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


Cher's Travelin' Musical Delayed

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

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

Thanks coronavirus!

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


Cher 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 Influence of Movie Stars: Mae West and John Engtead Photos

MaewetitudeMy friend Christopher sent me a stack of books his grandmother had before she passed away. One of them was a thin book on the movies of Mae West. Immediately I recognized something about Cher in Mae West, a sort of Mae-Westitude. Did Cher borrowed anything from Mae West? It's an interesting idea. 

BreastdressFirst it was the dress from the movie I’m No Angel with the looks-more-revealing-than-it-is with its skin-tone material (so similar to Bob Mackie's dresses for Cher) and the cut-out breast plates similar to Cher's Take Me Home album cover.

Then it was Cher's Sadie Thompson but really Mae West impersonations (3:05).

It's also Cher's own sexual self confidence and personality.

Mae was said to be immediately recognizable and confident in her dresses, wigs and with her “insinuating sneer.”

Oh yes, and the wigs!

West is described in the book as tough, resilient, bold, self-mocking and good natured, all synonyms for Cher too.

Mae was also noted for her androgyny. Fans called her “Queen of the World.” The verb vamping was literally used in the book. So much in common.

Here are some other similar outfits...

Belle

Town

West

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



West in Belle of the Nineties / Going to Town / Go West Young Man 

Pretty provocative.

Mae West also had a multi-faceted career from vaudeville to Broadway to Hollywood. And for those who bemoan Cher’s lack of commitment to any one facet of show business, Mae had something to say about that, too: "It wasn’t what I did but how I did it.” 

West was credited with bringing “an entirely new attitude toward sex on the silver screen. Before Mae, the Hollywood siren had been heavy and sinister, a wrench in spangles or clinging black velvet gown who lured men to their doom. With Mae, sex became breezy and humorous, a light-hearted activity without guilt, recriminations, or emotional involvement of any kind.”

I also recently found a book called “Movie Star Portraits of the 1940s” and there were some photos there by John Engstead. You might remember his photos of Cher photos circa 1975, when her promotional materials were black and white, very soft focus, glamorous and hearkening back to this very Hollywood era. 

Eng1 Cher-75

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black and whites with light and shadow, soft makeup similar to his work stars like Lana Turner, Marlene Dietrick and Loretta Young, whose photo with flowers reminded me of his portraits for Cher in 1975. 

Bergman-eng Bergman-eng Bergman-eng

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingrid Bergman / Loretta Young / Lauren Bacall

There's something about these images that is not weak or vulnerable seeming, but headstrong…just straight on, and as the book states these images contain “allure and glamour imbued with intelligence.”


Cher Scholarship of 2019

Cher-joni Cher-joniThanks to all the Cher scholars out there who sussed these articles out, including super-scholars Michael, Tyler and Dishy. What an amazing year of Cher scholarship it's been. Lots of younger writers extolling the virtues of Cher!

The Guardian: It’s not always easy to be a Joni Mitchell Fan

Although not about Cher per se, Linda Grant has been a Joni Mitchell fan for over 50 years (I’m 5 years away from that and I'm sure some of you are more) and she's thinking about the death of her subject, how Mitchell doesn’t get the credit she deserves (Dylanesque credit, specifically).

She claims Mitchell has written her emotional biography. I don't feel that so much as the fact that Cher has been a soundtrack to the physical biography, and definitely an aesthetic biography.

But what I like about this article is mostly this well-written line:

“Perhaps the lifelong experience of being a fan, an admirer, an acolyte or a student of an artist will turn out to have been a fluke, a small window of privilege, and from now on careers will burn up in a year or two, the experience fleeting for the adorer and the adored alike. I don’t think she knows how much she’s venerated. Or maybe she knows and it doesn’t matter. It fulfils nothing. It makes no difference. She’s as alone with her music as we are.”

Thankfully Cher in her old age has not become bitter, her tone “autocratic, arrogant and angry.” I worry maybe Mitchell is bitter because she’s a music treasure not venerated as much as she should be, as much as Cher is starting to be, although their apples and oranges.

Remember their moment together living under the same roof with David Geffen while Mitchell was recording her classic Court and Spark album and Cher was recording and self-conscious of, Dark Lady? Giant ships crossing in the night.

Cosmo, a magazine I love more now than when I started reading it in the 1980s, publishes a lot of strong women stuff these days, interspersed with the celebrity fluff, including this interesting article “Decoding Beyonce and Jay-Z’s Relationship, It’s Complicated.” 

It reminds me of two things:

(1) Beyoncé does the accent thing and I never noticed that before. I wish Chér still did. Pink

(2) I wish this sort of laser-focus existed back in late 1972 through 1974 with Sonny & Cher were "decoupling," this decoding of the body positions: interlaced fingers, embraces.

