Cher's Cameos in Respectable Rockumentaries

LgbI watched the documentary Janis Joplin Little Girl Blue two weeks ago. I've seen quite a few Janis documentaries over the years and each one seems to be a bit more revealing, especially about her sexuality. In this one they interview one of her former girlfriends. I liked how this doc described her as a person with “Huck Finn innocence.”

Anyway, they spent a lot of time with the letters Janis wrote back home to her parents. I was really tired the night I watched this and so I couldn’t quite believe my eyes when I saw one of her letters with the word Cher scrawled on it.

Back when I was a kid perusing magazines at the local paperback bookstore, I got really good at finding the word Cher in columns of text on the pages of teen magazines. But that skill has waned considerably. So the fact I noticed this was unusual.

I did a freeze frame and read the full sentence and then really was even more flummoxed and had to ask Mr. Cher Scholar to confirm I wasn’t losing my mind. Then I looked up the sentence on google and sure enough…Janis writes,

“I don't really know what's happening yet. Supposed to rehearse with the band for the first time this afternoon, after that I guess I'll know whether I want to stay and do that for a while. Right now my position is ambivalent. I'm not at all sold on the idea of becoming the poor man's Cher.”

IMG_20210812_180134

This letter was written on June 6, 1966 before Janis (a committed blues singer) joined Big Brother & the Holding Co. Meanwhile, Sonny & Cher are not yet a year into their fame as a folk-rock/pop duo. Cher has only released two solo albums by this point, basically folk-rock collections with a bunch of Dylan covers. "I'm not at all sold on the idea of becoming the poor man's Cher.” The idea that there is a sentence like this in the universe makes me insane. Janis was no more in danger of becoming a poor man’s Cher than anyone in the history of anything. And the fact that she thought this thought is just mindboggling. In fact, it’s hard for me to get my head around the idea of a universe where Janis is even thinking this much about Cher, both women are doing such completely different projects. But then you wonder if maybe there weren’t that many women for Janis to relate to. If you do a search for “1966 rock stars” on google, it’s a real boyfest.

Here's a transcript of the full letter: https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1999-08-01-9907310220-story.html

LlwOn Britbox there a documentary about the last interview from John Lennon and in the middle of it there’s inexplicably a Cher and David Geffen picture. I think in this sequence they are discussing partying at Studio 54, as if this is an indicative picture of such things.

IMG_20210518_185115


New-Old Cher Releases, Sonny Bono Dinner Party, Cher in Vogue 1971

13

Re-Releases!

First things first, Cher has been rereleasing her classic 70s-era Warner Bros. remastered on her YouTube channel. First Stars was released a few weeks ago: https://www.youtube.com/c/cher/videos

Today her channel announced that I'd Rather Believe in You will be next, coming out in August: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oQc8H3CgeD8

This is happy news for fans who, although stocked with bootlegs, have been pestering for an official release for over two decades. The remastered Stars sounds pristine and hopefully the albums will someday be available on other streaming platforms or in physical form (with some scholarly words of perspective). Very happy July surprise!

In other music news, the single copy of the Wu-Tang Clan album with the Cher vocals on two songs, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, has been sold by the feds. Follow the story here. The second buyer paid millions once again and their identity will possibly be revealed in a few months. The Wu-Tang Clan wishes that the album be played only in small groups for 88 years from the date it was first sold to the nefarious Pharma Bro back in 2015, which means most of us will not live long enough to hear it. That is unless the resale contract was interrupted by federal confiscation. 

Sonny Bono Dinner Party

July has proven to be busy for Cher Scholar. I've started listening to KCRW again (lots of great stuff I’ve missed over the last five years I’ve been away) and I've thrown three small parties in as many weeks, and learned how to use my new braille machine.

For my upcoming birthday I received some meditation/introspection playing cards from a friend and the first one had the question: What makes you weird? I have a million answers to this but the one that pertains here is the fact that last Saturday I threw a Sonny Bono Recipe dinner party. And what's even more weird is the fact that it's not the first one I've thrown. I did it once before when I was 12 years old as a last-hurrah to my Sonny & Cher fandom, right before I decided it would be somewhat less weird in the 1980s to go solo with Cher. 

But last Saturday I invited my friends Priscilla and Mikaela over and they were gamely willing to test out a few of these Sonny  recipes. Mikaela also came over to teach me how to use my new braille machine. The fact that I just bought a braille machine is also a little bit weird. 

