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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.


The Universal Fire and a New Believe Cover

PissedcherThe UMG UGH!

Earlier this year the Universal Fire story broke and details about the huge losses by the Universal Music Group when a warehouse of master tapes in Los Angeles caught fire and were destroyed. And then they covered it up. 

Here is the New York Times coverage:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/11/magazine/universal-fire-master-recordings.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/25/magazine/universal-music-fire-bands-list-umg.html

This story brings up whole new slate of debates about the value of digitalization and problems with authorship, corporate consolidation, corporate bullying and the tragic danger of having too much intellectual property in one physical location. 

It's a cultural loss on a huge scale with original masters lost from artist such as Billie Holliday, Johnny Coltraine and Martin Luther King, but also on a very small specific scale for individual artists and their fans. 

Anyway, Cher's name was mentioned a lot. Many, by no means all, of her many labels were long ago consumed into Universal Music Group, only to be consumed once again. 

I was making the case to my music-biz-scholar friend Christopher that curation of large cultural holdings, even if you're a private entity, should come with extra responsibilities such as a museum, (even a private one) would be pressured to adhere to.  

I remember one phone call about 10 years ago where he rattled off all the major music label conglomerations off the top of his head! I asked him to reiterate the tangle for me again here and forensically trace the behemoth that has become United Music Group and which labels it has swallowed up. This would be another way to figure out which Cher albums might have been affected.

But sadly, we are beyond such quaint displays of memory. Instead, he simply just sent me this link. It's a graphic of all the consolidations and it's so goddamn big, it's unprintable!

Mess

Christopher's comments:

It truly is shocking.  Not the fire, per se, but their slimy way of keeping the news from the artists for over a decade!   Although, I should probably say it is shocking...but not surprising.  I harbor such distrust of corporations; their ranks seems always to be filled with individuals who pass the buck to someone else when accountability enters the picture.  The larger the corporation, the less likely anyone is willing to take responsibility when something goes awry.
 
Here is a great graphic that New York Magazine put out a couple years back which gives an excellent summary of the conglomeration of the music labels over the years.
 
Personally, I think of all the major labels, UMG is the most higgledy-piggledy in terms of its roster; both Sony and Warner's various absorptions involved more organic matches/compatibility.  All the feverish flipping that occurred in 1995-1999 between Seagram/MCA/Vivendi/Universal may have created the largest conglomerate, but I believe it also created the most inherently unstable one.  So in some ways it makes sense that if there was going to be a disaster of this sort it should occur amid their holdings.  If the ass doesn't know the elbow, the lack of proper archiving (that is, record-keeping--aside from the lack of the materials' physical safety) would appear to necessarily follow, and who knows, maybe the same could be said for their basic physical operations.

 

But the graphic does mostly explain where all the holdings of Cher are and she is spread out pretty wide across all the three behemoths:   

- At Sony Music Entertainment are holdings for Columbia (everybody breathe: the I Paralyze album is safe!)

- At Warner Music Group are holdings for ATCO, Reprise, Rhino (Cher’s 60s output), plus her already lost albums from Warner Bros (was there a mini fire somewhere?), not including the later-day Warner Bros. UK albums. 

- At Universal Music Group were holdings for MCA/Kapp, Casablanca (very early 70s Cher and Sonny & Cher and very late-70s Cher), and, although I can't even find it on this stupid chart, Geffen Records (Cher's 80s label). This is not great news. Some iconic stuff in there. Young-cher-mlk

Still, some of the news stories mentioning Cher were somewhat humorous, like this one with the angry Cher face as the lead photo.

Or this article with this hilarious photo by juxtaposition: implying the biggest cultural losses were Neil Young, Martin Luther King and Cher.

Hey, I'm the first to defend Cher's cultural impact, but... 

A New "Believe" Cover

BHuman has made a pretty decent "Believe" cover, keeping it techno-friendly but slowing it down. 

ABBACher 2.0

And a new Cher ABBA album is in the works. No full set list yet but she's been talking about individual songs on her Twitter feed. My vote was for "When All Is Said and Done." Fingers crossed it makes it.


New TV Shows Available and More Reviews

Timelife2Time/Life has come out with a DVD set of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Cher and The Sonny & Cher Show. The site will lure you with an upgrade which is just a set of Laugh In shows they've probably been unable to sell. 

That said, Cher’s performances in the one episode of her guest spots included is wonderful, unseen Cherness, so much better than her Indian skit with Tim Conway found online from that episode. That might be worth the upcharge for you. It was for me but...

See the trailer for the DVDs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Mcper-JcE&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1Ap63YwwpRGDOXo98cTednBtRa3r6nEbH5QMENLShrcrMs6A17pDZZJzE

The 18 Episode set:  https://timelife.com/products/i-got-you-babe-the-best-of-sonny-cher

The 58 Episode set (not more Sonny & Cher shows though): https://timelife.com/products/the-best-of-sonny-&-cher-and-laugh-in

It is good we’re seeing Cher episodes available now. But these are mostly episodes we've either seen on TV Land or GetTV, with the exception of one episode with Jim Neighbors.

I would think we should get DVDs of at least what was Emmy Nominated from the show, including the lost-lost Cloris Leachman episode that won an Emmy. 

The booklet and packaging are great, great photos although not always in order  (especially for series 2) and claim Steve Martin would stop by with one-liners instead of come to work as part of the first show's staff. You get to see an early version of the Sonny & Cher bubble drawing. The interviews are also good.

I've also been making my way through reviews of the show and am down with Season 2: https://www.cherscholar.com/the-tv-variety-shows-and-specials.html


Cher Show Ends on Broadway But Biopics Continue

Final-chersAugust 18, 2019, was the final performance of The Cher Show on Broadway. As you know, my friend Christopher and I thought the Broadway show was looking pretty healthy. The final returns can be found here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/grosses/THE-CHER-SHOW 

Playbill reported that the show ended strongly: http://www.playbill.com/article/grosses-analysis-the-cher-show-ends-broadway-run-on-a-bang-bang

 

Here's the graphic of the run...

Chershowgraphic

 

I was indeed sad because I really wanted to see it again. My friend Coolia said not to worry; the show would hit the road. And it will in 2020. For more information on the touring version coming to your town: https://www.broadway.com/buzz/196276/the-beat-goes-on-the-cher-show-will-launch-a-national-tour-in-fall-2020/

The show continued to get positive vibes, like this one from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jerylbrunner/2019/04/09/the-cher-show-celebrates-the-ultimate-empowered-woman-cher

The author quotes Gloria Steinem and her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions to talk about "the incredible strength of non-conforming women:"

“I have met brave women who are exploring the outer edge of human possibility, with no history to guide them, and with a courage to make themselves vulnerable that I find moving beyond words,”

and says this show had a “unique perspective on a powerful female who continues to thrive without ever apologizing for who she is.”

(even if who that is...is very sparkly).

Emily Skinner (who plays Cher’s mom in the show) says “She has zero pretense and we love her for that.” Skinner also talks about how her mom swapped out her Barbie doll with a Cher doll. “My feminist mother must have thought, let me put somebody in front of my daughter who is beautiful in a completely different way.”

More to Come

Don't forget we have an autobiography coming and a 2020 movie in the works.

And the British documentary/biopic of Cher's life aired last Friday: The Greatest Showgirl. Where are all the reviews and screenshots of this?? Help a scholar out here! 

All I could find is this brief Guardian review: 

Cher was not actually born in the wagon of a travelling show, as this documentary proves, but she did have a tough childhood. There are more talking heads and dramatised scenes featuring unforgivable wigs than there are Cher interviews, but it’s still a reminder of her majesty. Hannah Verdier