The Baby Thing (The First Nine Months is the Hardest)

A new show cropped up on Amazon Prime recently that no fan I know had ever heard about, no biographer had ever written about or obscure list mentioned. I've come to call it "the baby thing."

Amazon Prime has been including some great old 1970s material lately, like all the Tattle Tales episodes and Paul Lynde’s Halloween Special and now this Sonny & Cher special from 1971. Most fans I’ve spoken to have never even heard of it, let alone seen it; which begs the question: what else is out there that we don't know about? Anyway, many thanks to Cher scholar Michael for alerting me to its existence.

The show is called The First Nine Months are the Hardest and Amazon lists the air date as 1971, but a few fans tell me it looks like it was filmed much earlier judging by how Sonny and Cher look.

And there is a lot of Sonny & Cher here doing skits and singing songs. I can't help but think this show might have helped sell TV execs on their ability to do a variety show.

The show is hosted by Dick Van Dyke (who I love!) and includes outfits by Bob Mackie (which seem oddly pedestrian for him) and an Emmy nominated score by Ray Charles. Whaa???

Cher scholar Robrt dug up an earlier non-musical version directed by Carl Reiner in 1964.

The show features three real celebrity couples. Michele Lee is lovely and amazing and her husband James Farentino is nice on the eyes but doesn't really pop out. Ken Berry and his wife Jackie Joseph are typical Broadway fare. The other couples have oodles of talent for sure, way beyond Sonny & Cher in song and dance ability, but somehow Sonny & Cher have such an interesting chemistry in comparison. They steal the show.

The tone of the show is a bit weird, nostalgic and retro even for 1971, as if its trying to convince bra-burning women to settle down. But really, it's all about the gas-company sponsor promoting fears in new mothers in order to get them to want to switch from electric or coal to “clean gas.” But aside from that, this is a gem of a new find for Sonny & Cher fans.  

Check it out on streaming from Amazon Prime. In the meantime, here's the play-by-play of the show (at the least the parts where Sonny & Cher appear).

Continue reading "The Baby Thing (The First Nine Months is the Hardest)" »


Cher in Show Biz 2020

ChertimeI went out looking for collages of Cher through time and turns out there are a ton of them! This was the best.

Anyway, I have a bunch of random thoughts today and couldn't figure out what umbrella to put them under. This is all about Cher in show-biz.

The Pop Star Crisis

My friend Christopher sent me this older article from 2017 from the Wall Street Journal. It's about an identity crisis with today's female pop stars. The article contains interesting statistics about what’s selling on streaming these days (R&B and hip-hop) and what’s not selling as well (rock, pop and even country is declining).

The article gets under my skin a bit when it talks about “the pop playbook” being unpredictable (you think?) and when it mentions that women are criticized for hosting hip-hop artists on their albums but male artists are not. (And the difference would be?)

And it confounds me that in the post-Cher and Tina Turner era music execs are still saying things like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus “may simply be past their hit making primes.” My friend Christopher tells me that female artists still disappear at the ticking time bomb of middle age! Oy. 

The 1% of Touring Acts

Here is another older Wall Street Journal article from Christopher about how large arena acts are eating up all the concert $$$. And due to the fact that streaming is making record-making less lucrative, smaller acts depend on concert revenue.

It feels so much like large corporations swallowing up their competition.

In any case, to consider Cher in this 1% list is downright bizarre. If you would have told me back in 1980 that Cher would be one of the 1% of popular touring acts in the late 2010s, I would have thought you were a crazy person. This is the artist who has been on a zillion record labels with a disproportionate amount of bomb albums and a bad reputation with just about everybody from hipsters to squares. Which is why it drives me nuts when people accuse Cher of being a mainstream artist. Where is this mysterious stream?

And yet, the people do come out to her shows in those ginormous, block-sized buildings. 

How. Did. We. Get. Here???

Although Cher is not listed as one of the highest grossing acts of the 2010s, she is named as #11 for highest grossing in 2019, ahead of Mumford & Sons, Michael Bublé, Paul McCartney, Garth Brooks and Ariana Grande. And I'm sure all of those acts are more popular than Cher is.

But why am I complaining. This is great. Finally, right? I’m actually very conflicted about it. Popularity: good. Monopoly: Bad.


Gary-jerryEvil Geniuses

I recently came across a clip of Gary Lewis (of Gary Lewis and the Playboys) and his father Jerry Lewis singling together on the show Hullabaloo. That prompted me to look up what kind of relationship they had. As it turns out, Gary and all his siblings from Jerry Lewis' first wife were all disinherited (as a group!) and Gary has called Jerry Lewis "a mean and evil man." I don't know how Cher really felt about Jerry Lewis but I've read he was always nice to Cher on her variety shows and she seemed to like him. She's never came out with any trash talk about him in any case. Mr. Cher Scholar, like a large population of the country France, considers Jerry Lewis a comedy genius.

Likewise, Cher had no rough encounters with the homicidal Phil Spector, holding her own against his in-studio verbal taunts. Many consider Spector a producing genius of the early 1960s.

And that reminded me that Sonny’s running mate for the Palms Springs Mayoral race once called him a “mean little Italian.” Others have mentioned difficulty working with Sonny too, but Cher enjoyed working with Sonny. She even seemed to forgive him for his egregious business scams involving Cher Enterprises. Her beef with him concerned mostly personal marital and control issues. And on a recent Good Times movie DVD, the director William Friedkin called Sonny an unqualified genius. And although this is maybe not a popular view of Sonny, I would argue he was probably a promotional genius of the scrappy kind. A lot of his ideas about career longevity and independent/guerrilla promotion were before their time by at least 30 years.

