexities of Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, the rough-edged energy of the Rolling Stones and Janis Joplin, the lonely solo of Otis Redding singing “Dock of the Bay.” This is a music I try to bring to my poems and look for in the poems of others."

The Cher poem is singled out here:

In “Cher,” the entire poem is a list of descriptors both plain and precise. Only two verbs activate the poem—and it’s the same verb—“wanted.” The movement comes in the swivels, the mini voltas that spin the poem along its axis. And, of course, how fitting to write a catalogue poem about J.C. Penney’s. It is as if the form was made for such a poem.

And here is a quote saved from Laux's defunct blog: 

"Laux wrote "Cher" after he husband Joe Millar gave her 10 words and told her to use them while saying something she'd wanted to say but hadn't. Laux took the chance to talk about her Cher envy."

So okay that makes sense. Cher envy. It doesn't even need to be based on reality. My bad.

BwlHow Does Cher Sound to a Classically Trained Musician?

And finally, my most favorite scholarshipping over the summer: a new interview and research project!

Musician Todd Grossman, a classically trained musician and teacher, took some time to discuss Cher and her oeuvre, her strengths and flaws all from a more professional perspective.
We talked about Cher’s 60s sound, ticks of self-consciousness, and an objective review on what’s still messy in her catalog and what was maybe overlooked.

Check it out!

Beat2The Idiom of The Beat Goes On

And now the research! I hear the phrase “the beat goes on” spoken as a common idiom constantly on the radio and I read it in print articles, attached to stories that have nothing to do with Sonny or Cher. And I started to wonder what people think this phrase means and how popular it might have become since 1967. I started a survey and found the phrase in lyric tributes, in Internet and scholarly articles and news stories, as book, album and movie titles, made into random images. Then I explored a possible etymology that predates Sonny’s lyric.

Check it out!

 


Cher’s Culture Influence & Songs We’re Still Talking About

SonnycheralbumdudsI’m reading 2016 issues of The New Yorker and came across a disparaging joke about Sonny in a satire piece about zen mantras. Which was very irksome; but then I saw some Rock Legends episodes and the one on Roxy Music reminded me of the always-impressive longevity of Sonny’s “The Beat Goes On” as it appears in the Roxy Music song  from 1975 “Love is the Drug.”

Last month I posted a link to the article The 7 Faces of Cher  which does a wee bit of Cher scholarship in trying to categorize facets of Cher’s career. This article does a similar thing: “Cher – the ultimate pop icon” from Getintothis, Beats, drones and rock & roll.

Some other good stuff:

Madonna, Guns N Rose and Cher Had the Best Songs of 1989 (Inquisitr)

5 Times Cher, Nicki Minaj & Others Pulled Off Lil' Kim's Pasties Look (Billboard)

PaulAnd when I last talked about the song “Bang Bang,” I forgot the whole reason I had brought the song up, which was coming across this album online, an album my parents had in their collection (of a few Paul Mauriat albums), 1967's masterpiece of covers, "Blooming Hits" which I was fascinated by because the woman is naked, painted and gasp not airbrushed! It also has a cover of the song "Mama" which is very proud of itself. According to the liner notes:

“[Mama] emerges as a musical distillation of the composition….the harpsichord is pleasantly evident, but there is also an incredible horn solo complete with scat riffs…Hardly as Mr. Bono imagined, but nonetheless extremely successful.”

Which lead me to this album, More Mauriat, from 1966 which has a cover of "Bang Bang."

Elevator music you can play in your own home!


Fans and Stars and Politics

Cher-carterPolitics in America have finally come to a head and both sides have long since become vitriolic. I actually think this is a good thing. Americans are finally learning civics again and what defending a democracy requires of them. Millions of people on both sides of the fence have dropped their Entertainment Weekly’s and must-see-tv to join groups, make phone calls and just generally just show up. They’re getting connected in a way I’ve never seen before. My whole life I heard my grandfather, a former coal miner, mechanic and sawmill owner, try to convince our family to get engaged in the political process. Imagine this in the 1980s when I was a teenager. Time Magazine was declaring feminism dead by the end of the 80s. Nobody cared if it wasn't the latest MTV video.

