Cher Obsession in a New Novel by Darcey Steinke

Sister_Golden_Hair_cover-193x300I've just published a recent interview with the author of a new novel, Sister Golden Hair, about a pre-teen girl named Jesse growing up in the early-to-mid 1970s. I talk to author Darcey Steinke, the daughter of a minister and a beauty queen, about how a celebrity-obsession with Cher works in the narrative and what Cher's "text" means vis-à-vis our struggles with ideals of beauty, role models and holiness. We also talk about the construction of her novel and depicting the trials of a teenager navigating issues of identity.

Great, fun interview!

Interview with Darcey Steinke, author of Sister Golden Hair

Cher Bric-a-Brac: Carly Simon, Britney’s Bad Show, Moms in the Movies

BioOver 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?

HotcakesThere 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!

TorchThe 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.

Pp1 Pp2 








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.

IncarnationIn 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.


Fan Burn Out

FanaticThe big news (literally) in Cher World last week was that the man behind Cher World is stepping down. Personally, I love Travis’ very comprehensive web site and have for years. Many other Cher sites out there are quite simply shrines. Some are very good shrines, mind you, literal libraries of amazing images; but Travis always published something extra, not to mention staying on top of continually breaking news, something Cher Scholar will never be any good at.

Keeping up with Cher news not only takes a great deal of time but some extra patience to make your schedule available for breaking stories. (Such as the fact that a new set of D2K tickets went on sale last Friday for Midwest dates).

Cher Scholar did not make this breaking-news post because last weekend she was in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, getting a very affordable hot springs soak. In fact, due to lack of time this summer, even my posts will be slowing down. I just finished a finalized draft of my next book of poems and I’m starting on my first novel (very scary!). That and an upcoming camping trip, two sets of summer visitors, day-job demands and a big family reunion on the coast of Oregon and something’s gotta give.

It seems to be a tragic summer for Cher fan sites. CherNews is MIA and now Cher World is closing its doors.

The pertinent gossip on Cher World is that Travis was banned from Cher’s Twitterspace for discussing the fairness of how meet-and-greet access was being made available and whether or not there is a Cher clique of extra-special fans.

I can completely relate to the phenomenon of losing your enthusiasm for a fan site when you become a disappointed fan…which is the number one reason I don’t want to go there. Meet and greets themselves are a mixed blessing. Meeting the man behind the head of Oz can be problematic.

My one meet and greet with Cher was at a 1998 book signing in New York City. I would never have gone but I was sent by my co-editor at Ape Culture to write a story about the experience. My favorite part was hanging out with other fans on the street in a line circling Tower Records. My interaction with Cher was uncomfortable and without any meaning I can define. After all, what do you say to a stranger?

Offering up nothing to say is inappropriate. I found this out years earlier when I met poet Adrienne Rich in New Jersey at the Dodge Poetry Festival. Although I respected Rich, I was not a fan -- even though I somehow found myself in a line of them to get a book signed by her. My silence was met with sour disapproval. So for Cher, I tried to come up with something interesting to say. A futile exercise becasue how can you guess what a stranger will find interesting?

Neither of these meets were substantial or awful enough to change my respective feelings about either media personality but I did have one meet and greet that did. For years I had a crush on a well-known lead singer. When I heard he was offering meet and greets for a charity function in Las Vegas, I bought two tickets and dragged my only close friend from Los Angeles to the show. Unfortunately, my friend felt the charity concert was too loud and he plugged his ears for much of the time. This was a pretty small venue and let’s just say that during the resulting meet and greets, friendliness did not ensue. A year later there was a blow up on this singer's own website, a blowup allegedly between the singer and his longtime web assistant. Gossip-filled web posts and emails were exchanged between fans.

These behind the scenes snafus did a lot to disengage my celebrity obsession. Events like this, even when the drama dies down, provide a kind of perspective in the guise of an exit door.

Cher probably does have her cliques and mean-girl moments. Although she sure seems to have less drama surrounding her than most celebrities. But that’s still too much celebrity drama for me.

