Starting on The Sonny & Cher Show and Misty Water-Colored Memories
September 30, 2022
I’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.
And 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.”
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.
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."