We’re Moving

It’s been a rocky year kids for reasons I can’t even begin to explain to you. But one of the final adversities this fall was the slow crashing of our dear webhost Typepad over the last three weeks, starting with their inability to display images on the site. Fortunately I was able to backup all (or most of) the many words but it’s been made clear by the downtime (and Typepad’s own homepage missive that they’re no longer taking new customers) that it’s time to move all the sites to more stable and supported pastures. That will take quite a bit of time and effort (and that’s after researching where we can even go). I don’t know if I’ll even be able to restore everything, but if not we can revisit old posts from time to time.

Brave new start.

So anyway I’ll be gone for a while which is kind of bummer considering I was within a shot put of finishing both the Cher TV shows and the Essay Project and was in the middle of a new set of Grammar poems.

The big irony here is that I had taken some time off blogging this fall (and off social media too, although I didn’t do as well with that). I had decided to just stop talking for a minute and start listening (but mostly just stop talking already). And when the weather changed last week I crafted some new posts about poets and madness, Cher's new Decades collection and a few other things that won’t see the light of day for a while.

Honestly, I’m one of the lucky ones in this hosting meltdown because at least I had most of my backups from 2007 and I’m not depending upon any of my words to eat. They’re provided free of charge. Since I’ve never felt this current life’s mission has been to make money or get ahead, I’m not suffering quite as much as some others at this time. (For anyone on Typepad who doesn’t have backups, try visiting archive.org, the Wayback Machine, and you can grab stuff there.) And Typepad most likely will stabilize again (fingers crossed) but this is a big wakeup call for us old-timers over there. And this whole experience just highlights how fragile an internet life can be and how it can all become destabilized and disappear overnight, just like Vint Cerf indicated all those many years ago when he warned us in a speech that a generation of intellectual property will probably be lost. Web companies come and go. The supports you take for granted can lose their way. It’s all part of the digital lifecycle.

It could be worse…always.

Which brings me back to my little goal of shutting up for five minutes. It might be longer than that. I will be taking this opportunity to watch one of my favorite movies, Into Great Silence. I will pretend to be a monk for a while until my little Chatty Cathy comes out again, which is inevitable.

In better news, ICANN has called everyone back into the office for the first time since they shut down in April of 2020. So oddly 2023 is feeling like what I expected 2020 was going to be. And that includes trips into the LA office starting January, during which I’ll see the Joan Didion exhibit at The Hammer Museum and will report back on that when the sites are all moved. This also means there will probably be no NaPoWriMo 2023 for me next year as I won’t likely be up and running by that time.

But there’s plenty of work for me offline and I hope to catch up with everyone down the line. I hope the rest of everyone’s year goes well and next year we can pick up with new books and fun Cher stuff. 


Starting on The Sonny & Cher Show and Misty Water-Colored Memories

DefaultI’ve started to work on the last leg of our major project. It’s hard to believe but I made the first post on the first Comedy Hour show all the way back on January 15, 2019! At this rate, I should be finished in late spring of next year (minus a sprinkling of TV specials we can do).

I’m actually happiest reviewing these post-divorce shows. These are the shows I remember watching in 1976 and 1977. After we moved to St. Louis from Albuquerque, our time zone changed and Sonny & Cher tv now fell after a pretty strict bedtime of 8 pm. At the time I petitioned for and was granted a weekly exception, an exception that lingered after the cancellation of the show and enabled me to watch Solid Gold every Friday night with the delightful Marilyn McCoo.

To watch Sonny & Cher, I would go back into my brother Andrew’s bedroom (I didn’t yet have a TV in my own room) to watch the show all alone. He had a little color portable green TV my mother once received as a work bonus. I remember the hour would go by incredibly fast. Sonny & Cher always looked so good, I thought.

This was also right around the time my family staged an intervention on my Cher obsession. It happened at the kitchen table one night (and this is going to turn shortly into a sentimental story about my Dad).

I recall sitting at the table while one of my brothers, my mother and  grandfather Stevens all tried to talk me out of liking Cher so much. My Dad was sitting at the far end of the table, but I don’t remember him saying a single word that night.

I do remember my mother telling me I shouldn’t like Cher because her teeth were crooked. And by the way, you can always ID an old Cher fan because we invariably say things like we prefer Cher’s old teeth. I’m sure I immediately dismissed this argument as beside the point. Then my grandfather said I didn’t even know what political party she belonged to!

This was not a surprising tactic on his part because he pretty much had his own two singular obsessions, (possibly this is a genetic problem), which were (1) extoling the greatness of British shipping history and (2) notifying anybody and everybody about the tragic demise of American labor unions. (As an aside, when he found out I was interested in poetry, he told me I should read the 1930s labor poets and I was like I don’t even know where I would find those people and he said go to the library and I said well, that’s not gonna happen. Fast-forward to today and I found those people and am reading them as we speak.)

But his suggestion that I know Cher’s political affiliation was completely disingenuous anyway because the current opening segment schtick for The Sonny & Cher Show was an argument about Cher supporting Jimmy Carter in the impending presidential election and Sonny still supporting Gerald Ford. This might even have been when Sonny “came out” as a conservative. My family should have known this. And in fact, Ford’s eventual loss to Carter was all the more misfortune in Sonny’s slow slide into the shadow of Cher’s phoenix-rising and his own impending designation as a “flash-in-the pan.”

But at that moment my only response to my grandfather was “I dunno” because I didn’t even know what the political parties were…and that was because I was seven years old.

Yes people, this all happened when I was seven!

So anyway, my Dad is sitting at the table conspicuously not saying anything during this completely shocking intervention and so this leads me into a story I’ve been meaning to tell for quite some time, (me wanting to tell it while my Dad is still with us).

So fast forward 33 years later and it’s my wedding. Now my Dad is not someone who wants to be doing anything in front of a crowd of people. So a speech from the father-of-the-bride was right away just not going to happen And honestly, a lot of the wedding traditions I felt very ambivalent about, but the one thing I had fantasized about for many, many years was the father-daughter dance. And I remember in early conversations my Dad was not wanting to do this. He kept saying he wasn’t a big dancer.

