From the Chersonian Archive: Joni Mitchell Lyrics

Mitchellgeffen

Apologies to the Cher scholar who brought these lyrics to my attention. I printed them out to look at later and then years and years went by and I recently dug them out of the Chersonian Institute's messy archive.

There's speculation that references to Cher can be found in the lyrics of two Joni Mitchell songs. Here's what we do know: Joni Mitchell, Cher and David Geffen lived in the same house for a time while Cher was dating Geffen in 1973-74. Mitchell and Geffen are quoted mentioning this situation. When Cher left Geffen for Gregg Allman, Geffen admits he was distraught to distraction and had to seek therapy. He also states Cher was his only girlfriend. So the pool of possibilities here is very small (like Cher) if in fact Mitchell is referring to David Geffen in these two songs.

Let's take a look. Good sleuthing Cher scholar!

From her song "Love or Money" from the 1974 concert album Miles of Ailses.

Full lyrics: https://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=190
Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WfplwJaBN1E

Specific lyrics that seem David Geffen related:

The firmament of Tinsel Town
Is strung with tungsten stars
Lots of forty watt successes
He says where's my own shining hour
He's the well kept secret of the underground
He's in debt to the company store

Specific lyrics that seem Cher-related:

His only channeled aspiration
was getting back the girl he had before…

All because that ghostly girl comes haunting
Just out of reach outside his bed
And she kicks the covers off his sleep
For the clumsy things he said
She commands his head she tries his sanity
She demands his head tonight unknowingly

Vaguely she floats and lacelike
Blown in like a curtain on the night wind
She's nebulous and naked
He wonders where she's been
He grabs at the air because there's nothing there
Her evasiveness stings him
With long legs-long lonely legs
Bruised from banging into things

One day he was standing just outside her door
He was carrying an armload of bright balloons
She just laughed
She said she heard him knocking
And she teased him for the moon...

he tried but he could not get it down
for love or money

This song was recorded in March and August of 1974, in the turmoil of Geffen and Cher's relationship.

 

Form "Off Night Backstreet" from the 1977 album Don Juan's Reckless Daughter.

Full lyrics: https://jonimitchell.com/music/song.cfm?id=169
Song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrsub53A9EE

There are no overt references to David Geffen in the song but these are the possible Cher-related lyrics:

You pimp - laughing and strutting her to my chartered seat…
now she's moved in with you
She's keeping your house neat
and your sheets sweet…

who left her long black hair
in our bathtub drain?

This is a much later song, the album was recorded in 1977 and could be referring to another Mitchell relationship and another mysterious girl. 


Season 3 is Done

Gotitbad5This week I finished season 3 of documenting the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. One more season go for this show.

Cher scholar Jay has helped me figure out some anomalies in the online lists of episode numbers and filling in some missing material. Before heading on to the final season, I'm going to go back and fill in some information gaps.

 There's so much Cher scholarship, there are specialists among us! How cool is that?


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


Val Kilmer's New Book

KilmerLast week Men's Health ran an interview with Val Kilmer called "Val Kilmer Doesn’t Believe in Death."

It's a typically shocking statement (taken out of context as it turns out) that the press loves to print about Kilmer who is a Christian Scientist. The interview also took place someone unusually because Kilmer has lost his voice due to his recent throat cancer.

Anyway, turns out Kilmer has a new memoir that came out this April 21. The cover is oddly self-published looking  but it’s a Simon & Schuster book. And there's lots of Cher in it (I bought a kindle copy so I could peruse these sections first), which is a good thing because that love affair between Cher and Kilmer remains somewhat mysterious in all Cher lore. When did it start? When did it end? Kilmer's never talked much about it that I've read. Neither has Cher. But he has extremely nice things to say about her in this book, especially her assistance recently during the throat cancer where he lived in her guest house after selling his house in Pecos, New Mexico.

