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Cher RIP

CherSo! Cher was rumored to be dead.
For like 12 hours.
And no one emailed me.

For the love of God. Not a peep from ANYBODY.

Were we all holding our breaths? I'd like to believe that because, I have to tell you, I was a little put out.

I only learned of the not-death Friday afternoon because was down for a few days due to a server switch. I was logging into a very popular online mail service to double-check my site's new email addresses and, per usual, I scanned the top-ten online searches while I was loggin in. To my surprise, the number one search at that moment was

"Cher not dead."

What the? Cher is the number one search!! I don't think she's been the number one search term long as I've been scanning number one search terms anyway. And besides, she's been not dead for 12 hours, from Thursday night to Friday morning. And nobody told me!

The Twitter scam even had another Armenian-celebrity, Kim Kardashian, fooled. And because Kim is one of the nations top five tweeters, the story went off the rails.

Meanwhile, this was not the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth I will come to expect from Cher fans.

In one brief second of comprehending that Cher was not dead, Cher's life flashed before my eyes. Or Cher2rather my life of being a fan of the Cher product and having that icky realization that products do not have mortality, people do. It threatened the death of a comforting obsession for this heterosexually  queer gal; and seeing as I've been a fan since I was four or five years old, it threatened a final death knell to my childhood, something I've managed to hold on to into my 40s.

But...this isn't entirely about me. Cher's friends did not take kindly to the twitter scam. Loree Rodkin posted, “Whoever started that stupid rumor needs to have their face dragged across concrete." Yikes. Imagine Paul McCartney saying that.

Cher was the number one freakin' search term and a Kardashian was embarrassed. It's kind of funny, unless you're Cher I guess.

To celebrate Cher's very aliveness and hopefully resting in peace this evening, I am posting my three favorite Cher photos, which were taken during the Norman Seeff sessions in 1975.


Paul McCartney, Jeff Goldblum and Cher. What an odd-ball rumored-to-be-dead club.

Tango...Another Transgendered Story

KikiOne of my favorite New York City experiences between 1995 and 1999 was going to see Kiki and Herb Christmas shows every year with my friend Coolia who was a big fan of theirs.

Kiki, a character developed by Justin Bond, was an amazing experience of drag cabaret comedy unlike anything I'd ever seen. Kiki was an alcoholic has-been lounge singer who did hilarious lounge-recreations of Christmas songs mixed with modern hits like "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Kiki was both achingly bitter and inspiringly hopeful as she recounted the sad back-stories of both Kiki and Herb, my favorite quote being, "it aint easy being a gay Jew 'tard." had to be there. The DVDs do NOT do the show justic e, the music, the humor or the pathos. Amazingly, Kiki would go through this imperceptible slide towards  public drunkenness during the duration of the show in a tour de force performance.

Recently, Justin has gone through the transgender process, reborn as Justin Vivian Bond. I received his memoirs for Christmas and read the 136-page book, Tango, in one sitting. The book is mostly a touching focus on his childhood experiences, structured around his relationship with the neighborhood cad "Tango." Bond

This is an interesting alternative take to adult-transgendering of Chaz' Transition. Interestingly, Cher makes three appearances in this book, too. In once scene, Justin gets in trouble for illicit behavior just after buying "Sonny & Cher's latest album."

My greatest role model on television was Cher. The Sonny & Cher Show always had a segment where Cher would one-up Sonny her putdowns. Any chance I got to show my finely honed skills at bitchiness was okay by me. I really didn't think of it as being mean. I thought of it as having fun.

Justin Vivian Bond is a master storyteller and I hope this is simply the first installment of a longer memoir series.


Off-White Hollywood

OffwhiteOh my God! Cher scholarship, where have you been all my life!!!

This book, Off-White Hollywood, American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom, came out in 2001! What rock have I been living under? I've been so starved for critical pop-culture writing, I've been pouring over some really dry The Diva's Mouth and The Adoring Audience and Guilty Pleasures and what seems like the textbook from Duke University's Culture Studies program Hop on Pop. How thrilling to see some critical feminist writing about Cher...and ethnicity! And Cher on the cover even!

In Cher Zine 3, I catalogue my trials trying to track down feminist pop culture writers who were even willing to talk about Cher. I finally found three or four brave women to interview. But here was Diane Negra's book sitting right under my nose! This book is truly awesome but be warned: it's full of really academic egghead stuff.

I've heard many girls-of-color (Latinos, Persians) comment on Cher's non-whiteness as being of significance to them--especially growing up in the 1970s, but I never hear anyone else talking about Cher in an ethnic context.

Negra starts with her thesis, how over the years in Hollywood, movies have made meaning of whiteness and ethnicity and how studios have manipulated, absorbed or rejected ethnic female stars to further American social and political ends. She says the six stars she chose to discuss "have been substantially neglected....stars who are economically, industrially and culturally significant, but for whom there is a vacuum of critical commentary." Amen.

