Cher in Vogue, December 1965

20200623_083725Just six months after their first hit in July of 1965, Sonny & Cher are already appearing in Vogue magazine in a column called "People are talking about…"

Who else were people talking about that issue? Sarah Badel, a stage and film actress, and Theodore C. Sorensen, a presidential adviser and speechwriter for John F. Kennedy. The section on Sonny & Cher is headed in bold. Cher's name is fully accented all through the blurb. 

“Sonny & Chér Star Folk-Rockers

Look at them, Sonny and Chér. Everybody is. Love singers from California, they are married, positive-protest thinkers whose LPs and singles, I Got You Babe, Look At Us, But You’re Mine,  sell in the millions, have pitched them around the top of the disc charts. “I can only play seven chords,” says Sonny Bono, twenty-four [!], who plinks out most of the hymns to marital bliss they sing on marathon one-night stands, on television, in Europe, and in a movie they will make. Disarmingly baffled by their spiraling success, he said, “Everything’s out of sight, man.” Now the darlings of the transatlantic folk-rock kingdom, these two have countless hoarders of their records [how much could you hoar back then?], copiers of their clothes, Sonny’s lionhart haircut, his knee-length buckskin boots, his possum and bobcat jackets. Chér’s waterfall of dense black hair, her pale deep-eyed radiance, her hundred pairs of below-navel belled pants. (Nineteen-year-old Chér doesn’t own a dress). In the folk-rock idiom, Sonny & Chér pound out Love. Around Sonny’s hammering twang to let-us-be-what-we-wanna-be lyrics, Chér’s pours a plaintive low loop of sound.”

Interesting to note these two are "positive" protest thinkers, not pesky negative ones. Sonny was already 30 in 1965. With all the hippie-suspicions of older people, I guess you can see why he would lie about his age. I guess nobody did fact-checking in those days. As because this is Vogue, much is made over their kooky clothes. And this must be what makes the cher-stare so powerful: "her deep-eyed radiance." 

The picture is very telling too. Sonny stares straight at he camera, slightly ambitious looking. Cher is carefree, innocent and looking at Sonny.


Cher's Travelin' Musical Delayed

PlaybillIn May, the travelin' Cher Show announced they were postponing the U.S. tour until Fall 2021. Sad face. I really wanted to see that show a few more times, but it's understandable. Many cities and states have not yet fully opened up for large gatherings and may not for the rest of the year.

Will all the original actors be available then? Probably not. Another sad face.

Thanks coronavirus!

https://tourstoyou.org/2020/05/11/the-cher-show-national-tour-delayed-to-a-future-season/


Cher and Gene, Billy and Christie

I came across a picture of Cher and Gene Simmons from the late 1970s that reminded me of the paparazzi pics of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley, the joking way the couples dealt with the press. This was before the craziness of late-80s aggro paparazzi.

Back then Gene Simmons did not appear in public without is KISS makeup on. So when the couple went out or did publicity, Gene would have to obscure his face or hide behind Cher.

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In this snapshot, Cher is obscured but seen to be joining in the game of wearing a handkerchief. 

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Which reminded me of this shot of Christie and Billy (I actually remembered this pic from seeing it in the 1980s!):

Getimage


Bad New Documentary on Amazon Prime

SpotlightAmazon Prime has a new biography of Cher called “Cher: Life in the Spotlight” from 2019. The show is a typical TV bio and including three commentators: Hollywood reporter Ashley Pearson, music culture writer Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike, and journalist Sophie Wilkinson.

This was a terrible bio for many, many reasons: low budget, too much time on speculative topics about her childhood and glossing over most of the movies and milestones. It went shallow when it could have gone deep and went deep into the shallows.

Plus the photos were all added in the wrong spots and some egregious errors like putting the title of the song “Half Breed” over the video for “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves.”

There was one good quote to come out of it by Pearson, “Cher was Vegas before Vegas was Vegas.”


The Newport Pop Festival of 1968

NewportgrahicNot to be confused with the Newport Folk Festival of 1965 (where Dylan went electric and blew out a lot of mental amps) which occurred in Newport, Rhode Island or the Newport Pop Festival v.2 of 1969 (see below), we're talking about the first Newport Pop festival taking place in Southern California in 1968.

Dave Swanson wrote a good article about it, opening with “The era of the big rock festival is littered [punny!] with the legendary, the local and the forgotten. Woodstock [1969] and Monterey [1968] may have the cache, and Altamont [1969] the tragedy, but among the ruins of the rock-festival era sits an interesting curiosity know as the Newport Pop Festival. On August 3 and 4, 1968, the all-but forgotten festival took place at the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, California.”

Here are some of the factoid bullet points I've curated about this festival.

  • This was the first music concert with over 100,000 paid attendees.
  • Kids were passing out from the heat, getting sprayed with water and playing in the mud (this was pre-Woodstock mud wallowing).
  • Food and drinks ran out halfway through day one.
  • Everyone got sunburned.
  • Kids with no hotel reservations squatted overnight on the lawns of nearby houses. Promoters had to put together an emergency campsite.
  • David Crosby (who just left The Byrds) started a pie fight with Jefferson Airplane and 250 cream pies.
  • Sonny & Cher flew in on a helicopter getting lots of attention. Helicopters also flew over dropping flowers on the crowd.
  • Sonny & Cher were the act that got booed on stage.
  • It cost $5.50 to get in and one fan said “it was well worth it.”

