Thinking About the Cher Biography

Cher_oscars_6_a_h

Before I forget, Cher performed at the finale of this season's Dancing with the Stars. I don't know who won. I don't watch that show unless Cher or her peripherals are on it. But USA Today reported on Cher's appearance on the show. I found it striking she appeared on a 2019 show singing a 1967 song or rather she sang her own 52 year old song.

Dwts2019

I've been thinking recently about Cher's upcoming biographical projects: the Cher musical to travel in 2020, an upcoming biopic and her autobiography. 

I don't know if her book is in the can but I hope it includes music and artists she was influenced by aesthetically, interior design influences (and other "hobbies"), records she loved (and what Sonny thought of them), movies she loved, what the big mistakes were, who helped in little and small ways, and maybe even some dish on a few dramatic kindnesses and large slights. 

I think about the evolution of the Katharine Hepburn biographies (aside from Cher, I've read as much KH), and she got really reflective and reconsidered some of her earlier stances on issues (like boycotting the Oscars) toward the end of her life and it felt very human and enlightening. Actually, Hepburn's last opinion on attending the Oscars helped me show up at a book awards event this year. 

While I was making one of my unsuccessful attempts to find Cher's copy of Marie Claire, I picked up a British film magazine that caught my eye, Little White Lies, the Judy Garland issue. (I've read a few JG bios too).

Anyway, I liked how the articles in that magazine described the aims of her recent biopic:

“There is no two-bit mimicry here, no over-rehearsed tics or obviously detectable plummy accent. Both [Rene] Zellweger and [the director] understand that overzealous imitation in this type of film only serves to drive a wedge between audience and material. The ten-a-penny peacock turns by up-for-it chancers doing their best karaoke so often drains a movie of nuance and credibility, as all the focus is placed on, what is, a pageant for paid-for narcissism.”

In another article in the magazine Zellweger says

“We feared that the more you veer away from what is authentically you, the less likely you are to connect with the person you’re representing.”

Ironic but true.

And here's a quote that I feel sums up something unique about Cher. In a recent interview, Cher was telling the story again about the theatrical trailers for Silkwood and nobody knowing she was sitting in the theater. When her name came up in the trailer, everybody laughed and how painful that was to experience. 

The interviewer asks Cher if she felt a strong reaction at the time, like "they're all wrong about me!" and Cher said no, it was an organic response. "I never argue with reality."

What a quote, huh?  

My friend Christopher alerted me to an old Entertainment Weekly review of Cher's album Love Hurts. Christopher says the magazine had just started when this review appeared. It isn't great at a B+ and takes so many attacks at her Geffen era that I almost feel protective of Diane Warren, Jon Bon Jovi and the decade of schlock rock:

"[This album] finds the warbler surrounding herself with the most formulaic hit songwriters alive (Diane Warren, Desmond Child). To boot, Cher has cannily stuck with the production style most lusted after by cynical radio programmers, stressing power chords that plotz all over the place, battalions of backup singers who scream their guts out, and keyboard blasts so resonant they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon. Every song approximates that most reliably commercial of half-breeds, the part-rock, part-pop power ballad. So why, given this gluttonous buffet of calculation, is the album so much fun?"

Then going on to say,

“For all the fakery that surrounds her, Cher remains weirdly genuine.”

A common refrain of later-day Cher scholarship right there. What are the ingredients that made that?

  


The Influence of Movie Stars: Mae West and John Engtead Photos

MaewetitudeMy friend Christopher sent me a stack of books his grandmother had before she passed away. One of them was a thin book on the movies of Mae West. Immediately I recognized something about Cher in Mae West, a sort of Mae-Westitude. Did Cher borrowed anything from Mae West? It's an interesting idea. 

BreastdressFirst it was the dress from the movie I’m No Angel with the looks-more-revealing-than-it-is with its skin-tone material (so similar to Bob Mackie's dresses for Cher) and the cut-out breast plates similar to Cher's Take Me Home album cover.

Then it was Cher's Sadie Thompson but really Mae West impersonations (3:05).

It's also Cher's own sexual self confidence and personality.

Mae was said to be immediately recognizable and confident in her dresses, wigs and with her “insinuating sneer.”

Oh yes, and the wigs!