She talks about how ethnic women are often delegated to stereotypically virtuous or villainous roles. And how this fact throughout the years reflects existing American cultural values.

ColleenChapters two and three are on two silent screen stars, Colleen Moore and Pola Negri. With Colleen Moore we see how her Irishness was co-opted in roles of the child waif, with the fresh-faced-innocence of Irishness co-opted to undercut fears of Irish Immigration. Cementing her image as an innocent also served to undercut the image of the New Woman, the Flapper, who was liberating herself from Victorian repression. Publicity represented her as an innocent doll, a hard-working Irish girl, the ideal woman for the patriarchy of the time.

NegriPola Negri's chapter details how a star persona failed to sublimate herself to American values. Negri, with an Italian name, a Polish heritage and a German career, thwarted Hollywood's attempt to create a persona for her. She was left with the image of a vamp (short for vampire), a villainous image of ruthlessness and blood-lust, that served to enforce America's fears about people from Eastern Europe.

Chapters four and five deal with the Classic Hollywood Era with stars like Sonja Henie and Hedy Lamarr.

SsonjahenieSonja Henie's Norwegian heritage was given the Scandinavian treatment and her whiteness was hyper-personified. Her image was charming, virtuous, healthy, blonde, and white. Very white. Everything she owned or wore was white. During the depression this served as a distraction from the images starvation and poverty. Embracing a Scandinavian also reflected America's dispatch of Isolationism and the country's growing desire to spread American culture abroad and acquire foreign objects. The foreigner went from being dirty and scary to being someone worthy of Americanizing.

HedylamarrHedy Lamarr was able to acclimate to a fully American persona as well, although she imported a scandalous nude scene from a Czech film in her past. When the whiteness of types like Sonja Henie became "flat erotically," Lamarr served as the erotic beauty standard. Now you could be a desirable trophy wife to the patriarchy even if you weren't so white.



MarisaChapter six jumps to the modern ethic persona of Marisa Tomei. Here we explore how a current "exhaustion of ideas" prevailed American culture in the 1970s and 1990s and how ethnic rediscovery and performance became acceptable and exploitable and seen as more natural and authentic.

Cher is the seventh chapter. And because she has a sort of "free-floating ethnic identity," she troubles the facile assumption that whiteness and color are self-evident and mutually exclusive categories." Negra describes how Cher started as a patriarchal production (of Sonny Bono, Bob Mackie, David Geffen...and even with director's such as Robert Altman, Mike Nichols and Peter Bogdanovich) with her ethnic displays of Native American (and other ethnicities easily assumed in a variety TV show format), but how her coup from the patriarchy, her current persona (and self-awareness of it) "represents a transgressive figure involved in her own self-production."

Cher is a "complex persona that indicates a confusion of gender, class and age distinctions and problematizes the security of whiteness." Negra dissects the variety show vamp (which include the ethnic songs of "Gypsies Tramps and Thieves," "Dark Lady," and "Half Breed"), the movie Suspect, the "Perfection" performance in the Heart of Stone tour (where with a male impersonator she acknowledges herself as a fictionalized production), and the X-Files episode tribute to her.

"Cher makes spectacularly visible the paradox of social expectations for the female body." (speaking of Dolly Parton in Joyful Noise...see the next post) Negra says. Cher "strenuously resists the properties of white femininity"....and is "indigestible to mainstream conservative culture."

Just when all things seem swell, Negra finally has to call Cher out, criticizing "plastic surgery as empowerment," saying surgery and the enforcement of thinness are "antithetical to the interests of women" although these things "serve the economical interests of others"....that being the economic interests of The Man.

Plastic Surgery in "Joyful Noise" and Other Recent Books and Movies

Dolly1With Mr. Cher Scholar and our recent visitor, my Los Angeles friend Christopher, I've been seeing a lot of movies and discovering some interesting book-fare from watching Book TV.

Christopher wanted to see Joyful Noise because we both like Dolly Parton. I was hesitant because the trailers looked pitiful. But he talked me into it and I must say I enjoyed it much more than I expected to. You might chalk that up to lowered expectations but I would defend the musical numbers as fun, kind of like a gospel Glee episode. Also, Queen Latifah (who I love dearly but cannot continue to support her crappy movies) had an absolutely awesome performance in the movie in a scene where she chews her daughter out in a hotel elevator bank. And finally, you have to see the thing just to make some sense out of Dolly's latest plastic surgery.

Cher's usually our fall-girl for this kind of gripe to be sure. And how frustrating because this is a ridiculous no-win situation for our aging Joyful-iamwhatiam female stars. I heard my friend watching TV and saying about one star, "she really should get her neck fixed." But she can't win because if she "fixes it" we get this, the latest face of Dolly, which clearly doesn't look right. All through the movie, she had to overact to get her face to even work, and her smile resembled the face of The Joker's. Her lips didn't fully close! It was creepy. To stay-off the aging process, Dolly went right from pretty (if pancaked with makeup) to grotesque. Surely this wasn't the goal. In fact, this is a sure backfire.  I watched the movie thinking Dolly looked like a frail grandmother. She's Cher's age!

