Cher, Big Data and Influence

The Cher Hot Sheet below was created as fan art by The Hot Sheet on Twitter. What a great piece of data visualization!

Years ago the visual-data software company Tableau gave a demo to Central New Mexico Community College and included an amazing public interactive visualization of some Beatles data with headings like What Are Most of Their Songs About and Which Songwriter Has the Largest Vocabulary. You can even roll over their cartoon heads with your mouse to see which Beatle wrote which hits. Big data, maps, trees and graphs! Nerdy fun! It was so awesome in fact that CNM couldn't afford it. But I always hoped someday there'd be a Cher Tableau. 

The Cher Hot Sheet below is the next best thing: albeit static, it aggregates the data (which is some kind of objective reality, you have to admit) and continues to beg the question as to why artists with lesser numbers are in the Hall of Fame but not this stealthy trailblazer. 

(click to expand)

Hotsheet

In my mind the relevant numbers are this:

  • Cher ranks 16th on Billboards Top 100 female artists of all time.
  • Cher ranks 47th if you include the boys.
  • Her chart span is 38 years! Including 19 years of actual chart activity.
  • She has spent an accumulated 420 weeks on Billboard charts.
  • She is the oldest female to achieve a #1 hit (still, after 20 years!)
  • Cher also holds the record for longest gap between first and last #1 hits (24 years and 355 days)
  • These numbers don't even include Sonny & Cher's contributions (their act had 18 entries of their own).

Thank you, Twitter Hot Sheet person! This is an invaluable contribution to Cher scholarship.

But rock-and-roll isn't about numbers, Missy. It's not all about sales and breaking records. I hear you.

Then your suggesting it's about another kind of influence metric like inspiring other artists?

To which I would say,

I loved Cher's appearance in this video although I would have preferred she be cast as something on the level of the protective pookie-bear, something short of a God figure, the religiousness of which undercuts the influence argument by being too much worship. And a little less spouse abuse would be nice, although this is probably meant to be a metaphor or hyperbole, both of which are sometimes lost on people unfortunately and are dangerous to use in conjunction with violence.


More Moonstruck, Bobbleheads, Biden and Interviews

Mooneyes

Another good Moonstruck review appeared in The New Yorker while I was away.

B.D. McClay admits this movie’s “selling points have always been a problem" and then delves into the psychology of our inner wolf-ness. Huh. Something just dawned on me. Anyway, many characters in the movie, McClay notices, are “torn between who [they are] and who [they believe] themselves to be.” Loretta can’t “admit that she is a wolf, too” and “her coverup is a form of agency, ” her “own wish to feel in control, just as nothing is driving her father’s affair but his refusal to admit to his wife that he fears death.” Interesting.

McClay also interestingly notes that Ronny’s exasperation of Loretta in his line “I ain’t no freakin’ monument to justice!’ is ultimately ironic because he has indeed become a monument to his own pain. McClay also feels the idea of family is almost more important in this story than the escapades of the couple, “being a member of a family, you assume a kind of doubleness among people who have known you for a long time, which is part of what makes trying to be somebody else appealing.”

“You could flip over the table and see what happens” McClay says about taking life risks and compares the movie to Shakespeare’s romantic comedies, especially As You Like It. The movie “shares the same spirit. It’s a comedy, but it’s deeply obsessed with death, to the point that it opening a funeral parlor.”

Not many reviews and pieces for Boobleheads came out and they were ultimately unsatisfying anyway. People Magazine interviewed Cher.  She says, “No one has ever asked me to do voice-overs” and called her voice “a strange voice.” She also states, “This is a film for young people. Little kids don’t know who I am.” I wonder if little kids believe Cher is simply just another a character or bobbledom.  “For me, it was a story about being yourself…[a movie] that sends a good message.”

When asked, she admits she does have a bobblehead of herself (I’m assuming custom made) and says she “might be a little bit old [for them].” Well, not me sister. For some reason this movie has made me feel insatiable with the desire to own a Cher bobblehead. There's also a mention in Entertainment Weekly and Exclaim for some reason only reviewed the trailer. Dude, we can all watch the trailer. What purpose do these trailer reviews serve?

CookiecherThere were also some bigger general interviews:

Good Housekeeping

Kayla Keegan notes Cher’s “fearless devotion to being herself” and catalogues all of her public activities of 2020 and summarizes her life a bit. Most interesting was Cher's memory of the first book she actually enjoyed reading (after struggling with dyslexia), a book given to her by Sonny called The Saracen Blade

The Guardian

Simon Hattenstone elicits some good comments in this Guardian interview. He notes on the outfit that made such a splash in London in December, the “two-tone black-and-white beret, matching jacket, skinny jeans, black boots, black mask, and an elephant-shaped knuckle-duster.” They discuss  Trump and Biden, Kaavan the elephant, her Free the Wild and Cher Cares charities, the California fires that burned the side of her house, the price-tag for her Vegas show (an estimated $60 million a year but she defends that this supports 100 staff…Hattenstone also notes her estimated worth of $360 million). Sonny is referenced as her “Svengali and lover” and they talk about her feelings about him after he took all their shared earnings and then some. She talks briefly about Camilletti and Allmas as well.