It took some working from my mother to convince him to even consider doing a father-daughter dance and even then there was a separate round of negotiations around what that song would be. My first choice was “Take It To the Limit” because my Dad was a late-adopting but relatively new fan of the Eagles and the song kind of reminded me of him in a distantly, Western kind of way. But then my brother Randy convinced him that the song was essentially a love song (an interpretation I still disagree with) but then as it turns out my Dad would never want me to ‘take it to the limit’ anyway so the whole thing was a moot point. Bad idea on my part. As was the, in hindsight, misguided suggestion to use Lee Ann Womak’s “I Hope You Dance.” There is probably not a single line in that song my Dad would agree with. Not a single line.

So after months of back and forth and finding nothing, I suggested the song “Turn Around” and I sent him Cher’s version with the caveat that I didn’t like it. I rather preferred the Harry Belafonte version or the version that was on that Kodak commercial in the 1960s. Unfortunately in 2009 other versions of the song were nowhere online or in new or used record stores that I scoured for weeks. And that ended up being a moot point too because my Dad said he was only interested in dancing to the Cher version. End stop.

I was surprised by this, kind of moved and also a little dismayed (it’s really not a great version; Cher’s barely had time to “turn around” herself). But that was just too bad, because that was the only song he would consider. And as I recall he still didn’t commit to anything fully until pretty much right before the event, the night before which we spent with my former-dance-teacher mother showing us a simple waltz.

0230_McCray-LoRes-WEB_20091114And we did the father-daughter dance to Cher singing “Turn Around” and it went off without a hitch.

Later, my wedding reception was basically a mix-tape project with the DJ and I organized slow-dance numbers in two-song blocks because haven’t we all been at weddings where you find yourself in the bathroom when a slow song comes up and by the time you find your date and drag him out to the dance floor it’s all over?

And I didn’t use many other Cher songs at the wedding. I used the instrumental version of “I Got You Babe” as part of the arrivals mix and a fun radio mix of “Song for the Lonely” as part of the dancing reception…

…and my favorite version of “I Got You Babe” during one of the slow-dance two-fers (the Westside Room version to which I edited out all of Sonny’s preambles because what poor guests need to hear that?).

And when that particular song started playing my own date was off hobnobbing with some of our guests and I was a little disappointed (missing a dance to “I Got You Babe” during my own wedding and all). But then I turned around and my Dad was standing there and he said, “I’ll dance this song with you.”

Oh my.

This was one of the unforgettable moments of my life, I have to tell you. I don’t even know why really. Probably it was his willingness to dance to this iconic Sonny & Cher song with me at that moment. To this day it gets me very verklempt. I mean after all the protracted negotiations about dancing at all and then the history of my family vis-à-vis the Cher thing. And now I cannot extricate my memory of my Dad and me dancing from this version of the song itself, which every time I hear it has come to mean a sort of moment of acceptance and connection. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably pick this song for the father-daughter dance in the first place. It was probably the real one, unbeknownst to anyone there, which is just like the most awesome thing.

 I mean.

The other slow song I paired with it was Wilco and Billy Bragg’s cover of Woody Guthrie's “California Stars,” a cover which my Dad really liked by then too and so…

 …we kept on dancing.

 

"Good night everybody. God bless you. Thank you for being so cool. Good night and thank you very much."


Cher Shows Completed

Fashionweek2022Cher just made a big splash (or two) at Fashion Week in Paris:

Rolling Stone
The Guardian
People

Fashionweek2022-1

I’ve been keeping my nose in projects lately. On top of that, ICANN had a meeting in Kuala Lumpur so it was the nightshift for me last week. And now cleaning furiously for a visit next week from my friend Natalie (the real Lion in this story) is visiting and we’re taking a scenic train trip on the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic from Colorado to Chama, New Mexico. We’ve been trying to plan this trip since Covid started. Sigh.

And I’ve been continuing to work diligently documenting Cher TV shows. Recently I finished the tour through the solo show. As part of that I watched the Bob Mackie interview in the Cher TimeLife DVD set. Here's a summary of that:

Mackie said he started working with Cher when she would ask for him whenever Sonny & Cher did early 1970s TV specials and Cher liked working with him because he was young. She was intimidated by old people in show biz, Mackie said. “I’ll never be older than 30,” she told him. “I’d be old then.” Mackie added, “look as us now.” Turns out death is kind of more intimidating that old age.

Anyway, Mackie says he saw S&C as a novelty group back then and that after the Beatles arrived they weren’t really getting booked anymore so they transitioned to a nightclub act.

He acknowledges Sonny & Cher were the same height, but that Cher had “a tall look.” He said for the first season of their variety show the network gave them no money and so Mackie had to recycle Carol Burnett dresses (they are the same size and measurements) and keep using the same basic white dress made over with embellishments. He said Cher always looked better than the models in his clothes. He said Sonny and Cher had a good PR agent and Cher was getting a lot of magazine covers.

Mackie says he was there for the first variety show planning session and he remembers the writers didn’t really know what to do with Cher. Was she like Keely Smith? No. Mackie could see Cher had something nobody else had. “She looks like nobody in show business.” Was she American Indian, Middle Eastern, Hispanic? He reiterates that he thinks her armpits are her best feature. He said she had a nice “soft six pack.” He said once the censors saw the show’s huge ratings, they relented on the belly button thing.

Mackie says they were always running late and pulling all-nighters on sewing outfits. Dresses would be hand-beaded and take hundreds of hours to finish. Cher was always very happy with bugle beads, crystals, feathers and rhinestones. Mackie’s favorite dress was the Time Magazine/Met Gala dress. “It looked like you could see something but you couldn’t.”

33bcc37dfd9307669e2708a7b58b9a80 33bcc37dfd9307669e2708a7b58b9a80 33bcc37dfd9307669e2708a7b58b9a80

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He says Cher outfits have been experiencing Internet nostalgia recently and he sees copies of his dresses on young celebrities and drag queens everywhere.

He says their outfits were never vulgar, never trying too hard. Cher was “never posey” and could rock a t-shirt and jeans as easily as a historical costume dress. He said she was fearless with outfits and unlike other glamour girls wasn’t afraid to look silly. He said Cher was really laid back and easy and full of energy.