And all these things taken together, you might wonder if Cher has a high tolerance for dysfunctional male geniuses.

Cherjerry Cherjerry Cherjerry


Thinking About the Cher Biography

Cher_oscars_6_a_h

Before I forget, Cher performed at the finale of this season's Dancing with the Stars. I don't know who won. I don't watch that show unless Cher or her peripherals are on it. But USA Today reported on Cher's appearance on the show. I found it striking she appeared on a 2019 show singing a 1967 song or rather she sang her own 52 year old song.

Dwts2019

I've been thinking recently about Cher's upcoming biographical projects: the Cher musical to travel in 2020, an upcoming biopic and her autobiography. 

I don't know if her book is in the can but I hope it includes music and artists she was influenced by aesthetically, interior design influences (and other "hobbies"), records she loved (and what Sonny thought of them), movies she loved, what the big mistakes were, who helped in little and small ways, and maybe even some dish on a few dramatic kindnesses and large slights. 

I think about the evolution of the Katharine Hepburn biographies (aside from Cher, I've read as much KH), and she got really reflective and reconsidered some of her earlier stances on issues (like boycotting the Oscars) toward the end of her life and it felt very human and enlightening. Actually, Hepburn's last opinion on attending the Oscars helped me show up at a book awards event this year. 

While I was making one of my unsuccessful attempts to find Cher's copy of Marie Claire, I picked up a British film magazine that caught my eye, Little White Lies, the Judy Garland issue. (I've read a few JG bios too).

Anyway, I liked how the articles in that magazine described the aims of her recent biopic:

“There is no two-bit mimicry here, no over-rehearsed tics or obviously detectable plummy accent. Both [Rene] Zellweger and [the director] understand that overzealous imitation in this type of film only serves to drive a wedge between audience and material. The ten-a-penny peacock turns by up-for-it chancers doing their best karaoke so often drains a movie of nuance and credibility, as all the focus is placed on, what is, a pageant for paid-for narcissism.”

In another article in the magazine Zellweger says

“We feared that the more you veer away from what is authentically you, the less likely you are to connect with the person you’re representing.”

Ironic but true.

And here's a quote that I feel sums up something unique about Cher. In a recent interview, Cher was telling the story again about the theatrical trailers for Silkwood and nobody knowing she was sitting in the theater. When her name came up in the trailer, everybody laughed and how painful that was to experience. 

The interviewer asks Cher if she felt a strong reaction at the time, like "they're all wrong about me!" and Cher said no, it was an organic response. "I never argue with reality."

What a quote, huh?  

My friend Christopher alerted me to an old Entertainment Weekly review of Cher's album Love Hurts. Christopher says the magazine had just started when this review appeared. It isn't great at a B+ and takes so many attacks at her Geffen era that I almost feel protective of Diane Warren, Jon Bon Jovi and the decade of schlock rock:

"[This album] finds the warbler surrounding herself with the most formulaic hit songwriters alive (Diane Warren, Desmond Child). To boot, Cher has cannily stuck with the production style most lusted after by cynical radio programmers, stressing power chords that plotz all over the place, battalions of backup singers who scream their guts out, and keyboard blasts so resonant they sound like they were recorded in the Grand Canyon. Every song approximates that most reliably commercial of half-breeds, the part-rock, part-pop power ballad. So why, given this gluttonous buffet of calculation, is the album so much fun?"

Then going on to say,

“For all the fakery that surrounds her, Cher remains weirdly genuine.”

A common refrain of later-day Cher scholarship right there. What are the ingredients that made that?

  


Murder in Music City

Murder2So I finally had a chance to watch Sonny's 1979 movie, Murder in Music City, sometimes known as The Country Western Murders (I don't know where or why two titles were used or needed). And I never realized before now that this was an NBC TV movie. It aired on January 16, 1979.

Is it me or does his head look Photoshopped (or whatever they called it back in 1979) oddly to his body in that ad below. 

It opens with Sonny running from some bad guys. He plays a songwriter named Sonny Hunt (you hear two lines of a song) with a very spunky, likable girlfriend, a supermodel allegedly. They get caught up in a murder mystery because Sonny is so successful as a songwriter that he needs to put his money somewhere and his manager suggests a failing detective agency.

It could happen.

These two kids actually have chemistry and this would have been a better series, like a Hart to Hart. It's not as bad as you might think. Sonny does a pretty good job. He just doesn't have that elusive 'it' as an actor but this performance is far from embarrassing. The script was pretty much what you'd expect a TV movie in the 1970s to be. And considering this is Sonny's only starring movie role, it's worth a watch.

MurdersHe's shirtless multiple times. I should come up with a Sonny-shirtless-in-movies scale chart because he seems to be shirtless quite often in movies.

And remarkably (since this is a movie about Nashville after all), there are lots of country cameos including Mel Tillis (singing AND stuttering…I love me some Mel Tillis!), Barbara Mandrell (adorable per yush), Ray Stevens singing with Ronnie Milsap, Larry Gatlin, and an unrecognizable Charlie Daniels. Plus you get Morgan Fairchild, Claude Akins, Lee Purcell and that adorable character-actress Lucille Benson as the kooky secretary.

Even more remarkably, this flick was directed by Leo Penn, father of Sean, Chris and Michael.