Hittenstone notes that Cher “has a touch of Mae West about her” and “a surprising stillness.” He calls her a “serious, understated actor” but also notes her recent “gloriously camp cameo” in Mama Mia. (You could say that about all her recent roles.) He says she’s “never quite received the acclaim she deserves” and that “very few women have been so empowering for other women” due to her independence, longevity, chutzpah and level-headedness. He also remarks on her “steadfast” sobriety despite her very public dramas.

He mentions that in his experience other “megastars are evasive, talk in soundbites or reel off anecdotes on autopilot. Cher answers fully, as if considering every question for the first time. She doesn’t pretend to be your friend or feign intimacy.”

Although she refuses to accept his linking her past plastic surgeries to the current trend of teenage girls going under the knife. Hittenstone calls her “freakishly fit” which seems like only something you would only say in 2021.

She mentions in the piece that she’s working on saving a gorilla and another elephant now.

CNN

Oscar Holland at CNN talks to Cher about gay men, her son Chaz, Kaavan and Biden and the recent news that she may be directing a movie soon, tangentially related to The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She’s also working on a new album, which begs the question of where the ABBA2 album got off to. Maybe it succumbed to Covid-19. Hopefully not.


Cher in the Time of Covid

WalkaisleSo where the hell have I been? Well thanks for asking. As I said in my last post, my 80-something parents (right, 1958 in Carson City, NV) came down with Covid in Cleveland mid-November. I spent the end of December through the beginning of February (alternating with my brothers) helping them get back on their feet. When my mother was on death's door  back in November, I promised her that if she made it home I would learn to cook (finally, after 50 years) and make her a bunch of Hello Fresh dinners. And that's what I did, in the process learning the many joys of a bubble whisk.

I anticipated catching up on all-Cher-things while I was gone but that did not happen. In fact, the whole experience made me question fandom entirely (and not for the first time). I asked myself what purpose it serves, does it make my life better, does it make the world better? And because of all of the most recent events in the world, the answer was a soft no. Not that much different from stress shopping, I figured. But then I came around to the idea that in some way, like a carrot on a stick in front of a mule, it gave me something to look forward to, some relief of entertainment just slightly up ahead. And that was comforting in the trenches of things. 

New Video

Stopcrying1I will be slowly catching up over the next few months. So much has happened, first of which was the video release of "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" which I loved. Although I could not follow it's directive, I really loved the perfectly-edited video, which felt oddly cohesive considering all the personalities involved:

Stopcrying2You can still donate:

Stopcrying3

New Movie

IMG_20210220_181043Then last weekend I finally watched Bobbleheads: The Movie:

This felt like a watered-down Toy Story with bobbleheads. There wasn't much background on the cartoon family but that the parents were theme park designers in a world that looked like the cheap cousin of Pixar. But this is a good movie for kids under ten (and hopefully Cher’s brand can successfully extend into this demo).

Some oddities: these were scary parents who kept a fish tank on the coffee table and no baby gates at the top of the stairs, fully expecting their tween daughter to deal with it. There was also a Cher poster inexplicably in the office. Who is the fan here? The wife, the husband, both?

The story is basically the bobblehead toys avoiding pitfalls in the house like  a visiting dog and nefarious relatives squatting there. Lots of references to collectors of the bobbleheads and collector culture. There’s also a sub-world bobble creed and anxiety around the toy's relationships to their real life prototypes, some protos who have let down their bobbles and some protos who bobbles cannot live up to.

This is where it gets weird because Cher is a real life prototype to her bobble equivalent (meaning she really exists in real life) but the other bobbles are fictional characters to their fictional prototypes. The rules of the world bobble here. It probably would have been better for all protos to have been fictional.

Cher’s bobble appears in spaceship (in reference to her big concert entrances) at the toy's darkest hour and gives the group a mentor of bobblishiousness (very similar to her role in 2017’s Home: Adventures with Tip and Oh and even in Mama Mia 2 to some extent). She comes as a representative of The Bobble Council.

These are flat roles that are getting old for fans but maybe helpful in introducing Cher’s brand to new generations. This makes me wonder if this is what it felt like for original fans of the great Mae West getting flat 1970s facsimiles in later years.

All that said, there are still some good messages here. Cher clarifies the bobble creed: "Bobbles bobble and bring joy" which sounds a bit like Cher's own entertainment ethos. She also has this good advice: "Don’t be prototypes, be you." Then she tells the cat he’s one of a kind and to embrace that. "That’s what my proto did,” she says.

Over the credits, Cher’s bobble tries to teach the other bobbles to be dancers in her live show. They’re all flat feet, so to speak.

New Cover

KaleoAfter listening to the Cover Channel on SiriusXM for a few years, they finally played a Cher cover, "Bang Bang" from the Icelandic band Kaleo. It starts slow like a lot of the Sinatra-esque versions already out there but then it starts to veer away with new embellishments, then unfolds into its own unique, less controlled thing. Great cover.


Cher at the 'I Will Vote' Fundraiser

JoeI tagged this as "television" but then realized it was really paid-streaming and I had no category for that. Times have changed. 

Just documenting some late news here we already know about but Cher created a new song and performance for a Joe Biden fundraiser right before the election. It streamed on Sunday November 1 and the single was made available the following day on streaming and download locations.