In full disclosure, I have entered two or three fan contests going back to that one for Not.Com.mercial and I did join one or two fan clubs. The last online Cher fan club never bothered to respond to my emails about being unable to access their site after I paid my dues. I had to literally stop a charge on my credit card to extract myself. Cher conventions have been fun to participate in but are full of their own dramas as well.

This time around, I didn’t even know Cher was doing meet and greets.

And now that I do know, these kinds of things should go to better fans than me. I’m not a good soldier. I’m not a good zombie.  In fact, I will go as far to say Cher the person is a threat to my enjoyment of Cher the product.

But I can relate to the other side of it, too. I have fans myself—three of them including Mr. Cher Scholar! That is if you don't count those 70 Tumblr fans who have mistaken me for porn-star Marie McCray. In any case, when a fan criticizes what you do, your first inclination is to ask, “Who the hell asked you?!”

And then you catch yourself and think, “Oh. I did when I asked you to buy my book and engage with it as a human being, one who is separate from me and sees things from another perspective.”

You ask for attention, you get opinions. That said, you do your best to be cool about it. But we're all human.

Which is what is especially interesting to me here: how fandom plays out on the Twittersphere. Fans now have contact with Cher’s daily thoughts (what we choose to read anyway) and Cher now has daily contact with ours (what she chooses to read anyway). It’s a contract of the new technology that can’t help but lead to human drama.

“It’s the human element,” my grandpa used to say, as if the world consisted of fire, water, air and human kerfuffles.

At the end of the day, I feel sympathy for anyone involved in the celebrity/fan symbiosis. I feel solidarity with my fellow fan-site maestro who feels let down and the celebrity who may have little inclination or power to please all fans all the time.

Oz is an uncomfortable place. You meet the wizard behind the curtain and he sends you off on some dysfunctional mission to kill the witch because you’re full of expectation and frenzy and he doesn’t know what else to do with you.


Is Jennifer Lawrence the New Cher?

JlMy Billboard-watching friend Christopher sent me a batch of articles this month. One was on actress Jennifer Lawrence in Los Angeles Magazine (Feb 2014 issue) by Anne Taylor Fleming. Interestingly my parents love Jennifer Lawrence and they are always telling me that she reminds them of Cher, especially in interviews. They talk about her take-no-guff irreverence. So I thought I'd see if I could find any similarities in the article. I definitely could.

Fleming calls Lawrence "the little toughie" and likes her because she's "frisky and unguarded...She seems to be centered in her own skin, not preening and posing and flirting and giggling."

Also Lawrence, "isn’t threatening to women. To them she’s cool, in a down-to-earth way that’s never self-conscious." There's "a freedom about her, a zest, a willingness to be goofy and unself-censored. None of that canned, feminine stuff."

She says, "For me, Lawrence has that something extra, the ineffable quality that bubbles up from inside. Even as she goes quiet on the screen, you can’t look away. When she’s being strong, it’s not in a cartoonish Lara Croft way but in an assertive, convincing manner. She can turn on a dime, cry and kick butt, empathize and rage from one frame to the next."

We've heard a lot of those same things said about Cher.

Other Cher Bric-a-Brac


Cher scholar Robrt found this crazy video for "Sunny" complete with a circle of crazy little girls.

Gay Divas

Christopher also sent me the article "Gay Men and Their Divas" by Michael Musto from the Feb/Mar 2014 issue of The Advocate. Musto talks about all the divas who have let gay men down and why. 

He credits divas for being "muses and champions." He talks about how Judy Garland was knocked around by horrible men, but could still stand up and belt it out, “getting more riveting with wear and tear.” Plus she sang that iconic rainbow song and died right before the Stonewall riots so is the patron saint of equal rights. Bette Midler sang at the Continental Baths and was campy, raunchy, weepy, and hilarious (but she "turned her back on us" for mainstream fame). Donna Summer sang pure LGBT hedonism but then got religious and said some gay slurs allegedly although she denied it. Madonna drew on bold designs and gay culture and hung out with Sandra Bernhard, but she defended Eminem in 2001 when he was being homophobic but now she's back in good graces donning Boy Scout outfits and kissing Britney and Christina. Lady Gaga provides positive messages about and for the oppressed. But "Born this Way" was way too spelling it out and heavy-handed.