This also reminds me of the ubiquitous breakout box of the 1980s and early 90s Cher magazine interviews, the list of Cher’s husbands and boyfriends with their pictures and maybe a sassy Cher quote about each of them. You couldn’t get through a magazine article without that breakout box of boyfriends. Thankfully, this era is over. But I can’t help but feel Katy Perry and Tyler Swift are in competition to have the longest breakout box of boyfriends to this day, as if they’re somehow modeling after Cher.

I recently watched a video of Pinks Funhouse Tour of 2009 and it’s got Cher’s Farewell Tour written all over it...although you might argue she does it even better. But it begs the question, remembering of those horrid reviews Cher got for “circus-i-fying” her concerts, why is this the style de rigueur now with young pop women. 

DarkhairedsCosmo also did a great essay this month by Shannon Carlin about the evil villains of Disney movies. Remember Cher’s lament that all the characters who looked like her in Disney movies were the evil women villains?

Carlin says “pretty princess types pitted against vengeful, aging antagonists. There’s no question who little girls are supposed to root for.” But aside from all the murderous plots and kidnappings,  “at least [they] take action instead of waiting around for someone [ahem, prince charming] to rescue [them].”

You could argue the raven-haired might have opted for that chance had they been offered it. Also, Cher was rescued by her prince and he did saver her from poverty (into the stratosphere)...but then what?

And that is the sublime part of the Cher story. Another important point: she never went villain. 

Carlin goes on to say that “complicated women are far more captivating than one-note damsels in distress. They’re just legit more human--even when they’re half octopus.” 

She then calls the Seven Dwarfs “groody men” which is entirely unfair. Happy and Bashful were real charmers. 

My favorite Disney movies was The Rescuers (because it was scary) and this action-still for years has been my icon at work. I feel it represents all three aspects of my personality: a somewhat misguided and insane Medusa, a very content little bear and a completely confused little girl.

Madame-medusa-top-disney-villains-la-11-1-12

Rolling Stone did a piece about how "Cher Stands Alone" by Rob Sheffield. He calls her “the one-woman embodiment of the whole gaudy story of pop music.” And this is very funny: he depicts “the battle of Cher versus Time turned out to be a mismatch. It’s Time that has trouble turning back Cher.”

He says, “There are no careers remotely like hers….she’s been on her farewell tour so long, it’s old enough to vote.” He says she invented red carpets and infomercials. "People said she couldn’t sing, yet she always sounds like herself...She’s part of every pop story,"

Chris Dondoros wrote about "Six decades of Cher" and said, "Cher’s creative risks have foreshadowed music industry trends." He mentions her Wall of Sound records (not really risky but trendy) and auto-tune (continues to be controversial). 

Pop-shapeshiftNick Levine produced, "A Guide to Getting into Cher, Pop Shapeshifter" with original art by Tara Jacoby.

He notes her "majestic voice" and ability to "reinvent herself repeatedly over the decades without losing her quintessential Cher-ness." He notes correctly that Sonny & Cher were the "family-friendly faces of the hippie movement" and that they showed in the 1970s "flawless comic timing" and "firecracker duets" and back to her voice, "it’s easy to forget what a dazzlingly distinctive vocalist she actually is." (thank you)

There are even suggested playlists for all her eras: kitschy folk-pop Cher, middle-of-the-road pop Cher, disco diva Cher, soft-rock Cher, (which he says, "made a strange kind of sense at the time...her voice wasn’t overshadowed by the cheesy metal riffs of 1989, camped-up Bon Jovi" which "essentially, appealed to your Dad and queer uncle alike") and wig-wearing, vocoder-loving dance-pop Cher (which he calls "Cher of Light").

He calls "Turn Back Time" , a song that taught us that no key change is too shameless." (thank you again)

In Nashville Scene, Ashley Spurgeon writes about how Cher continues to be an icon.

"At the disgusting, decrepit age of 43, [Cher] had the audacity to look really sexy and imply she was going to bone a boatful of sailors in the ["Turn Back Time"] music video….Authenticity is the byword of the age, and for all creative arts, music is held to its absolute highest standard….but the problem with centering this definition...in the realm of musical creativity is that it completely forgets that entertainers exist.  The Authentic Entertainer is an explosion, usually of glitter. Artifice is the point. And Cher is as authentic an entertainer as has ever graced the stage." (THANK YOU)

Spurgeon even acknowledges Cher's “SoCal” plastic surgery and her AutoTune and only says: “The sheer audacity, to this day!” Indeed.

Spurgeon continues,

"she was always going to tell those who had it coming to go fuck themselves....criticism can go fuck itself. She has been an LGBT icon for decades, and no small part of that work involves telling all manner of bigots [and bullies] to go fuck themselves.”

I think I'm hyperventilating I'm enjoying this so much.

"Basically, Cher has taken ever-more-insistent demands for authenticity and reflected them back in her own bedazzled, witty and wry image (not unlike her peer Dolly Parton). Making this contradiction work is how an icon stays an icon..."