West is described in the book as tough, resilient, bold, self-mocking and good natured, all synonyms for Cher too.

Mae was also noted for her androgyny. Fans called her “Queen of the World.” The verb vamping was literally used in the book. So much in common.

Here are some other similar outfits...

Belle

Town

West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



West in Belle of the Nineties / Going to Town / Go West Young Man 

Pretty provocative.

Mae West also had a multi-faceted career from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood. And for those who bemoan Cher’s lack of commitment to any one facet of show business, Mae had something to say about that, too: "It wasn’t what I did but how I did it.” 

West was credited with bringing “an entirely new attitude toward sex on the silver screen. Before Mae, the Hollywood siren had been heavy and sinister, a wrench in spangles or clinging black velvet gown who lured men to their doom. With Mae, sex became breezy and humorous, a light-hearted activity without guilt, recriminations, or emotional involvement of any kind.”

I also recently found a book called “Movie Star Portraits of the 1940s” and there were some photos there by John Engstead. You might remember his photos of Cher photos circa 1975, when her promotional materials were black and white, very soft focus, glamorous and hearkening back to this very Hollywood era. 

Eng1 Cher-75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and whites with light and shadow, soft makeup similar to his work stars like Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrick and Loretta Young, whose photo with flowers reminded me of his portraits for Cher in 1975. 

Bergman-eng Bergman-eng Bergman-eng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid Bergman / Loretta Young / Lauren Bacall

There's something about these images that is not weak or vulnerable seeming, but headstrong…just straight on, and as the book states these images contain “allure and glamour imbued with intelligence.”


Watch Moonstruck for Christmas

XmasmoonMeg Sheilds has a great article about Moonstruck and why it's a great holiday movie.

Although it's not about the holidays per se, it's good a holiday vibe. She calls it a “glorious late-80s comfort food” and she likes Cher’s “frumpy chic.”

First, there's the sense of cold and warmth in the movie, scenes of insight are "bathed in cold, lunar spotlight that gives [them] a chilled supernatural feeling." Alternatively, the ”inviting domesticity of the interior spaces…radiate a warmth [both] physical and emotional with coloring of “dark cherry, rosy glows and deep crimsons."

Secondly, there's an emotional abandon about the movie, “the willingness to be emotional, both in bombast ('CHRISSY BRING ME THE BIG KNIFE') and in subtler, gentler ways ('I love him awful')…”tapping into that special kind of existential upheaval that runs rampant during the holidays when your routine is shaken and you discover new parts of yourself.”

She says, “Moonstruck loves it’s characters and refuses to reduce them to punchlines.” The movie has dark, wintery parts “of hard ground, dead trees, and precipitous existential dread.”

MoonstruckeggsFinally, there's family, a family which “feels terribly, terribly real…homey as those eggs that Rose makes.”

Oooh. I love that fried egg scene. I also love how the dish formerly known as Eggs in a Hole is now very often called Moonstruck Eggs.

Cher just gets into the cracks of culture, even the food. 

Which reminds me, why isn't there a Sonny cookbook out yet?

 


The Clinger Sisters on The Danny Kaye Show

Clinger1The Christmas season is upon us. And this reminds me that two years ago my friend Natalie spent Christmas in New Mexico. We watched one of her favorite movies, White Christmas with Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby. Natalie, turns out, is a big Danny Kaye fan. So we watched a lot of his clips on YouTube that month, including one with some young girls named The Clinger Sisters on Danny Kaye's variety TV show (1963-67).

I don't know why, but I looked them up on Wikipedia to see what became of them. Well, Peggy Clinger became a songwriter and wrote a song for Cher on her 1971 album, the song "I Hate to Sleep Alone."

Cherlp

 

In other news, check out this cool Christmas photo shoot with a Cher doll.


The Definition of Kibitz

KibbitzRemember this scene in the movie Good Times? Sonny is playing chess with their pet monkey? This is shortly after Cher orders out for "chicken delight" while saying, "You knew when you met me I wasn't the domestic type." 

I often say this phrase at home.

Anyway, Sonny, Cher and the monkey are waiting for their takeout and Cher is watching the chess game and making suggestions for Sonny, who is losing the game to the monkey. This annoys Sonny and he complains to her, "Don't kibitz."