SonnychernewportThe festival had an amazing lineup in which Sonny & Cher did not mesh with at all, and shows how quickly music was changing between 1967 and 1968. Here it is:

Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Country Joe and the Fish, Eric Burdon and the New Animals, Iron Butterfly, James Cotton Blues Band, The Butterfield Blues Band, Canned Heat, Electric Flag, Steppenwolf, among others.

The newbies at the festival were Tiny Tim (kinda out of place if you look at him as a novelty act but Swanson claims at the time he was a “genuine troubadour” and the crowd loved him) and a band called Alice Cooper with its headliner then known as Vince Furnier.

Swanson writes about Sonny & Cher, “whose star had been fading fast” and “were repeatedly booed by the crowd.” Swanson says, “the duo’s last hit, ‘The Beat Goes On,’ was more than a year old.” (Yikes! One whole year?) Swanson is disdainful of Sonny’s then attempt at psychedelia, a song called “Circus.” With that I would have to agree. Sonny, steeped in 1950s rock-and-roll and R&B was completely not suited to be a southern, Chicago or British blues songwriter and was lost in the field of psychedelic music. As expected,  “it went nowhere,” Swanson says and although he's writing in 2015 you can't help but hear it as “nowheres-ville” and “it went nowhere, man!” 

In another article about attendee reminiscences, Marsha from La Habra remembers Sonny & Cher “playing and no one paying attention; I think they were booed at times.” Susan from Santa Ana remembers Sonny & Cher circling overhead in a helicopter as “so exciting!” When Canned Heat left the stage and Sonny & Cher came on, Terry from San Dimas remembers leaving with his friend and his mom.  Terry says Alice Cooper opened the show without any response or attention, even boos.

According to Swanson's article Sonny told the L.A. Times around this time, “I know we’re not considered the ultimate in hipness anymore.” Which is quite the understatement when swallowed up by that lineup.

Swanson ends his story with, “it remains a mystery as to how, or why, they were part of the event.” I'd also add my own question here about why this was billed as a "pop" festival and not a blues festival or a psychedelic rock festival. And if you look at some of these poster assets, Sonny & Cher are listed pretty high up in the marketing space.

That would be the real story. Why were they included here? But there are other unanswered questions: how did the bands backstage treat them? Did they play a shortened set as a result of the audience response? What was their set list eliciting these boos?

Newportpic2 Newportpic1 Newportflyer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Newport #2 was called "Newport 69" and took place June 20-22 in Northridge, California. 200,000 attended that one which ended becoming the more famous of the two. The lineup included Jimi Hendrix Experience, Ike & Tina Turner, Joe Cocker, Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Credence Clearwater Revival, Eric Burdon and War, Jethro Tull, Steppenwolf, Booker T & the M.G.s, The Grass Roots, Johnny Winter, Marvin Gay, Poco, The Byrds, The Rascals and Three Dog Night among others.

Why do we go into such a not-so-pleasant piece of Sonny & Cher's history? Because this is an interesting part of 1960s history and exemplifies the dramatic changes happening in rock music and also illustrates how publicly painful that incident probably was for other pop and folk acts at the time.

And also, it illuminates an irony: how many of those bands are still around and touring in arenas? The world is a capricious and wily place.

Newortprogram2Links:

How the Newport Pop Festival Brought Together a Diverse Lineup (by Dave Swanson)

1968 Lineup

Readers reminisce about Newport Pop Festival of 1968

The Newport Pop Festivals (Wikipedia)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_Pop_Festival

 


Thinking About the Cher Biography

Cher_oscars_6_a_h

Before I forget, Cher performed at the finale of this season's Dancing with the Stars. I don't know who won. I don't watch that show unless Cher or her peripherals are on it. But USA Today reported on Cher's appearance on the show. I found it striking she appeared on a 2019 show singing a 1967 song or rather she sang her own 52 year old song.

Dwts2019

I've been thinking recently about Cher's upcoming biographical projects: the Cher musical to travel in 2020, an upcoming biopic and her autobiography. 

I don't know if her book is in the can but I hope it includes music and artists she was influenced by aesthetically, interior design influences (and other "hobbies"), records she loved (and what Sonny thought of them), movies she loved, what the big mistakes were, who helped in little and small ways, and maybe even some dish on a few dramatic kindnesses and large slights. 

I think about the evolution of the Katharine Hepburn biographies (aside from Cher, I've read as much KH), and she got really reflective and reconsidered some of her earlier stances on issues (like boycotting the Oscars) toward the end of her life and it felt very human and enlightening. Actually, Hepburn's last opinion on attending the Oscars helped me show up at a book awards event this year. 

While I was making one of my unsuccessful attempts to find Cher's copy of Marie Claire, I picked up a British film magazine that caught my eye, Little White Lies, the Judy Garland issue. (I've read a few JG bios too).

