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Cher Show, The First Season

Cher-georgeThe first season of the TV show Cher is up:

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


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:


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)


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


"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.