The interactions between the country singers and Sonny are interesting and unusual. You had to wonder what everyone was thinking. Sonny was a fading hot commodity post breakup with Cher and their TV shows. You got the idea that Cher was more of a country music fan than Sonny (who was all R &B and Soul) and Barbara Mandrell was flying high on her hits "Sleeping Single on a Double Bed" and "If Loving You is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)" and on the cusp of her own variety show. There's a hilarious interchange between Sonny and Barbara where his character doesn't know who Mandrell is. Okay, Sonny Hunt. 

The Thrilling Detective website had this to say about the movie:

Murder1“Full of logical inconsistencies (Sonny has to break into his own business), wisecracks that don’t so much crack as slither, and a slew of country music celebrity cameos that pretty much define “gratuitous.”

This is the 1970s. Gratuitous has no meaning here. And it was very funny when Sonny broke into his own business. Therefore a fan of Rifftrax, I submitted this movie for their astute consideration.


New TV Shows Available and More Reviews

Timelife2Time/Life has come out with a DVD set of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour, Cher and The Sonny & Cher Show. The site will lure you with an upgrade which is just a set of Laugh In shows they've probably been unable to sell. 

That said, Cher’s performances in the one episode of her guest spots included is wonderful, unseen Cherness, so much better than her Indian skit with Tim Conway found online from that episode. That might be worth the upcharge for you. It was for me but...

See the trailer for the DVDs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D5Mcper-JcE&feature=youtu.be&fbclid=IwAR1Ap63YwwpRGDOXo98cTednBtRa3r6nEbH5QMENLShrcrMs6A17pDZZJzE

The 18 Episode set:  https://timelife.com/products/i-got-you-babe-the-best-of-sonny-cher

The 58 Episode set (not more Sonny & Cher shows though): https://timelife.com/products/the-best-of-sonny-&-cher-and-laugh-in

It is good we’re seeing Cher episodes available now. But these are mostly episodes we've either seen on TV Land or GetTV, with the exception of one episode with Jim Neighbors.

I would think we should get DVDs of at least what was Emmy Nominated from the show, including the lost-lost Cloris Leachman episode that won an Emmy. 

The booklet and packaging are great, great photos although not always in order  (especially for series 2) and claim Steve Martin would stop by with one-liners instead of come to work as part of the first show's staff. You get to see an early version of the Sonny & Cher bubble drawing. The interviews are also good.

I've also been making my way through reviews of the show and am down with Season 2: https://www.cherscholar.com/the-tv-variety-shows-and-specials.html


Catalog of The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour

CartoonSo a few years ago I started blogging about the Cher variety shows as they aired on Get TV. But Get TV was a major disappointment on many levels, which I've addressed ad nauseam in previous posts. Also then the world got very political and I was stretched too thin. And then last year and all its wondrous surprises happened. And so this year I've decided to try to cover each series in order (with episodes I've seen at least). 

I've started an archive about the show. I'll keep posting the episodes here and do a blog post when I get through each season. I've just finished the short season 1, which was interesting to see how they handled a small budget and the beginnings of all the recurring segments like VAMP, the fortune teller, Cliff House and what they called "the cultural spot." I've seen many of these episodes about 4 times now and have gone from thinking they were the best thing God ever created on earth to finding them excruciatingly dated to coming around to seeing cultural relevance in them.

It's been a journey. 

 


Mixed Bag of Honors and Accomplishments


Moony2First of all Cher's Believe album will be out on vinyl in December.  

In Music

A few weeks ago Cher's album Dancing Queen made its debut on the Billboard album chart at #3. This felt disappointing as Cher and the fans were aiming for #2. Although the album did hit #1 in the list for Top Album Sales. And the song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!" reached #5 on the Dance Club Play chart. And the Gimme remixes were recently released

So it felt a bit short at the time but my Billboard guru friend tells me I was off my meds to think this way: Sos

"For me, I am super impressed with her position on the chart. The year is three-quarters done, so for her to have the largest week of sales for an album in 2018 by a female pop artist is a major achievement.  It means she sold more albums in her debut week than 20-something Ariana Grande, who is the hottest female pop star in the U.S. currently, when she released Sweetener a few months ago. It means that the only female in any genre to post a larger one week tally this year is Cardi B. Were this released four years ago, before they started incorporating streaming into chart calculations, she would have debuted at #1 on the Top 200 chart, rather than #3 (and #1 on the sales chart).  The last female pop artist to exceed this level of sales in a single week was none other than 20-something Taylor Swift who remains the biggest U.S. female artist of the last ten years.  Not shabby company to keep. The fact that it is a sales sum that has only been surpassed by one other pop artist this year (Justin Timberlake) is truly remarkable. 

Mary, please think of it this way--over 50,000 albums across genres are released in the U.S. each year and our 72-year-old beloved can in 2018 sell more in a single week than literally any other pop artist on Earth except one, and more than any other female artist on Earth except one.  That is stupendous."

So that perspective was great. But then in week two the album feel from #3 to #43. 

In Movies

Anyway, there was another Billboard list that made me feel better again: Billboards list of 100 top musician performances in movies. Cher ranks #1. J. Lynch has this to say:

Cher’s Oscar-winning turn in the 1987 romcom Moonstruck remains the standard by which you mentally check all others. Cher brings that mixture of reluctance and romantic recklessness to the screen with a self-effacing realism and millisecond-sharp comedic timing. Few performances are this irresistible, hysterical and believably low-key -- and the fact that it came from one of the 20th century’s biggest pop stars leaves us unable to snap out of loving Cher in her deservedly Oscar-winning performance more than 30 years later."