“It might just be Cher who’s the post-Judy high priestess of the LGBT. After all, she’s ageless, she’s fabulous, and she’s even let us down—twice [bristling at Chas’ coming out and transitioning]. These were icky moments, and yet, Cher’s honesty in admitting her feelings resonated with many of her fans who were going through similar situations. Cher revels her foibles and takes us with her as she goes to the other side, where she achieves grace and acceptance [in other words, with Cher there’s a real life narrative not just a PR pose]. And that’s what the best gay diva should always do. Brava, diva.”

He skips telling us why Cher appealed as a Gay Diva in the first place.

Stephanie Miller

Last week on The Stephanie Miller show, their phone screener insisted Frenso was famous for birthing Cher. Producer Chris LaVoie then said he thought Cher was from Glendale (because all the Armenian’s live there, I guess). I did an Internet search to find out if there was any Fresno/Cher misprinted information foating around out there. There is not. Cher is firmly from El Centro. Although her father’s relatives lived in Fresno and she went to Frenso High School.

Cher and Susan Sarandon Chersue

I'm beginning to wonder if this is like east-coast/west-coast rap. Cher is so west-coast. Sarandon is so New England. I've been talking to Cher scholar Michael about Susan Sarandon and Cher, making comparisons. Is Sarandon too serious? Interestingly she admits in AARP Magazine that she was so immersed with the idea of justice as a child that she would rotate outfits on all her dolls so no one doll had all the best outfits. 

However, I think Cher is getting more serious and socially-committed as she ages. As Sarandon says, “With age, you gain maybe not wisdom, but at least a bigger picture.”

Christopher sent me this AARP article on Sarandon and reading it I still find many things they have in common:

  1. Both will appear in public without makeup. Unlike Dolly.
  2. Both date younger men. Sarandon was with Tim Robbins many years and now is dating Jonathan Bricklin, a tender 36 years old!
  3. Both were first borns.
  4. Both were very shy as little girls.
  5. Both speak out, damn the consequences to their careers.
  6. Both are described as sexy older stars. Mark Harris says about Sarandon (and it could be said about Cher), “Even when she was young, her sexuality seemed mature. There’s a self-confidence to her. She knows who her characters are, and her characters know who they are.”

By the way, I am missing Cher News news. I was hoping Mr. Cher News was away on vacation, like some kind of European, two-month vacation. I hope all is okay over there!


Cher in Entertainment Weekly & Random Cher Thoughts

PinkcherThe Bullseye page of the magazine Entertainment Weekly has always interested me as being the barometer of what people are talking about week to week in U.S. pop culture. You don’t typically see has-beens there unless they've done something worthy of the proverbial water cooler.

In the May 23 issue Cher is referenced twice in Bullseye, once for the news about being on the secret Wu-Tang Clan album. EW jokes she’ll go by “Sparkleface Killah.” And two for Liza Minnelli and Rosie O’Donnell appearing onstage at one of her NYC shows during Cyndi Lauper’s opening set. EW makes a Hot in Cleveland joke.

Last weekend I caught up on some Oprah’s Master Class shows. I don't know why I love these but I find them all pretty moving and/or informative.

SarandonSusan Sarandon: I always sensed tension between Cher and Susan Sarandon during Witches of Eastwick interviews back in the 1980s. At least they didn’t seem as friendly with each other afterwards as they were with other cast members. But watching Master Class, it would seem Cher actually has a lot in common with Susan Sarandon, who talked about the art of relationships in the rational way Cher does. She talked about the issues of aging in Hollywood and how she deals with it. She also makes a good case for celebrity political activism. She said something I've hear Cher say often, how it’s the things you don’t do that you regret and not the things you do. Interestingly, she now owns a ping pong franchise.

CrawfordCindy Crawford's episode also impressed me much more than I anticipated it would. She talked about leaving her cell phone out of situations of personal interaction because, she says, you can’t multitask presence. She also talked about being on a retreat and being asked to come up with her core passion. Interestingly, this is not necessarily a job description. She chose something open-ended like Communication. I thought about this and wondered if my core passion might be Organizing. I love to sort things. Is there a job description for that core passion?