It’s an amazing, yet scary, time right now. People are yelling at the barricades. And don’t think for a minute there would have been peace if Hillary had won; anti-Hillary groups were already threatening election day violence. See “Some Donald Trump Voters Warn of Revolution if Hillary Clinton Wins.”)

So I often wonder how fans are getting along in this political climate, all super fans whose politics don’t match the politics of their celebrity obsession. There are celebrities who are artfully abstaining from even commenting about politics to stars who are right there in the trenches. Think Kayne West fans who are Democrats. Or think of the Trump supporters who like Cher.

When I was 8 years old my grandpa sat me down at the dinner table and asked me how I could be such a big Cher fan when I didn’t even know her politics. I didn’t know how to answer that. I surely didn’t know her politics. Although she was quite clear about them on The Sonny & Cher Show. She supported Jimmy Carter and Sonny supported Gerald Ford. And if you followed the 1970s paparazzi, (which I didn’t), you may have seen her attend the Carter inaugural party with  Gregg Allman.

I found out much later that Cher was a Democrat. How would I feel if she wasn’t? The same way I felt about Sonny? And what even is that? Sometimes you and your obsession just don’t match. Personal experiences are just so varied. I remember not liking such or such position Sonny might have taken as a U.S. Congressman. But then there were issues where we overlapped. I wasn’t as big a Sonny fan by that time so it didn’t seem to affect me personally. He wasn't my congressman, after all.

Now things have become very personal. And how are we all going to respond to celebrity activism? I find it hard to believe a Cher fan could just now could be realizing Cher is a Democrat. She’s supported democrats on her television show back in the 70s and campaigned with them since the late 1960s. And then you have the indisputable tweets. I mean the tweets alone! You’d have to be completely ignoring YEARS worth of wonderfully incendiary political tweets. Suddenly this election comes and it matters?

But then I think if I had a Cher blog and suddenly Cher became a rabid Trump supporter, I guess I would struggle with it on my blog. Maybe I would try to work it out there, too.

I also wonder how Cher will be perceived by generations looking back. Like how we now look back on Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall when they were the first prominent stars to finally stand up against McCarthyism and the blacklisting of actors, directors, writers and producers in Hollywood. Will Cher be a famous footnote to yet another scary political era? Will her activism give her greater prominence as something beyond a pop star? Will she be understood as a pioneering tweet activist followed by Millennials and pundits who were never really fans of her music or her movies?

Or will she be marginalized by her detractors because she was a "has-been" celebrity who “got into politics.” I guess it depends on who perseveres to write the story.

Here are the political Cher stories of the new year:

Alec Baldwin (Channeling Donald Trump), Robert De Niro, Cher and More Celebs Attend Anti-Trump Rally in NYC (US Magazine)

Alec Baldwin, Cher, Robert De Niro among celebrities at anti-Trump rally (My Statesman—Austin)

Thousands protest in Washington, New York City in defiance of Trump (USA Today); Same story in The Irish News

Cher on the resistance to 'unbelievable narcissist' Trump (MSNBC)

Cher, America Ferrera, Katy Perry and others set to headline the Women’s March on Washington (Washington Post)

Katy Perry, Scarlett Johansson, Cher among celebs set to join Women's March on Washington (CBC)

Ivanka Trump Shows Off $5,000 Dress in Midst of Immigration Chaos ... Internet Reacts (Cher joins in the crowdsourced Twitter fury) (Yahoo)

From Shonda Rhimes to Cher to Tim Kaine, Public Figures React to Obama's Farewell Address (Yahoo)

 


Movies, Music, TV - It's All Happening

Chermakeuptips2016Current Events

Wow. So much is happening right now. It's overwhelming.