Anyway, I liked how the articles in that magazine described the aims of her recent biopic:

“There is no two-bit mimicry here, no over-rehearsed tics or obviously detectable plummy accent. Both [Rene] Zellweger and [the director] understand that overzealous imitation in this type of film only serves to drive a wedge between audience and material. The ten-a-penny peacock turns by up-for-it chancers doing their best karaoke so often drains a movie of nuance and credibility, as all the focus is placed on, what is, a pageant for paid-for narcissism.”

In another article in the magazine Zellweger says

“We feared that the more you veer away from what is authentically you, the less likely you are to connect with the person you’re representing.”

Ironic but true.

And here's a quote that I feel sums up something unique about Cher. In a recent interview, Cher was telling the story again about the theatrical trailers for Silkwood and nobody knowing she was sitting in the theater. When her name came up in the trailer, everybody laughed and how painful that was to experience. 

The interviewer asks Cher if she felt a strong reaction at the time, like "they're all wrong about me!" and Cher said no, it was an organic response. "I never argue with reality."

What a quote, huh?  

My friend Christopher alerted me to an old Entertainment Weekly review of Cher's album Love Hurts. Christopher says the magazine had just started when this review appeared. It isn't great at a B+ and takes so many attacks at her Geffen era that I almost feel protective of Diane Warren, Jon Bon Jovi and the decade of schlock rock:

"[This album] finds the warbler surrounding herself with the most formulaic hit songwriters alive (Diane Warren, Desmond Child). To boot, Cher has cannily stuck with the production style most lusted after by cynical radio programmers, stressing power chords that plotz all over the place, battalions of backup singers who scream their guts out, and keyboard blasts so resonant they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon. Every song approximates that most reliably commercial of half-breeds, the part-rock, part-pop power ballad. So why, given this gluttonous buffet of calculation, is the album so much fun?"

Then going on to say,

“For all the fakery that surrounds her, Cher remains weirdly genuine.”

A common refrain of later-day Cher scholarship right there. What are the ingredients that made that?

  


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


Cher as Indian

20180106_150355So this story (finally) broke last year at Christmas, controversy about Bob Mackie and Cher's use of the Half Breed headdress and Cher's presentation as an Indigenous American or American Indian. And I knew I would need to address this story next but I've been putting it off, not because I didn’t want to talk about it, (because I do), but because there is so much to say, so much complexity in this social situation. Could I even sort through it? It involves liberals attacking liberals, it involves conservatives stirring the pot, cultural appropriation, contested appropriation and hundreds of years of history.

20180106_145347I took this image above of the Cher doll as I was taking down my Cher Christmas tree. Amazingly, one of the headdress feathers became caught in the hand of "out-of-the-box" Cher doll, and the image uncannily expresses my ambivalence and sadness around this issue. I'm calling the picture "VAMP with Cultural Feather." That lead me to take this "Sad Stack of Cultures" photo to the right.

I also thought about starting a poll on the controversy but got stumped imagining what question I could ask. Are you Indigenous American or American Indian and offended? Sounds kind of offensive and who would take a poll like that? I’m just hoping for some essay from Indian Country Today to surface on the issue.

So let’s begin with full disclosure, I’ve been a Cher fan for a long, long time and when I was a kid in the 1970s, I thought Cher was and American Indian until I was about 8 years old. I finally found her biography in the local library in St. Louis. And so since then I’ve considered Cher to be half Armenian and half 1950s blond bombshell (although her mom was not a natural blonde). Do most people even know Cher’s heritage? How many have read her biographies? Probably very few. And many may still assume she's Indigenous American (I'm going to stick with that term).

SNegraince the 1960s Cher has been interested in and wearing Indigenous-American-inspired clothing, sometimes on stage, sometimes to major events, sometimes at home. When Sonny & Cher started appearing on variety shows in the last 60s, they started theming their jokes around Sonny’s Italian-ness and Cher’s Indian-ness, to use their word. This was ramped up in their own television shows of the 70s. Cher also moved in and out of other culture areas in her TV performances, including French, Hispanic, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese and African American. Diane Negra talks about Cher’s fluid ethnicity in her book Off-White Hollywood, American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom. She essentially labels Cher as ethnically indeterminate and therefore map-able to many ethnicities. The cover of the book boldly advertises Cher in the Half Breed headdress.

This flexibility is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon if you want Cher representing your community or not. And the gravitas around the issue has evolved over the years. Before the 1970s, ethnicity was avoided on TV or un-apologetically appropriated. In the 1970s, consciousness was being “raised” about the value or “coolness” of ethic differences and this was often explored on hipper TV shows. Looking back now, from where an authentic identity has much more bitcoin, exploration and celebration look very similar to the earlier appropriations.

For years I’ve been wondering how Cher’s identification as Indigenous American and her choices to wear Indigenous-American-inspired clothing has landed from decade to decade. Older Native Americans seemed hesitant to weigh in. But younger activists seem to be taking more offense, but still below the level of what Paris Hilton (Halloween costume) and Wayne Coyne (stage costume) received a few years ago.

The issue is complicated for many reasons:

  1. There’s the song “Half Breed” from 1973 that no one seems to be taking issue with because a) it’s a song about harassment of minorities and b) it’s a bad song living nine lives due to its camp factor. On the one hand it has cheesy drum beats that might indeed be too ridiculous to offend. On the other hand, it showcases details like the offensiveness of calling an Indigenous woman a “squaw.”