I made the recipe for Sonny Bono's Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce from The Dead Celebrity Cookbook by Frank DeCarlo.

IMG_20210724_141008

IMG_20210724_160728

IMG_20210724_175033

Mr. Cher Scholar made Sonny Bono's Pollo Bono from the Baltimore Sun.

IMG_20210724_163048

IMG_20210724_163307

IMG_20210724_161257

 

 

 

 

 

He made a vegetarian, fake-chicken version for me.

IMG_20210724_175036

IMG_20210724_121125

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap table wine: check. Everyone liked the results. The biggest critique came from me, which was to say the fake chicken was rubbery (but very tasty). Mikaela said the chicken was "fantastic, excellent" and she loved the spaghetti too. She said she especially loved watching the video I showed them before dinner of Sonny & Cher cooking on The Mike Douglas Show (thanks to Cher scholar Jay for that). Priscilla said she loved the Pollo Bono too and is usually very picky about her chicken.

Mr. Cher Scholar said, "I like his recipes because they’re authentic stuff made at home, not over-the-top elaborate. Simple ingredients. Simple process." Afterwards he said he would make it again for his brother. "It's not hard."

Alterations: Our chicken breasts were huge. Monstrous. So he ending up baking them for 50 minutes at 375 degrees. 

IMG_20210724_205749Spinning up the braille machine wasn’t so easy. Mikaela works at a school for the blind and she was able to bring me some braille guides. She showed me the basic concepts of the braille “alphabet.” We had a paper-loading issue which was solved by my googling "braille paper-loading issue" and getting the result "How do I load paper into the ^*#! brailler?"

Then we had an issue with the carriage return that caused us to take the whole machine apart, which Priscilla did with our drill. We all then looked at inside and provided speculative theories about the problem. Mr. Cher Scholar saw some "teeth" inside which needed to catch the return. He adjusted the margins and then it worked.

He usually avoids fixing stuff like an allergy so I asked him later what inspired him to do that and he said it was working with a manual typewriter all those years as a show-biz writer. So this was a real four-person team effort.

Then Mikaela taught me how to use the braille keys! Which are very cool and insanely complicated at the same time. I have to practice, she says, before I start typing out poems on the thing.

Perfect Pork Chops (Correction)

Another early birthday present I received yesterday was Celebrity Recipes, a newsstand publication from the 1980s judging by the big Heather Locklear, Linda Evans and Michael Douglas pictures on its cover. Anyway, on page 32 it claims that Perfect Pork Chop (the recipe I also have from Singers & Swingers in the Kitchen, The Scene-Makers Cook Book by Roberta Ashley) is actually Cher's recipe. 

Cher in Vogue

IMG_20210729_104538The following spread is from Vogue, September 1, 1971. This was the same year their first live album came out. while they were still on the nightclub circuit. 

Their live album cover is unusual in that the gatefold only shows a large photo of Sonny & Cher facing each other, a kind of extravagant gesture for a gatefold of recording artists on the skids. The photos are also very shadowy and almost abstract, especially the front cover.

Coverlive

 

 

So it's good to see another shot of Cher in the album outfit and have it described by the scribes of Vogue magazine.


Cher Streaming Stuff Catchup

DatelineI went to categorize this post as "Television" but I don't even know what the word means anymore. Sigh. 

Anywhere, there's been a ton of Cher content in the last 6 to 9 months. Here's a partial catchup. Last week Cher was on Dateline: White House with Nicolle Wallace. It was a great interview about Celebrity civic action and Cher and Dr. Irwin Redlener's mobile Covid vehicle. 

LonelyCher's documentary Cher and the Loneliest Elephant came out a few months ago on Paramont Streaming/Smithsonian. It's not yet available on other locations but hopefully it will end up on Amazon Prime or DVD eventually.

It was a very moving story, mostly focusing on the trials of Dr. Amir Khalil from the Four Paws animal rescue. Despite the title and trailer, Cher has only a peripheral role in the movie. Which is why it's good to also watch the For your consideration video which is a solid hour of Cher and the film's producer. It's an incredible behind-the-scenes conversation about the many of the challenges both Cher and the filmmakers experienced before cameras started rolling, many challenges not even mentioned in the documentary. You come away thinking it was a miracle the film ever happened at all, let alone the rescue itself. It shows the power of perseverance and Cher's mantra of not taking no for an answer (which is a mantra reiterated in all three video clips here).