The Kennedy Honor

And then there's the incredible Kennedy Honor. Maybe not in and of itself but for the fact that fans and Cher-watchers have been lobbying so long for Cher's simple induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To be beset with yet a larger honor was fully unexpected. And a bit disorienting quite frankly. But what a big deal. As my friend Christopher described it, “the government's highest form of recognition for artists...its official intention is to identify and honor artists for their lifetime contribution to the culture of the United States. That is no small potatoes.”

Especially since nobody's been noticing Cher's lifetime contribution to the culture of the United States. 

The awards will be televised on December 26 on CBS at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Some articles about the honor:

Here is the 2016 batch with some unsmiling Eagles (I take that back, 2/3 unsmiling Eagles), James Taylor, Martha Argerich, Mavis Staples, and the incomparable Al Pacino. 

Last-year


Breaking the Band

BthbWhen I checked off the tags for this post, they were 'music' and then 'television." I also wished I had a tag for "reality television." Because Sonny & Cher were early music-television and reality-tv before its time. And reality TV with all its baggage of falsehoods. "Seemingly real" is what it is. And the more real it seems, the better its reenactors are.

Cher Scholar is suffering, dear friends, Cher chickadees and zombies. This is a high Cher tide and I'm so woefully behind with it. This whole year has been quite a shit show. First my department reorganized and the work seemed insurmountable. Then I hit a season of traveling that won't end until the end of July. And on top of all that, I'm spending the majority of my free time preparing the new book of poems, which involves endless rounds of editing, cover design work with an art designer, getting my photo done in a tintype theme, and taking care of all the business aspects of the book. 

Meanwhile, Cher is out there with concerts, planned tours, a Broadway show, TV docs, a new album in the works, a new movie and new publicity around all that. So much stuff I would love to indulge in and can't fully. So, so frustrating. 

But I will drop everything for a Cher documentary. And one came on last Sunday on the Reelz channel. I wasn't expecting much. It's the Reelz channel after all, full of shows like "Autopsy: [enter celebrity name]. Salacious and thin shows that seem exploitative. 

This was the first documentary on Cher that sprung for re-enactments, which was very funny. And reinforced for me why Cher and Sonny re-enactments always fail, and fail for all the same reasons. Bad impersonations. Bad outfits.

Let's start with the clothes. Seemingly a simple and innocuous thing. However, with Sonny & Cher these things are crucial. All of their cool cred was tied up in their clothes. You could say this is true for any music personality or band. The only difference between rock outfits and pop outfits is that rock singers try to play it off as authentic and organic and pop singers freely admit to using the device. The clothes on these impersonators, as in all Sonny & Cher re-enactments, looked cheap and ill-fitting. Save up all the money you would spend on a set and put it into the outfits. In comparison to these impersonators, you can see just how good Sonny & Cher looked.

The second issue is the faulty impersonations themselves. This is more complicated. Why is Cher, and surprisingly Sonny, so hard to impersonate well? They always cast for a 60s Cher and then expect her to be able to pull of 70s, 80s, 90s, etc. Cher. It's never been done. Not even professional Cher impersonators try this very often. And this is why the new Broadway show on Cher has split them up.

And then there's Sonny: he's always cast as a doofus. Just compare the Sonny re-enactor to the photos of Sonny in the documentary. The serious, competitive, intense Sonny staring back at us bears no relation to the impersonated buffoony Sonny, which tries to cast his TV persona (admitted dim) into their private scenes. The problem is the enactments are always cartoony, a caricature of the TV show characters. 

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive to a celebrity I know more about. Maybe all impersonations are bad everywhere. But I think the difficulty in impersonating Sonny or Cher (and often the discomfort we sometimes feel watching it) proves how multifaceted Sonny and Cher are as performers and people. This goes against the common critique of them since day one, that they are shallow and fluffy. But the problem of impersonation exposes problems in that theory.

The show also had some great new talking heads:

  • Don Peake, their guitarist during the Wrecking Crew days
  • Michel Rubini who was part of the Wrecking Crew and worked with Sonny & Cher into the 70s doing arrangement work and playing the piano and harpsichord
  • Cher biographers Randy Taraborrelli and Josiah Howard
  • Sonny's ex-wife and wife-after-Cher, Susie Coelho. Say what you want about Susie Coelho but she always provides eloquent, even-handed commentary and she has a unique perspective on Sonny right after he broke professionally with Cher.
  • Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour producer Allan Blye
  • Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour hairdresser Gary Chowen - hairdressers, they know stuff. 

I learned a few new things too. I didn't know, for instance, that Cher's unhappiness around their TV show was anything more than the quality of the music they were singing or the conditions of overwork. That Cher called herself Queen of a Mediocre Medium and wanted to be as big as the Rolling Stones is surprising. What boy-girl duet could ever have a shot at beating a rock band? It's inconceivable. But if anybody could have make a couple duo look cool, maybe it would have been Cher. But is she even that all-powerful?

The show also provided good commentary on what changing Cher's look and sound might mean to her soul, and her ability to grow out of Sonny, and how Sonny was smart enough to be aware of this. I was also surprised Cher offered to stay in the act for a deal of 50/50. We all know Sonny thought Cher's career would tailspin without his guidance.  And we all know how wrong he was. Gary Chowen's comments were good reinforcements around the idea of Cher’s growing up and standing up for herself. This is fresh new narrative that makes mince meat of the idea that Cher outgrew Sonny for ambition.