  2. HeadlresslesscherThen there are Cher’s stage "costumes" which are the most visible element, the Half Breed headdress Cher has been wearing since 1974 is actually modeled after a male war bonnet and some in the Indigenous American community have equated it with wearing an unearned purple heart. And from their point of view, the bonnet is no more part of a “costume” than a Catholic clergy cassock is part of a “costume.” People don’t like to hear their religious objects demeaned by words with trivial connotations. Regardless, over the years this headdress became an “iconic outfit” for Cher, right up there with the Turn Back Time leather strap-on and the fur (possibly bobcat) vests of the mid 1960s. The controversy over the headdress exploded in December and Cher has since stopped wearing it in her Vegas shows (see a fan's picture to the right). Cher is still wearing the Bob Mackie design that goes with it. It’s interesting to me that the December scandal raised the issue again now when Cher has been wearing the headdress in her concerts since 1999. There may be a reason for that.

  3. Then there's the issue of Cher presenting herself as Indigenous American on her TV shows. And although Cher presented herself as many international and national archetypes on the shows, she was most notably "Indian." A clear story has never emerged with documented proof about Cher’s alleged Cherokee identity. And documented proof is itself a controversy (see below).

  4. And then there was the Twitter fight with the activists, starting from a statement coming out of Donald Trump’s camp. Conservative and liberal politics added another layer of frustrations and communication misfires between Cher and activists and you'd think there would have been a statement ready from Cher’s public relations team, like crafted 30 years ago.

The Trump connection further complicates the issue for sure. (from Jezebel.com)

“In 2017, nobody in their right mind would take this seriously as an emblem of Native American cultures......except Trump’s new Canadian/American pop star appointee for Native American Ambassador on the National Diversity Coalition! Former Pussycat Dolls member Kaya Jones!”

Some American Indian activists took issue with Jones’ claimed heritage:

“Since the December 8th announcement that she will represent Native Americans on the national stage, Jones has been tagging herself as a #Halfbreed along with claims that her father is Apache Native American. When asked, she can’t name the reservation her father lived on or his tribal origins...but what she can do to represent Native American peoples is channel Cher. So now people previously unfamiliar with “Half-Breed” are taking Cher to task.”

Those being millennial Indigenous Americans. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with their feeling what they feel. Why should they remember cultural work that may or may not have happened in their lifetimes? All they see is Cher appropriating.

When Cher was on prime time American television she was a cool, hip superstar and giving airtime to images of minority women rarely seen elsewhere on prime-time, glamour television. Young girls and boys were seeing that and influenced by it. But that was cultural work done then, a perishable credential.  Some day we may look back on the cultural work of Will and Grace and see it as stereotypical, too. 

I’ve always had this gnawing feeling that Cher was somehow “getting a pass” on her “Indian look.” Why, over the last 50 years, was nobody was calling her out on it? That's not to say I didn't like it. But it’s impossible to believe that there have been no American Indian ticket-holders to the last two decades of live shows that have included the song and the headdress.

This was a bizarre related incident. I went to a show in 2013 with a white, Gen Y girl who became greatly offended by Cher’s Eastern Indian sari worn for the song “All or Nothing.” But she had no strong feelings whatsoever about the ceremonial Indigenous American headdress. (I've included a few existing articles below.)

I’m guessing here that Cher’s Indigenous American fans are older and this makes me think younger fans are feeling more offended because they have zero context to Cher’s persona in the 1970s. I could be wrong about this but there does seem to be a response difference in age groups. And newer kids have no context to “the way things were,” which has always been a thin-ice defense as it is.

Quite possibly the idea of Half Breed has outlived its previous pass. Which is making older fans feel very sad because they believe Cher as Indian was doing cultural work. (But maybe it’s also doing cultural damage now.) Older fans also feel the headdress is beautiful and they nostalgically love it and feel bad hearing that their love of something has been construed as bad or wrong. Do they then not have agency to love or appreciate? I feel for the fans here, too.

And that the whole issue beginning as a continuation of anger over Trumps position vis-a-vis Indigenous Americans just makes it all the more tragic, because the headdress issue has been lumped in with frustration over the status of the Keystone Pipeline struggle, Trumps dismissive Pocahontas comments, and his choice of an ambassador a woman with dubious claims to Indigenous American heritage.

And then there’s the very real issue of proving your Indigenous Americaness, which has controversy even within Indigenous American communities and leads to issues like blood quantum and time spent growing up on the reservation, how you get excluded and included even in your own communities.

“If you're Native American, there's a good chance that you've thought a lot about blood quantum — a highly controversial measurement of the amount of "Indian blood" you have. It can affect your identity, your relationships and whether or not you — or your children — may become a citizen of your tribe.” (NPR) 

So what a mess it all is. How can we even separate out all these issues for a second. Again, I keep waiting for a good essay on the Cher problem to appear somewhere. I want a method to proceed, guidelines, context, a way forward. But unfortunately life doesn’t always work that way.