As we know, Mackie was doing the full suite of costumes for The Carol Burnett Show and only had the bandwidth to do Cher’s outfits on all her variety shows. Ret Turner took over, working with Mackie, on the rest of the cast including Sonny and Chastity. Turner and Mackie had worked together on lots of shows, Mackie said.

Of the Tina Turner, Kate Smith, Cher Beatles medley, Mackie says, “you will never see that again” and “you have to see it to believe it.”

He says the Laverne character is the complete opposite of Cher. He says he worked with Teri Garr earlier when she was a dancer on Hullabaloo. He said the 1970s was the Golden Age of Variety (which surprised all of us, Mackie said, “because we thought were at the end of the road.”) But never again would networks spend that kind of money on a big orchestra, couture-level costumes, sets and all-around glamour.

Mackie said in the recent Broadway show think-tank sessions Cher’s likeability kept coming up as a phenomenon. Cher wins you over, Mackie says, and people have an “odd fascination” with her. People “always wanted to know what Cher was doing.” He said it was “tough for the girls playing her. Nobody’s quite like her.”

ChershowI really enjoyed re-evaluating the Cher episodes in chronological order this year and I came to have more respect for what the show was doing: more overt feminism, trying to present Cher in her own right, a stronger focus on musical guests. There were a few cringy moments but there were just as many, if not more, really fabulous, history-making moments the show doesn’t get nearly enough credit for. It’s the show I was probably the least familiar with going into the project, having never seen any episodes before VH-1 re-aired some in the 1990s. I definitely could see a continuation of the cultural work the Comedy Hour was doing but with a bigger bang.

In some sense, the next incarnation of the Cher TV with Sonny would seem like a regression. But it wasn’t. After sweating it out on her solo show, Cher could now hold her own side-by-side with Sonny and it shows.

And any tension underscoring their post-divorce reunion may have turned America off (as the show’s ratings didn’t stay high), but looking back the show was nonetheless interesting in some entirely new ways.


Cher and Black Rose

ImagesThe Twitter Cher scholar at Cher Universe mentioned on August 21 the anniversary of the release of the Black Rose album 42 years ago.

I'm always impressed by young social-media Cher fans who for the last few years have been finding the most amazing, never before seen Cher pics hidden out there on the Internets. I've been combing through Cher pics for 45 years now and I've never seen some of these photos.

I first saw this Black Rose picture below from Victoria Shell's YouTube great YouTube bios of Cher (part 1 & part 2) from last year. Never saw it before that.

And the photo was shocking in its silliness. I commented on Twitter this image might have been part of the band's credibility problem. 

Gettyimages-1155033638-594x594

 

 

 

 

 


Allegedly, Black Rose was rejected from opening for the tours of every popular 1980s band except Hall and Oates. That might be an exaggeration but they were not a popular band.

2hde5a1This anniversary reminded me that I've been meaning to blog about the remastered Black Rose Import CD (which came from Ireland I think and during Covid it took months to arrive in the mail). The liner notes were worth the long wait because they include an extensive interview with Les Dukek about the experience, which is valuable. He was the main driver of the band, aside from Cher; and during the project he would also become her boyfriend of three years.

The liner notes call Cher's career "varied and unpredictable" and introduce Dudek from his work with the Allman Brothers ("Ramblin' Man"), Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs, 3 solo albums and a member of DFK (with Mike Finnigan and Jim Krueger).

A-1280394-1349896448-9317Dudek calls this project a big mistake but also adds that Cher was not part of the mistake. He says he has very fond memories of his relationship with Cher. He says, "I totally lost my identity but I had a great time." The band itself, he says, was just a bad move for his career. 

He says he was approached by Cher to help put together a band. She took him to dinner at Nick's Fish Market on Sunset Boulevard. Cher said she was working with a few producers but no one she liked. Dudek suggested James Newton Howard. 

After working with them on her 1979 Prisoner album, Cher probably brought in the two members of Toto, David Paich and Steve Pocaro. Interestingly Jeff Pocaro is missing, a stalwart member of Cher's studio bands since the early 1970s). Dudek brought in Mike Finnegan for keyboards and he and Cher held auditions and jam sessions to assemble everyone else.

Other members included Ron "Rocket" Ritchotte, Mike Finnigan, Michael Boddicker, Trey Thompson and Gary Ferguson.

They recorded the album at Sunset Sound, Westlake and decided not to use Cher's name or photo in any early publicity materials, only to list her as a player with the rest of the band on the back album cover. (Eventually this changed.)

CcLqDfAUUAAN7vaBlack Rose toured with Hall and Oates and appeared on Merv Griffin, Tom Snyder (focusing on Cher) and The Midnight Special. There was a Central Park concert. 

Although Neil Bogart was "a sweetheart of a guy," Dudek says there were issues using Cher's current music label, Casablanca Records; but Columbia Records had passed. Not only was Casablanca primarily a disco label, but with Bogart dealing with terminal cancer the label would soon fold. Due to lavish spending "the record company fizzled," Dudek says and was bought out by Polygram. Only 400,000 records sold. Cher became depressed. Dudek claims it was he who encouraged Cher to try acting again and to "go for the Oscar." He went with her to New York City to meet with Robert Altman.

Blackrose_albumAnd the rest is Hollywood history. But I do like the front cover they came up with, its anklet of thorns and also Cher's attempt to downplay her Cher-ness on the whole thing initially.

I hated the album when I first heard it, then years later I thought it was okay, then years later I didn't like it again and now I like some of it.

It's a mystery why the band wasn't writing their own material, especially considering Cher and Dudek did write a song together. 

"Never Should've Started" was written by David Foster, David Paich, James Newton Howard and Valerie Carter. Cher sings the intro well but then her vocal becomes swallowed and the whole thing seems hyper, screechy and empty. Not an auspicious beginning. A live performance.

"Julie" was a Bernie Taupin/Mike Chapman song and Cher's vocal is completely indecipherable here; but I do like to send the song periodically to my friend Julie and pretend the opening lines are "She-blips lie in the hungry ears" because yeah, of course they do! When I was eleven (1981) I also made a mix tape of all the swear words spoken or sang by Sonny or Cher strung together and this song was very helpful in that project. 