Well, I've always wondered what that word meant. Like from the year 1981 when I first saw this movie at age 11 until this year. So for like 38 years I've been sitting here wondering. 

Recently I was listening to a Way with Words podcast and they explained this was a Yiddish word meaning "meddlesome bird." This is awesome because I love Yiddish.

Practically, it's defined as "to speak informally, chat, kibitz with friends" or alternatively "to look on and offer unwelcome advice, especially at a card game." (Google)

Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino also use the word in a recent GQ interview:

GQ: I wonder if you guys are friends in part because so few other people can really relate to your respective life experiences.

Pacino: We get together. And there’s a trust there. There just is. We understand this thing together a little bit better. And you go there sometimes just to get some feedback. We talk about things.

De Niro: Kibitz. I don’t know if you know that word.

GQ: I do.

Pacino: We kibitz.

They kibitz. That's adorable.


Bob Etsy RIP

TakemehomeOne of Cher's major producers from the late 1970s recently passed away.

Bob Etsy also produced big disco classics such as Donna Summers' "Last Dance." Here's his obit in the Hollywood Reporter.

And here's an interview where he talks about working with Cher.

Bob Etsy was a big part of the two 1979 Casablanca albums, Take Me Home and Prisoner.  He produced Prisoner entirely and shared production of Take Me Home with Ron Dante.

From Take Me Home he and with Michelle Aller wrote "Take Me Home," "Wasn't It Good," "Say the Word," and "Git Down (Guitar Groupie)." FromPrisoner Prisoner he and Michelle Aller wrote "Shoppin'," "Hell on Wheels," "Holy Smoke," and "Outrageous." He also co-wrote "Mirror Image" with Michael Brooks.

These Prisoner songs contained one-of-a-kind biographical lyrics meant to give people a view of Cher's life at the time. 

 

 

 


New Perfume Just in Time for Christmas

Eau

So as you may know, Cher's new perfume is available in time for all your $$$ stocking-stuffer needs, Eau du Couture. Does the name have to have so many vowels in it...so hard to spell. 

You can buy it here: https://scentbeauty.com/products/cher-eau-de-couture

I really like mine, which isn't a big surprise (and yet it kinda was when I opened it) because I liked Uninhibited and this smells very, very similar. My friend Christopher remarked that this is comforting, the idea that Cher has a one-stop smell and not a perfume opportunist like other celebrities. 

I'm not alone in my assessment either. Early reviews from frangrantica are making similar comparisons. And to remind you, here are the old reviews of Uninhibited. Or current reviews of it, as the perfume is still selling on eBay used. 

The commercial isn't quite as romantic as the last one from the 1980s and they lack her son Elijah or current boyfriend in them, but this making of the commercial was very lovely. 

MakeupHere's also an interview to go with the launch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QkM8REYt6Iw.  I love the tour they take her through the decades.

Cher-side-stareHave you seen those videos of people quietly doing things on YouTube? They're called ASMR videos and they tap into our audio sensory fetishes. Here's an article explaining ASMR. There's a subset of Youtubes around opening boxes. A Cher fan gets into the act in this video of hands opening the bottle. We didn't have that in the time of Uninhibited. It's oddly addictive. 

And here's the straight-out commercial which I've only seen online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=voRq6jdl6FE

At one part of the making-of video, we get the very intense Cher Stare (eek!) albeit a side-glance one. The Cher stare always makes me feel like I'm trouble for something, like in this case only buying one bottle of Eau de Couture so far!

I promise Cher, I'll buy the gift set when it comes out!! I swear!


Murder in Music City

Murder2So I finally had a chance to watch Sonny's 1979 movie, Murder in Music City, sometimes known as The Country Western Murders (I don't know where or why two titles were used or needed). And I never realized before now that this was an NBC TV movie. It aired on January 16, 1979.

Is it me or does his head look Photoshopped (or whatever they called it back in 1979) oddly to his body in that ad below. 

It opens with Sonny running from some bad guys. He plays a songwriter named Sonny Hunt (you hear two lines of a song) with a very spunky, likable girlfriend, a supermodel allegedly. They get caught up in a murder mystery because Sonny is so successful as a songwriter that he needs to put his money somewhere and his manager suggests a failing detective agency.