Chowen also illustrates an iconic irony about Cher when he comments how private Sonny and Cher were around their relationship struggles. Here they were pretending to be a reality-TV like open book onstage and in interviews, but that was all smoke and mirrors, not just their relationship status, but the entire facade of being candid performers to begin with. It was a fake intimacy Sonny had cultivated since their early days. And it's the same fake-frankness, or rather the "strategic frankness that distracts " which you can see Cher practicing even today. 

Inexplicably, the show kept calling David Geffen’s LA club On the Rox. On the Rox was the private lounge on top of his club, The Roxy. There's the club and the lounge within the club. 

 Check Reelz channel for future listings. Here's the trailer. 


Cher On the Verge

Chermama22Between last November and today, lots of Cher news has happened, is happening. These days I feel like my posts are just roll-up lists of links. It’s kind of amazing (and daunting), but all these major categories below are all in play right now, not only with new stuff but the constant consumption and evaluation of old stuff! It's like her career is rolling up on itself.

Movies & Music

The new movie,  Mama Mia 2, is set to open July 20, 2018. I still have yet to see MM1. And I bet everyone has seen this already but here is the trailer

Christine Baranski recently talked about working with Cher on Live with Kelly & Ryan. Cher apparently sings "Super Trooper" (with the cast) and "Fernando" (solo). I got overly excited about this news last week. I love ABBA and I also love imagining Cher singing improbable covers; but to put these two interests together never entered my head, even after it was announced Cher would be the movie. Either I’m very preoccupied right now (which is true) or this was a big imagination fail on my part. I still can’t really picture Cher singing ABBA.

More stories:

Mamma-mia-Ci-risiamo-1280x500

Old Movies: Here's a story about "How Moonstruck got Italian Americans right." I was just in a new book club at a local tea room a few weeks ago and met a couple, Irv and Di, who had retired to Albuquerque from New York City and I asked them what movie they thought best captured New York City. The husband said he had never thought about that before and asked me what I thought and I said I didn't really know but that Moonstruck perfectly captured the Italian landlords I once had in Yonkers. He heartily agreed about Moonstruck and then came up with "Crossing Delancy" and "The Chosen."

Moonstruck-Cinderella-at-the-BallBill Maher also mentioned Moonstruck in his February 16 episode as part of his New Rules segment covering conflicting messages men get about women from popular movies. Basically Maher was saying women seem to want more aggressiveness from men in movies, judging by the latest movies that are popular with women. In fact, women seem to want sexual advances from men outside of movies too, but only from those particular men they want advances from and not from the ones they don’t want them from. Arguably, this is an unsaid truth of the #metoo movement. And the obvious problem, Maher says, is that men don’t know which of these categories they fall under. Another unfortunate truth. Who can argue that human relationships confuse and contradict easy political solutions. Yeah, it sucks…and it sucks for everybody including women making advances and gay or bisexual men and men women trying to figure out who’s allowed to make advances to whom. Maher then lists some popular movies among women, movies with problematic plot lines such as:

  1. Marrying your boss
  2. Stalking is romantic
  3. I hate you and then I love you …and he lists Moonstruck here.

And this list was very upsetting to me only because Moonstruck was the only movie I recognized! What are all these movies about even? So I can only speak for Moonstruck, a screenplay written by a man and directed by another man. So, clearly the story is a male idea. Women may have liked it (although I don’t remember that) but women certainly didn’t like it as much as they liked Dirty Dancing that year, (I had the unfortunate experience of working in a video store then  and can't begin to describe the absolute frenzy surrounding the lack of enough VHS rentals for that movie), or Thelma and Louise a few years later. I particularly liked Adventures in Babysitting at the time even though I had never babysat in my life and babysitting seemed as scary as the movie confirmed it would be.

But in any case, even if recent mainstream movies with un-PC plot lines have been popular among women lately, it’s not like we've had a lot of space on the marquee lately, in between all the apocalyptic and superhero titles. And if you punch in “popular movies for women” on Google, you get none of those mysterious movies on Maher’s list. “Legally Blonde” pops up first, followed by “Sense and Sensibility,” “Chocolate,” “Julie & Julia” (there’s not even a love story in there, is there?), “You’ve Got Mail” (I should really see that one), “Miss Congeniality,” and “Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion” among others. The only truly disturbing title on the list is “Pretty Woman.”

Anyway, this is not a new conundrum really. Alan Parson’s Project wrote a dramatic song about it in 1979, a song I sometimes fantasize Cher will someday cover. And since I’m on the topic of random songs I’d like Cher to cover, this guilty pleasure song is on the short list too. I’m not proposing Cher should make it with an over-emoted, shirtless video. But it’s inspiring in its way and sometimes very helpful messages come in over-the-top six-packages.

Other music stuff:

I found this brilliant video of what Cher sounded like to us when we were seven years old and had shitty record players.

And recently, The Los Angeles Times opined that if Cher’s song "Prayers for this World" was nominated, we could enjoy Cher dazzling us all on the red carpet this year.  But then nominations came out and the song was not nominated.

Remember that Cher track on that recent Wu Tang Clan album that sleazy pharmaceutical guy Martin Shkreli bought in 2015 for two million and wouldn’t share with anyone? Well, he’s about to lose it to the U.S. government which means we might someday hear it: https://noisey.vice.com/en_uk/article/bj543d/cher-wu-tang-clan-u-god-album-2018.

ScsanremomariannefaithfulAnd here’s a thing! A video for "Il Cammino Di Ogni Speranza," the song Sonny & Cher sang during the San Remo festival of 1967. They met Marianne Faithful for the first time at that festival (see right).