Here's the lowdown:

- Cher's involved in a TV movie about the Flint, Michigan, water crisis.
- The documentary In This Climate should be coming out soon.
- Cher talking to the Washington Post.
- Cher's new song "Prayers for this World" will come out in the documentary Cries From Syria directed by Evgeny Afineevsky. HBO will air it.
- Cher is being sued over the typeface art of Closer to the Truth. (The rags TMZ and Daily Mail reporting this.)
- Jack in the Box tacos have been in the news.
- The Broadway Cher show continues to percolate. The New York Times article an all the diva Broadway shows and Playbill's article on the January reading.
- Cher tweets about the heartbreaking passing of all the celebrities over Christmas:

"This is tragic. I loved Debbie, she was tough, funny, told the best old 40's-50's showbiz stories and lived through Hollywood bullsh*t. A huge testament to her".

"This is beyond heartbreaking. Debbie was an idol... I have seen Singing In The Rain a million times. Loved all her films... Words are inadequate."

So sad about Carrie and George, I have no words. I keep forgetting and then suddenly remember. Such great artists dying, and many are too young. Am heartsick."

"Talked to her on the phone: ironic, sarcastic and hysterical at the same time. Went to a few wacky Penny [Marshall]/Carrie Birthday parties".

"One time I was talking to George at a disco. I got up, danced six songs, came back, leaned over him, and didn't realize that I was sweating drops all over his shirt. We laughed."

- More media love for Cher tweets: "Cher’s Twitter is the only pure thing left in this world" and "Find a Tiny Bit of Solace in This Cher-ified Chick Emoji."

Cher News is Back

And I'm happy to report that Cher News is back! Actually, it's been up since last March! So much I missed. Go here for all your up-to-date Cher news.

Daniel Wheway, the site's mastermind, has some eBooks out now too:

Cher Bible Vol. 1 and Cher Bible Vol 2. I've downloaded them but haven't read them yet.

Speaking of eBooks, I've also downloaded the eBook Cher Toons by Scott Clarke which was very fun and also just purchased Scott's physical coloring book version.

But over the past year almost, Cher News is packed with awesome stuff (if you haven't checked it out already). There's info about the Syrian documentary, and Cher's song on it, "I Got You Babe" made it into the Grammy Hall of Fame and you can watch clips of Cher on ET (October 6) and Extra.

Daniel also did plenty of scholarship last year, posting Cher rankings for Billboard's Roundups including 100 Greatest Acts of All Time (Cher ranks #43 and Daniel notes she is the 16th highest female solo singer), Vogue's list of 22 Fashion Icons from the Music World (Daniel's recap), Marie Claire's reporting on plastic surgery requests and Cher's jawline (truly odd but interesting), Daniel also recaps a few Oscar Roundups from Vanity Fair, The Independent and The New York Times, and About.com ranks Cher songs (Daniel's recap).

He also reports that Get TV only purchased 30 Cher shows. Has anyone else heard about this?

And two big bombshells:

1. I missed the AXS Cher Biography from last year. Does anybody have a copy of this?? Looks like it has some good talking head Cher scholarship! Watch the trailer.

2. Cher posted a video of makeup tips! How awesome! 

So don't miss your Cher News!!

Old Stuff

Recently I came across Paul Mauriat's musak version of "Mama." And we watched the Johnny Cash Christmas special on GetTV over the holidays. I learned that "Someday" is a Gene Autrey song! The Johnny Cash Christmas special was amazing. Watch the Sun City Studios reunion of artists, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison sing "This Train."  (Wow…that’s some great TV right there). And the whole cast does an amazing "Children, Go Where I Send Thee."

Whew! And that's just the first two weeks of January!

 


Cher in Tiger Beat, 1966

16 Reasons CherA few months ago, Cher scholar Robert Pela sent me a picture of this fabulous 1966 Cher spread in Tiger Beat magazine. Click on the graphic to get a better view of this awe-inspiring artifact of public relations. Cher lists all the reasons why she loves Sonny and Sonny does the same.

I want to believe this was ghost written by some plucky intern at Tiger Beat, but some of the bits sound eerily familiar. But then some sound equally ridiculous. It's full of irony and groovy!

What items popped out for me:

Why Cher Loves Sonny

He’s smarter than I am.

He never puts himself first; it’s always me.

He’s hard working and knows what he’s doing.
(This reminds me of the big scene in Good Times where Sonny tells Cher she knows nothing, NOTHING, about business and then storms out leaving her to sing "Just a Name" running from their Encino house to the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.)