Myself, I've always been torn about Val Kilmer. I do like that he’s a Lit nerd who totes around books like Ulysees (whether or not Cher thinks that's pretentious) and he also did a one-man show about Mark Twain. But I can’t identify with much about Christian Science (or any religion created by a 20th century novelist) and stories from the set always focused on how difficult he was to work with. So I expected a similar ego in this book and I have to say, I didn't hate the Kilmer in this book. He doesn't come across as the completely off-the-rails media creation.

The book also talks a lot about New Mexico. And I once lived very close to Pecos, NM, where his house was. Mr. Cher Scholar also worked with people who lived in Pecos. So this is the local Val Kilmer story.

GreerSome background: Actress Greer Garson once married a cattle rancher and moved to Pecos, New Mexico. When she died she gave half of the property to her son and half (with the Pecos Indian pueblo ruins) to be designated as a federal historic site (great place to visit; Garson even did the audio in the park movie). Greer Garson's son then divided his land and sold part of it to Jane Fonda. She came to town and threw a party for the locals and they loved her for it. Val Kilmer bought the other piece and, as the story was told to Mr. Cher Scholar from some Pecos residents, Kilmer refused to give a local kid an autograph (forget about offering a party) and the locals hated him after that. Who knows if this is true but I can attest to the fact that there was graffiti scrawled on a Pecos overpass along I-25 for years that said Val Kilmer Go Home.

I did find this story online about locals being unhappy about his references to local problems in New Mexico and an article about the sale of the house, which he says in his memoir he was forced to do because of the financial crisis of 2008. He also claims to have invented the saying, "land of entrapment" in satire of the Greer-Porchstate's motto "land of enchantment." I don't know if that's true. It would be an interesting etymological study. In any case, Kilmer doesn't seem to harbor any ill will towards Pecos or New Mexico after all of that.

So the moral of the story is: visit Pecos, New Mexico, (you can even tour Garson's house designed by John Gaw Meem) and enjoy Kilmer's memories of good times with Cher.

Val and Cher: Then and Now

Valcher Valcher


Cher Scholar Digs: Mad Magazine, 1967 Interview, Moonstruck

Cher-mad1

The picture to the left is Cher reading Mad Magazine in the mid-1960s,

So I've been organizing Cher loot during the Great Shut-In and I'm finding some good stuff....and some not-so-good stuff, like this Mad Magazine spread from March of 1973, which is ironically exactly where we're up to in cataloging the TV episodes

Mad Magazine loves to take the piss out of popular things. So the tone of this isn't surprising. I don't tend to enjoy their sense of humor, although I enjoyed Spy vs. Spy as a kid. There's another clipping I once ripped out of one of my older brother's 70s-era issues that had a predictive age-progression for Cher's face. It was wildly inaccurate (looking back as it assumed she would never change her hair style) but I remember feeling a sense of dread about it (and not just because I destroyed a possible eBay sale from my brothers' future). I'll post it here if I come across it.

Here is the comic I was able to locate online. Click the thumbnails to enlarge. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

Funnyglare5 Funnyglare1 Funnyglare2-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Funnyglare3 Funnyglare4-5 Funnyglare4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I think part of the un-funnyness is knowing that the premise of the critique (Cher being a bitch who pushed Sonny around) was based on a tragically false assumption. I also think this is a macho response to an emerging feminist subtext occurring in this show. And I'm not just trying to be an academic wonk. (Liar!) This kind of response sort of proves that something unnerving was happening. It's like that disturbing quote from Chris Hodenfield in the 1973 Rolling Stone piece where the author's male friends were hoping Sonny "beat the shit out of her with a tire iron" which was also a macho-Rolling Stone-reading male response to seeing a woman (a wife, no less) like Cher on television daring to act assertive and critical when, at most, macho male audiences were used to seeing only the challenges of tentative but cautious characters like Marlo Thomas' Ann Marie or Mary Richards or Gloria on All in the Family. And then there's Maude. Look, Cher isn't even included in the list: https://www.thoughtco.com/sitcoms-of-1970s-3529025. But she got this kind of blowback. Why was that?