Covers of Cher:

Judy Hill from the band Girl recently posted videos of the performances she did at CherCon 2002 at the now-demolished Riviera in Las Vegas:

Her band's Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/girlrocksyourworld/

Cher Scholar Michael forwarded me this great clip of Liza Minelli singing “You’d Better Sit Down Kids.”

Television

CherfireCher, along with other artists, did a video for the Grammys spoofing readings of the book about Trump, Fire and Fury. Cher-scholar Tyler then reminded us that in 1966 Sonny & Cher were nominees for best new artists along with Herman's Hermits, They Byrds, Marilyn Made and Tom Jones (who won). 

Cher scholar Tyler also found a clip of Sonny & Cher enduring comments about their hipness on The Carol Burnett Show.

Broadway, Las Vegas, Australia & Old Concerts

"Experiencing Cher in Las Vegas" by Naomi Gall: "Not only was she worth travelling half way around the world to see but I’d do it all again – in a heartbeat."

An article in the New York Post about how the producers of the new Donna Summer musical are worried about the opening of the Cher musical. There was also an open call for the Broadway Cher show. Cher scholar Laura P. sent me this list of characters with descriptions from a Broadway casting site. The show has a new logo and early commercial. Tickets also just went on sale for the Chicago pre-shows.  It feels very meta, how they recognize Cher as a process. I like it! Here's a story about the designer behind the logo.

Cher scholar Tyler also found me this clipping about Sonny & Cher’s visit to Abilene Texas for a concert in 1967.

Australia2The big story last week was Cher's trip to Australia for the Sydney Gay Mardis Gras:

Style

More Cher style retrospectives:

Every year for the past few years Cher has been selling Christmas merch on her website. For some reason this year that made news in Vogue and Good Housekeeping:

My friend Julie got me the "Ho Ho Bitches" ornament this year.

And like Linda on Bob’s Burgers, Mandy Moore dressed up like Cher for Halloween on her show.

Activism

Cher’s animal group made a video about Animals in Captivity.

She endorsed an Idaho politician.

She spoke at the January Women's March in Las Vegas:

Cher helped produce the short film Edith & Eddie which was nominated for an Academy Award for best short documentary film. Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 won. Here's the trailer for that interesting one about an LA artist named Mindy Alper.

More stories about Edith and Eddie:

House & Cars

The Sonny & Cher house in Bel Air on Carrolwood is part of a Ponzi scheme controversy.

Sonny & Cher’s famous mustangs are back on sale. They go on sale so often, I’m convinced they must be haunted by Sonny.

Peripherals

The 1970s girl band Fanny has been making news again with a reunion record!

(Thanks to Michael and Mr. Cher Scholar for those links.)

Two-time Cher co-star John Mahoney (Suspect and Moonstruck) recently passed away. Read his New York Times obit.

Elton John referenced Cher in his Farewell Tour announcement.

Chaz Bono talks about his acting experiences and projects.

Cher is suing the owner of the LA Times.

Cher in Media

Hashtags connected to Cher has been coming up lately, including these two:

#CherStrong
#CherIfYouAgree

Las Vegas also honored Cher recently by choosing "Believe" as one of the songs that will play during the Bellagio fountain show. I have to admit the light show song combo is more moving that I anticipated. The boom-boom-boom you can feel viscerally even in these fan video captures. Cher’s in some rarefied company for this Vegas institution.

Believe-fountain

Stories and video:

Family Guy did an episode that was basically a satire of three directors: Wes Anderson, Michael Bay, and Quentin Tarantino. The Wes Anderson spoof is at minute 7:14 and it satires his quirky pop covers with a German version of “I Got You Babe” at minute 11:02. The song is “Bleib Bei Mir Babe” by Wirtschaftswunder. (Here's a more contemporary live version.)

DictaphoneDoing research for a novel, I was reading a cheap anthology of short stories about ghosts and came across one called “Dead Media” by Nick Mamatus. In the story, a girl named Lenore goes to a Liberal arts college called Miskatonik. She meets the college A/V nerd named Walt who attempts to help her trace back an audio file of a chanting ghost through all sorts of media platforms. They go from an archive of mp3s to DAT tapes of a cassette of reel-to-reel tapes of a 78 record of a dictaphone cylinder. At first, the author had me enraptured with this very nerdy premise and commentary on every-changing media. The characters ended up recorded a voicemail to a dictaphone cylinder in order to debunk the

“vibrato buzz of the sort that made Walt’s molars cringe in his mouth, like auto-tune, a nail on a chalkboard. Walt didn’t hear it so much as feel it.”

Ugh. Auto-tune snobbery inside this fun technology ghost story. What a bummer.

At the end of the story, the author changes the point of view from the nerdy Lenore character to a girl who went on the same search back in 1977 and is now a ghost who murders Walt and Lenore on behalf of Mi-Go aliens

“from Tche, a great, gas giant in the Oort Cloud, a cold and squishy minor planet like Pluto.”

It takes four pages at the end to basically say the aliens did it, the kind of plot cop-out and genre whiplash that always makes my molars ache.

  


Cher as Indian

20180106_150355So this story (finally) broke last year at Christmas, controversy about Bob Mackie and Cher's use of the Half Breed headdress and Cher's presentation as an Indigenous American or American Indian. And I knew I would need to address this story next but I've been putting it off, not because I didn’t want to talk about it, (because I do), but because there is so much to say, so much complexity in this social situation. Could I even sort through it? It involves liberals attacking liberals, it involves conservatives stirring the pot, cultural appropriation, contested appropriation and hundreds of years of history.