BelieveincherLindsay Zoladz writes "Believe In Cher or Not" another kick-ass article with more original, unaccredited, artwork.

She calls Cher the ultimate millennial and explains why. She's "transgressed the laws of celebrity...in the past few years, though, she has ascended to an even more rarefied level of the celebrity stratosphere."

She continues,

"Part of the reason I think Cher is so beloved right now—especially for people whose lived memory of Cher begins just 20 years ago, with “Believe”—is that even her past makes sense through a modern cultural lens. She was famous for being famous decades before anybody knew what a Kardashian was. She has fluidly toyed with gender norms and sexual mores until they’ve looked stiflingly passé, and she has always been brazen about her hustle. She is very good at using emoji. And above all things, she evinces an odd combination of over-the-top artifice and gritty authenticity. Of course she’s had work done. But, as she so characteristically put it in an interview montage that aired right before her Kennedy Center Honor, “If I wanna put my tits on my back, that’s nobody’s business but my own.”

"Cher has always presented androgyny as a source of power. It’s part of the reason she’s always had such a devoted queer following. She was also one of the earliest proponents of drag culture….Cher would time and again wield this kind of gender fluidity as a superpower."

Zoladz calls Laverne a proto-Kristen Wiig character and toward the end of the piece says this very funny thing:

"This time her sparing partner wasn’t sonny, Peter Bogdanovich, or a nonbelieving recorde executive, but mortality itself--and Cher seemed to have it in a headlock.”

And as that article referenced Cher’s ass does indeed have a Facebook page.

CherbillboardAnd this article came out recently about LA’s Greatest Billboards. And just look at the company she keeps here. And she's the only woman!

A fan recently posted Sonny Bono's visit to The Bob Costas ShowIt's interesting to revisit this post The Cher Show revelations.

Sonny talks about how Sonny & Cher can cause a media frenzy together that they never can by themselves (even into the 1980s). "Ten times our impact when we're together," he says. He's talking about the frenzy they created on David Letterman's show. But there was also frenzies prior: when Cher attended the opening of his first restaurant, when they appeared on other show together. They did seem to be a sum bigger than their parts.

And that was probably true until the day he died. Then, as I’ve argued, you could see a shift in her personal impact, as if she inherited the Sonny & Cher brand fully and was creating the frenzy alone.

In one sentence, Sonny says Cher would have been a phenomenon without him (due to her drive) and then minutes later tells the media frenzy story. The truth is probably that Cher had superstar material organically but Sonny added something to make it really big.

He also talks about the pride he takes in "The Beat Goes On" and the legacy of hearing “the beat goes on” coined into phrase.


Cher Show Ends on Broadway But Biopics Continue

Final-chersAugust 18, 2019, was the final performance of The Cher Show on Broadway. As you know, my friend Christopher and I thought the Broadway show was looking pretty healthy. The final returns can be found here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/grosses/THE-CHER-SHOW 

Playbill reported that the show ended strongly: http://www.playbill.com/article/grosses-analysis-the-cher-show-ends-broadway-run-on-a-bang-bang

 

Here's the graphic of the run...

Chershowgraphic

 

I was indeed sad because I really wanted to see it again. My friend Coolia said not to worry; the show would hit the road. And it will in 2020. For more information on the touring version coming to your town: https://www.broadway.com/buzz/196276/the-beat-goes-on-the-cher-show-will-launch-a-national-tour-in-fall-2020/

The show continued to get positive vibes, like this one from Forbes: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jerylbrunner/2019/04/09/the-cher-show-celebrates-the-ultimate-empowered-woman-cher

The author quotes Gloria Steinem and her book Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions to talk about "the incredible strength of non-conforming women:"

“I have met brave women who are exploring the outer edge of human possibility, with no history to guide them, and with a courage to make themselves vulnerable that I find moving beyond words,”

and says this show had a “unique perspective on a powerful female who continues to thrive without ever apologizing for who she is.”

(even if who that is...is very sparkly).

Emily Skinner (who plays Cher’s mom in the show) says “She has zero pretense and we love her for that.” Skinner also talks about how her mom swapped out her Barbie doll with a Cher doll. “My feminist mother must have thought, let me put somebody in front of my daughter who is beautiful in a completely different way.”

More to Come

Don't forget we have an autobiography coming and a 2020 movie in the works.

And the British documentary/biopic of Cher's life aired last Friday: The Greatest Showgirl. Where are all the reviews and screenshots of this?? Help a scholar out here! 

All I could find is this brief Guardian review: 

Cher was not actually born in the wagon of a travelling show, as this documentary proves, but she did have a tough childhood. There are more talking heads and dramatised scenes featuring unforgivable wigs than there are Cher interviews, but it’s still a reminder of her majesty. Hannah Verdier


Broadway's Cher Show Holding Its Own

Broadwaycher

Here's a Playbill video of Carol Burnett and Nancy Pelosi among others, talking about the larger meaning of the Cher Show. I found this clip really, really moving. Especially the Carol Burnett part.  Verklempt City!