"Take It From the Boys"  was written by Carole Bayer Sager/Bruce Roberts and I'm trying to think of something snarky to say about using David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager songs on your debut rock album, but thinking about it just makes my brain fog up. I have no idea what Cher is singing here in the verses and although Cher sounds convincing, I shall not be taking it from the boys in the street, whatever that entails. I do like the end though. You go Carole Bayer Sager!

"We All Fly Home" - This is just another way to say "We All Sleep Alone" but Desmond Child, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote it better. This song also produced a gem for the cussin' tape. I would have been eating Dial soap tout de suite if my mother had found that cassette tape. Cher sings swear words really well, I will say.

"88 Degrees" - a song about LA on a hot day. I do remember the People Magazine album review taking special umbrage about all the vowels Cher uses to sing the word "split." (And no, the word 'damn' did not make the cut for the damn mix tape of Cher expletives.) This song really plods along. 

"You Know It" was written by Les Dudek and I actually like this duet, more than any of the Allman duets. 

"Young and Pretty" is the best thing on the album and the most likely song to be anthologized. Cher's still a bit muddled sounding but there's enough here to hang on to.

"Fast Company" - this was the song I most liked when I was 10 or 11 years old. It was challenging to sing along when I had no idea what words she was singing but I gave it a good go anyway. Like Redd Foxx told Cher on her solo show in 1975, you can get pretty far just on attitude. That's what this song says to me.

The liner notes say the album was mistakenly promoted as New Wave [which is pretty bizarre] instead of hard rock. The notes also maintain that the musicianship was high with quality songs and that Cher sounds "convincing as a rock vocalist" and "slots in with the rest of band...sounds like a proper band not a collection of session talents brought together to fulfill the aspirations of one person."

Except that is kind of what it was. Just having to say that...is kinda...the problem. 

R-3567371-1335637415.jpegI actually don't think Cher was ready yet for this project. And the fact that she was bi-furcated between this band and her big circus Vegas act of pop songs was more of the same brand confusion fans experienced during the Gregg Allman years. I'm sure the proceeds of the Vegas extravaganza were bankrolling the personal projects but maybe that was playing it too safe. In any case, the result skewed more toward a Hollywood idea of what a rock band was (see the back cover for example), or a hodge-podge, over-orchestrated attempt to create one out of thin air.

That said, I do think this whole endeavor was practice for the more simplified and cohesive Geffen years.

An aborted second album allegedly included the Frankie Miller song "Aint Got No Money," "Dirty Old Man," and "Don't Trust that Woman," the song Cher and Dudek wrote together. 

Mask-bikersInteresting to note there are two versions of this song: the version Cher wrote with Dudek and he recorded on his solo album Gypsy Ride (1981) and then the version Elton John re-wrote with Cher later and recorded on his Leather Jackets album (1986). In 1985 Cher also got Dudek a role in the movie Mask as one of the bikers. "I did an album and a movie with Cher and I'm proud of it, so there," Dudek says, "She has a great work ethic. She's real dedicated to what she does." 

Little timeline of Cher recording with men she was sleeping with:

1977: Allman and Woman, Two the Hard Way with Gregg Allman

1978: "Living in Sin" with Gene Simmons

1980: Black Rose with Les Dudek

And for a palette cleanser, Youtube served this up to me this morning, a Toto song I had completely forgotten about (thus giving me a K-Tel record flashback): https://youtu.be/rQysrhYnWHg. If only Steve Lukather from Toto had been in Black Rose too in order to give them songs like this.

And a shout out to Hall and Oates.


When Cher Sings a Song: What It Means

Slander-libelSo I’ve mentioned before how when different people sing the same song, it can have different meanings; and this is because every person brings to a song their own “star persona” and personality and backstory and public backstory.

Andrew Goodwin talks a lot about this in his book Dancing in the Distraction Factory about music videos in the 1980s and 90s. A music video was never just a music video, but a piece in a conglomeration of promotional materials, star personas, the history of entertainment on television, (and he doesn’t mention it but this includes musical segments on old variety shows), posters, album covers, magazine interviews, TV interviews, aspects of business and the whole cyclone of products, promotions and pressures that circle around a song.

So while I was working on the latest Cher show this week, her opening song came up as a perfect example of this. First of all, I had never heard this song, “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” before last weekend; but I loved it immediately and saw it as the kind of song Cher would often use to explain herself, certain songs she sings over and over again, like “More Than You Know,” and “’Aint Nobody’s Business.”

I was very surprised to discover this was a Simon & Garfunkel song, written by Paul Simon. And when they sing it (and as the lyrics literally read) the song is about being on the road and the perils and pains found there.

Slander-libel2But Cher can’t help but lend a different spin to the song. She sings a few bars of the Janis Ian song “Stars” as the initial torch moment of the opening. “Stars” is a song about how alienating stardom can be. This was a significant song on her 1975 album (and not the only song on the album dealing with issues of fame) and it is significant that this was chosen as the title of the album. So from the beginning of this performance, Cher is setting up that “this song is about me as a famous person.”  This affects the context of the matching, following song, "Keep the Customer Satisfied" which in her hands focuses more on slander and libel than life on the road.

In her version, the road is more figurative for her whole celebrity life. At the time Cher was the most recurring cover girl on news stand tabloids, which were full of silly, off-the-wall stories about her love life (mostly involving people she had never met). She was also criticized for her divorce and risqué costumes. Here she’s presenting as a working showgirl just trying to do her job and entertain. The sheriff becomes not a literal middle-America sheriff but middle-America itself.

Slander-libel3So literal details can become figurative depending upon what the singer persona brings to the song. It’s a magical thing.

It’s also a catchy song. And this isn’t always the case, but here I like the Cher version better, even though the big production of the S&C version has a fun build. I feel the song fits Cher's drawl and delivery. She brings more gravitas to her version. Because really, how slandered and libeled were Simon and Garfunkel compared to Cher.

Or was anyone I submit to you.

The Gary Puckett version.