20180106_145347I took this image above of the Cher doll as I was taking down my Cher Christmas tree. Amazingly, one of the headdress feathers became caught in the hand of "out-of-the-box" Cher doll, and the image uncannily expresses my ambivalence and sadness around this issue. I'm calling the picture "VAMP with Cultural Feather." That lead me to take this "Sad Stack of Cultures" photo to the right.

I also thought about starting a poll on the controversy but got stumped imagining what question I could ask. Are you Indigenous American or American Indian and offended? Sounds kind of offensive and who would take a poll like that? I’m just hoping for some essay from Indian Country Today to surface on the issue.

So let’s begin with full disclosure, I’ve been a Cher fan for a long, long time and when I was a kid in the 1970s, I thought Cher was and American Indian until I was about 8 years old. I finally found her biography in the local library in St. Louis. And so since then I’ve considered Cher to be half Armenian and half 1950s blond bombshell (although her mom was not a natural blonde). Do most people even know Cher’s heritage? How many have read her biographies? Probably very few. And many may still assume she's Indigenous American (I'm going to stick with that term).

SNegraince the 1960s Cher has been interested in and wearing Indigenous-American-inspired clothing, sometimes on stage, sometimes to major events, sometimes at home. When Sonny & Cher started appearing on variety shows in the last 60s, they started theming their jokes around Sonny’s Italian-ness and Cher’s Indian-ness, to use their word. This was ramped up in their own television shows of the 70s. Cher also moved in and out of other culture areas in her TV performances, including French, Hispanic, American Indian, Japanese, Chinese and African American. Diane Negra talks about Cher’s fluid ethnicity in her book Off-White Hollywood, American Culture and Ethnic Female Stardom. She essentially labels Cher as ethnically indeterminate and therefore map-able to many ethnicities. The cover of the book boldly advertises Cher in the Half Breed headdress.

This flexibility is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending upon if you want Cher representing your community or not. And the gravitas around the issue has evolved over the years. Before the 1970s, ethnicity was avoided on TV or un-apologetically appropriated. In the 1970s, consciousness was being “raised” about the value or “coolness” of ethic differences and this was often explored on hipper TV shows. Looking back now, from where an authentic identity has much more bitcoin, exploration and celebration look very similar to the earlier appropriations.

For years I’ve been wondering how Cher’s identification as Indigenous American and her choices to wear Indigenous-American-inspired clothing has landed from decade to decade. Older Native Americans seemed hesitant to weigh in. But younger activists seem to be taking more offense, but still below the level of what Paris Hilton (Halloween costume) and Wayne Coyne (stage costume) received a few years ago.

The issue is complicated for many reasons:

  1. There’s the song “Half Breed” from 1973 that no one seems to be taking issue with because a) it’s a song about harassment of minorities and b) it’s a bad song living nine lives due to its camp factor. On the one hand it has cheesy drum beats that might indeed be too ridiculous to offend. On the other hand, it showcases details like the offensiveness of calling an Indigenous woman a “squaw.”

  2. HeadlresslesscherThen there are Cher’s stage "costumes" which are the most visible element, the Half Breed headdress Cher has been wearing since 1974 is actually modeled after a male war bonnet and some in the Indigenous American community have equated it with wearing an unearned purple heart. And from their point of view, the bonnet is no more part of a “costume” than a Catholic clergy cassock is part of a “costume.” People don’t like to hear their religious objects demeaned by words with trivial connotations. Regardless, over the years this headdress became an “iconic outfit” for Cher, right up there with the Turn Back Time leather strap-on and the fur (possibly bobcat) vests of the mid 1960s. The controversy over the headdress exploded in December and Cher has since stopped wearing it in her Vegas shows (see a fan's picture to the right). Cher is still wearing the Bob Mackie design that goes with it. It’s interesting to me that the December scandal raised the issue again now when Cher has been wearing the headdress in her concerts since 1999. There may be a reason for that.

  3. Then there's the issue of Cher presenting herself as Indigenous American on her TV shows. And although Cher presented herself as many international and national archetypes on the shows, she was most notably "Indian." A clear story has never emerged with documented proof about Cher’s alleged Cherokee identity. And documented proof is itself a controversy (see below).

  4. And then there was the Twitter fight with the activists, starting from a statement coming out of Donald Trump’s camp. Conservative and liberal politics added another layer of frustrations and communication misfires between Cher and activists and you'd think there would have been a statement ready from Cher’s public relations team, like crafted 30 years ago.

The Trump connection further complicates the issue for sure. (from Jezebel.com)

“In 2017, nobody in their right mind would take this seriously as an emblem of Native American cultures......except Trump’s new Canadian/American pop star appointee for Native American Ambassador on the National Diversity Coalition! Former Pussycat Dolls member Kaya Jones!”

Some American Indian activists took issue with Jones’ claimed heritage:

“Since the December 8th announcement that she will represent Native Americans on the national stage, Jones has been tagging herself as a #Halfbreed along with claims that her father is Apache Native American. When asked, she can’t name the reservation her father lived on or his tribal origins...but what she can do to represent Native American peoples is channel Cher. So now people previously unfamiliar with “Half-Breed” are taking Cher to task.”

Those being millennial Indigenous Americans. I don’t feel there’s anything wrong with their feeling what they feel. Why should they remember cultural work that may or may not have happened in their lifetimes? All they see is Cher appropriating.

When Cher was on prime time American television she was a cool, hip superstar and giving airtime to images of minority women rarely seen elsewhere on prime-time, glamour television. Young girls and boys were seeing that and influenced by it. But that was cultural work done then, a perishable credential.  Some day we may look back on the cultural work of Will and Grace and see it as stereotypical, too. 