This hilarious GQ article is called the "Real life diet of totally ripped Sonny Bono from the Cher Show" and it showed up on my Twitter feed. 

Jarrod Spector has been doing some really great interviews about how he captured the characterization of Sonny Bono without going campy or shallow. Here's a great video interview.  

And a positive review on the show from Forbes magazine.

The show receipts initially showed a fill capacity in the 90% and 80% range, recently dipping into the in low 80s and sometimes high 70%. My friend Christopher (an entertainment stats-tracker hobbyist) has been tracking the show with me to check on the health of the show. Originally he told me a show needs to hover in 80% to stay viable. So I was concerned with the recent dip. But he still thinks the show has legs due to the Tony nominations and the built-in fandom.

The show received three nominations, one for the elder-Cher, Stephanie Block (lead actress, musical), Bob Mackie (costume design) and on nomination for lighting design (musical).

BlockLast night both Bob Mackie and Stephanie Block did win Tony awards and the Cher Show performed:

Cher was recently on Today and Tonight Show promoting the Broadway Show (I guess her own tour needs no promotion!).

Today-show-jenna-bush Today-showOn The Today Show Jenna Bush Hager (daughter of former President George Bush II) interviewed a lovely looking Cher and commented that the interview was one of the best nights of her life. Which is pretty incredible.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h6BVVVoQcv8 (first segment)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tf06M-SS86M&t=201s (later in the show, they aired an extended interview with Bob Mackie)

Bush remarked on how the Broadway show's depiction of Cher's vulnerability and Cher says parts were hard and painful to watch. They also talk about the theme of never giving up. "I’m not a tough woman truthfully. I’m a strong woman. I’m one of us." When asked about Sonny, Cher says it was "more than love."

The same day, Cher appeared on an incredible episode of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, who also appeared quite beside himself to be hosting Cher. This is a new generation of adulation and it's definitely intense.

Backstage Tonight-show In-chair

 

 

 

 

Backstage / Jimmy and Cher lip-syncing to Cher karaoke / Cher in the chair 

Some clips of the show:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cEfWjCnwu1Q (the opening)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3_ot8SvZJSE (the lip sync challenge) - Cher looked a bit disturbed by this, but always the trooper with the new style of games on these shows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HLkCUd44iU (Cher talks about being shy)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wE-urfyC0CY (Cher talks about Cher impersonations)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kVt40fhq6E8 (All the Chers on the couch) 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJ3DoTuw6kg (All the Chers sing "Turn Back Time") 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5y_XT0tRow (this is adorable! Cher singing "IGUB" with the fake Sonny!)

Chers Cher-fake-sonny

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Chers singing / Faux-Sonny & Cher

While looking up photos of the show, I found photos of Cher on The Tonight Show through the ages:

The-tonight-show-sonny-cher-1975-everett

1980-tonight-show

80s-tonight-show

Cher-anchor

 

 

 

 

Mid-70s / 1980 / Mid-80s / Current, Cher taking over the desk while Jimmy walks on with his Cher strut

 

 

Cast-recording

Most exciting, the cast recording is out! You can order it on CD or vinyl. 

(There are now only two albums missing from vinyl: Living Proof and It’s a Man’s World, two great albums!)

There's not much dialogue on the cast recording unless it happens inside of medleys. But I really wanted to hear the show again in order to think about how the show was constructed.

The song "TBT" was an obvious first song. Where else would you put it, unless Cher truely had regrets, which she doesn't seem to. It was illuminating to see "Half Breed" used to talk about Cher's childhood and feelings of otherness to the point of freakishness: her fatherlessness, trouble in school. Early on the theme of fear is developed and of not being accepted.

"Shoop Shoop" is put in for the 1960s ambiance. During the song, Cher meets sonny and we're shown an early relationship and, importantly, how Sonny’s acceptance of her as talented and worthy forged a very strong bond.

IGUB provides their Top of the Pops moment of breaking into show business. "When the Money’s Gone/All or Nothing" was also an interesting medley choice for their first career dive. Nice mashup, too.

I was surprised to hear "Ain’t Nobody’s Business," not a song famously associated with Cher but, if you're a fan, you've seen it as a Cher favorite (to get the press off her back and responding to criticism of her clothes and lifestyle). She's covered the song in live shows and TV specials from the late 70s to the early 80s. These lines are indicative of the tone: “It I took the notion to throw myself into the ocean, 'aint nobody's business if I do” and Cher sings the chorus with not a little bit of bite. It reminds me of her 1980s off-quoted quip in defense of plastic surgery rumors: “If I want to put tits on my back, it’s nobody’s business but my own.” This is the big Bob Mackie costume show-stopper, one-third of the way in. 