Hsn3The lightest appearance was HSN's Beauty Report talking about Cher's 2020-Fifi-award-winning new fragrance. Apparently the Fifis are the Oscars of fragrance. Far from saving the world with COVID vaccines or elephant-rescues, this kitschy girl-fest felt very personal yet still newsworthy. 

In all the clips Cher says she loves the people she works on these projects and she loves making things. They discuss the fragrance's color (Cher doesn't like the whiskey look) and  the notes, the bottle corset with the little baby studs.

The whole thing feels like fun girl-time (no matter your gender preference).  Listening to fragrance nerds talk about smells is funny (and interesting) but funny. They ogle the purse-size's twist-top bottle (so it doesn’t leak in your purse). Then they bring out Theo Spilka from Firmenich Fragrance who says they went through 57 trials and it took 4 years with 2 perfumers working on it. He says Cher knew what she wanted and he Hsn2described her initial conversations about an Istanbul incense she liked and how she "rolled up her sleeves literally." He said Cher is so loved all over world Clement Gavarry (the perfumer) was able to get quality raw ingredients like:

  • Orange flower and jasmine from France
  • Neroli from East Africa
  • Bergamot from Italy
  • Sandalwood from Australia

Spilka says it's hard to verbalize what you want making perfumes, but that this perfume is 150% Cher.

Cher drops hints of some Christmas surprise that doesn't sound like a Christmas album although she admits she would do one. She says her favorite Christmas song is (still?) "O Holy Night." 

Cher says she doesn't plan anything and that she was "talking to Herb Alpert the other night" and they both agreed that luck played a large part in their careers. 

Cher tells a story about how she was told a woman with brown eyes and dark hair would never make the cover of Vogue. As we know, Cher soon afterward was on the cover of many Vogue magazines. She says charity blesses the giver and that she really wants to tour again but she wants people to be safe. She says, "I have as good a time as you do." David, the Cher fan talking to her right then says, "I don’t know about that." They talk about a nail polish bottle Cher helped designed for Deb, her manicurist. They talk about how Cher's mom is still stunning in her 90s.

Cher-stare-kunisCher's biopic was also officially announced recently and people are speculating on who will play Cher. Because Cher is completely inimitable, (as drag queens and impersonators have scientifically proven), this will be a challenge. Talented as she may have been, the Cher cast for the TV movie And the Beat Goes On, (yes, this will be Cher's second biopic), was completely off-the-mark. 

For years I've been thinking Mila Kunis would be a good Cher although I have no idea whether she can sing or move like a groovy coolnick. She's got the comedic sense and she has a similar je-ne-sais-quoi quality, part of which is the deadpan Cher-stare.

 


Stinky Cher Words

Review"It hugs my body and caresses my soul"

This is the subject line of the latest email from Scent Beauty on Cher's Eau de Couture. "It gives me peace and comforts me. It makes me happy and gives me strength."

I'm all for aroma therapy but this ad sounds like we're pitching a magic, superfine, sunshine elixir!

"Now gather round folks. I heard you say you wanna pick-me-up that won't let you down. You're looking for a cure?....It's gotta relieve your sore bones, your aching tones and your runny nose!"

It's a good scent. But it does not exactly 'caress my soul.' In fact, this advance on my soul is not required from my beauty products. 

IMG_20210616_100953__01

My mom recently sent us boxes of keepsakes from our childhood, including art attempts, grades, our birth announcements... all that stuff. I've slowly been working through it. I can only take small amounts of my little-shit self so I have no idea how my mom put up with me. As the budding writer in the family, there are copious amounts of notes requesting sleepovers with Krissy (who lived behind us) and petitions to redress unfairnesses unspecified. 

The above letter was written on clown stationary and I had a vague memory today of covering it with the balloon stickers it came with. The letter starts by introducing myself to my mother (in case she doesn't remember me) and then launching into my Christmas wish list, which includes the overbearing request depicted above for "a sher doll" and a dog and a cat. I go on to concede that a cat is unlikely (some of us were allergic), but this was probably just a negotiating tactic on my part to leave room for bargaining down to the doll and the dog. I proceed to explain to her how much I like her and then attempt to illicit from her some positive feelings toward myself. 

