Cher in Andy Warhol's Interview, December 1974

Andy-warhols-interview-dec-1974-cher_1_f54fed1784e359afb0fed32ac6e82225

I'm not proud of it, but when I saw this come up on eBay a few weeks ago, after waiting decades for the issue to show up, I literally threw money at it with the dangerous Make an Offer feature. 

And after reading it I wasn't very sorry I did. I think this is an important interview for 1974, albeit annoyingly gossipy to the point of catty and status obsessed, as Andy Warhol's Interview could often be. (Andy and Bob interviewed her once again for the March 1982 issue)

Bobandy
In 1974, Cher, David Geffen (who Cher was dating at the time), Andy Warhol, Bob Colacello and Andrea Portago all met at the Hotel Pierre and they all mostly talk about shopping.

Every column or so of text had a list of shorthand topics that were discussed but not transcribed. An example:

"Liza Minelli
the wedding
Jack Haley
coming to town this weekend
Halston's giving a party"

Another especially egregious example is this one:

"serious economic situation
very depressing
stuff by the yard
1940s jewelry
so cheap now
vulgar, but big
Cartier's in Paris
the best
pull out their old stuff. Ask them.
Erte's book
designers today
any master craftsmen?"

Interview2However, there are some unique conversational events in this interview.

  1. Defending Sonny:

    (a) Cher has just found out earlier in the year that Sonny had slyly screwed her out of all her earnings over the previous decade. She has just discovered she was a paid employee in a company Sonny and his lawyer created called Cher Enterprises and Cher was entitled to none of the profits but three weeks of paid vacation (so that's something...but which she never received, telling the Warhol gang the act Sonny & Cher never took a vacation in all of the last 12 years). Sonny's contract also stipulated Cher could not work on any solo projects without his permission. So Cher had been out of work for most of 1974 while David Geffen used his formidable gray cells to liberate Cher from Sonny's contractual clutches. Geffen as Cher's knight-in-shining-armor was not appreciated by Sonny, who despised David Geffen for years afterwards with the heat of a thousand suns.

    Despite this drama, Cher refuses to trash talk Sonny in this interview. "I knew that we owned half of the show and I thought that Cher Enterprises was just a company you had to have because people are always forming companies--I really didn't even know why, you know. I just thought because we had a payroll, and the checks said Cher Enterprises...Now I get nothing....the judge gave me a certain amount of money each month to live on until I can have half of whatever it is..." (this never happened by the way; Cher ended up having to buy out her contract from Sonny which took her until 1977). When Andrea talks about how greedy that was of Sonny, Cher's response is "Well, it's a strange thing....Sonny was really angry. He said, 'You screwed up everything. I could have made all this money and...it's your fault so I should be the one who keeps the money and you should go out and work." I said, "That seems logical, but when I met you, you were a truck driver and I was doing nothing and we were nothing and now we have all this money and all these things, and you should take half and I should take half..."

    The next question is Andy Warhol asking Cher if she does her own nails.

    (b) Custody of Chastity: Sonny also fought Cher for full custody of Chastity "and then the judge ended up giving him less time to see her than I had always given him so he said, 'Well, I hope you're not going to stick to that' and I said, "No, you can see her whenever you feel like seeing her.' My goal in life is not to keep her from him."

    (c) Sonny's flopped variety TV show: Andrea asks Cher if she saw Sonny's 1974 show, The Sonny Comedy Review. Cher says, "Yeah, I did." "Did you like it?" Andrea asks. For the record, this show was handed it's ass in  1974 but Cher says, "Well, there were a lot of things about it that I liked. You know?" Andrea says, "I thought you were sorely missing and Chastity, too." Cher says "Well, a lot of people think that, but I think that if you looked at the show and you didn't remember the Sonny and Cher show, that it was a pretty good show." Andrea retorts, "But it was the same format. How could you not remember it?" And Cher says, "It was, that's true. Well, that's the producer's fault because they just kind of do the same thing over and over again and they've done it like five times but the only time that it actually ever worked was with us but I don't think they know how to do anything else."