InsidepopThere's an interview with Sonny & Cher in the book “Inside Pop” book by David Dachs (1967). The most interesting parts describes a Cher modeling shoot for Vogue and calls out the uniquely packaged deal of Sonny being a writer, producer, provider of arrangement ideas (if not fully the arranger), music editor, and the one who chooses the master. The author says they were able to keep a lot of their royalties this way. The article also states that in his pre-music-biz life, Sonny was a masseur. I wonder if Cher got free massages during their time together. The interview also references Sonny's early compositions including “Koko Joe” Larrywilliams2 and “You Bug Me Baby," recorded by Larry Williams, which I first heard on my local oldies station a few months back.

There are also lots of mistakes in book: describing Georganne as Armenian, completely misrepresenting Sonny & Cher's age difference.

The author calls them an ingratiating couple and talks about their upcoming planned movie Ignaz (never came out)  and says the movie was concerned with “mind expansion.” The author finally concluded that they “aren’t all 'camp' and kooky clothes.”

What a hip word to use. Susan Songtag's essay "Notes on Camp" had just come out in 1964.

Moonstruck

I found an old local newspaper from when I was living in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in the year 2000. The American Film Institute had came out with this list of the funniest movies of all time.

Moonstruck is #47.
https://www.brainerddispatch.com/news/3372065-some-it-hot-tootsie-top-list-100-funniest-american-movies


The Rolling Stone Reviews

LivesonnycherI’ve been blogging about some books on rock music I’ve been reading and how I went off on a tangent of reading rock books and essays by women. The exception to this rule has been Lester Bangs. I’ve been reading his anthology as well. There’s something I really enjoy about Lester Bangs. Although he is the snob in the record store, he’s very much also the anti-snob in the record store too, advocating for and labeling the whole punk scene. He describes his tastes as "shrieking anomic noise."

On a whim, I googled “Lester Bangs Cher” to see if he had ever mentioned her in his lifetime, sure to find a similar hatchet job to the kind Chris Hodenfield did in the 1973 profile of Sonny & Cher. But I was also cautiously curious about what he would say. And bing! I came up with a hit. He reviewed Sonny & Cher’s 1972 All I Ever Need is You album. So I went looking for that and found out another iconoclast critic John Mendlesson, also wrote about their Live Album in 1971. These reviews don’t exist online so I went out on eBay to find them. Boy was I shocked to get my mail last week.

You should know I had to buy this naked Rs-cassidyissue of David Cassidy to get one of the reviews but I did it for you, dear reader. (Don't miss the Samantha Fox story.) I also braved carpel tunnel relapses transcribing these verbose reviews (Lester says they got paid by the word). You're welcome.

Sonny & Cher Live, Rolling Stone, February 3, 1972

JmWe'll start with the John Mendelsohn review. He wrote such scathing reviews Rolling Stone once commented he would have even given God a bad review. He was a fan of the Kinks and David Bowie and he hated Led Zeppelin.

Like the recently departed Orson Bean (who was once blacklisted as a Communist but later became a right-wing extremist...he influenced and his daughter married Andrew Breitbart) and similarly (although less extremely) Sonny Bono, Mendelsohn went from being a liberal kid to embracing extreme conservatism late in life.

Singling Sonny out for losing his hippie cred as a Republican seems unfair  in this context.

"I’m sure I’ll never understand why it’s become so fashionable to belittle Sonny & Cher, to blame everything from the dissolution of the Beatles to the scarcity of high-quality dope on the duo’s outgrowing its hippie image.

Granted that they’ve gone through some heavy changes since they practically single-handedly insinuated folk-rock into the American musical consciousness, that social-commentary material no longer accounts for the vast predominance of their repertoire, that they’ve discarded the floral bellbottoms and bobcat vests of yesteryear for mod formal attire, and that one is as likely to catch them in some swank hotel as in It’s Boss or a similar tween watering hole—granted all of this, they’re still essentially the same old Sonny & Cher, tight, topical, and together, for vivid evidence of which one need search no farther than their new “live” disc.