He remembers what I was wearing when we met.

He never forgets to pay attention to me, even if I am his wife. (Oyvay)

I feel safe with Sonny. He always seems to know what to do.

He’s honest about everything. (except a lot)

I think he’s handsome.

Why Sonny Loves Cher:

She’s very feminine. (timely claim considering she was being accused of being so androgynous at the time)

She always backs me up in whatever I want to do.

She smells wonderful all the time. (Uninhibited?)

When she cooks, it’s good.

She’s beautiful.

She’s quiet most of the time, and I need this so I can do my work.

When she gets mad, she’s prettier. (You're killing me with these, Sonny.)

She’s neat and orderly about things? (orderly??)

She’s just as sweet and unspoiled as the day I met her.

When she’s happy, she hums around the house.

She’s got a good memory and helps me keep appointments.

There's a lot to chew on there. Some of it's sweet and some of it's icky.


Goddess of Pop and Other Royal Titles

Goddess I recently saw the cover art for the 2012 Madonna documentary called Goddess of Pop and wondered: wasn't that one of Cher’s weaker designations?

This Wikipedia list provides every music artist title you could want to know, plus about one-hundred more. Cher is listed as the Goddess of Pop, the Queen of Reinvention, (although Madonna has often laid claims to that, too), the Queen of Comebacks, and the Queen of Camp (the last one being my favorite). All these being names known primarily in the United States.

Speaking of Goddess of Pop, a search on that this morning shows you can buy a Cher shower curtain: http://fineartamerica.com/featured/goddess-of-pop-cher-daniel-janda.html. Happy showering!


Today is the Celebration of Cher at 70 (With Over 40 Tributes)!

Pool2 PoolThere’s lots of love spilling over on the web-o-shere. It’s literally a virtual Internet Party! Just look at all the hip (and some unusual) sites and magazines celebrating Cherness today!

This is a saying I learned from the McCray family: Cher, I’m glad you were born! You are 70 years of fabulousness today! I feel like the ball on Times Square should drop or something.

Here’s the massive list of love (and one snipe) as of 2 p.m. MST. I’ve broken it down into scholarship categories. Fun with essays, accolades and photo reels!

Straight-out Birthday Wishes

Cher prepares to celebrate her 70th birthday (Reuters)

Happy Birthday from Money Magazine

Singer Cher turns 70, fans pay tribute (Townhall.com) 

Love for Defying Age

Cher just turned HOW old? (Mercury News)

Cher Can’t Turn Back Time: She Turns 70 Today (WBT—Conservative Talk Radio) -- Remember, these are the folks who said Cher is some has-been no one remembers!

Maybe she can turn back time: Cher at 70 (Deutsche Welle)  - SNAP!

Cher Turns 70, Still Knows How to Turn Back Time (Inquisitr)

Can you tell if these celebs are older or younger than Cher (Metro UK)

Turning 70, Cher still a 'hot artist' after 50 years (Inforum)

Love for the Music

10 Reasons Why Cher's “Believe” Is the Biggest Club Record Ever (Thump)

Cher's Official Top 20 biggest selling downloads revealed (Official Charts.com)

Mashable Cher in the studio (Mashable)

Love for the Television

Happy 70th birthday Cher! Relive the time she played every single part in this West Side Story medley (Digital Spy)

Cher turns 70 Today – watch her take a massive tumble in this rare vintage clip (Daily Star UK)

Love for the Film

Happy birthday Cher! Celebrate with her 5 greatest film roles (Arizona Central) - good to see Jimmy Dean love in there but you know how I feel about Mermaids!