My Rick Springfield Story

Untitled design (2)This story came to mind recently after a few nice people wrote to me about the Partridge Family/Cher post a few weeks ago. One was a music writer from St. Louis and I enjoyed her pop-culture writings on Cher, Cream Magazine and a very funny piece on Rex Smith. I also liked how she incorporated a representative music link at the end of her commentaries. And she reminded me how my two older brothers, solidly in the 1970s, St. Louis KSHE-radio rock-music demographic, once mercilessly made fun of Rex Smith.

This was separate and apart from their ongoing pressure for me to alter my music plays in the house. And even though my first instinct was to resist their suggestions in this area, in a few cases their influence did affect me unawares.

In the first case, they ruined Barry Manilow’s song “Mandy” by telling me the then-popular rumor that the song was about a dog. The second instance involved Rex Smith when my brothers mocked his single “You Take My Breath Away” one day while we were in the family station wagon because the song was basically the same two sentences sung over and over again into perpetuity. I had to agree they had a point there.

There was also their general, unspoken disparagement of pretty boys in all cases, (especially light-haired ones), which must have seeped into my consciousness somehow and pretty much made impossible any crushes I could ever develop on Rex Smith, Leif Garrett, Sean Cassidy, Jimmy McNichol and pretty much anyone from Duran Duran.

But that was all academic because I was too late a bloomer for Mr. Rex Smith. And I really can’t emphasize that enough. I was a late, late, late bloomer.

Screenshot_20220723-194805I was a perfectly happy camper being a kid with my girlfriends roller skating and playing waitress or teacher or famous novelist. We had our salacious sexcapades with the Barbies; we had incredibly complex township soap operas improvised around the Fisher-Price army of Little People and their building structures. We had board games, books, restaurant menu design, newscasts, pirating.

But the biggest thing was the Fisher-Price and Tree Tots villages we would create in our basements by pooling together our buildings.

Screenshot_20220723-194821My friend Krissy was a year older than me and we played this way for years…until she “turned.” Darcey Steinke explains “turning” for girls very well in her novel Sister Golden Hair. Turning refers to the change from girlish kid-hood into the adolescent tweens. Girls turn overnight, Steinke explained, and this completely jives with my experience growing up. Girls pass from childhood to adolescence overnight like a flipped light switch whereas boys could take months if not years to evolve into their adolescence. I don’t know how it was for gay or trans kids. Possibly something in between. But for cisgender girls, the change was Twilight-Zone quick. One day a girl had a kid personality, the next day that kid disappeared and the same girls were like zombies solely intent on finding out where the boys were grazing. It was unnerving if you were a late bloomer, kind of like watching a 1950s horror movie.

ImagesKrissy was older and so her disappearance was expected to some degree, although because she was in a grade higher at school, I rarely saw her again after that. But for the girls in my own grade, the loss of a playmate was much more egregious and painful because we would still be friends at school. We just weren’t spending our free time in the same way anymore. It was a confusing kind of loss. And in the condescending way of girls who mature faster than others, my friends were patiently waiting for me to ‘catch up’.

Screenshot_20220723-072550Jane in our grade went next. Boy crazy we called her then because she was a statistical outlier. But then suddenly all the girls started falling like dominos!

I made an impassioned case to save them, too. I said things like,

“Hey listen, I have two boys in my house! And first of all, they smell…like bad!

Secondly, they’re obnoxiously immature for like forever and it will be another whole year before one will even be able to have a civilized conversation with you.

Screenshot_20220723-194618What’s the rush anyway? You have the rest of your life to suffer over boys!

Let’s play a game of Life!“

As you might imagine, my arguments fell flat.

I remember my very last Fisher-Price friend. Her name was Chris and she was one of the last girls to turn. She wasn’t interested in boys yet because she was a tomboy, which I was not. I was just clear-headed and probably psychic about the prospect of a lifetime of love-drama ahead. I was also to into dollhouses and stuffed animals to be a tomboy. And I had no interest in climbing anything. A few times I did swear to my Screenshot_20220723-194506father that I could be a tomboy for 48-hours in order to finagle an invitation to the boys-only camping trips. But no luck; he never bought it. Not once. (And thus, an adulthood of compensation-camping for me).  

In any case, I was always willing to caucus with the tomboys if it came to that. And I thought, “okay here is someone who beats up boys at recess! She’s good for another year with this Fisher-Price stuff…at least.”

Screenshot_20220723-194539Her father did very well at a local company and so she got presents on holidays like Valentine’s Day. She had so much stuff, she’d give it away frequently. All my Michael Jackson albums were bequeathed to me when she got a full replacement set like on like Washington’s Birthday or some other non-gifting holiday like that.

So of course all her toys was great. She lugged them all over to my basement one day, all her Fisher-Price buildings, the airport, the cottage, the farm and the Holiday Inn (which I didn’t even know existed). Those combined with my farmhouse and parking garage and we had quite a metropolis.

Screenshot_20220723-194439And we were having a swell time in my basement when two days later she calls and says she can’t make it over that day.

(No worries. Everything’s fine.)

But then I get the same call again the next day and then the next day; and I know what this means. I’ve been here many times before. She’s turned. She’s still friendly at school and willing to do all the adulting things she’s newly interested in; but she suddenly has no interest in being a kid anymore.

So we’re talking on the phone a few days later and I say, “By the way, you’re going to have to come over and pick up all your stuff or I can bring it over to your house or whatever.”

And this is what she says to me, (and it still breaks my little heart to this very day). She says,

“You can keep it.”

Ugh!!!

(Flash forward a few decades and my mother kept all that Fisher-Price stuff, both mine and everything Chris left behind, and was a very popular grandmother as a result. All my nieces and nephews loved those toys as much as I did. Even the neighbor kid would come over. It brings me some kind of mitigating joy to know those things had those subsequent lives.)

But anyway, I was adrift then because you couldn’t play with that stuff alone. You needed to bounce your imaginative stories off each other. So Chris’ kid-defection effectively and forcibly ended my career with Barbies and Fisher-Price people forever.

Kid-business just ceased to exist for these girls. Roller skating now had to happen at a disco roller rink where boys could be skated in front of. No more Nancy Drew. It was now standing around at the shopping mall in a cute outfit. (Which, by the way: you couldn’t pay me.)