It could happen.

These two kids actually have chemistry and this would have been a better series, like a Hart to Hart. It's not as bad as you might think. Sonny does a pretty good job. He just doesn't have that elusive 'it' as an actor but this performance is far from embarrassing. The script was pretty much what you'd expect a TV movie in the 1970s to be. And considering this is Sonny's only starring movie role, it's worth a watch.

MurdersHe's shirtless multiple times. I should come up with a Sonny-shirtless-in-movies scale chart because he seems to be shirtless quite often in movies.

And remarkably (since this is a movie about Nashville after all), there are lots of country cameos including Mel Tillis (singing AND stuttering…I love me some Mel Tillis!), Barbara Mandrell (adorable per yush), Ray Stevens singing with Ronnie Milsap, Larry Gatlin, and an unrecognizable Charlie Daniels. Plus you get Morgan Fairchild, Claude Akins, Lee Purcell and that adorable character-actress Lucille Benson as the kooky secretary.

Even more remarkably, this flick was directed by Leo Penn, father of Sean, Chris and Michael.

The interactions between the country singers and Sonny are interesting and unusual. You had to wonder what everyone was thinking. Sonny was a fading hot commodity post breakup with Cher and their TV shows. You got the idea that Cher was more of a country music fan than Sonny (who was all R &B and Soul) and Barbara Mandrell was flying high on her hits "Sleeping Single on a Double Bed" and "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)" and on the cusp of her own variety show. There's a hilarious interchange between Sonny and Barbara where his character doesn't know who Mandrell is. Okay, Sonny Hunt. 

The Thrilling Detective website had this to say about the movie:

Murder1“Full of logical inconsistencies (Sonny has to break into his own business), wisecracks that don’t so much crack as slither, and a slew of country music celebrity cameos that pretty much define “gratuitous.”

This is the 1970s. Gratuitous has no meaning here. And it was very funny when Sonny broke into his own business. Therefore a fan of Rifftrax, I submitted this movie for their astute consideration.


Cher on Sirius


SiriusSirius Radio did a limited run Cher channel back in April. I don't have Sirius but my friend does so I was able to listen to the last 7 days, not 24/7 but during work hours, give or take a meeting when I had to turn it off. I would estimate I listened to 5 to 6 hours a day. 

Immediately, I nerded out with the decision to write down every song they played so that I could partake in the nerd activities of (1) cataloging them by album, (2) analyzing the choices and (3) judging them. 

Below are the results of what they played by album. Is it random? It's surely mysterious and I can't imagine Cher was involved in the selecting because most of her reported favorites are M.I.A. The playlist definitely favored deep cuts and later-day Sonny & Cher. As you would expect, all Warner Bros. albums (70s and current) are also missing, including her latest album!! So strange but part of the mysterious world of Cher.

See how many times your favorites were played...

Continue reading "Cher on Sirius" »


Cher Scholarship of 2019

Cher-joni Cher-joniThanks to all the Cher scholars out there who sussed these articles out, including super-scholars Michael, Tyler and Dishy. What an amazing year of Cher scholarship it's been. Lots of younger writers extolling the virtues of Cher!

The Guardian: It’s not always easy to be a Joni Mitchell Fan

Although not about Cher per se, Linda Grant has been a Joni Mitchell fan for over 50 years (I’m 5 years away from that and I'm sure some of you are more) and she's thinking about the death of her subject, how Mitchell doesn’t get the credit she deserves (Dylanesque credit, specifically).

She claims Mitchell has written her emotional biography. I don't feel that so much as the fact that Cher has been a soundtrack to the physical biography, and definitely an aesthetic biography.

But what I like about this article is mostly this well-written line:

“Perhaps the lifelong experience of being a fan, an admirer, an acolyte or a student of an artist will turn out to have been a fluke, a small window of privilege, and from now on careers will burn up in a year or two, the experience fleeting for the adorer and the adored alike. I don’t think she knows how much she’s venerated. Or maybe she knows and it doesn’t matter. It fulfils nothing. It makes no difference. She’s as alone with her music as we are.”