Watch her segment: "Happiness is Thing Called Joe

You can listen to the single on YouTube Music, Spotify or Amazon. Amazon also has a copy for purchase.

The other amazing video from the fundraiser was Will.i.am and Jennifer Hudson redoing "Where is the Love" in a mash-up with a Joe Biden speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk7LPpY8pXM.

Rolling Stone's coverage and background on this old Broadway song she refurbished: https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-news/cher-happiness-is-a-thing-called-joe-biden-1081007/

The night of the show, Mr. Cher Scholar also received an email from Cher which read:

John,

I first met Joe Biden in 2006. I saw a speech he’d given, and it was love at first speech. So I went to his office to grill him and I asked him really pointed questions -- and unlike most politicians, Joe actually listened to me and cared about what I had to say.

I know he’s the kind of leader our country desperately needs, and I’m so proud to support his campaign. That’s why I’m so excited to be a part of tonight’s I Will Vote concert, and why I hope you’ll reserve your ticket to the event right now.

I’m asking you personally, John: If I’ve ever made you smile, laugh, cry, dance, or just brightened your day -- will you donate $50 or whatever you can afford to make sure Joe, Kamala, and other Democrats win on November 3rd and get your ticket to tonight’s event?

[Payment options]

The choice couldn’t be more clear, John. I’ve fought for causes I believe in for a long time, and I know that together, we’re strong enough to make change in this country.

So if you’re with me in these final days of this battle for the soul of the nation, I hope you’ll join me tonight at 8 PM EDT for the virtual I Will Vote concert. We’ll hear some great music, talk with hosts George Lopez and Ana Navarro, and hear from Joe Biden, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, and Doug Emhoff about what this election means for all of us.

John, will I see you there? Chip in $50 or whatever you can afford, and the Biden Victory Fund will send you all the details about how to join us.

Later,

Cher

Later,

Cher Scholar


Cher and Believe in Movies and Fundraiser Concert This Saturday

BobblecherBobblehead Cher

Cher scholar Michael notified me that Cher will star in a new BobbleHeads movie. You can see a nanosecond of her in the trailer. 

More info: https://ew.com/movies/cher-bobbleheads-trailer/

Mr. Cher Scholar expressed concerns that all the potential bobbling would give him motion-sickness like when he watched Blair Witch Project and Moulin Rouge. I'm just really hoping a literal Cher bobblehead just comes out of it.

Release date: December 8.

The Song "Believe" in Will Ferrell movies

Apparently Will Ferrell likes to sing "Believe" because two of his movies use the song.

The recent movie "Fire Saga" (about the Eurovision song contest) has some very cool mashup-fun with the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eq6IlGkxIfU

Firesagabelieve

While I was trying to find a clip of that movie, this one also came up as another Will Ferrell movie using "Believe," Land of the Lost, this time with Will himself actually singing with Danny McBride: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9KPQ5-9MS_k

Landofthelostbelive

Fundraisers

My friend Julie notified me about another Biden "star-studded" fundraiser coming this Saturday: https://people.com/politics/joe-biden-campaign-concert-featuring-cher-bon-jovi-more/.

    "Fans are able to donate any amount of money to the Joe Biden Victory Fund to attend the event, which will take place on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET."

To donate and attend: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/bvf2020_grfr_concert

Cher is also allegedly traveling to Arizona and Nevada to campaign according to The Hill: https://thehill.com/blogs/in-the-know/in-the-know/522231-cher-to-campaign-for-biden-in-nevada-arizona


Cher at Live Aid

On July 13, 1985 I did not, unlike every other kid in my High School, actually watch Live Aid (all day or for any part). My fan favorites weren't appearing. But since all my friends were at home watching Live Aid on July 13, 1985, I remember being very bored that whole long day. As I was trying to watch other TV, I kept running in to Live Aid and feeling very annoyed. Later, I got the Live Aid book and realized Cher was actually there.

Picture from my Live Aid book of Cher lounging backstage.

20200611_074201

Recently, Cher scholar Tyler posted about Phil Collins telling Cher how to crash Live Aid in Philadelphia.

Here is Phil Collins' story starting at minute mark :40: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orkMaiexPCw

Apparently Cher was on the famous flight Phil Collins took from London to Philadelphia (so he could appear at both locations) and she asked him what all the hubbub was about. He was like, if you don't know already...and then she asked if he could get her into the event and he basically told her to show up and she'd be let in. (Cos she's Cher dammit!) Anyway, his story has more detail but the moral of the story is that she got herself into the finale. 

Here are some screenshots of her singing "We Are the World." She comes and goes very fast. Here's video. (Don't miss Patti LaBelle!)

Cherliveaid

Cherliveaid

Cherliveaid


 

 


Look, she's right behind Lionel Richie!

Liveaid4


Odds and Ends: Believe Cover, Cher Hair Care, Acting vs. Singing, Fan Stuff

OkaykayaI've been collecting quite a big of odds and ends to report. My last few weeks have been tied up with doctor appointments and electronic poems. So here's some catch-up.

Believe

There was a new "Believe" cover in 2019 from Okay Kaya – and the pattern shows there's always the temptation is to slow that sucker down in the revamp. But it's a nice cover. 

Puzzle!