This insanity must stop. To see the beautiful Dolly Parton come to this.

SergeWe also saw the documentary Urbanized at the local Santa Fe art house. It was a fascinating look at how cities are thinking creatively about how to handle urban problems. The city of LA was noticeably absent from the world-wide cities showcased and citizens of LA could surely gain something from watching it. One South American mayor changed my whole idea about the usefullness of subways!

My husband and I also saw Gainsbourg (Vie Heroique), the French movie about Serge Gainsbourg. With animation, a puppet altar-ego, much music and beautiful surreal elements, I only wish Cher could have a biopic this cool someday. My favorite songs from the movie were "La Javanaise" and "Initials B.B."

Book TV also lured me into purchasing Justin Frank's Obama on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President. Frank also covered George W. Bush with this psycho-analytic treatment. We learn how Obama's early childhood and lack of contact with his parents possibly shapes his behavior in the White House and with the Republicans. Ross-hollywood-left-right-440x668

Book TV also showcased a book I haven't purchased yet, Hollywood Left & Right: How Movie Stars Shaped American Politics by Steven Ross. He explores in depth Charlie Chaplin, Louis B. Mayer, Edward G. Robinson, George Murphy, Ronald Reagan, Harry Belafonte, Jane Fonda, Charlton Heston, Warren Beatty, and Arnold Schwarzenegger and recounts that although the Left gets a lot of screen-time, the Right has actually made further inroads in Washington with their cadidates and policy. And at one point he says something like "because you're a celebrity doesn't mean you give up your citizenship." Very true. Sometimes I am critical when celebrities endorse candidates (more because I feel the clash of their celebrity brands working against the cause). But all citizens have the right to feel the passion and get involved.


Cher Biographies

ImageThe photo cover for the upcoming Cher biography Strong Enough by Josiah Howard is up on Amazon, due for release May 15.

Love it!

In the meantime, I finished You Haven't Seen the Last of Me, the big coffee table biography by Daryl Easlea and Eddi Fiegel. I loved this book, the writing, the layout and learned a lot. Cher Scholar being a Cher scholar (it's compulsive), I am left with these few questions.

1. Who's idea was it for Bonnie Jo Mason and Caesar and Cleo to change their names to Sonny & Cher? Phil Spector's? Their managers? Their own?

2.Do you spell her surname Sarkisan (as in the book) or Sarkisian? And was her second surname La Pierre or La Piere (in the book it's listed both ways on different pages).

3. Is Sonny's pant seam split on page 36?

4. Is the line from "Mama Was a Rock and Roll Singer": "You're rocking everybody in town" or "You're vamping everybody in town"?

There are some bloopers in the book...a few are:

1. Sonny's first wife has always been alleged to be Donna Rankin and not Donna Allen.

2. "Holdin Out For Love" wasn't written by Billy Falcon. The awful "Boys and Girls" was.

Things I loved:

1. Describing her character on The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour as a "glam bitch."

2. "The swirling fairground feel of "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" sounds as stunning today, over 40 years later, as it did in 1971."

Anyway, good book for the Cher obsessed.


Christmas with Billy the Kid

IMG_0379 Sigh. Life continues to get in the way of Cher schoalring. For Christmas, Mr. Cher Scholar and I headed down to southern New Mexico to visit the Billy the Kid locales of Fort Sunmer (where he was kilt) and Lincoln (where he made his brazen escape). Then we headed to Roswell for the night. Sadly, my Uncle Ben (really my Dad's cousin but practically an Uncle to me) passed away on Christmas Day and the funeral was set for the following Wednesday. So we decided to head home, on the way seeing our remaining sights of Carlsbad Caverns and White Sands. Mr. Cher Scholar poses to the left with Billy the Kid; Franz poses below on White Sands snowy beach.

In the meantime, I've been saving up a few links from friends.

Cher groups at Yahoo posted this link to USA Today's own version of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame --the fashion edition and Cher sits here with some reputable company:

Cher scholar Tyler sent around this interesting link -- a story about one-time Cher Show and Sonny & Cher Show writer Iris Rainer Dart who wrote Beaches with Cher in mind. Oh, how sweet that would have been.

In fact, she was apparently the only female writer on those TV shows, saying, IMG_0420

"she had to prove her mettle, mostly by "not crying," even when criticism was rugged. Brutal honesty was the name of the game and no one was too concerned with hurt feelings. Still, as the sole woman on the show, she had a close relationship with Cher, who ultimately became the model for the lead character in "Beaches." Initially she had hoped Cher would play the part in the film version, but in the end it went to Bette Midler."

And finally, Cher scholar Dishy was kind enough to recall my frustration that not enough non-"Believe" Cher mashups existed in the Universe and sent me this new mashup, Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" mashed with "Song for the Lonely."

I so love mashups. I really do.