As a word nerd, I’m inherently interested in the evolution of offensive words, including a word like “costume.” We learn in etymology class, that culture is impossible to promote, protect or contain. That’s why it’s so hard to get everyone to use a certain word or not use a certain word, like “costume” or "Native American" or even more offensive words like whore and retard. It’s also why we keep wanting to “dress up” like nuns and ceremonial chiefs for celebratory events. Sometimes when you’re trying to learn or appreciate another culture, you try to wear another man’s hat.

You can say tone means a lot, but quite often even the tone is all wrong. And policing tone is full of problems. It’s unfortunate but culture has a massive mind of its own. Not that we should just let that stand and endure. But we should recognize that not everyone gets the memo, literally. But even emotionally and intellectually. Teaching empathetic understanding takes work, much of it teaching concepts that are abstract and painful to deliver and receive.

The fact that many conservatives dismiss word politics has to be addressed here as well. I have no doubt that if Cher was a member of their circle, they would be defending the Half Breed headdress to the ends of the earth, as part of their ongoing fight against the “scourge of political correctness.” In this atmosphere, other liberals become easier targets because they care at all. Which makes the headdress another casualty of the recent heightened awareness of Trumpian offenses.

So yeah, it’s 2018 and we’re focusing on micro-aggressions, which should be a good thing. We’re finally getting to the micro stuff, unintentional but still hurtful stuff. Problem is we’re losing focus on the macro-aggressions, which in no way have been wrapped up: discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, physical violence, bullying at an all time high. Our energy seems frayed and raw right now. Do we keep finishing work on the macro but not stop work on the micros?  Will the macro ever resolve itself? Will racism ever stop happening?

Another issue with liberal call-outs is when critics offer no way through. What is acceptable behavior between cultures? What are we working toward? We need examples of that and we need it on TV. What was so great about 1970s television as it began to integrate, (projects of which Cher was a part), was the fictionalization of race issues and examples of how to behave correctly. We’ve completely lost that with network and market-designed segregation of television programming and the self-segregation that occurs with too many segmented channel (and online) choices.

But if there’s no way through for offenders or victims, what could possibly change? Confusion and paralysis sets in. “I’m drowning here and you’re describing the water,” misogynistic Melvin Udall says in As Good as it Gets. At some point, calling out all the drownings becomes absurd. 

But I can hear the response: “it’s not my job to find a solution to the world’s problems.” I wonder whose job it is. And if it’s nobody’s job officially then it’s everybody’s job. So it is your job, long story short. And adding one more voice to the chorus of complaints will do nothing but ensure all our future suffering, and the suffering of all our friends.

 

Some discussion of the issue to date:

  • Native or Not (how controversial was “Half Breed” and were there protests?) (2008) From Mental Floss
  • "Is Cher Indian" (2013) from Waiting to Get There
  • "Cher in a Headdress Again" (2013) from Newspaper Rock
  • "The Controversy of Cher's Heritage" from Native Arts
  • Recap of the December 2017 drama on Jezebel.
  • "My Strange, Strange Holidays Arguing with Cher, yes, THAT Cher" (2017) from TiyospayeNow
  • "Why is Cher Arguing with Native Twitter" (2017) from Storify

What We Talk About When We Talk About Sonny

Sonny1A few weekends ago I was driving to Sedona for a girls weekend and my iPod shuffle served up the song “Snow Queen” by Elton John, a song Elton and Bernie Taupin (and others) wrote about Cher when she was in her Paris Hilton phase: all paparazzi and no respect. A grandiose idea occurred to me that Cher was a Proustian novel. Actually, my full thought was that Cher was a Proustian novel and Sonny was a Proustian character within it.

Proust is famous for long, stuffed sentences but there’s another aspect of “In Search of Lost Time” that applies to Cher, the long scope of the novel over a lifetime and how the characters evolve over the entire piece. In some places, characters seem admirable and plucky and other times pathetic and clueless. Considering Sonny in this context is a good exercise in understanding complexity. He’s not an easy character to define; and from different angles and according to different people you’re likely to hear different stories about Sonny.

Cher, other ex-wives and his children are probably most likely to see the positive side of him. Other colleagues not as much. It's like those difficult people at work whose children admire them and imagine them as heroes in the office. It’s awkward but it’s also life. People behave differently with different people, within and outside of their private circles.

From a scholarship standpoint, you try to see the whole picture. Typically, fans will disagree about this, but what good is sycophantism? It’s not really healthy for anyone.

There are aspects of Sonny that are completely underrated: writing unique cowboy songs, launching unlikely superstars from street waifs and providing them with the skills to sustain an entertainment career spanning over 50 years, parenting, a particularly personal show biz sense that predated reality television by 30 years. He was tough and smart, fashion-fearless and yes, like Cher has said, he had beautiful hands. He was a great cook, too. There's probably a lot more.

On the negative side, he couldn't sing well, his acting was a bit hammy and not everybody enjoyed working with or for him. I've been mulling over the pros and cons of Sonny all year as books and links about Sonny have come my way.

Congressional Speech

When my parents visited this summer, we watched an Al Franken correspondence dinner speeches from 1994 and 1996. At about 36:20 I shouted out “There’s Sonny” like I was 7 years old again. You see him prominently walking around with his wife, Mary. Were they late for dinner? Were they on Hollywood time?