Meanwhile, Cher has come out with some new "Chicquitita" merch, including a puzzle and a face mask, both a must for Cher merch collectors during Covid.

Puzzle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I must admit, I sought out a bootleg Cher puzzle before this one came out. I'm not at all a "puzzle person" but I'm fascinated by people who are. And since puzzles are such a rage right now, I decided I should try it again. What else could temp me to do a puzzle, but a Cher picture. I found a picture of Cher that I love (from her trip to Armenia) and it took a very long time to arrive, at which time I found out it was from the Ukraine. (I'm probably on a list now). Other puzzle solvers I know laughed at me because it was only 175 pieces. But it was hellaciously hard because it was a mostly gray and black pieces. I could have sworn there were times putting it together I actually felt dizzy. But I did it and shellacked the finished product as a testimony to my hard labor. The new sanctioned puzzle also looks challenging with all the white pieces! I'll start on it as soon as it arrives.

20200711_182927

GqfanFan Psychology

If you're a fan of Galaxy Quest (that nerdy fan is so charming) you may also appreciate parts of the movie Cruise of the Gods although the fans are way less attractive in this made-for-Brit-TV movie with an unlikable Rob Brydon, a very likable Steve Coogan, and a very young and impressive James Corden. Sadly, I felt I could relate too much to the "scholarly fan" character and the "lovelorn girl fan." I've been very wary of fan cruises (and after covid, hell no) but this movie let me experience the scene vicariously.

Cruisegods

 

 

 

 

 

 

CherhairCher Hair

Filing stuff in the Chersonian Institute I  found this email from Cher scholar Tyler from 1999! That’s back when Cher fans were just finding each other on the Internets. Anyway….it was a conversation between Cher scholars Tyler and Meghan about whether or not Cher dyes her hair black (from the warm Armenian brown original color). He paraphrased an article he had from the 1970s, an interview with early Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour hairstylist Jim Ortel about how handy Cher was with her own hair with top knots and whutnot, and how she knows what styles look good on her juxtaposed with her nose, chin and teeth. She had the ends trimmed every three weeks back then and in between salon visits, she wrapped her hair overnight occasionally in olive oil!

In Cher Zine 3, we talked about beauty fads like this. Over the last few years, the fads were avocado and coconut oil and now I’m seeing Kelp and castor oil everywhere. When they move to little baby seal oil, I’m out.

Anyway, the end of the story is funny, the interviewer asks about the olive oil night wrap, “How does this set with her husband Sonny?” And Ortel says, “He’s Italian. He didn’t notice.”

That’s somewhere between an Italian slur and the fact that during this era Sonny probably wouldn’t have noticed Cher’s hair if it had been on fire. 

Tyler, if you see this, thank you. Were there pictures with the article?

Acting V. Singing

In 1999 Entertainment Weekly posted an online argument between Dave Karger and Jessica Shaw about whether “Cher is better suited for the airwaves or the silver screen.”

Imagine! Here are the pertinent excerpts:

Dave: “Watching her strut around with her unique reckless professionalism confirmed to me that the concert stage is where she belongs.”

Jessica starts by saying “Believe” going to #1 in 23 countries was “no great feat” considering Alyssa Milano and David Hasselhoff received hits in countries like Japan and Germany. (Really?) She says, “Cher’s acting, on the other hand, is purely her own talent and skill.” And she’s looking forward to Cher’s role in Tea with Mussolini playing an eccentric Jewish American.

Dave then says Cher’s Oscar win over Holly Hunter in Broadcast News was a “travesty” [ how about over Meryl Streep in Ironweed and Sally Kirkland in Anna?] and he mentions her real bad films like Faithful. He says more people watched Divas Live 99 than will see Tea with Mussolini.

Jessica then goes off on Cher’s bad concert banter, her collagen and face lifts, her “morphing into another person.” She says high viewership means nothing and trashes the Home Improvement TV show. She ends with, “I have one word for you: Mask.”

Dave: He brings up Cher the actress who gave us hair infomercials.

Jessica: “And your hair has been looking much better since you invested." [snap] 

And the squabbling went downhill after that.


New Cher Scholarship Discovered: Cher's 70s Hits

JstorBecause I am a nerd, I am very familiar with the academic essay searching engine Jstor. Two weeks ago I was running a Difficult Book Club night on B.S. Johnson's The Unfortunates and looking for essays on the book for discussion ideas.  And whenever I go into Jstor I always check for new Cher essays, too. And bingo! This search pulled up Michael Morris’ “Cher’s “Dark Ladies” Showbiz Liberation" chapter from his book “The Persistence of Sentiment: Display and Feeling in Popular Music of the 1970s,” a book which also has Karen Carpenter and Barry Manilow essays inside. 

What’s awesome is that this writer knows his music AND his pop culture sociology. I bought the book, if only to see his back notes on the Cher article, which weren’t included in the jstor download of the chapter.

PersistMorris starts by discussing Cher’s longevity during her farewell tour. He goes into detail about the design of the tour logo and the tour book by LA designer Margo Chase, how it “reflected an attitude of memory distilled into excess….the wings symbolize the enduring spirit of Cher’s music, while the cross refers to the religious symbols used in the stage production…the cross also nods to the gothic, Cher’s most recognizable style…the front cover, all blue and platinum blonde to represent the ‘angel’ Cher, contrasted with the red and green ‘devil’ Cher on the back.”