The Vivian Vance Museum

VanceOkay, it wasn't a whole museum. But it was a room in a museum. Mr. Cher Scholar and I visited our local art & history museum. That's right. Albuquerque conflates the two so that the museum is neither fully a good art museum or history museum. Wandering around in there, we came up an entire exhibit devoted to Vivian Vance. Apparently Vivian got her start in Albuquerque (although she was born in Cherryvale, Kansas--Mr. Cher Scholar country). The museum was full of news clippings, awards and memorabilia from I Love Lucy days. The exhibit gave me plenty of ideas about the future Chersonian Institute: interpretative plaques, track lighting, security guards scolding patrons to not get too close. Pamphlets. Oohh...I love museum pamphlets!

Vivian's sister is selling scrapbooks and homemade memory books. Visitors could grab a postcard and mail in an order.


Cher in Elle Magazine

ElleI went out last Monday and the Elle Magazine issue with Miley Cyrus was already on the shelves. I am terrible at breaking news.

Anyway, the piece is a disappointing single photo with only a quarter-page of text. But Elle does a lot with that little bit of text. First of all, Cher the only artist in the spread who didn't start a career decades ago, (unless you count Neneh Cherry from the 1980s). This is a list of young upstarts including Iggy Azalea, Ariana Grande, Jetta, Warpaint, Lilly Allen (a new Mr. Cher Scholar favorite), Banks, Kacey Musgraves, and Foxes.

It's also interesting that they focus on the idea of Cher not liking the words legend, icon and diva. They then go on to describe why she is a legend, icon and diva.

It is comforting to know Cher doesn’t go around her house declaring she’s a diva. But this is a good time to note the difference between Cher the person and Cher the product/media image. The person is one thing, a private person we may never know. But as a media product, as a brand…Cher is a legendary word. Even if she distances her self personally from the word (which sounds like a healthy move to me), I hope she can take pride in the company name.


Cher on Bad Biographies

PeterlanzThere’s a new biography of Cher in German, “Cher, Die Biografie” by Peter Lanz. Cher responded to its existence on Twitter, saying “Don't buy this unauthorized biography crew. It p*sses me off when some *sshole I don't know presumes to write about me. Idiot." She went on to say she’s “not protected in any way, because I'm a public figure".

Biographies are a fascinating cultural artifact. They usually outsell many other categories of books. As a culture, we seem to care a great deal about trying to get to know our favorite people. This is either an obsessive pastime or some misguided intellectual quest to figure out other humans.

It is also bizarre this idea of being a “public figure.” Aside from the fact that entertainers use their “personas” as their product, I don’t see how they themselves can be defined as “public people” beyond having a public career. And to Cher's credit, it must be very discomforting to have a stranger tell your story incorrectly. Nobody can speak to how you felt.

But on the other hand, if there weren’t unauthorized biographies, there would only exist public relations spin. Although a celebrity controls the story in public relations, it isn’t necessarily always more truthful.

Cher is right that biographers don’t know her and likely get an embarrassing number of facts wrong. They may even have agendas. I always felt Lawrence J. Quirk had a conservative agenda.

But at the end of the day, even the best biographies are flawed artifacts. Every perspective is in some way prejudicial. Even one’s own. Although I enjoyed Lauren Becall’s autobiography By Myself, a book essentially made up of published diary entries, I don't doubt it's full of rationalizations, self-censures, agendas and untruths. It seems one’s own self isn’t even really qualified to write about one’s own self. And who are you anyway? Are you who you think you are, who your mother thinks you are, who most of your friends or co-workers think you are? It's hard to say.

And how would we learn anything about Thomas Jefferson, Gandhi or even Buddha, for example,  if we had to rely on someone who knew them, all long dead. We should still be learning about historical icons even if their biographies are full of myths and mistakes.

Any book about Cher is doomed to this inaccuracy: a book by a stranger, a book by a friend, a mother, one of her sons, a book by Cher herself. But despite their imperfections, biographies make a good try at explaining someone’s trials and motives. Facts do tell a part of the story but certainly not all of it.