Doing a search for the clip I discovered Sonny himself gave a speech in 1995 at a Freshman Dinner (as a newbie congressmen). It’s very bad footage but Sonny makes the other U.S. congressmen laugh. He breaks the ice with that joke about nobody knowing what he went through to be serious and he refers to Cher saying, “Remember the other woman? She wasn’t easy to shake when I wanted to peruse this career." Then he goes on to say that Mary is “way better looking than Cher,” taller and 33."

Wow. Why be so mean-spirited about your meal ticket, dude? He then talks about wining the Mayoral race in Palm Springs and how the guy he fired (that being the defeated mayor) is his gardener now. Huh. A power joke. He then said he had originally wanted to be a U.S. Senator (instead of a congressman) because the prestige of a Senator eclipsed the prestige of show biz and he admired the power and respect Senators received. Well, at least he's being honest.

With all humility he says he respects the job, the new environment and he is trying to learn. He talks about how he’s ironically learning a lot from Democrat Barney Frank: “The guy’s amazing…he does the best Shecky Greene I’ve ever heard, the best I’ve ever seen. Haven’t figured out what you do but it’s good.”

His outsider humor was very effective. He goes way over his allotted time. Says he was supposed to do 3 minutes but he does a half an hour. His demeanor reminds me a lot of Chaz.

Conspiracy Theories

A very thorough Cher scholar alerted me this spring to the self-published book Sonny Hit a Tree from 2015. There’s a conspiracy theory out on the Internet about Sonny possibly being murdered by political or international operatives. I’ve avoided learning about this conspiracy theory because, well…it’s an awful idea and I hate conspiracy theories.

But I felt, for due diligence, I should check this out. I read the 17-page tract on a camping trip to Conchas Lake last spring. Here's my review: do not buy this book. The conspiracy theory isn’t explained or even mentioned. Sonny is mentioned only once in an introductory letter addressing his widow Mary. The rest is a full plunge into the head of mental illness. One-hundred percent incoherent and rambling accusations that run the gamut from Saddam Hussein to Putin to the L.A. Police Department. It makes you fear for what kind of letters Mary Bono receives these days, let alone Cher. It feels icky on every level.

Just…don’t. 

LangstonSonny's Atmosphere

And speaking of self-published, one of the actors from The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Murray Langston, also known as The Unknown Comic on The Gong Show, has published his memoirs, a much more coherent book called Journey Thru the Unknown. Yes, “through” is spelled “thru so you know it’s self published. That and the highly pixelated cover.

It’s a long book and not much of it concerning Sonny & Cher, although there are a few glimpses of the show, the social lives of the cast and what they all thought about Steve Martin, which was fascinating. However, Langston is crystal clear about his feelings around Sonny. He didn’t like him. In fact, Sonny makes it into his top 2 list of Hollywood’s biggest megalomaniacs. Langston also says he and Cher were on friendly terms for decades until Langston admitted publicly his true feelings about Sonny.

It’s never great to hear negative things about a loved one. And yet, Murray Langston does have the right to tell his own truth about a work situation. Interestingly, he did remain close friends with other S&C show alums, Ted Zeigler and Freeman King, until their deaths. And by now it's clear that the cast of the S&C shows did not cohere in an artistic or social sense like the cast of The Carol Burnett Show did. There are no show reunions, cast members are absent from DVD reissues. Steve Martin and Bob Einstein don’t talk at all about their experiences on the show. Teri Garr barely does.  It’s not like they’ve all been out trash-talking the show either. They haven't. But the silence adds up and might be one of the reasons the show has been undervalued all these years.

And the idea of Sonny as a megalomaniac is believable. According to Langston, Sonny always referred to the cast as 'furniture' and 'atmosphere.' Imagine Tim Conway or Harvey Korman putting up with this? And maybe a variety show with a duo is more crowded than a variety show with a solo. Maybe the cast never fully bonded for whatever reason. It’s also very possible that Sonny wasn’t on his best boss behavior. And to see him in this light is far from condemning him entirely. Assistants and colleagues have been slow to come out about this but you read stories in “Strong Enough” by Josiah Howard and from Cher herself. The existence of Cher Enterprises kind of speaks for itself. Sonny could be unkind in business. People are complicated, multi-faceted and not everybody had the same experience with your loved ones. Sonny has a very complicated legacy. Can we even get our head around it? It's Proustian.

I wouldn’t go as far as to recommend Langston’s book to Cher fans as the book is mostly not about the TV show era, but Langston has his point of view and it gives the story of the Sonny & Cher shows another perspective.

Sonny-deacon0darkSonny as a Cult Classic

I was a pretty synchophantic Sonny & Cher fan as kid, even after they divorced. But it was Aaron Spelling shows that eventually killed my fandom of Sonny. They were pretty bad performances....or so I thought. Lately, I’ve been searching for Love Boat episodes to capture his four appearances on that Aaron Spelling show. So far I’ve only come across his appearance with Marty Ingels (truly terrible) and his episode as Deacon Dark. As a kid I did like this episode. To me it was an obvious send-up of Gene Simmons in KISS, who Cher was dating at the time: the face paint, the long, protruding tongue, a human being feeling stifled by the gimmick of makeup.