It's also the Cher hand-off from Micaela Diamond to Teal Wicks. "Living in a House Divided" is given different lyrics here to make the Sonny & Cher breakup more personal. And it's presented as a duet between Cher and Sonny and shows Cher's fear of leaving him.

"Bang Bang" is slotted here to illustrate Sonny's unwillingness to give Cher a 50/50 stake in their business. They also have slightly different lyrics. And this all begs the question: if these are not the same songs, is this purely a jukebox musical? At what point do they become the musical's music? Because you could stretch a song pretty far from its origins...

"Believe/Song for the Lonely" is a medley where all three Cher’s confer for a big halftime finish, while they debate Sonny's merits and flaws and the fear to persevere.

The second act returns with Sonny & Cher doing their unacknowledged Emmy-worthy performances as a happily married couple on TV, while they sing "All I Ever Need is You." 

"Heart of Stone" is used (along with the character of Lucille Ball, to show the parallel between their respective careers and relationships) to give Cher the guts to leave Sonny. Note how much time is given (and songs) to Cher's struggle to leave Sonny, which illustrates the importance of that in Cher's own depiction. Gregg Allman doesn't get nearly that much time and, in fact, I can't really remember their breakup in the show.

"Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves" hands the show over to Block and depicts Cher's show TV solo. This pass-off seemed pre-mature to me. Cher was still clearly 70s Cher up until the late 70s, maybe even until the acting years.

"Midnight Rider/Ramblin Man" are two external songs (from Gregg Allman and The Allman Brothers) added in for the story of husband number two. It feels brave to add them next to Cher songs. And good.

"Dark Lady" is amazingly creative: a duet between Sonny & Gregg  (as Cher struggles between career vs. love). It shows Sonny's powerful presence as a continual contender for Cher's attention and respect. The duet between the men is genius. And brave, too.

"Strong Enough" is with Sonny, Wicks and Block. Allman gets dumped but again, I forget how this is referenced in the show.

Then we go into the Acting years. "The Way of Love" is a surprising choice to show Cher emoting to Robert Altman in her first audition. The show reminds us it was then two long years to Mask (in career time this was probably painful, but felt fast in fan time). Cher is scoring acting hits and reviews but no nominations because she is the “bad girl with the mouth.” The irony of actors thinking of Cher as a "bad girl" is that the rock establishment didn't consider Cher nearly bad enough to earn credibility there either.

During "The Beat Goes On" (so late in the timeline here!), megastar Block gives the show back to Diamond because she is the babe who always wanted to be an actress. The show allows young Cher to bask in the glow of good reviews and movie offers. This is one of the most touching moments of the show, which has also explores her fear of being bad at acting.

"I Found Someone" is all about Robert Cameletti and the evil paparazzi/press pressure. He disappears without much fanfare either. And I don't think these abbreviations are good. Cher did suffer greatly with these two breakups as well, maybe if not to a Sonny degree. They're weren't painless or easy and the show could have lingered on them a bit longer.

"You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me" finds Cher looking for solace in her work but she is beset with Eptstein Barr (and maybe a bit of depression?), The three Cher's support each other. Then Sonny dies and we get a bit too much of the recreation of the eulogy. 

And then boom, the finale. Her mid 50s and 70s are not covered. "Believe," "Strong Enough," "Woman’s World," and "All or Nothing" are given a good ending mashup.

I have to say, it wouldn't be a big deal if whole decades were missing in a show about a small piece of Cher's life. But in a review of all the years, it feels conspicuous. Something had to have happened in there. But these are small quibbles. The show pulls it off despite the gaps.

The cast recording comes with a booklet including a similar read-a-long synopsis of the show.


Stories on the Sleeve: Take Me Home

So earlier this year SleeveMr. Cher Scholar found out about a call for submissions from the New Mexico Humanities Council. They wanted stories appreciating record album covers. I knew I could do something good with a Cher cover. I literally starred at them for hours after purchase, memorizing all the names. Cher's first inner sleeve was produced for her Casablanca album Prisoner in 1979, the album after Take Me Home.