I have to report the scheme worked as I did get 'a sher doll' that year. And Sonny too. But we already had a dog and I didn't get another one. 

Which is all to say I've been a fan since before I could spell Cher, which makes my appreciation almost pre-verbal. Almost. Clearly, I already had a very big mouth. 


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.


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.


The Spirit of Katharine Hepburn Award

On October 3, 2020, Cher officially received her Spirit of Katharine Hepburn award, including an interview with Ann Nyberg at Cher's house. You can watch the full program on the KATE YouTube site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtIVjM1oUOI&feature=emb_logo

The fifth annual event was held virtually this year from Old Saybrook, Connecticut. "Believe" was the keyword organizers gave everyone to slip into their speeches. Donation were also accepted during the event. It kicked off with great quote by Katharine Hepburn: "Life is going to be difficult, and dreadful things will happen. What you do is move along, get on with it, and be tough." The quote actually ends with this, "Not in the sense of being mean to others, but being tough with yourself and making a deadly effort not to be defeated.”

They gave a short intro on cher and talked about her bold independence in 6 decades of show business. They aired a very short video retrospective of her work in the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and "the naughties," ending with her 250-million-grossing Farewell tour, highest grossing tour by a woman, they said.

Sponsors came on to congratulate Cher. The Governor of Connecticut came on and then the selection committee raised their Believe bellini drinks. At this point the fundraising was up to 34k.

IgubJerrod Spector and his wife sang a cover of "I Got You Babe." She almost could be auditioning for the traveling show but she was pretty good. Jerrod called Cher his “stage wife sort of” and refers to Cher as “the madam herself.” Donations jumped to 38K while they were singing.

The Senators of Connecticut spoke next, Blumenthal saying Cher "has been enriching our lives so powerfully." Murphy says he’s been a fan for a long time and thanks Cher for helping people in need during the pandemic.

They talked about the KATE's live events and the camp for kids. 

Eileen Ivers talks about how Cher testifies in "Believe." She says "we are strong enough!" and then does a great "Believe" cover on the fiddle. Lucy Arnaz  congrats "my friend."

EdEd Asner says congratulations to Cher and calls her "the most lovely lady on creation. She certainly deserves it. She’s a live one.” I actually got emotional when Asner said "She’s a Live One!!" His Emmy award is prominently displayed behind him. Donations jumped to 41K during his speech.

PeterPeter Asher talks about working with Cher while he produced some of her records. He said "I admire her enormously…she’s quite a remarkable woman, very versatile, hard working, determined, unreasonably talented, with a uniquely remarkable voice…she can be scary from time to time” (right?!) which he said could also be said about Katharine herself in the same way.

JimmyJimmy Webb calls Cher “the brightest, quickest thinker I have ever known and a Backgammon hustler par excellence…most of all a talented and soulful vocalist” (right!!??) and an unquenchable sense of humor.” (I’ve never thought of senses of humor being quenchable?) He says they were working together when Cher appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. And “long before feminism was a thing, I knew you as the formidable representative of women’s rights.” (Solid props there!) “You most certainly have the spirit of Katharine Hepburn. I loved you then and I love you now. I have always 'believed' in you. Call me.” He actually said that. Call me. Incorporating believe is getting annoying but those are some accolades right there.

Then they went through all the past winners giving their congrats to Cher.

Dick2014-Dick Cavett: "Oh am I happy to be here tonight” for someone special whom he has always loved. (I love his enthusiasm.) And he says: “No one has ever said I met someone just like Katharine Hepburn and no one has ever said I met someone just like Cher. What a team.” Perfect!

Glen2017-Glen Close: She says she’s “totally, wonderfully thrilled for you Cher. How deserving you are to get this award because you are iconic yourself. In some ways I think you define the word iconic. You are part of our lives, part of our DNA. You are a fierce heart, a beautiful human being. You are an icon for women and I’m sure men as well.” She asked Cher to “feel loved and celebrated and deeply appreciated for who you have been and what you have done for your entire career. Bravo, bravo Cher” 

Ann2018-Ann Nyberg: she says Cher is alone in her class” (so true) and talks about “your drive and your moxie would make Katharine Hepburn proud. She carried out her own path and so have you. Thank you for all you have given to the world of entertainment and for all the kindness you have shown to so many throughout your life who needed your help” (me: including elephants!) “Keep shining your light.”