Over the years I’ve thought a lot about this turning business and my being so tardy with it. It’s like each girl in my grade became possessed with another personality overnight, all the girls except the ones who were never going to turn, like the ones who turned out to be lesbians. Every other girl turned before I did. Actually, most of the boys turned before I did, too. That’s how late I was. And it was a lonely year as far as after-school was concerned. I watched a lot of TV.

I have this theory that Gen X girls in my grade all turned during a three-to-six-month period of time in the early 1980s. And it was like they woke up one morning and said, “Hey, I like boys today!” and then they all went to the record stores all over America and said, “Hey look! There’s a boy!” and then they all bought that same, damn Rick Springfield album.

My friend Krissy was a perfect example. She was completely following my influence in her record album purchases, however questionable they were. Slowly in the late 1970s, Cher and Johnny Cash albums were stacking up in her bedroom. And then out of the blue one day she makes a renegade purchase and I find the Rick Springfield album lying there on her bed.

And it was like any disparaging thing I could say about boys would just result in a moony gaze at the Rick Springfield album cover.

It’s important to note here that this was a completely different situation than years earlier when one of my friends would put on a Sean Cassidy or Jimmy McNichol 45 record as we kept on playing with the Fisher-Price stuff.

I was like goddamnit Rick Springfield; you are making this so much harder for me! It wasn’t his fault, I suppose. If it hadn’t been him, it would have been someone else. So it wasn’t personal exactly.

It was a little bit personal though.

Of course, I did turn eventually. One day in science class two of my girlfriends forcibly made me pick out some rando guy to “like.” And what seemed like a perfectly safe and perfunctory choice in the moment turned into rent garments pretty quickly. Within days, I was so predicably swept away I couldn’t even parcel out all the incredibly deserved “I told you sos” to all my friends.

And from that day that I turned, I have no clue where all that Fisher-Price junk in the basement got stored away because, for the love of god, all that ceased to exist and within days the basement was repurposed into a dance floor where I was dancing to The Pointer Sisters and songs like “Let the Music Play” while daydreaming about stupid rando boy. I had a bathroom now miraculously full of makeup and hairspray, was giving a shit about what I wore to school every day, and even stinky socks and asinine immaturity seemed mysteriously surmountable and even immaterial and now possibly (alarmingly) even part of the new appeal!

I think we can all look back at this time and clearly see I was totally right about all of it; and if Rick Springfield hadn’t enabled the complete Gen-X-Girl Turnover of 1981 & 2, I would have had a fighting chance in talking sense into those precocious, hormonally-hijacked young ladies.

The Rick Springfield thing isn’t personal. It’s just a little personal though.

StateoftheheartThis grievance of course doesn’t include the Italian Rick Springfield. He’s a total hottie.

 

And now…the closing Rick Springfield song.  
(I did buy this 45 single in 1985 so I couldn’t have been that mad at Rick Springfield.)


The Kiss-Off Songs of Sonny & Cher

Sonnyandcher01Full disclosure: when I was eight years old, I found Sonny & Cher's final record at the local library. This album seemed totally crazy (even for an eight year old) and yet I still proceeded to develop a nine-minute dance routine to Sonny's confounding title opus. 

Now, every time the song "Mana Was a Rock-and-Roll Singer, Papa Used to Write All His Songs" comes up on my music app shuffle, I can't help but compare it to the song Cher chose to sing to Sonny during one of the final episodes of their TV variety show.

MamaSonny's song is particularly venomous and disingenuous, full of bitterness. What's most shocking is that he got Cher to sing it.

"Damn you girl, you went and messed up the world" is really its prime motivation but includes attacks on Cher's alleged promiscuity, her looks, her treatment of him, and mysterious manipulations that allegedly led to someone getting jail time! Although Sonny does admit Cher is "super fine and blows people's minds."

The song then oddly floats into a reflective set of movements which take up two-thirds of the running time and proclaim a false modesty repeated over and over only to disprove the adage that if you repeat something enough times people will believe it.

The last two thirds include a full production with children's chorus, agitated strings and horns, a gospel singer, and a guitar solo which you don't even notice right away because so much is going on!

It's really something. Why is Cher involved in this again? Oh yeah, because even when she was pissed off at Sonny and he was being a complete dick, she still loved Sonny. And then, just when you think it's over...

DidntweIn contrast, Cher's fare-thee-well song to Sonny was Jimmy Webb's "Didn't We." Spectators to her performance of it, one of the final taped solos of the 1971-1974 series, say there wasn't a dry eye in the house, including Cher's.

Every time she sings, "And this time we almost made that long...hard climb," that emotional part always makes me sad.

Sonny also wrote a solo song called "Last Show" but it was mostly about losing the shows, not about losing Cher. And don't get me started on the grammatical uses of she and her. That song just makes me tired. I actually prefer the crazy opus if I had to choose. And, luckily, this world does not require that of us.


Cher Show, The First Season

Cher-georgeThe first season of the TV show Cher is up: https://www.cherscholar.com/the-tv-variety-shows-and-specials.html

Like my experiences re-watching the Sonny & Cher shows, I am enjoying the Cher shows much better as I’m re-watching them. The half-hour Cher shows when they aired on VH1 seemed very thin and awkward; but watching full-hour episodes gives them some heft and I can see more significance in skits and threads developing as the show evolved. Which is a surprise to me. I was expecting to not like them just as much as I had previously not liked them except for a few crazy or amazing musical numbers. I'm even enjoying the Saturday Night skits a lot more than I once did. 

Here are some additional comments about the show and Cher from the TimeLife DVD interviews. In the George Schlatter interview, George says:

  • “Old ladies and kids all loved her...the audience loved her.”
  • CBS was always nervous: what would she be wearing and singing.
  • George tried to set Cher up with dancing and singing lessons (to add 2 notes to her range). But she disappeared during the break and never did any of them.
  • Bob Mackie was “such a genius.” Schlatter first worked with him on The Judy Garland Show, where he noticed Mackie was great at smoothing over pressures with the divas. They sometimes had to sell Cher on some of the songs on her show with Mackie's dresses. Cher was sewn into some of her dresses.
  • Jerry Lewis was not the easiest man to work with.
  • But everyone should have a Lily Tomlin in their lives. (I would go for that.)
  • They were always waiting on Cher to get her nails done.
  • Cher didn’t know some of her guests on the show. For example, Kate Smith and Cher hadn’t heard of each other.
  • "The learning curve with Cher was a cliff."
  • Cher was "a rock-and-roll phenomenon" although she was not a rock-and-roll singer but rather a personality. “Cher is an event...I’ve worked with everyone. Cher is truly unique” in her appearance, delivery, interests.