Thankfully Cher in her old age has not become bitter, her tone “autocratic, arrogant and angry.” I worry maybe Mitchell is bitter because she’s a music treasure not venerated as much as she should be, as much as Cher is starting to be, although their apples and oranges.

Remember their moment together living under the same roof with David Geffen while Mitchell was recording her classic Court and Spark album and Cher was recording and self-conscious of, Dark Lady? Giant ships crossing in the night.

Cosmo, a magazine I love more now than when I started reading it in the 1980s, publishes a lot of strong women stuff these days, interspersed with the celebrity fluff, including this interesting article “Decoding Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Relationship, It’s Complicated.” 

It reminds me of two things:

(1) Beyoncé does the accent thing and I never noticed that before. I wish Chér still did. Pink

(2) I wish this sort of laser-focus existed back in late 1972 through 1974 with Sonny & Cher were "decoupling," this decoding of the body positions: interlaced fingers, embraces.

This also reminds me of the ubiquitous breakout box of the 1980s and early 90s Cher magazine interviews, the list of Cher’s husbands and boyfriends with their pictures and maybe a sassy Cher quote about each of them. You couldn’t get through a magazine article without that breakout box of boyfriends. Thankfully, this era is over. But I can’t help but feel Katy Perry and Tyler Swift are in competition to have the longest breakout box of boyfriends to this day, as if they’re somehow modeling after Cher.

I recently watched a video of Pinks Funhouse Tour of 2009 and it’s got Cher’s Farewell Tour written all over it...although you might argue she does it even better. But it begs the question, remembering of those horrid reviews Cher got for “circus-i-fying” her concerts, why is this the style de rigueur now with young pop women. 

DarkhairedsCosmo also did a great essay this month by Shannon Carlin about the evil villains of Disney movies. Remember Cher’s lament that all the characters who looked like her in Disney movies were the evil women villains?

Carlin says “pretty princess types pitted against vengeful, aging antagonists. There’s no question who little girls are supposed to root for.” But aside from all the murderous plots and kidnappings,  “at least [they] take action instead of waiting around for someone [ahem, prince charming] to rescue [them].”

You could argue the raven-haired might have opted for that chance had they been offered it. Also, Cher was rescued by her prince and he did saver her from poverty (into the stratosphere)...but then what?

And that is the sublime part of the Cher story. Another important point: she never went villain. 

Carlin goes on to say that “complicated women are far more captivating than one-note damsels in distress. They’re just legit more human--even when they’re half octopus.” 

She then calls the Seven Dwarfs “groody men” which is entirely unfair. Happy and Bashful were real charmers. 

My favorite Disney movies was The Rescuers (because it was scary) and this action-still for years has been my icon at work. I feel it represents all three aspects of my personality: a somewhat misguided and insane Medusa, a very content little bear and a completely confused little girl.

Madame-medusa-top-disney-villains-la-11-1-12

Rolling Stone did a piece about how "Cher Stands Alone" by Rob Sheffield. He calls her “the one-woman embodiment of the whole gaudy story of pop music.” And this is very funny: he depicts “the battle of Cher versus Time turned out to be a mismatch. It’s Time that has trouble turning back Cher.”

He says, “There are no careers remotely like hers….she’s been on her farewell tour so long, it’s old enough to vote.” He says she invented red carpets and infomercials. "People said she couldn’t sing, yet she always sounds like herself...She’s part of every pop story,"

Chris Dondoros wrote about "Six decades of Cher" and said, "Cher’s creative risks have foreshadowed music industry trends." He mentions her Wall of Sound records (not really risky but trendy) and auto-tune (continues to be controversial). 

Pop-shapeshiftNick Levine produced, "A Guide to Getting into Cher, Pop Shapeshifter" with original art by Tara Jacoby.

He notes her "majestic voice" and ability to "reinvent herself repeatedly over the decades without losing her quintessential Cher-ness." He notes correctly that Sonny & Cher were the "family-friendly faces of the hippie movement" and that they showed in the 1970s "flawless comic timing" and "firecracker duets" and back to her voice, "it’s easy to forget what a dazzlingly distinctive vocalist she actually is." (thank you)

There are even suggested playlists for all her eras: kitschy folk-pop Cher, middle-of-the-road pop Cher, disco diva Cher, soft-rock Cher, (which he says, "made a strange kind of sense at the time...her voice wasn’t overshadowed by the cheesy metal riffs of 1989, camped-up Bon Jovi" which "essentially, appealed to your Dad and queer uncle alike") and wig-wearing, vocoder-loving dance-pop Cher (which he calls "Cher of Light").