Christine2019-Christine Baranski: she said, “Ms. Cher, darling, you embody the beauty, the talent, dare I say the balls, of the late Ms. Katharine Hepburn, except for one thing, you sing way better than she did. Congratulations Cher."

We then met the artist who made the award and what photos she used and what the process was for creating the clay statue, making a mold, customizing the individual pieces, forging the statue and the pictures used to design the piec.

Photo Photo Photo

 

 

 

 

 

StephanieStephanie J. Block then talked about how she portrayed (past tense??) Cher in The Cher Show and how in the Chicago run Cher asked that they retool "Believe" to sound different so that people could hear the lyrics. Block said they turned the song into a soulful ballad but keeping the “intensity and fire” of the original. Block indicated that when “it’s safe to perform again…” but then she didn’t finish that thought. Urg! Block called Cher “unexpected and totally impactful” at “moving people” and “touching people.”

NileNile Rogers then talked about “the phenomenal, fantastic, fabulous Cher. [Katharine Hepburn]  is one of the coolest American icons and certainly Cher fits that description. Since I’ve been working with her, I have to say she is probably the coolest boss I’ve worked for. I also win a lot of money playing bingo. No one ever in my life played bingo with me and I don’t think I’ve ever won before. Seriously, she’s multi-talented. Her heart is as big as they come. The most altruistic, coolest, awesome woman and a wig truck that will put anybody to shame, maybe even Diana Ross. It’s ridiculous. You totally deserve it. You are one of the coolest people I’ve ever known.”

This is a common theme of late: people describing Cher as THE coolest of the cool. And yet anthologies of cool don’t include her at all? But I digress...

AndersonAnderson Cooper shows off his baby boy and tells Cher the award is “so well deserved.” He tells Cher he’s playing her music to his son (and someday her movies).

AndyAndy Cohen then talks about Katharine Hepburn’s fierce independence, strong personality and her paving the way for women. “Cher, you represent all the great qualities of Hepburn and more. Could Hepburn sing Believe? Survive Sonny? Wear Mackie Outfits” That’s unclear he says of the latest question. “You are my number one.” The 'surviving Sonny' was a bit much considering Sonny is part and parcel of even later-day Cherness.

BobBob Mackie then talks about Cher as a “gorgeous creature” and “what a perfect honor,” how Cher is “like Katharine Hepburn in so many ways and yet nothing like her.” He says nobody can look like Cher; “they’ve tried.” He says she’s a “warrior goddess” Like Cher, Katharine Hepburn was always Katharine Hepburn, a perfect movie star. Mackie says he’s “thrilled to be here” and calls Cher a “true partner.” He says “We were both children when we started. Still are in our brains.”

Before introducing Cher, the event announcer says Cher is an icon of her time like Hepburn was an icon of her own time. And that Cher challenged the rules and the norm just like Hepburn did and brought a one of a kind approach to her own talent. Katharine Hepburn bucked the trends and took control of her own career.” They then played Cher’s TMC tribute to Hepburn with her story of meeting Hepburn and being light-headed, sweating and feeling like a complete idiot.”

ChazChaz then talks about “my mom’s career over a lifetime. It’s pretty amazing.” He talks about how he has connected as an actor to her struggles to be taken seriously as an actor. “It’s my favorite thing that she does” he says of her acting. He says as a parent she is amazing and that she’s been there for him and “come to everything I’ve done” even to visiting him on sets. He calls her “an inspiration” and that he’s “so proud of her and happy she’s getting this honor.”

The last part is the interview with Cher. Ann Nyerg arrives at Cher’s house in Malibu. They do an elbow wave.

CherdoorCher admires the pictures of Hepburn they’ve put up in her house. They do a social distancing interview. Cher talks about watching Hepburn movies with her mom, along with Bette Davis, Ava Gardner…women who were “magic onscreen” and as actors who “carried you farther.”