Blue

Red

 

 

 

 


All that seems a bit much...if not a sales pitch from an ad exec.

But the essay then starts cooking: 

“it’s the mythology surrounding the incomparable Cherilyn Sarkisian LaPiere that pugs these songs [GT&Th, HB and DL]  up into fluffy, airy bits of pop, into songs that continue to soothe and inspire us, not because of the music, but because of who is singing it.”

YES…Cher is bigger somehow or apart from the music. That’s why dressing other women in Mackie costumes and doing Cher karaoke fails to work properly.

“The cult of Cherness is about much more than the lavish goddess worship….It was the sheer endurance that grounded that delirious hail and farewell of the [LIVING PROOF] tour. But it raises the question of what it was, amid all the feathers, the spangles, and the wigs that was supposed to be doing the enduring….it is worth searching for a few more details concerning its core of resonance.”

He then goes on to discuss Cher references in:

  • The 1995 Canadian film Dance Me Outside where a mixed group of First Nations/Native Americans and a white male relative all sing Cher’s “Half Breed.”
  • “The Post-Modern Prometheus” episode of The X-Files
  • References to Cher on the show Will and Grace

Morris says there are all texts which explore ideas about originals (or aboriginals) and imitations. Morris explores how Cher’s three songs, “Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves,” “Half Breed,” and “Dark Lady” provided Cher with a mythology that was both real and fake, and were all (1) explorations of “social anxieties about racial mixing, class conflict and sexual irregularity” and also (2) blatant entertainments, two things which seem, on the surface, “almost always contradictory.” He calls these songs “the imagistic core out of which her later reputation grew.”

I would agree with that. He points out that we audiences rarely think of Cher songs as autobiographical. And they probably haven’t been very personal outside of Sonny or Cher’s own self-penned lyrics. But listeners still grant a song’s mythology to its singer. And here is where the Cher effect becomes a commentary on “realness.” Morris says,

“…a persistent problem with ‘realness’ is at the root of Cher’s glorious manifestation of diva-hood and the attractions of her and her songs. The questions circulating around the play of appearance and essence in Cher’s performances have provided her with powerful ways of connecting to a huge cluster of issues circulating in American culture and beyond, precisely to the degree that they cannot be permanently resolved. She is faking, we know that she is faking, but we are not sure how much she is faking because although she knows we know she is faking, she keeps us uncertain about the precise degree to which she is faking. Or does she? When authenticity—or rather the illusion of authenticity—is held in abeyance for such a long time, it’s rewards begin to seem paltry compared to the energy coming from the juicy sense of permanent masquerade.”

Yes. Juicy masquerade. 

He then goes into Cher’s real history from El Centro, California, her Arkansas/Armenian heritage, pinpointing her sort of “non-white” cast of features.

“The ethnic complexity of Cher’s actual background is significantly tied into her family’s economic disadvantages; taken together they place her in a liminal place. She counts as white—but not that white.”

Then Morris juxtapositions Cher’s ethnicity with Sonny’s working-class Italian background from Detroit and Hawthorne, California, connecting him with other Italians interested in early rhythm and blues music.

“During this period [1950s], ethnically marked whiteness played an important role in mediating between black musicians and white mainstream audiences. Consider the way doo-wop groups, when not black, where usually visibly ethnic-white (often Italian) and blue-collar.”

Morris then traces the rise of Sonny & Cher through the 1960s into the late 1970s. And this next part blew my mind, where he quotes "a journalist" about what Cher-sing is. 

“Cher-sing is an interesting concoction, the foundation of which is actually soul, believe it or not…Because a young Cher imitated everything Sonny, right down to the whoop, you might say Cher-sing is actually a genetic Armenian contralto imitation of an Italian interpretation of Soul.”

Wow. When I saw that quote a few weeks ago, I read it to Mr. Cher Scholar. We were both duly impressed by this piece of Cher scholarship. I was even glad the full book was coming because I would able to go into the back notes to trace the cryptic  attribution. I was feeling lazy when I wrote this post and almost didn’t look it up, although I was in the same room as the book. (It’s been a long week.) But when I peeked through his back notes I quickly saw I had been quoted somewhere in the essay. How cool is that? So then I matched the footnote to the attribution. And…

it was ME!

Surely some mistake, right? So I rechecked the attribution. I still didn't believe it. So then I searched the text online and one of my old Cher tour reviews came up. I still didn't believe it! I have no memory of saying this. So I searched the text on the article. Sure enough, I said this thing back in 1999: http://www.apeculture.com/music/cher.htm.

This caused some real confused guffaws for about 20 minutes. I’ve been scholarin’ so long I’m scholarin’ people who are scholarin’ me! It’s always a shock to see some half-baked thing I’ve said in a “serious” book. When I say "Cher Scholar" it's so tongue-in-cheek. As a Cher fan, how else would I?