Love for the Style

See the Evolution of Cher’s Style (Time)

All Hail Cher, Queen of the Red Carpet Rebels (Vogue)

Can You ‘Believe’ How Many Hairstyles Cher Has Had Over The Years? (Huffington Post)

Cher’s Show-Stopping Style Redefines What It Means To Be 70 (Huffington Post)

Cher's Most Outrageous Outfits (Huffington Post)

Cher at 70: seven iconic style moments (The Guardian UK)

23 of the singer's most outrageous fashion over the years (BT)

The many looks of Cher (CNN)

Cher’s Changing Looks (Wonderwall)

Cher Turns 70! Celebrate By Revisiting The Pop Icon’s Most Glamorous Looks (Idolator)

Cher Hair! Celebrating the Singer’s 16 Best Hair Moments (Vogue)

Love for the Sass

24 Times Cher Was Sassiness Personified (Elle UK) 

10 Times Cher Nailed Twitter (Newsweek)

Her 5 Most Shocking Moments (Express UK)

Cher’s Most Outrageous Tweets of the Past Year (Hollywood Reporter)

Happy 70th Birthday, Cher! 23 Times The Dark Lady Wasn’t At A Loss For Words (Logo)

Love for the Whole Thing

A Look Back (ABC)

You Haven't Seen the Last of Me: The Phenomenon of Cher (Biography.com)

Legendary singer’s best moments (OK! UK)

70 Things we love about Cher (Gay Star News)  -- 70 things! That's impressive!

A look back at her outstanding singing and acting career (DW.com)

Inside the glamorous life of Cher (Marie Claire)

10 amazing facts about the pop superstar (Digital Spy)

The living legend’s most iconic moments (Attitude UK)

Celebrate Cher's 70th birthday with five memorable moments (Lancaster Online)

Cher then and now (WTAE-Pittsburgh)

Cher’s Career in numbers (International Business Times)

CNN’s Cher Fast Facts (CNN)

Fast-Forward Through 5 Decades of Cher (Yahoo! News) 


Cher Museums, Musicals, Endorsements, Coachella, The Milken Institute, Toons and Ads

NyorkerSo…my trip to LA was good. I went to two conferences, the Los Angeles Time Book Festival at USC and a Google Analytics workshop for CNM. But I got sick the first day with the stomach flu and that was pretty much my week. Then everything-and-his-Uncle fell apart when I got home. Oh, and I got sick again with a nasty head flu. C’est La Vie.

Cher has been a tweetin' and a hollarin' in the meantime. Here’s a recap:

 

 

Election Tweets

The celebrity endorsement of the week (Washington Post)
Funny that the Washington Post should call this the celebrity endorsement of the week, considering it’s actually a celebrity re-endorsement after a deep, dark night of questioning of the Bernie soul.

By the way, it makes me crazy that people send hate tweets to each other. As one woman put it to Norman Goldman a few weeks ago, “Sending angry tweets isn’t political activism.” So it was enlightening to come across this great Guardian article on hate comments.

Cher keeps the heat on Trump

Cab-n-cakeCher tweeted the above New Yorker cartoon this month and this Cabernet and Cake sign.

Movies

This is an absolutely a great piece (don’t miss the trailer at the bottom) on Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean and celebrity obsession.

Cher Scholarship Abroad

There's a new Cher museum in Salem, Massachusetts. Coolia sent this to me. Sounds like a good time for a road-trip Cher quest!

I also found this video footage of another Cher museum! Someone should develop a Cher museum app for these things!

Cher tweeted about being scheduled to speak at the Milken Conference:

Proud,my frnd Karen(Flint mayor)is coming 2stay.We'll speak at Milken confrence 2 tell story of FLINT,to 3500 MAJOR LEADERS,IN ALL FIELDS

I used to work for Mike Milken. In fact I worked at his Prostate Cancer Foundation, (upstairs from the Milken Institute), when Cher performed for his PCF fundraiser during her Farewell Tour, in between those many faux-final shows. Here's detail about the event. I hope some think-tank braniac attends this and tells us how it goes.

A Coachella breakfast at Sonny & Cher's former estate:

http://wwd.com/eye/parties/rebecca-minkoff-smashbox-lunch-coachella-2016-lunch-sonny-and-cher-10412504/

http://wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-features/gallery/rebecca-minkoff-and-smashbox-host-coachella-2016-lunch-at-sonny-and-chers-former-estate-10412618/

Outfits

Bob Mackie talks Cher and Carol Burnett

Biography Musical News

The Cher musical is continuing to make news like it just might grow up to be something someday.