Not only are all their greatest protest numbers—“The Beat Goes On,” Laugh At Me,” “I Got You Babe,” and “What Now My Love”—all present, but at least a couple of them are accorded treatments nearly ten minutes long, over which duration the duo seek out and elucidate every tiniest emotional implication present in the words and music. So much for the preposterous allegation that Sonny & Cher have turned their backs on the counter-culture.

Such allegations are usually based on the consideration that the duo are rather more heavily into standards than your average folk-rock team. But what Sonny & Cher’s detractors always fail to mention is that the couple have matured into such sensitive interpreters that they can transform even the most over familiar material into searingly soulful expressions, as witness Cher’s fiery treatment of “Danny Boy.” Truly Cher has developed into one of our most inspiring ladies of song, capable of evoking emotions that not even a Nancy Sinatra or Marcia Strassman can deal with without some evidence of strain. Sonny, although he too has matured greatly, is content for the most part of remain in the background vocally, although only a fool could suspect that Cher wouldn’t miss the clear, precise harmonies he contributes, or or that the show wouldn’t suffer from the absence of his few solo moments. Perhaps this would be clearer had his truly breathtaking version of Sinatra’s “My Way” been included in this album.

It would be impossible to lavish excessive praise on the Bonos’ seven-piece rhythm section, who together own a vast profusion of torrid chops, licks and the like and whose rock-flavored beat never falters. On this disc they are effectively complemented by Al Pellegrini’s orchestra, which can really swing, when it chooses to.

It should be noted in passing that some of the hilarious between-song patter on this record (Cher has some absolutely hysterical lines about her mother-in-law’s physical resemblance to a whale, of all things) is unabashedly risqué, so those readers with youngsters are advised not to spin the disc while they’re still awake.

Sonny & Cher may no longer be the king and queen of folk-rock, but the bag they’re into now has plenty to offer the rock buff who’s resisted becoming prejudiced by the couple’s shoddy treatment by the underground press. Miss their Live album at your own risk."

Sonny sang "My Way?" Here it is. Whatdoyaknow? 

Sonny & Cher, All I Ever Need Is You, Rolling Stone, May 11, 1972

AllieverLester Bangs liked Lou Reed, MC5, Iggy Pop/The Stooges and The Clash. He also defended Detroit's Bob Seger. He allegedly coined the term punk and could be blisteringly dismissive of Led Zeppelin, too, as well as James Taylor. I was not expecting this:

"John & Yoko. Grace & Paul. Paul & Linda. Sonny & Cher had the formula down years before any of those melodious romances hit the stage and were a hell of a lot more appealing too., although that may not be particularly significant—the same thing could be said for Louis Prima and Keely Smith. And let us not forget Paul and Paula.

The reason that Sonny & Cher are so much nicer to think about than the aforementioned crew of dilettantes, barterers and their wives is that Sonny & Cher don’t put on the same kind of airs. Their paisley bellbottom Sunset Strip days are long gone, they’ve made a spectacularly successful comeback by selling their love in much the same way the King Family sells household solidarity, garnished with a bit of that good old (what?) rock and roll and showbiz.

LesterbangsHow you feel about them at this point pretty much depends on how you feel about showbiz in general. If you think that Johnny Carson is a honk and the Copa just a hangout for alcoholics, if you cannot abide the sigh of black ties and/or tiaras between you and your artist-heroes, then you probably don’t like Sonny & Cher; I have seen reviews of their recent albums by earnest 17-year old rock critics lambasting the devoted duo entirely in terms of “us” versus “them.” And at the recent MCA convention in Burbank, when Sonny & Cher played a long, slick supperclub set climaxing with their eight-minute histrionic orgy on “Hey Jude,” I observed people all around me set their faces in that grimace they never pulled out for bluejeaned mediocrities. And those that thought themselves too hip for this schmaltz would make remarks later about the “tastelessness” of it. Why? Because Cher tells Sonny she’s not gonna ball him after the show, and drops innuendos about the size of his dong?