Morris even called me a journalist (which is generous). Feel free to let me know how sound you think my "cher-sing" theory is. Personally, I think it's only half as brilliant as I did when I thought someone else said it. So anyway, Morris continues to say,

“Once again the spectacle of the 1960s soul, with its attachment to showbiz display, underwrites an intertwining of imitation between ethnicities. The farrago of styles and strategies points up a joyous musical promiscuity common to this region of the industry. What matters is what entertains, what diverts, and it is worth noting how much closer Sonny & Cher’s aesthetic was to Elvis Presley and especially producers like Berry Gordy, Jr."

GypThen he talks about "Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" specifically and how Snuff Garret was looking for a “Son of a Preacher Man” for Cher.

“Already many of the crucial mythologems are in place. First, there is the artist herself: a power-alto with mysteriously cross-racial affinities, fond enough of costume to keep us aware at all times that she is projecting n image while still tempting us to believe it.”

Morris even suggests Cher’s depictions of poverty and even a southern-white-trash poverty, race and class struggles and illicit sexcapades are believable and might even reflect the “tragic mulatto” or the “fallen women” stereotypical mythologies. Morris talks about the issues with the term of gypsy instead of the more appreciated reference of Rom or Romani and the history of their persecution in the United States, which apparently was still an issue in the early 1970s.

The explication of the themes in the music and instruments used is where Morris sets himself apart from other pop-culture academics. He goes into the song structures, the vamps, chords, motives, countermelodies (shows pieces of musical notation)…all things outside my sphere of knowledge but illuminating nonetheless, what connotes gypsyness, despair, the sound of being trapped and the parts of the song which “uncover proof of deep feeling.”

“To a correctly sentimental listener, the music’s struggle between rigid determinism and failed visions of freedom is quite poignant….the song’s picture of an eternal wheel of abject femininity…an echo chamber of shaming…we enjoy the spectacle all the more because we are to some extent at risk ourselves….but the vicariousness of our identification also suggests that the song is simply flattering our narcissism while allowing us to indulge in a voyeuristic thrill….we’ve been hijacked by the opulent fun of the arrangement and its too-muchness.”

HbreedThen we move on to "Half Breed:"

Morris goes into the history of miscegenation laws from Reconstruction era, various issues around Indian identity  and the activism happening among American Indian groups in the early 1970s and how that affected Cher’s identity presentation on her TV shows. Here he highlights the 1971 movie Billy Jack. Morris says Cher’s last name wasn’t generally known at the time and her early 1970s claims to be “part Indian” coincided with public service announcements Sonny & Cher did for the Alaskan Native Land Claims Settlement Act.

The lyrics of Cher’s song “focuses on the ‘here and now’ problem of prejudice against people of mixed race without letting any desires for accuracy get in the way.” Like the prior song, Morris deconstructs the structures of the music, including the stereotypical male “heyas,” the drum patters, all which belong to “the Hollywood Indianist strain.” But Morris also hears “proto-disco countermelodies.”

“Cher’s vocal style….sits somewhere between Indianist ornament, bargain-counter verismo, and a country-western larmes aux voix. It picks up the spectacular elements of the arrangement perfectly."

He also deconstructs Bob Mackie’s 'Half Breed' dress, commenting “the fantastic nature of the getup is apparent even to the most casual viewer.” The spectacle is disorienting however because Cher’s apparel is male, “a kind of double-drag—and the effectiveness of the costume depends on the history of Wild West Shows and Indian Princess pageants, rather than the kinds of pow-wow regalia to which it ostensibly refers.”

Costume is an unfortunate term here but it may apply to Cher and Mackie’s re-suse of solemn, religious clothing: Morris talks about the problems of ethnic drag but wonders,

“Could it be any other way? The kind of identification that the song means to foster is sentimental in the best traditions of melodrama. There is no place for the complexities of authenticity in this tale. Hence the music, like the clothing, must be unreal. The song is not about actual Indians; it is not even really about actual white persecutors. It is about those of us who sympathize with the narrator’s plight.”

DladyMorris ends the essay by looking at Cher’s Vamp characters, the best of which he considers to be the “Dark Lady” character:

He reviews the term “vamp” and silent film star Theda Bara's movies and ideas around a threatening “female sexual power.” He also gives historical context to the character of Sadie Thompson from a W. Somerset Maugham novel. (Who says Cher isn’t literary?) Morris talks about the ironic power of those performances:

“Lampooning ironically reinstates its object as a source of strength. By making such a joke of her sexual power as Sadie Thompson, Cher reinforced her own ethnic glamour.”

He also covers Cher’s Take Me Home era, culminating in this feminist position:

"...the strategies of unreality that were so central to the effect of her early 1970s hits….the obscured lines between reality and spectacle…these became the basis for Cher’s real celebrity life because in casting her as an abject, marginal figure, her self-presentation has made it possible to enact a narrative of progressive emancipation and self-ownership. This kind of autonomy was not exactly like that imagined by the 1970s women’s liberation mainstream, of course. Cher’s dependence on Hollywood/Vegas archetypes violated the restrictions on bodily display that seemed necessary at the time in order to neutralize sexism.”

TmhomeHe then talks about the Take Me Home album cover. He even mentions “her direct glare at us…the fourth wall…. so  crucial to the mechanics of voyeurism is relinquished in favor or reciprocal confrontation.”