Cherward
CherwardNyberg asks Cher about aspects of her career. Cher says films are harder but TV and the stage are “a snap.” I always said I’d never make many movies.” She said she loved Broadway because she didn’t have to look at the audience. She always has to calibrate “how am I doing” in her concert shows. She talked about her favorite scenes: on the swing in Silkwood when she stared crying and the late-night scene with Vincent Gardinia in Moonstruck. She says her good scenes are “few and far between.” She admits she doesn’t give herself much slack. She talks about wining the Oscar and how good it feels to be a nominee of awards but then if you lose you’re just a loser. She really thought Holly Hunter was going to win that year. She talked about saying “shit” on the way up to the podium to get her Oscar and how she forgot to thank the director.

Cher said TV liberated her. It’s where she figured out “this is who I am” and that “I was really funny.” She said she took to it more than Sonny did. They talked about her dancing with The Jacksons on the Cher show. “I wasn’t a dancer" she said and wondered, "Where am I gonna find them in me?” She talks with pride about her West Side Story skit from her TV special in 1978.

When asked about any advise for her 25-year old self and she said it was the same as her advise for her 74-year old self: don’t sweat the small stuff.

We’re up to 79k in donations now.

When asked about any famous BFFs, she asks her assistant Jen who suggests Meryl. Cher then tells the story about stopping an assault/burglary in Manhattan with Meryl and about Meryl doing her own ironing to stay grounded and how they’re not alike in any way.

Cher talks about being introverted and shy as a person. But how she got used to performing, saying "there’s nobody my age on staging singing…at least wearing no clothes."

She talks about two great movie scripts that Covid curtailed, one to perform in and one to direct. Grrr.

Does she feel a kindred spirit to Katharine Hepburn? She feels women in those days had it harder with the studio system. “I didn’t fight at first. I learned how to fight.”

She talks about her favorite movies of Hepburn: The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen and putting her makeup on before concert performances to Desk Set and Pat and Mike. (I love Desk Set…it’s nerdy). Cher says there is something different about Hepburn that resonated with her. She could be sad or hysterically funny. She then talked about meeting Hepburn twice, once at the 1974 Oscar tribute to Spencer Tracy. Cher sat in a group of famous people and Hepburn passed them on the way to the stage and to Cher said “Hey kid.” And then Hepburn at one time wanted Cher to buy her house but Cher couldn’t afford it. And she once had a conversation with Hepburn in the office of a throat doctor they had in common. Her doctor set Cher up to meet Hepburn as a surprise. Cher was tongue tied.

They talked about Tweets and Cher defended her use of all caps and emojis. She talks about dyslexia and spelling and her good memory. 

Her one word for Kate was two: my hero.

The ended on a pan of Cher’s award shelf! Grammys, Golden Globes, Emmys, Oscasrs.  By this time the fundraiser has gone up to 103k.

Cherward2
Cherward2
Cherward2


Cher Awards 2020

Perfume-awardPerfume Award

On September 10, 2020, Scent Beauty announced that had Cher won for customer choice award by The Fragrance Foundation. Here is the Cher’s video where she gives thanks.

Kick-ass-ness Award

The Kate (The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center) also informed me that Cher will receive the 5th annual Spirit Katharine Hepburn Award in a virtual gala on Saturday, October 3 at 7:30 pm (assuming this is eastern time).

Thekate2
According to The Kate, “the award is given annually to an individual who embodies the bold spirit, fierce independence and distinctive character of the legendary Hepburn.”

Wow. This news made me tear up. It’s quite a shadow to be recognized within! I’m a fan of both but have never been able to contain these two women under the same umbrella; they’re from such different times. But feisty and mighty they both are!

This year’s gala honors Cher’s career in movies, music, television, broadway, and humanitarian efforts, including forming CherCares, and her past acknowledgement of being a fan of Katharine Hepburn. Cher has commented about Hepburn’s “determination, authenticity and uniqueness” and says she is “never bored watching her movies over and over again.”

Ditto to all that. I’ve probably read more Katharine Hepburn biographies than of anyone else and I never stop appreciating how Hepburn continued to evolve and think critically about the world and others right up until she died. She was an amazing mentor for young people and equally for us aging people. What an honor!

The gala will stream live online from www.thekate.org free but with donations being accepted.  You can also access the site here: https://www.katharinehepburntheater.org/

The award statue Cher will receive is in likeness of Katharine Hepburn (sculpted by Kimberly Monson, check it out).  I can’t help but think of the Bono Award right about now, although the Kate award is much prettier.