I chose Take Me Home and the entry had to be 100 words or less and I kept to that limit (although I noticed many other entries in the show did not). Here was my entry:

I was 9 years old in 1979 when Cher released her only disco album. My mother balked buying it for me, saying the cover was too risqué. Forget side boob; this cover was all boob! She relented and I spent hours perusing the cover and credits to search musicians, like members of the band Toto she usually worked with or whom she thanked. She gave boyfriends and kids affectionate nicknames. I loved the burst of green Barry Levine used for the background of the photographs. A make-up malfunction resulted in the airbrushing of her face. Her outfit was designed by Bob Mackie with inspiration from then-boyfriend Gene Simmons from KISS. It was less a costume than a set piece, Viking plates and capes of shining gold. This was the time of backlash against disco, where angry white boys were gleefully burning piles of records. Cher sat on her fabulous cape, quarter-turned to us with her devil-may-care stare, as if to say “I’m going to outlast your hate and go on to play “Take Me Home,”  (the title song went to #8 on Billboard’s Hot 100), to sold-out shows in big arenas well into my 70s. 
And so she did. -- Mary McCray, January 2019

 

Here are the front and back covers (click to enlarge):

Tmh-cher-front Tmh-cher-back
The reception was last Thursday. My entry was first in the display but last in the discussion. Surprisingly the show was SRO. Here's what the full spread looked like:

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20190404_174314

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Other albums were prestigious competition in record collecting: the obligatory Beatles, Pink Floyd and Rolling Stones covers, but also RUSH, Laura Nero, K.D. Lang, Simon & Garfunkel, Stan Getz, Jackson Browne, Iron Maiden, Jackson Browne, Deep Purple, Joy Division, Sufjan Stevens and two local New Mexican albums. There was thankfully one Dolly Parton album and one other disco album, Donna Summer's Greatest Hits

I paid close attention to what the girl record collectors were talking about.  The Dolly fan talked about growing up in rural New Mexico liking Dolly and feeling Dolly shame in front of her peers. The girl talking about Donna Summer also took pains to say her other cover submissions was a Doors cover.  Girls talked about the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Joy Division and Sufjan Stevens entries.

The wife of the Stan Getz collector told my friend he would only listen to cool jazz and so she was unable to play her Miles Davis records. The RUSH and Iron Maiden stories were a bit intimidating in subject matter and funny presentations. But since everyone went before me, I had a chance to reconfigure my speech. Here's me talking about Cher.

20190404_194822

I started by saying how I came from a record collecting family, including my Beatles-loving brothers and my country-and-western collecting Dad, and that when at 5 years old I decided to collect Cher records, this wasn't received well. I also retold the story of my mother not wanting to buy the album for me and what she said recently when I reminded her about it over email. She wrote me, "have I ever denied you anything?!" And I had to admit that was true...but what was the word she used? The word was "risque" and that was also true (considering I was only 9 years old and all). Anyway, I talked about the sexy viking costume design concept by Gene Simmons, who Cher was dating at the time, and how Bob Mackie made it. And how I had recently found a similar design on a Mae West dress so that cut-out boob-design wasn't anything new. Here it is from the 1933 Mae West movie, I'm No Angel:

West

I then talked about how record collecting wasn't easy after Take Me Home because Cher disappeared as a tab in the record bins for almost 10 years and how we all thought her career was over. But she came back to the stores in the mid-1980s and even last year at 72 her last album charted.

I talked about photographer (now movie producer) Barry Levine and the makeup snafu and how they had to do a bad, late-1970s airbrushing of her face. I also went on to talk about the musicians on the album, the three players who were part of the band Toto (and how they were also part of Sonny & Cher's backup band earlier in the 1970s and how Cher used them off and on through the early 1990s) and keyboardist Paul Shaffer.

I also talked about why I picked the album cover of all of Cher's over 40 album covers (I mentioned that every album but two have been released on vinyl). I talked about how Cher didn't want to do disco and how Casablanca talked her into it and how unpopular disco was at the time (for possibly homophobic and racist reasons in retrospect) and how looking back I think about the male gaze and how Cher is starring so strongly and defiantly back and how when I was nine (although I didn't know what the male gaze was at the time) I probably understood this as a model for how to be a confident and defiant Cher fan. 

Everyone had the chance to play a sample of a song from their album. So the show ended on the song "Take Me Home."

I was most interested in the women in the show who picked artists who were very unlike them in some way. The Laura Nero album was picked by an African American woman who talked about Nero's quality of whiteness and her facial expressions captured on the cover. The Dolly Parton album was picked by the Hispanic woman from rural New Mexico. These choices opened up conversations about identity and how you relate to each other as women. The Laura Nero woman told me later she really liked my presentation, as did the man who did the RUSH cover. I appreciated that. 

The Iron Maiden cover was picked by a man writing a book about Greek mythology in Heavy Metal. I will be sure to purchase it and discuss.


Cher Honored at the Kennedy Center

Cher-honors1I'm way overdue to be blogging about this. I watched this show with Coolia in Los Angeles on a 10x10 foot screen but it was something I wanted to watch twice.  (click all pics to view larger versions).

When the curtain came up there was an ear-to-ear grin on everyone but Wayne Shorter, who was probably conserving energy, and Cher, who seemed stoically uncertain about the whole thing. But by the end there are tears like this:

Cher-kennedy-center-honors-tears-1545950757and  smiles like this:

Cher-georganne-laughYou can see Cher's sister Georganne behind her. Very sweet to take your sister to the Kennedy Center Honors!