The song, he reminds us, is a command, not a plea. He talks about divas and their history and their “archetypes of female abjection or defiance...audiences love her most for her ability to keep going…the stigmata of a diva are crucial to her appeal, for they are the points at which the investments of an audience at the margins (almost certainly the most passionate part of the public) can be most easily attached.”

He then points to Cher’s film roles, her earthy, lower-class characters and their own dark lady personas and how her acting further complicates the real/fake dichotomies:

“Was she acting when she portrayed these characters, or merely uncovering some prior truth about her interior self? How could we separate fictions of fictions from fictions of realities?..thus duplicat[ing] the interpretive instabilities already put into place in the ‘dark lady’ songs...And so what? Fiction-versus-reality are surely dime-a-dozen in the careers of overtly theatrical artists like Cher...It is useful to discuss them as a way of reminding ourselves to be suspicious about claims to truth and reality in musical performance.”

THANK YOU.

He ends with this gem:

“Cher’s ‘dark lady’ songs sought to put questions and attitudes into play in a way that turned out to be especially important to the politics of gay liberation. The stigmata of mixed race and class disadvantage were translatable into those of sexual marginality. Cher’s enactment of triumph over her initial abjection could be taken as an allegory for the successes of the gay and lesbian rights movement, as well as for the general project of sexual liberation in the late twentieth-century North America.”

THANK YOU!


I think this is the best essay on Cher I've ever read. And not just because he quoted moi. 

Moi


Biases of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (and Museum)

Contrast3

As I've been reading academic books on pop culture, I come across some interesting things like this most interesting essay, “The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum: Myth, Memory, and History by Robert Santelli from the book Stars Don't Stand Still, Music and Myth.

Now, I didn't know Santelli when I started reading the essay and I appreciated the first paragraph:

“Depending upon your point of view, the Cleveland-based Rock and roll Hall of Fame and Museum is either the music’s official house of history—the place where one can find proof of its artistic and cultural merit—or as triangular-shaped glass temple that has more to do with myth and mass consumption that the real story of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Santelli acknowledges the “vigorous discourse” about the two points of view. Note here that he calls the institution a Hall of Fame AND museum, and here surmises it might be a "house of history." More on that point later.

He continues,

"The skeptics’ fear that institutionalizing rock ‘n’ roll would kill the music’s present and future and trivialize and compress its past into neat, carefully packaged modules was not to be taken lightly….After all, rock, by its nature, has always been chaotic, incorrigible and anti-institutional.”

So I'm somewhere with these skeptics. A canon of taste-makers creating an in-circle is very antithetical to the idea of rebellion in art, but Santelli has a point that doesn’t stop folk and fine art museums from canonizing rebel painters, sculptors, writers, etc.

But then Santelli dismisses all the skeptics with one sentence: “No one explained, mind you, how rock’s integrity would be violated…No critic came forth with any anarchic alternative worth recalling.”

This dismissal is so vague, essentially saying 'no challenges were worthy' and the use of the phrase “mind you” sent up a warning flag to me that maybe this guy was affiliated in some way with the hall of fame.

Ah yes, we get to page two where he admits he was “a member of the curatorial team.”

He would be biased then. But I still wanted to give him a hearing. He spoke about the museum needing to be “free to make mistakes” and that they wanted to not be that guy who creates “a myth-plated story of the music and its most famous artists that is often shallow, vague, fractured, exclusionary, and nonrevisionist.”

Unfortunately, "exclusionary" and "nonrevisionist" are two words that come to my mind when I consider this museum.

So I wondered what happened? Well, the essay goes on to provide answers.

Early curators worried that

“without any standard historiographical references, there was no way to know for sure if we had gone too far, forging, for example, our own ideas on rock’s role as a countercultural force in the sixties, or assigning values to certain artifacts, or giving one artist too much credit and another too little[me: or none] in shaping the music. Even more importantly, how could we be certain that we separated myth from truth, when so much of what passes as standard pop music history is suspect?”

This is a place to start from, for sure. So what happened?

It turns out maybe the bias was in the homogeneity of the early team. And maybe this is a homogeneity that persists. 

Santelli says, “Jim Henke, the museum’s newly appointed chief curator, assembled a team of music journalists to act as consultants, most of whom he had worked with or who had worked for him when he was music editor at Rolling Stone."

Wow. I was not prepared for that. So it might be fair to call this the Rolling Stone Magazine Hall of Fame. How shocking that one magazine would be so influential in the trajectory of a supposedly unbiased hall of fame institution. I mean, this magazine was never the only point of reference in the industry, right? Anyway, maybe unintentionally, but surely effectively, a Rolling Stone point of view prevailed to set standards and practices for inclusion and exclusion to the lists.

Santelli admits that “each of us owned entirely different interpretations of events, artists, and albums, despite the fact that we were all approximately the same age—late-thirties to early forties—…had been at many of the same major concerts, knew intimately the so-called classic-rock works…”

Ok. That’s not good either.

He goes on to say that “Rock ‘n’ roll, like America itself, is a multicultural, multidimensional maze. The museum, it was agreed, ought to reflect this.”

It’s fascinating to me that this group of people, all from essentially the same social group, is surprised by their own diversity but clueless as to the limits of that diversity. Rock criticism is male-dominated and it's no wonder the roster is as homogeneous as it is.