Spirit-award2Cher will give acceptance remarks and there will be an interview with Ann Nyberg, a past winner. There will also be an online auction a week prior to the event.

The Kate is a not-for-profit organization supporting the arts with 45,000 patrons and a 257-seat theater providing live music, theater, dance, film, opera and comedy performances. Cher joins past recipient Dick Cavett (2016), Glenn Close (2017), Ann Nyberg (2018) and Christine Baranski (2019).

I can’t wait to visit this center in Old Saybrook, CT, once coronavirus is over. It’s exactly the kind of celebrity think-tank center that I find so fascinating (see The Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock, TX), both like The Chersonian Institute but with a budget and filled with smart people!  

Perf-award2


Decoding the Time Life Sets

Chertime

So the new Cher TimeLife set is out (thank you to Cher scholar Michael for alerting me to this).

To purchase these:

The Best of Sonny & Cher (1): https://timelife.com/products/the-best-of-sonny-cher-carol-burnett
The Best of Cher: https://timelife.com/products/the-best-of-cher-deluxe-collection

These TimeLife sets come in two tiers (cheaper and much less cheap). When I received the first set, I enjoyed the booklet and the extras. I was disappointed that there was only one episode I hadn't seen before and that one was edited. But I was looking at it from an uber-fans POV. Also, I didn't rightly consider the episodes of the solo show that I hadn't yet seen in full, having seen only 1/2 episodes from VH1's most welcome rediscovery of Cher in the mid-1990s. So I finally sat down this week and compared all the sets to each other to see what we have here. If you've bought the original Best of Sonny & Cher series and don't consider the remake version in the Cher bundle, you'll miss out on a few extra episodes of Cher

The Best of Sonny & Cher – version 1 (2019)
You could bundle that with the a Laugh In box set which had only one Cher appearance on it (but that one was very good). It looks like the current bundle is with Carol Burnett Show lost episodes.

20200617_141648The Best of Cher (2020) + The Best of Sonny & Cher Version 2 (2020)
You can bundle the new Cher set that with The Best of Sonny & Cher Version 2. It’s not the same collection as Version 1. The booklets are different and the Cher episodes represented are not the same. The new sets come with shelf boxes. So that's nice. See version 1 and 2 in the picture to the right.

In fact, this discrepancy made me review all the Cher shows with more attention and I have to say, I’m more excited about them than I was at first. I’m not going to list out which DVDs have which episodes because you can see for yourself on the respective links above. I'm just going to survey the bigger picture, which episodes are new, which are mostly full episodes (unless they've cut skits) of shows we’ve seen on VH1 (1990s) but not on Get TV (2010s).

Sonny & Cher – version 1 (2019)
There are 5 Cher show episodes in this set. None are unique to all the sets. All these Cher episodes also exist on The Best of Cher (4) or The Best of Sonny & Cher – Version 2. The booklet in this set has 33 pages. They include pages on the Cher show. This set has the same extras as the The Best of Cher and The Best of S&C V2 combined.

20200617_143121 (1)Cher (2020)
There are 10 Cher episodes included. Of those, 6 episodes are unique to this set and 4 episodes are also on The Best of S&C V1.

The booklet is completely different, about 30 pages with different fonts and layout and many more pictures focused on Bob Mackie drawings and some historical photos of Mackie with Cher. There’s a new “feature” extra called "Cher: Then and Now" and some extras around the Mirage and MGM TV specials. This is first legitimate release of the 1978 and 1979 television specials and that’s a big deal. Someday I wish we also get official releases of the Monte Carlo and Celebration at Caesars concerts as well. There’s also an extra of one of the James Corden appearances, a Believe-era interview, and her Superbowl appearance. The rest looks like recycled shows and interviews from the S&C V1 set.

Sonny & Cher –Version 2 (2020)
There are 5 Cher episodes on this set too. Only 1 is a duplicate (from The Best of S&C V1) and 4 are unique to this set. All the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour and The Sonny & Cher Show episodes are the same in both S&C V1 and V2.  The bonus features seem all the same as well. The booklet is only 27 pages and excludes the pages about the Cher show.

Taken all together there are 7 full Cher episodes on these sets that have only previously been aired on VH1 in half-hour segments. There are 3 episodes that have never been re-aired since the 1970s.

I'm looking forward to watching all the new Cher episodes when it comes time to explicate them like literary texts on Cher Scholar


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