S-l500In the Lily Tomlin interview, Lily says:

  • She saw Sonny & Cher more as musical performers than as a comedy team.
  • Cher has likability, is funny, is part of our culture, is very honest, outrageous, a feminist.
  • "Her show was really fun...It was variety’s golden age. People didn’t tune in for the guests; they tuned in to see Cher doing something."
  • During Tea with Mussolini Cher asked Lily: “Doesn’t Maggie just scare the shit out of you?”
  • What makes Cher a great actress: empathy , she brings authenticity to the screen, she’s “kinda remarkable.”
  • Lily and Cher fight together for elephants who are in captivity and they’re friends. Lily says Cher will tell her, “you’re the best but I’m the greatest.”
  • Lily says Cher is down to earth, real, authentic. She’s also “got a mouth on her.” She’s "the real thing, audacious, original, disarming, artful, indominable."

Cher, The Partridge Family Album and The Great American Themes

Adventures-of-huckleberry-finn-136

As I started working on this post last Friday, I wasn't sure which blog it would end up in (the Cher blog or the poetry blog). I feel the topic is halfway between writing the great American story/novel/movie/song/poem and the Cher blog where I could start to talk about Cher’s major career themes. I decided on the later since I’m starting to work on a Cher book divided by categories which are much more generalized and less specific than the Great American Themes but that are worth looking at through the kaleidoscope that is Cher.

To date I’ve finished reading 61 books on pop culture topics. Which is nothing, by the way, a drop in the bucket in the proliferation of pop culture scholarship these days. Academic Pop Culture Studies have exploded in the last 30 years, ever since “the Madonna essay.” We can get degrees in this now? Indeed. Not when I was a kid.

But pop culture pontificating has basically borrowed the existing think-tanking apparatus from the study of literature, which I did get a degree in so... yes ma, my indulgent book-club degree may just be of use here.

Here is a small sampling of the Cher-book categories to give you a taste of what the book will cover:

  • Feminism
    • Women on TV in the 1970s
    • Cher as Drag
  • High vs. Lowbrow Culture
    • Camp Culture
  • Appeal as Gay Icon
  • Movies & TV
    • The Male Gaze, MTV and the Female Gaze Looking Back
  • Power Pop/Girl Music
  • The Diva/Icon/Unruly Woman
  • Fan Culture

As of now there are 17 major categories. From the beginning I realized my weak spot would be writing about music, a category I don’t feel particularly knowledgeable about or good at writing about; so two years ago I started reading books around that, which led to a few minor obsessions: a search for Lester Bangs' essays, Lester Bangs' reviews of Sonny & Cher, and women writing about rock music.

It also lead to three rock histories, Good Booty by Ann Powers (a history of popular American music through the lens of sex), How the Beatles Destroyed Rock and Roll by Elijah Wald (worst click-bait title of a book I’ve ever seen…but nonetheless good alternative history of American popular music from a perspective of changing technology) and finally Mystery Train, Images of America in Rock and Roll Music by Greil Marcus. I was dissatisfied with the last book, only because the notes take up half the book and the meat of the thing only covers about five American themes:

  • Stagger Lee and the myth of the African American man as gangster
  • Everyman and freedom in the songs of Randy Newman
  • Pilgrims like The Band
  • Rags to riches and the country glamour of Elvis

But the book title does say "images" and not "themes" so my bad there. Anyway, this all got me to thinking about my own bigger list of the Great American Themes. And while I was wide awake last Thursday night it occurred to me most of the big themes are all oddly covered in the 1971 The Partridge Family Album.

TpfaBefore I launch into these themes and TPF Album, I want to say a few things:

  1. This was not my Partridge Family album. This was one of my brother’s albums. This thing came out in 1971 when I was 1 year old. Today both of my brothers refuse to cop to owning this thing but I am a witness to the fact that it was worn out by the time I got to it sometime in 1975. The cover was falling apart and the vinyl was worn and scratched already (and not by my parents, to be sure). Maybe it was neighbor kid Leewee's album (yes, that was his real name and we tend to blame him for things in situations like this).  In any case, this was the first non-Sonny & Cher/Sesame Street/Mr. Rogers/Disney Storyteller album I listened to. 

  2. PartridgeFor years I’ve been confused about why I still like it and looking at the back cover again today on the Googles, I can see why: it was essentially a Wrecking Crew album. The initial Partridge Family “sound” (and I would add, the initial very creepy sound) was based on the Ron Hicklin Singers and The Love Generation. But when everyone learned David Cassidy could sing, he was promoted to singer...for many obvious reasons. The album's non-Cassidy songs reflect the sickly-sweet foundational sound. 

  3. I was too young to be a fan of David Cassidy. He was old hat by the time later-day Gen X girls were crushing on singers and so Sean Cassidy was much preferred as was Kristy McNichol's brother Jimmy, which girls were losing their minds over as I recall. I've also never seen a single episode of The Partridge Family. It wasn't syndicated in St. Louis by the time I was watching copious hours of after-school TV. And these days, I can't look at that patchwork bus for very long before I start to get a headache.