He takes pride in the non-chronology of the flow of the museum, where an exhibit of The Allman Brothers Band could be situated next to one for Alice Cooper…

“the Allman Brothers Band demonstrated its importance as a musical unit minus theatrical histrionics, like those that made Alice Cooper’s show so exciting in the early seventies; yet an Alice Cooper exhibit, complete with stage props and costumes, was positioned just a few feet away, as if the two were somehow thematically linked. Such a chaotic, “unruly” approach to rock history was spectacularly effective in breaking apart myth and convention and challenged the visitor to rethink his view of rock history—perhaps the museum’s most important accomplishment to this point.”

Contrst2Aside from all the self-congratulations right there, it’s maddening to imagine this, if you will, an exhibit of Gregg Allman (minus those "theatrical histrionics") [oh my blood pressure] situated right next to a CHER exibit (“complete with stage props and costumes”) positioned just mere feet way as if, not somehow but f*#king actually, those two acts were physically linked in some way, like say a concert they did together in 1978 or Allman’s appearance on Cher's TV show in 1975. I’m not talking about a relationship here. I’m talking about products and performances. If Alice Cooper and Gregg Allman were linked romantically, that’s beyond the scope of the Hall of Fame surely. But actual rock shows, record albums and TV segments…

Imagine that!

Oh…my…God. The same reasons they use to glorify Alice Cooper (creative theatrics and costumes) are used against more feminine acts like Cher or Madonna or ad nauseam. I’ve also read quite a lot of rock history in the past 6 months and everybody seems to agree that an Alice Cooper show was mostly image and artifice and show biz. I actually think he would agree with that assessment.

Related: this week I saw a great documentary about the cross-influences of Lou Reed, Iggy Pop and David Bowie called Bowie, Iggy & Lou 1971-1973: The Sacred Triangle. Bowie’s Contrast1Ziggy Stardust creation is described by one commentator as pure image. The commentator said the music could as well have been Elton John songs. [They love to dismiss Elton John too]. The music didn’t matter. The show was about the image-making.

Ignoring the contributions of women artists in image-making is selective history.

First of all, a Hall of Fame is by definition an establishment institution, asserting itself as THE authority figure. When you become the authority you set yourself as an opposing force to rebellion. This is why establishments respond to challenges to its authority. Practitioners of any rebellion will necessarily happen outside of the establishment. Which is an irony of any art canon. It abdicates its identity as rebellious and should be aware of its own new bias.

Of course I’m not the first person to kvetch about these hypocrisies in canon-making and the double standards for men and women inductees. The best example I’ve read to date is “Across the Great Divide: Rock Critics, Rock Women” by Barbara O’Dair (also in Stars Don't Stand Still, Music and Myth), who points out how most rock and blues histories have eliminated the stories of women artists. She also describes the push-back received in attempts to correct this from rock music institutions, like Rolling Stone. A quote from her essay:

“But while male fans and critics may say it’s okay for Mick Jagger to wear eyeliner or Kurt Cobain a dress, identifying with actual female rockers appears to be a much Tourpostergreater leap for most men to take. It’s interesting to note, for instance, that the male fans Joni Mitchell and Madonna boast seem to be disproportionately gay.”

My feeling is it takes balls to buck gender conventions. So those who do it, do it. Those who can’t, don’t.

On the way to my Aunt's funeral last weekend, Mr. Cher Scholar, a student of the NMU museum studies program, was asked by me to explain the differences between a Hall of Fame and a museum and it seems the curatorial aim of each would be entirely different.

A museum tells the history (by both big and small players) and a Hall of Fame simply celebrates the most successful, which is not a history. It would seem an insurmountable challenge to curate for both things at the same time. But I guess that's the least of it.


Chiquitita Espanol

Chiq-coverOy. What a week I had last week. The bedrock of my extended family, Aunt Mildred, passed away suddenly on May 1. I currently have her name on three to-do lists for various reasons (which is killing me right now). This happening during Covid-19 was particularly harsh for the family and her friends as there are quite a large amount of mourners. Twenty-five of us did go to the gravesite near a small town in northeastern New Mexico last Saturday. And incredibly, the funeral was Zoomed to the rest of the family.

The release of the new Cher single for UNICEF was a breath of fresh air in a dreary and painful week. I played it on the drive up to the funeral.

Cher released the ABBA cover of "Chiquitita" in Spanish on Friday, May 8. The video was released Saturday May 9 during a UNICEF special. Everything is available to purchase online to benefit UNICEF, the foundation Audrey Hepburn worked with for so long toward the end of her life.

There's also a new Cher interview in Billboard. In the conversation we find out one of the single "Believe’s" early champions, Warner Bros executive Orlando Puerta, has died of Covid-19.

There's also a nice mention in the New York Post.

The Spanish version is shorter but contains a very charming spoken word section. Cher scholar Heather transcribed the spoken word section for us in a Facebook fan group:

Chiquitita, no need to cry
I want to see you smile
Share your happiness
Ay, Chiquitita

Cher has been working on Covid-19 relief with her CherCares charity coordinating with Dr. Irwin Redlener. She has also donated to a fund for MGM Grand Resorts employees.

You can buy the English and Spanish together in a package. Review your purchase options

Watch the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZhysXendqjo

IMG_4927Aunt Mildred