    So kids...this was the apex of Sonny's assholery toward Cher (going for her share of a fortune and full custody of their child). So when in 1998 people ragged on Cher at Sonny's death for jumping on a grieving-widow-wagon because she had spent decades trashing him, this was just more of the same anti-Cher bullshit made up over nothing true. For all Cher's softball insults about Sonny over the years ("I traded one ugly man for another"), she defended him just as often and always came to his aid when summoned, like when he opened his LA restaurant and needed publicity, when he was running for mayor of Palm Springs and needed publicity which precipitated the David Letterman Show reunion. This interview is the sterling example of how hard, if not impossible, it really was to turn Cher against Sonny. Not even Sonny could do it.

    Sonny & Cher outside of the Santa Monica Courthouse in 1974 where Sonny slipped Cher some tongue for the paparazzi:

    Courthouse1 Courthouse1 Courthouse1









  2. Being a Slave to Fashion, Andy Warhol vs. Cher:

    They're discussing people who wear whatever they see in Vogue Magazine. Cher defends people who need help figuring out complete looks with magazines. Andy Warhol then says, "And the fashion editors spend millions finding the right things, and they are right about what looks good; whatever they show is really right-looking, and they do work hard at it so people might as well take advantage of it."[Andy Warhol: Fashion Apologist!] Cher then says, "there will always be people who won't follow this. Sometimes I buy a 3-piece suit but then I just wear the pants because it makes me feel strange to go out in something that's pre-set already for me. I kind of like to screw around with it...I think there's really no such thing as what's 'right' in fashion now and I think that's good."

    Another thing Cher gets no credit for: her risk taking 'looks' that say fuck-you to fashion more often than catering to it. Some 1974 Cher looks:

    19743 19743 19743












  3. Laverne vs. Ernestine:

    This is short but interesting, Cher's conception of her character. When Andrea says Cher's Laverne character "is a little bit reminiscent of Lily Tomlin's telephone operator," Ernestine. Cher says, "I guess they were both strange kind of ladies, but then Ernestine was so square and Laverne was so broad...she played around a lot."

    Laverne and Ernestine never met in TVLand like Laverne and Geraldine did.

    Laverne-geraldineThere's still time.

  4. Meeting famous people:

    It's always interesting to hear famous people talk about meeting other people they consider more famous than themselves. David Geffen says, "your fantasies are bound to be destroyed upon meeting almost anybody. I'm sure if we met Clark Gable we'd be very disappointed" and Cher says, "Yeah, because we all have an idea of what we think of Clark Gable, right? and we'd make him fit the mold of filling our insecurities, our neuroses or what we need of him as our star..." and then Andy Warhol says they just met Joan Crawford and she was great, "fit the bill" he says. Cher doesn't seem to buy it and tries to quote something about legends and men and David Geffen remembers the quote more accurately, "When the Legend is bigger than the Man, then print the Legend."

    Cher's celebrity obsession was Audrey Hepburn, by the way, and I don't think she was disappointed. Speaking of which, this picture I just found on Pinterest is captioned, "Audrey with Cher Hair."

    Audrey
  5. The Famous and the Famous:

    Cher's recent Aspen trip proving celebrities sometimes really do hang out together: Cher is talking about having dinner plans that night with Ara Gallant and how Cher had just been to Aspen with Ara and "Angelica, Brit Ekland, Apollonia, Ingrid, myself....And David, Lou, and Jack. We had the most wonderful time. We had a ball. I mean we just blew it out. Skied all day and danced al night."

    As you would expect. Then Bob tries to talk Cher into going shopping that Saturday for 1940s jewelry. (We gotta get in on this hanging out with Cher thing.)

    Aspen
  6. Cher in Movies: 

    Andy Warhol tells her her movie was "so great. It was really good comedy." And Cher says, "What? Good Times?" She then acknowledges both Good Times and Chastity as being "much longer ago...let's see, I was 20, so that's eight years ago." (Ages!)