It's tempting to fast forward to all the Cher parts but that would be bad, bad. There was a lot of stuff on this show to experience. Gloria Estefan hosted and talked about the Kennedy Center mission statement, to break down barriers, be trailblazing, a cultural phenomenon and how after all the dust of wars settles it will be those who contributed to the human spirit we remember. (Something to ponder after Adam Lambert's performance). 

The Wayne Shorter tribute was a good lesson in American music history. E. Epatha Merkeson did an mesmerizing performance of Philip Glass' "Knee Play 5" from the 1975 opera Einstein on the Beach. All clips have been taken offline sadly.

Cher's tribute was last because she's...well, she's a showstopper. Remember when Cher won the Billboard Icon award in 2017,  Gwen Stefani called Cher "truly the definition of an icon," praising her inspiration as a musical trailblazer, cultural influencer, humanitarian and fashion trendsetter?"

This year Gloria Estefan described Cher as a world-wide superstar, an Academy Award winning actress and social activist. WhoopiWhoopi Goldberg quipped she raided Cher's closet ("and I'm award she wears it better") described Cher alongside Elivs and Sinatra, which seemed to surprise Cher herself but then Goldberg clarified that meant by one-name recognition. Oh. Almost a big compliment there. Then Goldberg went into a list of Cher's all the things, ending by saying not only does Cher "march to the tune of her own drummer, she's a one-woman band." Yeees.

The stage photos were a tryptic of Cher in 80s chainmail, a current ABBA performance, and a caricature I couldn't make out. No one has posted the montage yet. Those are always inspiring for Cher fans. In this one, Goldberg described Cher as "one of the coolest women who ever stood in shoes," an icon, a survivor, the mother of reinvention, a master of TV variety, an actress with one of the "biggest breakthrough film careers in history." Whoopi called out the powerful trio of Cher, her mother and her sister. Great, great stuff. 

Little-big-townThe band Little Big Town countrified Cher's hits, "Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves," and "I Found Someone." Women in the audience can be seen singing along, including Kristin Chenoweth. They also sang "Baby Don't Go" and the Hamilton gang were clapping along.

Amanda Seyfried also gave a tribute, talking about working with Cher recently in the ABBA movie and mentioning her LGBTQ activism. "You make people feel the world is a safe place" Seyfried said.

Adam-cherThen, Adam Lambert stopped the show with his version of "Believe." There were two performances that riveted people: Lambert's and Merkerson's Philip Glass tribute.  This got Cher very teary and she showed visible appreciation for his big, big, big note at the end. What I love about Adam Lambert (all the way back to American Idol) is his sincere ability to move between Queen and Cher with real cajones. 

And they all stood up when he finished. Cyndi Lauper then did her show-stopping tribute to "Turn Back Time." Girls really got up for this one, most notably a trio of gleefully dancing women which included Reba McEntire presenter Kristin Chenoweth and Philip Glass presenter, Angélique Kidjo. They all high-fived at the end.

Dancinggirls

There was also this strange former honoree clapping very affectedly. Does anybody recognize her?

Strange-clapper

And Lauper and Lambert closed the show with "I Got You Babe" complete with replicas of the iconic Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour set. Reba McEntire sang along and couples danced together and it was really sweet although very few covers of that song work, including this one.

Adam-cyndi

More links:

The Hamilton guys and Phillip Glass meeting Cher beforehand. Look how smiley meeting Cher makes Philip Glass. Philip Fucking Glass!

Meetingcher

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Congratulations Cher. You deserve this.


My Essay: Cher and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Tour2I’ve never been sure to have such a personal response to Cher. It’s probably in there somewhere. I’ve been a fan since I was 4 or 5 and I’m now 50 so...psychologically speaking...

Recently an interviewer asked me what I’ve learned personally from Cher. This was hard for me to answer. I tend to think about Cher in terms of the stuff, or more recently in terms of her impact on culture. I struggled to find something to say, like maybe a lesson about letting small things go, (from Cher’s mother’s edict: “If it doesn’t matter in five years, it doesn’t matter”) or that you should always stay friends with your exes. (If Cher can do it…) Oh, and how to fluff my hair by flipping it upside down. Yes...that I did learn from the Cher show. But that’s it.

And when I think about any Cher essay (something for formal than a blog post), it always wraps around the idea of Cher lacking proper respect in pop culture. And maybe that’s personal in some way, like maybe I had two 70s-rock-loving older brothers who disparaged my taste in Cher or all those years being self-conscious about liking the things I like. This digs to the very concept about what rock and roll is, of which the Hall of Fame in Cleveland is but a part. Whether or not Cher is in the Hall is secondary, symptomatic. She’s not part of the insider’s club and that’s the issue, Chronically snubbed. The perpetual underdog. And this has been the case for much longer than the Hall of Fame has existed.