Well, I’ll settle for Sonny & Cher being just blue enough for them poor old farts and fraus in the belly of the beast, because I like slick supperclub music, I like glittery Las Vegas-style entertainment without one iota of artistic aspiration. I’ll even put on a tie. Maybe I’m just getting old but I would rather see Sonny & Cher with a bourbon and water in front of me anytime than squat sweating in another concert hall while another rock group runs through amplified oatmeal highlights from the last big album it took them eight months of overdubs to produce.

On the other hand, there is the possibility that what works in the nightclub may not be so pleasurable on a wax disc spinning in your living room. In fact, Sonny & Cher have a problem that is the exact inverse of that faced by rockers who make good albums but can’t play live; which is to say that, like almost all of their recorded post-comeback work, this album is just about as pristinely vacuous as it can be. Nobody expects their basic “gee aren’t we lucky to have each other to keep out that bad old world” persona (“All I Ever Need is You,” “United We Stand”) to change at this point, but they’ve filled in, extrapolated on and repackaged it under increasing layers of linseed oil for so long, through so many dinners and prime-time hours, that there is almost nothing left but a posture that is getting as soporific in its saccharinity as Tina’s Turner’s bomb riff is in its monotonous exploitativeness.

Despite the fact of absolute predictability, some of the stuff here works in a marginal way, sounds like something you can actually listen to, and some doesn’t. “A Cowboy’s Work Is Never Done” is great, opening with a mysterious riff straight out of Emerson, Lake & Palmer (a famous menage-a-trois) and applying curiously successful quasi-Eastern riffs to the fine oater lyrics: “I used to jump my horse and ride/I had a six gun at my side/I was so handsome women cried/And I got shot but I never died.”

The title song may give your heart a flutter if you bear no aversion to reconstituted mush expertly laid out, and “More Today Than Yesterday” has a great arrangement jubilantly reminiscent of the horns on the Rascals’ “With a Girl Like You.” “Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again,” a natural for the pair, suffers by a jerky carnivalish arrangement that makes the performance sound even more mechanical than it already is; “United We Stand” is recognizable but nothing really happens; “You Better Sit Down Kids,” a Sonny solo that’s a highlight of their club act, comes off just as melodramatic and phony here as it did there, and should have been left on the shelf to shine in peace as the classic that it was. The rest isn’t worth talking about.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those cranks who goes around maligning love, or even Love. In fact, part of the point of this is that I’m so fed up with the pretentious, unprofessional welters of self-consciousness typifying the contemporary rock concert that I will enthusiastically lap up absolute schmaltz and pap if the show is good and the sequins in technicolor. But I still remember “I Got You Babe” and “The Beat Goes On” and the original “You Better Sit Down Kids..” And I remember Johnny Cash and even flatulent old Tom Jones. And I wonder just what I have a right to expect."

Not a five-star but not bad. Both of these reviews actually literally made my jaw drop and I wondered for a moment if coronavirus had deposited me in another universe.

I'm still mulling this over but there might have been something about this idea that John, Lester and Sonny all liked good-ol'-1950s style rock music, a simple kind without pretensions to being high art, that made these famous iconoclasts predisposed to defending Sonny & Cher here.

Early theory...stay tuned. 


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.”


Sonny & Cher: Contested Folk Rockers

Stone-greeneIn the beginning, Sonny & Cher were managed by Brian Stone and Charlie Greene (pictured at left and below with Sonny & Cher), who also managed Buffalo Springfield.