As I was looking up the show’s air date, (March 17, 1979), I found a whole slew of articles about the Deacon Dark episode. In fact, for many Love Boat aficionados, this is their favorite episode. And it’s fascinating to read their comments. They have no context for the Cher/Gene Simmons reading at all. So they see more Alice Cooper (snakes) in the performance. They're not Sonny or Cher fans. They just like the episode for what it is!

There's no substitute for actually seeing the episode, but these are the two songs Sonny sings on the show:

"Smash It" and "Now That I've Found Sarah."

From The Deacon Dark Files:

"As you may or may not know, I am a huge fan of The Love Boat. I am such a big fan, I even watched Love Boat: The Next Wave. Yes sir, it's true. If I had to narrow down my favorite episodes, I'd be hard pressed because I just adore them all. However, there is one that keeps popping up in my forever clouded childhood memories that I think is probably the best episode. Ever.

On March 17th, 1979, Love Boat unleashed Deacon Dark on an unsuspecting audience. The Deacon is a culmination of Alice Cooper and KISS mixed with a whole lot of TV sensibility towards the then-current pop culture crazes. In effect, Deacon is thought to be a dark rock and roll soul, but underneath his satanic pantomime makeup, he's just dying to write a ballad….

I love every second of it and apparently I'm not the only one. Just today I discovered a Deacon Dark fan page on Facebook! The Deacon lives folks!"

"The Love Boat of Hate! Sonny Bono is DEACON DARK!" - this article links to Sonny’s  heated Palm Springs mayoral debate.

 From “Smash It”: The demented, the dangerous and the disgusting Deacon Dark:

“There’s not a lot of originality to be found here, of course — seems to us like the writers Joyce Armor and Judie Neer wanted to parody both 70s-era sensitive schlocky singer-songwriters and satanic heavy metal rock singers — and the costume and makeup people didn’t have to work too hard to come up with Dark’s garish demonic look either because they pretty much just ripped off KISS bassist Gene Simmons’s full face makeup. The writers also apparently threw in a little bit of Alice Cooper’s stage theatrics too, particularly because it involves fire (Arthur Brown could have been mentioned here too, we suppose).

Today, the demonic Deacon’s face makeup seems like it may have inspired or at least prefigured the black and white corpse face makeup favored by Danish black metal bands, or perhaps even the Insane Clown Posse’s Juggalo clown face….

We hear Backstrom’s alter ego being introduced as the “the demented, the dangerous, the disgusting Deacon Dark!,” then see him taking the stage to sing his hit song “Smash It!,” which you can watch at the clip at the top (we also learn during the episode that Dark is also known for two other songs: “Screaming Voodoo Devil Boogie Woman” and “Step, Step, Step On Toads”).

After the performance, Captain Stubing still appears unimpressed: “He’s no Jerry Vale.” (We should point out here that “The Love Boat” was one of the only hour-long American-made TV shows that consistently used a laugh track).”

“There’s also quite a few blogs online where clever writers have created entire backstories about Deacon Dark, including this one ...(read the entire thing though, it’s pretty great).”

It is brilliant. My favorite excerpt:

"The destruction of Deacon’s works continued down to individual albums and 8-tracks. The only account I’ve ever read of the “event” was in a old copy of Kerrang! magazine I found, uncatalogued, in the New York Public Library’s Chinatown branch. According to Kerrang!, readers reported strange winds would sweep their Deacon Dark 8-tracks out of their cars; that unorthodox rays of sunlight would melt Deacon LPs and that some albums would simply disappear. I know for a fact my dad owned a vinyl copy of Deacon’s third album, “Luvin’ The Coven,” but I’ve searched his stacks of wax again and again over the years, and the thing is just gone."

Deacon Dark has inspired Fan Fiction!! How awesome is that for Sonny. Who knew this episode had such a cult following. It’s pretty cool.

The Facebook page, well, I won’t spoil it. Just scroll all the way down and don’t forget to look in the photo album. It's full of fake album covers and allegedly historical photos. (Do not miss the Jerry Vale joke).

Okay I will spoil it.

Here are my favorites (click to enlarge). Just the funniest damn thing I ever did see.

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I found the fan fiction completely compelling and it's inspired me to ask you to compare this: Deacon Dark's “Smash It” to Def Leppard’s “Argmageddon It.”

Punk Rock Sonny

And finally, over the last few months we've been watching old 80s videos on MTV. Yes, when the moon hits the mountainside to reveal a keyhole after the thrush trills, MTV plays videos. We watched “Punk Rock Girl” by the Dead Milkmen and there was a Sonny reference.

Sonny-video-punkrockgirl


Cher Mags, Shows, Movies, Music, TV, Fashion, Merch

Linda_CherWhat a Cher year it's been, starting all the way back in January with "Prayers for this World."  It's a bit overwhelming and I can't believe I haven't blogged since Halloween! My own Fall has been crazy with three sets of house guests and the production of a new political poster for the my art action group ArtBrawl (we decided on a name last summer). We also recently launched a Facebook page that has been tracking our goings-on. Two weeks ago we started screen printing.

For Cher this seems like a critical mass era where she’s producing a plethora of new things, all while older work is getting re-evaluated constantly (her fashion, songs and movies).