Without the messy attempts, I’d be left not knowing anything about why Frank O'Hara wrote "The Day Lady Died" or how a hard childhood in Oklahoma could make James Garner so prone to fist fights.

Which is not to say opportunists aren’t out there trying to make a buck off of celebrity fame. But who really thinks the spin Kitty Kelly doles out will affect how we view famous figures? The dis-credible biographers may make some ill-gotten earnings, but in time they tend to fall by the wayside.

The fact that Cher biographies exist at all matters. Think about how many films and books have been written about The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. None without mistakes I'm sure. There are factual mistakes in Sonny's autobiography.

And it’s fascinating to think about what Cher might mean to Germans. Too bad this book might not tell us. I still wonder why there aren't more international biographies of Cher.

Me? I could never write a Cher biography. I’m too shy to do the interviews. But I can speak to the cultural subtexts in Cher’s persona and her works and the impact these things might have had on our culture. Does this say something about me? Yes it does. I'm rationalizing Cher. But that's we do as consumers of pop culture. We interpret everything we consume, whether we think we do or not. I may not interpret things the same way Cher would. But I am not having the same experience in life as Cher is having.

There will be crappy Cher bios. (I just read an e-book that was pretty bad). But frustration just leads to suffering. You desire the biographies to be something they can never be: well-intentioned and perfect. From a distance, they’re all part of the whole mass of good and bad. Having some at all, in some way, is a sign of importance.

But there’s nothing amiss with Cher saying, “This is a bad biography. There are a lot of errors in it.”

BonovbonoDid you know Sonny’s sister self-published a biography last year? I found Bono vs. Bono, A Battle Royale by Frances Erikcson when I was searching for Cher eBooks. It's also available in paperback.

Here is a case in point. Sonny's sister is telling the story of her battle with her father’s last wife over Sonny’s father’s small fortune. Although you are sympathetic with Frances as you read the book, you still get an unsettling feeling that she might be skewing the story her way. She often seems too much the victim in battles with her family, and in minor battles with banks and nurses. There are too many perfect betrayals, dramatic to the degree of melodrama, and yet she keeps coming back as the perfect daughter. And you know what, this may even be true. The point is, it’s difficult to believe the narrator of her own story.

That said, the book was a fascinating read, even though Cher isn’t really in it. In fact Sonny & Cher are barely in it. The worst Frances has to say about Sonny is that the siblings grew apart when he became famous, partially because her first husband was a Hollywood player-wannabie. In any case, Frances has nothing bad to say about Cher or Susie Coehlo or Mary Bono. She doesn’t really have much to say about Sonny either, except that he sided with their mother in the family saga. This is a book about the feuds between Jean Bono (Sonny's mother) and his two sisters, with the father being the pawn in much of it. Sister Liz is often mentioned as siding with Frances, but you don’t get a clear picture of her or her story.

Forget about a Cher biography. If you strung together all the dramas of Sonny’s family, Cher’s family and Gregg Allman’s family, you could have a soap opera that would run for 10 years.

JanehJust as I was mulling all this over this week, I came across a poem by Jane Hirshfield. It says all there is to say about biography.

It Was Like This: You Were Happy

It was like this:
you were happy, then you were sad,
then happy again, then not.

It went on.
You were innocent or you were guilty.
Actions were taken, or not.

At times you spoke, at other times you were silent.
Mostly, it seems you were silent—what could you say?

Now it is almost over.

Like a lover, your life bends down and kisses your life.

It does this not in forgiveness—
between you, there is nothing to forgive—
but with the simple nod of a baker at the moment
he sees the bread is finished with transformation.

Eating, too, is a thing now only for others.

It doesn’t matter what they will make of you
or your days: they will be wrong,
they will miss the wrong woman, miss the wrong man,
all the stories they tell will be tales of their own invention.

Your story was this: you were happy, then you were sad,
you slept, you awakened.
Sometimes you ate roasted chestnuts, sometimes persimmons.


Cher eBooks & Chart News

PaperwhiteI received a Kindle for Christmas. Of course, the first thing I did was to search for Cher books. Second thing I did was to search for Goodnight Loving Trail books for some poems. I read three books on that first. Then I came back to my Cher search.