Cher is bigger than her sequins and Cher impersonations often fail for the lack of Cher’s personality embodied in them. You can slap a gowns on very talented boys and girls, but no dice. Cher is not, as previously claimed (over the last half a century), merely a clothes horse, a hanger, a shallow tower of sequins. She embodies those things and makes meaning of them. But shallow people do not look very deep. And they see shallowness everywhere.

What gives someone rock and roll credibility? Is it an outfit? Tight pants? A scarf? A stance? Is it creation of material? Is it hit-making? Is it breaking Billboard records? Is it a greatest hits compilations? Is it longevity with live shows and ticket sales? Is it respect from critics? Is it longevity across mediums and genres? Some would say it is this idea of authenticity. But can that be possible when so much of rock and roll is a pose and a cliché, a posture of coolness, a sales job.  

To me the idea of "authenticity" is a code for the real judgement: is it "cool."

Sonny & Cher weren’t accepted as authentically folk, authentically hippies, or authentically rock and roll. Maybe Sonny wasn’t but Cher was. Sonny wasn’t even considered to be a legitimate Hollywood mogul and now, ironically, Cher is considered powerful in Hollywood. What that really means though is they were uncool.

And who determines cool? Is it popular audiences, critics, cult followings? Is it a roundtable of select few who decide?

Cher has had Billboard hits in give decades, arena shows in multiple decades AND a cult, gay following, records sold, popularization of a music style (the controversial auto-tune), hits that have bled into our mainstream idioms ("the beat goes on"), a subversive influence in fashion, both in the 60s (flares and furs), the 70s (long, straight hair that thousands of young girls took to emulating with hair ironed on real ironing boards), red carpet fashion, her big circus shows are now imitated by younger pop stars, her tattoos are now ubiquitous on the ass of America...and so on.

But to me what makes Cher really cool is her otherness, her inclusion of various underrepresented cultures all in her one self. Not only did Sonny & Cher bring people of color and international cultures to their 70s television show, but Cher embodied those identities in her performances, and she did so with dignity and power.

She’s also a living example of a single woman taking control of her career in show business and having the audacity to survive and tell the story. She’s a survivor, making no apologies for any of it, crossing genres, moving from glitz to the realism (in shows and in movies). And that very realism that works in her movies is the same authenticity working in her music videos and in her live performances.

So can we stop with the authenticity thing?

Over the years my interest has gravitated to figuring out the gap between what Cher means and how she’s perceived by the rock-and-roll-establishment. Cher says it best herself: “Singers don’t think I’m a singer. Actors don’t think I’m an actor.”

Arguably there are fewer women at the top of the music business. Thus,  Brook Marine points out women make up only 13% of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There should be more.

It’s been rumored there is this issue of Sonny at play: Cher might be resisting nomination herself, preferring to be inducted as Sonny & Cher. I don’t know if this is true, but she does reference Sonny & Cher whenever she’s confronted with the lack of a nomination. It would seem a likely holdup. Cher has always felt Sonny was entirely responsible for her career. “There would be no Cher without Sonny” has been Cher’s mantra since the mid-1980s.  And they didn’t call him a Svengali for nothing. He had ideas about their inception and architecture, he created their act, as well as writing some of their music.

But Cher brought things to the table, too. She had ideas about their look that Sonny was game to pursue.

Cher also had the budding charisma, the sex appeal and that “special something.”

But arguably Sonny not only discovered Cher but set her up to thrive for five decades. Can you get into the HoF for that? Orchestrating a Cher?

They were a recording team and his influence was life changing (as Cher illustrates in her Broadway musical) and life-testing (you could argue Sonny was her drug).

Cher loves rock and roll. Elvis is an obvious influence. (Someone recently called her Chelvis;  but I prefer to think of her as the female Fonz.) Imagine how easy it would be for Cher to stand over Sonny’s grave and say, “Hey, I tried. They wouldn’t let you in. But hey, I got in!”

As my grandfather used to say, “she’s got the courage of her convictions” if she is, in fact, holding out for Sonny in the face of the prime accolade of one’s pop recording career. To take a stand against the defining group exercising power over the rock canon and Meriam-Webster defines establishment as “an institution or group in a society exercising power and influence over policy or taste.” The Hall of Fame as it sits in Cleveland is by definition a rock-and-roll establishment.

Yeah, she knows you don’t like Sonny & Cher even if you might begrudgingly like Cher. Standing her ground as a Sonny & Cher inductee could be showing all of her integrity and authenticity and, you could argue, an almost heroic love against the pressures of the in-crowd. To stand up for someone you love, particularly someone not many others appreciate, takes monster balls and a big middle finger to the powers that be. And even if Sonny & Cher aren't the issue and Cher is simply suffering the eternal, hypocritical debates around authenticity, to stand up for your sequins, to be apologetically who you are...if that isn’t rock and roll, I don’t know WTF we’re talking out.