This is what Stephen Stills has to say about Stone and Greene in an interview:

"We had Charles Green and Brian Stone, who basically were hustlers. They kind of got people in the studio and let them do their thing and if it happened to be a hit, they'd take all the a credit even though it was really Sonny Bono. [Green and Stone also managed Sonny & Cher.] They just stood around and made phone calls. It led to such things as Tom Petty cutting the telephone wire in that great documentary. I felt like doing that so many times."

So think about that when you re-read the Rolling Stone article about Sonny & Cher in 1973, a much more mean-spirited and overwrought piece than I remembered it being. But anyway, in the piece Charlie Green is interviewed and he makes MANY accusations about Sonny ripping off other songs from the era. You can listen track by track below to weigh in.

I read this eBook about folk-rock two years ago called Jingle Jangle Morning: Folk Rock in the 1960s. It's a tome of material about a very small subject. But Richie Unterberger, the author, is very disparaging about the part Sonny & Cher played in the genre. He depicts them as posers and calls the Byrds version of "All I Really Want to Do" “immensely superior” to Cher's version but the Byrds lost to Sonny's games of promotion. Remember The Boston Globe only in 2019 called Cher’s version better, "The Byrds come off as detached storytellers, Cher’s version has true heart."  

Anyway, Unterberger points to Sonny’s age (30), their subsequent glamour-TV show, Cher’s movie career and Sonny’s Republican political career as reasons why “it can be difficult to comprehend or acknowledge that Sonny & Cher, for just a few brief months in the summer of 1965, we considered folk-rockers.”

In the meantime, while digging around my Cher stuff, I found a printout of a page from the website of Playboy immediately after the death of Sonny Bono in 1998. It catalogs everything anyone said about Sonny in the pages of Playboy, including excerpts by Steve Martin, Bob Dylan, Cher and James Carville (Sonny attended his wedding to Mary Matalin). 

AwardAnd interestingly enough Bob Dylan (King of folk-rock himself) comments about pioneering the genre and who the scene included in a Playboy interview in March 1978:

“Those were exciting times. We were doing it before anybody knew we would—or could. We didn’t know what it was going to turn out to be. Nobody thought of it as folk rock at the time. There were some people involved in it, like the Byrds, and remember Sonny and Cher and the Turtles and the early Rascals. It began coming out on the radio…and it was exciting, those days were exciting. It was the sound of the streets. It still is.”

I'm also reading Lillian Roxon’s Encyclopedia of Rock, 1971 edition, which is surprisingly full of Sonny & Cher mentions about their legacy in folk rock (as seen from the year 1971): 

"Los Angles Sound: It started as Sunshine Dylan—that is, New York protest folk married to California sunshine rock—the Byrds and the Turtles rocking Dylan and getting the sound and themselves into the charts and the national eye. That was 1965, after the Beatles but before San Francisco and acid rock. It was the first faint indication that American was not about to take the English invasion completely lying down. Sonny and Cher were the Los Angeles sound with "I Got You Babe" and other early folk rock…The Byrds, Love, The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean…later came the California sound of the Mamas and the Papas.”

"LOVE…one of the earliest of the Los Angeles rock groups…until then Los Angeles has produced only the Byrds and Sonny & Cher and the Raiders…"

"LOVIN’ SPOONFUL: “And in California there was a burgeoning folk-rock scene with the Byrds and Sonny and Cher."

So here are the alleged rip-offs according to Charlie Greene. Give them a listen and post your comments.

1. I Got You Babe vs. Donovan's Catch the Wind, which Cher also covered. A Record Mirror reader once called "I Got You Babe" a combo of "Catch the Wind," Dylan's "It Aint’ Me Babe" and "Chines of Freedom."

2. Just You vs. Baby It's You by The Shirelles.

3. Bang Bang vs. Zorba the Greek 

4. The Beat Goes On vs. Donovan's The Trip

5. Baby Don't Go vs. We'll Sing in the Sunshine

6. But You're Mine vs. You've Got Your Troubles I've Got Mine