One book just came out, called “Cher Unauthorized & Uncensored.” I could tell by the sample that this book was really awful and when I went to delete my sample, I accidentally purchased it! If you have a Kindle, you know how this happened. You have to double tap an object to delete it. They conveniently place the Buy option right below where your finger is already pressed to activate a purchase or a deletion, resulting in accidental purchases. I'm now out three bucks on a lousy Cher book. Since I was tricked into buying it, I decided to review it.

The intro makes copious claims about fact checking. Actually, there are so few facts in the book, incorrect facts are not the issue. This book is a school paper turned into an eBook. You have to beware of such things in the world today. The eBook revolution encourages easy money. If I were this writer’s teacher, however, I would mark it up for being poorly conceived and full of grammatical mistakes. Titles lack italics, quotes are missing quotes. Each chapter contains one paragraph. Random videos are inserted that lead you to YouTube. My Kindle can’t play YouTube videos so this was pointless. I did find one factual mistake. The book says Cher won an Oscar for Silkwood and an Academy Award for Moonstruck. I began to think our author was from another country. In one funny part, the book states that “By 2000, Cher recorded a few albums.” Yes, a few. A section on her personal life gets 7 lines. At least the book is timely, including news from January 30, 2014. The lesson here is you, too, could put out a crappy Cher eBook (and some dolt might accidentally buy it).

I knew I’d be in better hands with M.A. Cassata’s eBook released last fall. Also “unofficial and unauthorized,” at least Cassata is a journalist and can write a good sentence. I always enjoy how she organizes subjects around her Cher fandom, as she did in Cher Scrapbook. Although be warned: this book also has many typos. Some as innocuous as missing commas and italics, some as large as a missing answer in her 50-question Cher quiz. Hopefully these will be fixed in upcoming editions.

Speaking for myself, it is hard to catch all your typos. My blog has them (turnaround is too fast for proofing and it’s free, for Chrissakes!). My zines have them (also an underground, low-rent publication). But when I did my first book for sale on Amazon in 2012, I went and paid for a professional proofreader. Costing only 50 bucks for shorter material, I would recommend it to all eBook publishers.


Cher News is reporting that Cher's single "I Hope You Find It" entered the Adult Contemporary chart last week at #24 based on radio play.


Strong Enough Biography: Childhood Through the 1960s

ChermomanddadSo we've been discussing the new and wonderful Cher biography in detail. I wouldn't say this is my favorite Cher biography, (that would be hard to choose), but this is definitely a packed one and only the second one to have been published since I started this blog.

The two pictures here are not included in the book but they are new pictures I've come across recently (Cher posting on Twitter?) that seem to epitomize something interesting about a particular time in Cher's life.

All biographies give Cher's ancestry and childhood short shift. This biography spends even less time on her childhood since the book is ostensibly not a full-fledged bio. That said, the book does illuminate a few shadows in her story. This is the first biography that I have read that tells the story of Georgia's father trying to kill her and her brother and about her life in LA's Skid Row.

I also appreciate how the book gives more detail to Uncle Mickey. He seems like a somewhat important fixture in the story and we don't know much about him or his relationship to Cher and Georgia (except in flashes). He was involved peripherally in the Hollywood music scene after all. This book gives us more information on that in tidbits.

We also get a bit more about Cher's father. Although he was a troubled, often absent figure, his story is important. His story (and even the story of his parents and grandparents) matter in explaining why he was a troubled and absent figure in Cher's life (and why he was trouble when he was present in Cher's life). If he had been the perfect Dad, Cher wouldn't be who she is today. She'd be, for better or for worse, someone completely different. So his story matters, good or bad.

American Indian writer Leslie Marmon Silkos has some famous quotes; one is "You don't have anything if you don't have the stories." She meant that if American Indians lose their stories (and therefore their culture), they've lost everything. But I think we can extrapolate this idea to what we value about everything. Nothing is more valuable to us than our own story. And no story is disconnected from the stories of our parents.

So it's good to finally know why Cher was born in El Centro. Why were they down there? Turns out this has to do with her paternal grandfather trying to help out her father.