Tributes  

Bob's Burgers did a tribute to Cher on their Halloween episode. Technically Linda is dressed as a "Cher-iff," a sheriff dressed like Cher (or Cher with a badge). 

Linda explains her costume as having “handcuffs, a badge and a body that just refused to age!” She also wears a diminutive cowboy hat. “OH, I LOVE her!” she says and then says to Bob, “Snap out of it! From the movie!”

Linda stays in her Cherfit for the whole episode. The outfit is basically the Turn Back Time V-fit with extra Linda coverage, darker stockings and the leather jacket and Cher’s own latter-day boots. I appreciate that the cartoonists put Cher in the original Turn Back Time V-fit and not the concert version hole-fit that everyone now associates with the song.

Some clips:

- Linda explaining the costume
- The family trick-or-treating

While searching for show clips I also came across this story about Ellen wearing the hole-fit version a few years ago. They're very different outfits and now when Bob Mackie talks about designing the Turn Back Time outfit I have no idea which outfit he's talking about.

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 Magazines

CloserCloser magazine came out with a Cher tribute issue in November which is pretty good. Some new pictures and stories inside. There have also been some new online articles about Cher like these on motherhood and retirement.

Cher scholar Tyler also located this Travel Girl article on Cher: http://travelgirlinc.com/cher-glamorous-gorgeous-still-going-strong/

 

 

 

Charity & Social Causes (Twitter)

Cher has been busy with social and charity causes. She's working with Ben Stiller and others to get supplies to Puerto Rico:

Cher also took part in an auction for veterans on Veteran's Day.

And (thanks to Tyler again) here's a found clip of Cher's interview at the One Young World Conference where she launches Free the Wild and talks about how she's been working with Bob Geldof's manager to launch the animal rescue charity. She talks about her fake fur and a few rescued elephants.  She also says the song "Walls" was from "Believe" producer Mark Taylor.

In the Twittersphere, Papermag has also offered "A close reading of Cher and Rihanna’s Twitter Exchange"

Cher Shows

Las Vegas: There's Las Vegas and then there's the original Las Vegas. I went to them both in the last few months. The older one is actually in New Mexico, an old west town rougher than Tombstone. Mr. Cher Scholar got his masters in archaeology there a few years back (which is why we live in New Mexico now). We took Mr. Cher Scholar's brother to The Plaza Hotel there to do some ghost hunting. Mr. Cher Scholar's brother even has ghost hunting gear. There also happened to be a Halloween party there that night.

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A few weeks later we went to the other Las Vegas where I finally saw the November 11th Classic Cher show. Our seats were not as close as the cancelled show seats we had in spring, but they ended up being better seats than I thought. Cher opened her monologue with "You've probably planned a long time for this." Tell me about it! I was shell shocked the whole weekend worried about a cancellation. Sigh. Sometimes I think I just want it too much. Cher talked about mid-era Sonny & Cher days working show rooms and living in Motel 6 like motels with Cher attempting to cook their diners in the rooms.

It was a great show. I particularly liked the new graphics for "Walking in Memphis" and "The Shoop Shoop Song."

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I really loved the faux Cher Vegas sign. So retro and fun!  

News about the show:

Broadway Show

There's a page for the Chicago shows of The Cher Show. It would be nice to see a bit more of the performers involved and a better logo. An article from Junkee on the show which captures a lot of her tweets related to it.

Cher Music

"Ooga Boo" is now for sale and when you buy through smile.amazon.com, money goes to charity.

Cher did an interview for the BBC ostensibly about her new song "Walls" but the interview is kind of fluffy and truncated before we get to discussing the song.

Music History

Cher scholar Robrt found this 2016 commercial that uses Cher’s 1967 song “It All Adds Up Now.”

Cher scholar Tyler found this clip of Cher lip synching her way through "I Found Someone in chain-mail-fit"

Cher Movies

It was announced that Cher will play the part of Meryl Streep's mom (in flashback) in the sequel to the movie version of Mama Mia.

OrgasmicMovie History

A great article about Witches of Eastwick seen from 30 later.

 

Television History

CbMy favorite Cher wig is the multi-bun. It's best seen on The Carol Burnett Show. Here's a clip of the sketch.

I heard news that the Get TV Cher shows were coming back. But there's no sign that they will air any new episodes. Last night they played the same Christmas show they aired last year.  This run of shows has been mildly disappointing.

But we can console ourselves with this: Cher scholar Tyler located an opening segment of Laugh In with Sonny & Cher. See Sonny in his groovy scarf. And wow! Some Cher eyelashes there! Cher also gets on a bike. Here's another Laugh In segment with Cher and Tim Conway.

And the full episode of Sonny & Cher on The Glen Campbell Show

And another tribute to Sonny & Cher on David Letterman 30 years ago!

Fashion Influence, Peripherals and Stuff

Ode to an Idol: https://www.image.ie/fashion/in-ode-of-an-idol-the-iconic-and-timeless-wardrobe-of-cher-88368

The New York Times ran a story about a republican mayoral candidate who happens to be a big Cher fan.

Cher is planning to release more Christmas merch on her site soon. See the products on her Twitter. It looks like the themes will be Chercophanie and Black Rose. You can still buy scarves, too!