I’ve always had this gnawing feeling that Cher was somehow “getting a pass” on her “Indian look.” Why, over the last 50 years, was nobody was calling her out on it? That's not to say I didn't like it. But it’s impossible to believe that there have been no American Indian ticket-holders to the last two decades of live shows that have included the song and the headdress.

This was a bizarre related incident. I went to a show in 2013 with a white, Gen Y girl who became greatly offended by Cher’s Eastern Indian sari worn for the song “All or Nothing.” But she had no strong feelings whatsoever about the ceremonial Indigenous American headdress. (I've included a few existing articles below.)

I’m guessing here that Cher’s Indigenous American fans are older and this makes me think younger fans are feeling more offended because they have zero context to Cher’s persona in the 1970s. I could be wrong about this but there does seem to be a response difference in age groups. And newer kids have no context to “the way things were,” which has always been a thin-ice defense as it is.

Quite possibly the idea of Half Breed has outlived its previous pass. Which is making older fans feel very sad because they believe Cher as Indian was doing cultural work. (But maybe it’s also doing cultural damage now.) Older fans also feel the headdress is beautiful and they nostalgically love it and feel bad hearing that their love of something has been construed as bad or wrong. Do they then not have agency to love or appreciate? I feel for the fans here, too.

And that the whole issue beginning as a continuation of anger over Trumps position vis-a-vis Indigenous Americans just makes it all the more tragic, because the headdress issue has been lumped in with frustration over the status of the Keystone Pipeline struggle, Trumps dismissive Pocahontas comments, and his choice of an ambassador a woman with dubious claims to Indigenous American heritage.

And then there’s the very real issue of proving your Indigenous Americaness, which has controversy even within Indigenous American communities and leads to issues like blood quantum and time spent growing up on the reservation, how you get excluded and included even in your own communities.

“If you're Native American, there's a good chance that you've thought a lot about blood quantum — a highly controversial measurement of the amount of "Indian blood" you have. It can affect your identity, your relationships and whether or not you — or your children — may become a citizen of your tribe.” (NPR) 

So what a mess it all is. How can we even separate out all these issues for a second. Again, I keep waiting for a good essay on the Cher problem to appear somewhere. I want a method to proceed, guidelines, context, a way forward. But unfortunately life doesn’t always work that way.

As a word nerd, I’m inherently interested in the evolution of offensive words, including a word like “costume.” We learn in etymology class, that culture is impossible to promote, protect or contain. That’s why it’s so hard to get everyone to use a certain word or not use a certain word, like “costume” or "Native American" or even more offensive words like whore and retard. It’s also why we keep wanting to “dress up” like nuns and ceremonial chiefs for celebratory events. Sometimes when you’re trying to learn or appreciate another culture, you try to wear another man’s hat.

You can say tone means a lot, but quite often even the tone is all wrong. And policing tone is full of problems. It’s unfortunate but culture has a massive mind of its own. Not that we should just let that stand and endure. But we should recognize that not everyone gets the memo, literally. But even emotionally and intellectually. Teaching empathetic understanding takes work, much of it teaching concepts that are abstract and painful to deliver and receive.

The fact that many conservatives dismiss word politics has to be addressed here as well. I have no doubt that if Cher was a member of their circle, they would be defending the Half Breed headdress to the ends of the earth, as part of their ongoing fight against the “scourge of political correctness.” In this atmosphere, other liberals become easier targets because they care at all. Which makes the headdress another casualty of the recent heightened awareness of Trumpian offenses.

So yeah, it’s 2018 and we’re focusing on micro-aggressions, which should be a good thing. We’re finally getting to the micro stuff, unintentional but still hurtful stuff. Problem is we’re losing focus on the macro-aggressions, which in no way have been wrapped up: discrimination in marriage, jobs, housing, physical violence, bullying at an all time high. Our energy seems frayed and raw right now. Do we keep finishing work on the macro but not stop work on the micros?  Will the macro ever resolve itself? Will racism ever stop happening?

Another issue with liberal call-outs is when critics offer no way through. What is acceptable behavior between cultures? What are we working toward? We need examples of that and we need it on TV. What was so great about 1970s television as it began to integrate, (projects of which Cher was a part), was the fictionalization of race issues and examples of how to behave correctly. We’ve completely lost that with network and market-designed segregation of television programming and the self-segregation that occurs with too many segmented channel (and online) choices.

But if there’s no way through for offenders or victims, what could possibly change? Confusion and paralysis sets in. “I’m drowning here and you’re describing the water,” misogynistic Melvin Udall says in As Good as it Gets. At some point, calling out all the drownings becomes absurd. 

But I can hear the response: “it’s not my job to find a solution to the world’s problems.” I wonder whose job it is. And if it’s nobody’s job officially then it’s everybody’s job. So it is your job, long story short. And adding one more voice to the chorus of complaints will do nothing but ensure all our future suffering, and the suffering of all our friends.

 

Some discussion of the issue to date:

  • Native or Not (how controversial was “Half Breed” and were there protests?) (2008) From Mental Floss
  • "Is Cher Indian" (2013) from Waiting to Get There
  • "Cher in a Headdress Again" (2013) from Newspaper Rock
  • "The Controversy of Cher's Heritage" from Native Arts
  • Recap of the December 2017 drama on Jezebel.
  • "My Strange, Strange Holidays Arguing with Cher, yes, THAT Cher" (2017) from TiyospayeNow
  • "Why is Cher Arguing with Native Twitter" (2017) from Storify