I love how Howard really breaks down her name and is concerned with the spelling of it. Finally! 

The book also details Georgia's marriages a bit more (although I swear this trail of marriages needs a flow chart or some kind of visual aid or something). I wish we could get a detailed list of all the LA neighborhoods Cher lived in and all the schools she attended.

Along with many more childhood stories. I loved the ancestor stories in Cher's special Dear Mom, Love Cher but we need more, more, more. You don't become Cher right out of the box, for Chrissake.

1069807_192674664227032_1779329975_nThis early picture of Sonny & Cher intrigues me because I think Sonny's main "Achilles Heel" regarding Cher was that no matter how far she grew into a glamour girl, no matter how much she matured, Sonny could never see anything but the young girl in this picture. And that was his fatal flaw.

I like how the recent Easlea and Fiegel biography put their music in context with what was happening at the time. This biography goes into more depth as well, but not regarding the music. Howard talks about how Sonny & Cher first connected and why, the desires they had in common. Howard also fleshes out Sonny's relationship to his first daughter Christy a bit.

And Howard also adds some new light to their financial situation through "Baby Don’t Go" and "I Got You Babe." Did you know "I Got You Babe" is the second most played song by astronauts, number one being Rush's "Countdown."

The book also is the first one to address Sonny's temper and witnesses to his explosions, from Les Reed talking about working with him on the show Ready Steady Go to quotes from friends who saw his personality change as Sonny & Cher became more famous. Is this because Sonny has passed away and people finally feel free to speak about it?

The book also addresses rumors that surrounded Sonny & Cher from their inception: that Sonny beat her up, that Cher was really a man. What wackadoodle things people are saying about you, this is a constant phenomenon that would plague Cher throughout her whole famous life.

The book lists out the various public service announcements Sonny & Cher were involved in, not just the anti-marijuana one. What would Sonny make of the current legalizations of marijuana? There was also the stay-in-school psa which you can hear yourself at the end of the "Hello" track on your The Beat Goes On, The Best of Sonny & Cher CD. This spot is overly ironic since neither of them did, in fact, stay in school and they were doing just fine and therefore were horrible examples for such a message. Sonny & Cher also did a spot apparently for National Bible Week. Surely it was the cumulative effect of all these unhip psa's helped to put their career in the shark tank.

By the end of the decade, after essentially funding their own interestingly flawed independent film (ahead of its time really; everybody is now funding their own interestingly flawed independent films), Sonny & Cher were, as we all know, broke and owning the government $200,000 in unpaid taxes. My question to this factoid has always been, why did they owe this much in back taxes?  Did they have a Willie Nelson moment or was it some unscrupulous accountings?


Camille Paglia on Miley Cyrus

CamileCamille Paglia: you love her or you hate her. She's outspoken and strident and I tend not to agree with her politically or critically and she was not supportive of Chaz's transgendering and has both been critical of Cher's plastic surgery and supportive of Cher's persona on occasion.

But recently my friend Christopher sent me a really good Time editorial by Paglia about Miley Cyrus' recent scandalous performance and it echoes many of the concerns Cher initially had. Her editorial also made many good points about the history of pop music and Madonna, as well:

"...the real scandal was how atrocious Cyrus' performance was in artistic terms. She was clumsy, flat-footed, and cringingly unsexy, and effect heightened by her manic grin.

How could American pop have gotten this bad? Sex has been a crucial component of the entertainment industry since the seductive vamps of silent film and the bawdy big mamas of roadhouse blues. Elvis Presley, James Brown and Mick Jagger brought sizzling heat to rock, soul and funk music, which in turn spawned the controversial raw explicitness of urban hip-hop.

The Cyrus fiasco, however, is symptomatic of the still heavy influence of Madonna, who sprang to world fame in the 1980s with sophisticated videos that were suffused with a daring European art-film eroticism and that were arguably among the best artworks of the decade. Madonna’s provocations were smolderingly sexy because she had a good Catholic girl’s keen sense of transgression. Subversion requires limits to violate.