    Gt

Andy, Bob and Andrea leave the Pierre and talk about how good Cher looked without makeup and how "she'd be fun to shop with--she loves all the jewelry." 


Typical Cher Tabloid from November 1975

20200829_125805For my birthday, my friend Julie sent me this tabloid magazine TV Radio Mirror from November 1975. It's a good sample of tabloid coverage of Cher in 1975...

...with the exception that this one has a crazy cover of text, so tickled were these editors with their story they used actual newspeak verbiage instead of pictures. The gravitas of the gesture!

"The Taming of Cher: One woman has reportedly committed suicide over him. And now Cher, the cream of the female crop, is desperately running in circles trying to please him. Who is Gregg Allman and what is this strange, compelling power he has over women? Does he use drugs to cast his spell, or is his mere sexual intensity enough to (continued on p.40)."

That’s the cover! And make sure not to miss “Tony Orlando’s Childhood Memories: I rubbed elbows with pimps, junkies & murderers!"

Or "Rock Hudson Uncensored" (I'm pretty sure this 1975 story was completely censored.)

Wow. Just Wow. But it doesn't stop there!

This issue is interesting in a few ways. One, it gives more detail about the Jenny Arness tragedy because it had just happened. So this article includes a bit more about how her family was doing (not good). For those who don't know, this was a very sad story about how Gregg Allman’s prior girlfriend committed suicide.

Secondly, it's interesting how the writer, Amanda Murrah Matetsky, treats the idea of female self-agency and being in love (there is none). The article details the tumultuous first months of Cher’s relationship to Gregg Allman and then dives into speculation.

20201020_105044 (1)To be sure, Gregg Allman was so different than Sonny, everyone in America (including fans) were having a whip-lash moment. So the struggle to understand is maybe understandable but the dated-sexism is still pretty shocking. She says,

“He must have some kind of power over her and his mere presence in her life to muddle her head so effectively.”

Then she speculates about their possible drug use (to explain it all) and Cher's having just saved the life of Alan Gorrie of the Average White Band at a Los Angeles party on September 23, 1974. Read more about that: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_White_Band

But then the writer changes her mind to say,

“But Cher is probably too smart to succumb to any of the lures of the drug motivated (or unmotivated) culture….it is far more likely that our heroin’s head has been turned around by love—or sex (or both!!). It is most always through sex that a man gains his initial power over a woman....How long can Allman’s power last. For the present, Gregg has tamed Cher—just as one of Shakespeare's immortal characters tamed the proverbial shew. But there are those who feel that it’s just a matter of time before Cher slips through Allman’s musically talented fingers...When asked if he’s planning to marry his new girlfriend, Suzi Cuelho, Sonny Bono answers, 'We’ll see how it goes. I think I’ll let Cher get married a few more times first!'"

Invoking Shakespeare and Sonny Bono in the same piece. Who would have thought? The article then goes into speculating that this is a rebound relationship or fueled by Cher's mother’s many divorces and the kinds of statements Georgia was giving to the press at the time about marriage ending loving relationships…comments which our author is very critical of:

“Since this is the kind of motherly advice Cher receives, we shouldn’t be surprised if she has filed for another divorce by the time you read this.” [She didn’t.]

20201020_105117The article talks about the $24-million dollar lawsuit Sonny has pending against Cher and David Geffen. And yet Sonny tells the press,

    “I talk to her all the time. We’re closer than anyone will suspect.”

The article then discusses how Cher missed the first week of taping her new season’s show due to being in Buffalo “patch[ing] up her marriage.” [Allegedly, Allman was really in rehab in Buffalo at that time and Cher was lending support.]

The article ends by directly hinting to Cher that she needs to focus on her TV show more and avoid the pitfalls of Jenny Arness. Yikes!

Overall, an icky, manipulative little piece.


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.

Chergene4 Chergene4 Chergene4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Chergene

 

 

 

 

 


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