He calls "Turn Back Time" , a song that taught us that no key change is too shameless." (thank you again)

In Nashville Scene, Ashley Spurgeon writes about how Cher continues to be an icon.

"At the disgusting, decrepit age of 43, [Cher] had the audacity to look really sexy and imply she was going to bone a boatful of sailors in the ["Turn Back Time"] music video….Authenticity is the byword of the age, and for all creative arts, music is held to its absolute highest standard….but the problem with centering this definition...in the realm of musical creativity is that it completely forgets that entertainers exist.  The Authentic Entertainer is an explosion, usually of glitter. Artifice is the point. And Cher is as authentic an entertainer as has ever graced the stage." (THANK YOU)

Spurgeon even acknowledges Cher's “SoCal” plastic surgery and her AutoTune and only says: “The sheer audacity, to this day!” Indeed.

Spurgeon continues,

"she was always going to tell those who had it coming to go fuck themselves....criticism can go fuck itself. She has been an LGBT icon for decades, and no small part of that work involves telling all manner of bigots [and bullies] to go fuck themselves.”

I think I'm hyperventilating I'm enjoying this so much.

"Basically, Cher has taken ever-more-insistent demands for authenticity and reflected them back in her own bedazzled, witty and wry image (not unlike her peer Dolly Parton). Making this contradiction work is how an icon stays an icon..."

BelieveincherLindsay Zoladz writes "Believe In Cher or Not" another kick-ass article with more original, unaccredited, artwork.

She calls Cher the ultimate millennial and explains why. She's "transgressed the laws of celebrity...in the past few years, though, she has ascended to an even more rarefied level of the celebrity stratosphere."

She continues,

"Part of the reason I think Cher is so beloved right now—especially for people whose lived memory of Cher begins just 20 years ago, with “Believe”—is that even her past makes sense through a modern cultural lens. She was famous for being famous decades before anybody knew what a Kardashian was. She has fluidly toyed with gender norms and sexual mores until they’ve looked stiflingly passé, and she has always been brazen about her hustle. She is very good at using emoji. And above all things, she evinces an odd combination of over-the-top artifice and gritty authenticity. Of course she’s had work done. But, as she so characteristically put it in an interview montage that aired right before her Kennedy Center Honor, “If I wanna put my tits on my back, that’s nobody’s business but my own.”

"Cher has always presented androgyny as a source of power. It’s part of the reason she’s always had such a devoted queer following. She was also one of the earliest proponents of drag culture….Cher would time and again wield this kind of gender fluidity as a superpower."

Zoladz calls Laverne a proto-Kristen Wiig character and toward the end of the piece says this very funny thing:

"This time her sparing partner wasn’t sonny, Peter Bogdanovich, or a nonbelieving recorde executive, but mortality itself--and Cher seemed to have it in a headlock.”

And as that article referenced Cher’s ass does indeed have a Facebook page.

CherbillboardAnd this article came out recently about LA’s Greatest Billboards. And just look at the company she keeps here. And she's the only woman!

A fan recently posted Sonny Bono's visit to The Bob Costas ShowIt's interesting to revisit this post The Cher Show revelations.

Sonny talks about how Sonny & Cher can cause a media frenzy together that they never can by themselves (even into the 1980s). "Ten times our impact when we're together," he says. He's talking about the frenzy they created on David Letterman's show. But there was also frenzies prior: when Cher attended the opening of his first restaurant, when they appeared on other show together. They did seem to be a sum bigger than their parts.

And that was probably true until the day he died. Then, as I’ve argued, you could see a shift in her personal impact, as if she inherited the Sonny & Cher brand fully and was creating the frenzy alone.

In one sentence, Sonny says Cher would have been a phenomenon without him (due to her drive) and then minutes later tells the media frenzy story. The truth is probably that Cher had superstar material organically but Sonny added something to make it really big.

He also talks about the pride he takes in "The Beat Goes On" and the legacy of hearing “the beat goes on” coined into phrase.