But more important, Madonna, a trained modern dancer, was originally inspired by work of tremendous quality — above all, Marlene Dietrich’s glamorous movie roles as a bisexual blond dominatrix and Bob Fosse’s stunningly forceful strip-club choreography for the 1972 film Cabaret, set in decadent Weimar-era Berlin. Today’s aspiring singers, teethed on frenetically edited small-screen videos, rarely have direct contact with those superb precursors and are simply aping feeble imitations of Madonna at 10th remove.

Pop is suffering from the same malady as the art world, which is stuck on the tired old rubric that shock automatically confers value. But those once powerful avant-garde gestures have lost their relevance in our diffuse and technology-saturated era, when there is no longer an ossified high-culture establishment to rebel against. On the contrary, the fine arts are alarmingly distant or marginal to most young people today.


With their massive computerized lighting and special-effects systems, arena shows make improvisation impossible and stifle the natural rapport with the audience that performers once had in vaudeville houses and jazz clubs. There is neither time nor space to develop emotional depth or creative skills.

Pop is an artistic tradition that deserves as much respect as any other. Its lineage stretches back to 17th century Appalachian folk songs and African-American blues, all of which can still be heard vibrating in the lyrics and chord structure of contemporary music. But our most visible young performers, consumed with packaging and attitude, seem to have little sense of that thrilling continuity and therefore no confidence in how it can define and sustain their artistic identities over the course of a career.

What was perhaps most embarrassing about Miley Cyrus’ dismal gig was its cutesy toys — a giant teddy bear from which she popped to cavort with a dance troupe in fuzzy bear drag. Intended to satirize her Disney past, it signaled instead the childishness of Cyrus’ notion of sexuality, which has become simply a cartoonish gimmick to disguise a lack of professional focus. Sex isn’t just exposed flesh and crude gestures. The greatest performers, like Madonna in a canonical video such as “Vogue,” know how to use suggestion and mystery to project the magic of sexual allure. Miley, go back to school!

Read the full piece:

What Paglia does here is to maintain that sex has always been a part of pop music and that the raunchiness of Cyrus' performance wasn't the issue. It was the emptiness of it. She makes similar critiques of Lady Gaga. From the UK's Sunday Times, Paglia said that

Gaga is a "manufactured personality" who rips off her music and fashion from "Cher, Jane Fonda as Barbarella, Gwen Stefani and Pink." Paglia also disses the star's attractiveness, saying that "Drag queens, whom Gaga professes to admire, are usually far sexier in many of her over-the-top outfits than she is." Her sex appeal, or lack thereof, is quite a problem for Paglia: "Furthermore, despite showing acres of pallid flesh in the fetish-bondage garb of urban prostitution, Gaga isn’t sexy at all – she’s like a gangly marionette or plasticised android. How could a figure so calculated and artificial, so clinical and strangely antiseptic, so stripped of genuine eroticism have become the icon of her generation? Can it be that Gaga represents the exhausted end of the sexual revolution? In Gaga’s manic miming of persona after persona, over-conceptualised and claustrophobic, we may have reached the limit of an era…"

This is the enduring issue I have with Gaga, not her unsexiness (do we all have to be sexy?), but her flatness, how her artistic gestures are shallow and blatant. I just don't get a message there.

I like how Paglia compares the vapidness of shock for shock's sake between the pop and the art world, and how both fields need something to play against, "subversion needs limits to violate" like Madonna's transgressions against the Catholic Church. Likewise in the art world, if there is no establishment to rebel against, rebellion seems valueless.

I'm also interested in Paglia's concerns about arena shows and how computerized elements "make improvisation impossible and stifle natural rapport." I hope Cher keeps in mind a balance between cool technology and bling-bling effects and allows a spot of unplanned-out intimacy in her new show, understanding the fact that she is beloved to her fans and she could sing on a stool in a pretty dress and charm us all well enough. She is truely much more than "packaging and attitude" (or trust me, I would be bored to tears and would have jumped off the Cher wagon years ago) and defines, all by herself, the "thrilling continuity" of pop music's lineage. I hope someday she takes ownership of that.

She's also naturally sexy (sister to sister, you're time-tested) and thankfully doesn't need to bump and grind a teddy bear.