So anyway, back to the themes. I made a table:

Theme

Partridge Family Album Song That Applies

Other Literature That Applies

The great American shoot-out, guns

 

Any western or gangster film

Reinvention, self-help
(Subtopics: failure, alienation, outcasts)

"Brand New Me"

Great Gatsby
Light in August

Upward mobility, rags to riches, class
(Subtopic: justice)

"Bandela"

To Kill a Mockingbird

The party, altered states, bottoming out

"Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque"
and "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat"

Infinite Jest

Nostalgia, the passage of time, the party’s over, loss of innocence

"Only a Moment Ago"

Blood Meridian

Driving, cars, wheels and rivers

"On the Road"

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The religious, spiritual quest, cults

"Somebody Wants to Love You"

Moby Dick

Self-actualization, identity (may not necessarily include a reinvention), general Me-ness

"Singing My Song"

Invisible Man

Pragmatism

"I Think I Love You"

Pragmatism by William James, anything by Ben Franklin

Survival of the fittest, The American Dream

 

The Grapes of Wrath,
The Jungle

 

Anyway, the Cher-text does not cover many of these American themes, at least not in song lyrics. Reinvention (and its root-cause of failure) is certainly a career theme, as is alienation, social mobility, and nostalgia (through remediation of old material). The shoot-out cowboy does make an appearance (via Sonny’s songwriting) as does coming-of-age and the loss of innocence (in both Sonny’s cowboy and teen pregnancy songs) and Cher does have a few songs about traveling on airplanes.   

More to think about there.                          


Friends of Friends of Dorothy (and a Missing Swimming Pool)

IMG_20220624_161519

Last weekend I spent time with two friends on a trip partially to visit the Georgia O'Keeffe house in Abiquiu, New Mexico, something we all had tried to do back in March of 2020 but the pandemic started that weekend and the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum closed (which resulted in the creation of this thing).

This time we stayed at a guest ranch in Pojoaque, a place my family has been visiting for many years. Because I had been there before I was excited about taking a swim as soon as I arrived.

IMG_20220625_135413Crossing the grassy lawn in my swimmies, with a towel under my arm and a big coke in my hand, I suddenly came upon this:

IMG_20220625_135544
Missing pool. Alarmingly missing pool.IMG_20220625_140544

Ten minutes later, while I was taking a very angry shower, I kept thinking "what does this remind me of? This reminds me of something."

And that's when it occured to me the missing pool, among a few other things that had delapidated a bit at the guest ranch, (the trail to the river was blocked by an ominous barricade of tumbleweeds), were reminding me of Sonny & Cher's cartoon visit to their honeymoon hotel with Scooby Doo. You know, the scene where Sonny is listing off all the amenities of the place (pool, tennis courts) and the caretaker is telling them all those things no longer exist?

Brochure Brochure Brochure

 

 

 

 

Anyway, the guest ranch was not that bad but it was also not as good as previous visits either. Nevertheless, the weekend was beautiful; it rained most of the time through the cottonwoods and we hung out with peacocks, bullfrogs, goats, rabbits, burros and some very grumpy sheep while we had some deep conversations about life. We tried to feed the goats the day we left and they stole my friend's bowl from her hands and we had to stage a bowl rescue involving hanging her over the fence while the goats weren't looking. Good times.

IMG_20220626_104002 IMG_20220626_104002 IMG_20220626_104002

Glamour shots of one of the bowl thieves.

IMG_20220626_100456 IMG_20220626_100456 IMG_20220626_100456

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, it just so happens my two friends are a gay couple and so we talked about recent (and possible upcoming) developments of the U.S. Supreme Court.

As a Cher fan, I have many gay men friends (and lesbian friends who are Cher fans too, as a matter of fact). Fag-hags was the derogatory term for us in the 80s. And all sorts of ideas proliferated about why we hung out with gay men, affection and shared interests never being part of the imaginative equations.

I was on a TV show once with a friend and many people thought we were depicted there as a gay couple there so Julie and I took to introducing the show to our new friends as Who Gets the Lesbians. (Edgar did. Edgar got the lesbians.) And although neither of us are gay, this never bothered me because it was actually more exciting than what was really going on in my life at the time; and if we had been gay, we would have been a very fun and interesting gay couple.

So for a long time I've been thinking about straight people in close relationships with gay friends. It should go without saying that having gay friends doesn’t mean you’re gay or on your way to being gay or that gay people are trying to turn you gay. Unfortunately, there are still folks out there who believe this.

SilkwoodAnd this all came up again last week when Cher tweeted a birthday wish to Meryl Streep and recalled the swing scene from Silkwood.

Although Silkwood is a very dry movie, (albeit one with an amazing cast), it's an unheralded example of a sweet relationship between straight and gay people. It depicts a very intimate and close relationship (one sometimes fraught with conflict) between Cher, who plays Dolly Pellicker, and Meryl, who plays Karen Silkwood, culminating very movingly in the swing scene: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDP_4UqslnQ

While I was at the guest ranch, I also came across this news story about someone else I'm a fan of, "Barry Manilow pauses Newcastle concert after 'rude' reaction to lyric." Even though Barry Manilow is a gay man, most if not all of his fans are straight women, even ones like me who knew Barry was gay long before he came out.

According to the story, Barry Manilow was singing "Weekend in New England," and as he was singing "when will our eyes meet/when can I touch you" the girls in the audience started to holler. 

The article states, "Looking slightly flustered, Barry was momentarily speechless, before letting out a little chuckle and commenting: 'My hands are busy now!'"

If you watch the video, the aforementioned pause is miniscule, the rudeness is questionable and the comeback is quick.

Barrymanilow

Barry is used to the sexual innuendos in his shows. The Concert at Blenheim Palace in 1983 is a good example of the Barry tease and screaming girls. I watched it recently in 'slight' amazement that it worked so well considering didn't half of us know he was gay? His repartee was full of double entendres and the girls sounded like they were losing their minds while their boyfriends sat there stoically trying to go to their happy places.

In "Weekend New England" most people miss the obvious sexuality and Barry performs the climax more lustfully than he gets credit for, which I assume is because he's become a performer most people assume has no sexuality. We love to rob people who are different or 'square' or a bit goofy of their sexuality.

“When will this strong yearning end...I feel brave and daring/I feel my blood flow."

Where did you think the blood was flowing?

It doesn’t matter that he’s now an outed gay man singing these lines to straight women. If Barry Manilow was caught off guard or flustered in Newcastle, (which I'm not convinced he was), maybe this was because he wasn't still expecting the straight reaction to his performance because it was occurring after he was outed; but the 'lewd' responses are still happening like clockwork.

And Barry Manilow is still responding with his old-school retorts. It's the very same thing, straight people in relationships with gay people and joking about sex and it gives me deep joy.