The Cherished Experience

CherishedLet’s just say you’ll never catch me saying any Cher album is a bad one. I just wouldn't do it. Of course there are ones I like better than others. But they all have something interesting to offer. I will say, somewhat lovingly, that this just might just be an album only an 8 year old would adore. And did. As did my other 8-9 year old compadres. My friend Krissy even bought her own copy and we would act out all the songs. So this is the only Cher album that has a sort of communal feel for me. The others were all very solitary pleasures. And hearing it now reminds me of all the tactile sensations of the late 1970s right down to the carpets and the couch fabric of our living room and Krissy bedroom stereo. At the time it was the most contemporary album of narrative songs from Cher we had and the stories really appealed to us.

This album also has the beautifully lush Harry Langdon photograph flowing from front cover to back. Cher wears jeans and a suede Native-American vest, which could also be read as shipwrecked-wench. The backdrop and makeup are glamourous yet earthy. Very Crystal Gayle. This is Cher's new, post-Elijah physique (a bit more fleshy as she admitted it was harder to lose weight this time). Her name is not on the cover because the title is a play on her name. "Pirate" was released as a single and it stalled at #93. "War Paint Soft Feathers" was also a non-charting single. Which is probably a fortunate failure in hindsight.

This is also the first album that referenced the Cher’s Friends fan-club in the liner notes. More on that below. You can believe that Cher didn’t like this album much because it's lacking in any personal liner notes. There are no thank-yous, no musician credits. Nada.

And this is an album about Los Angeles in many ways. There are lots of references to flying home to LA and recording and movie studios.

My love will only chain you down
The lead song "Prirate" is yet another Cher song about a man who knocks you up and then leaves town. Like similar Cher songs, the scandalous unwed-mother plot-point is revealed in the final verse. It all takes place in Biscayne Bay in Miami, we imagine, before it was so developed and urban.

The pirate is a perfect metaphor for the traveling lover but this is not Snuff Garrett at his best. A lot of these songs sound like demos, although Garrett does capture a genre here with the strings, the squawking birds and the squeezebox-sounding thing. The lyric is a mouthful if you're 8-years old and trying to sing "dark and handsome in his own way." But the song does evoke "the wind and waves and sea."

To act out the song, Krissy and I threw ourselves against our neighbor's hill (he was an Holocaust survivor) after an imaginary shipwreck and we survived on the desert island that was the tree near by backyard fence. We trucked out Krissy's little table and chairs and even our little kitchen dishes to enjoy the finer things on our imaginary island. I would have brought out my aluminum fridge but even we thought that was a bit much.

You have to admit the song is full of swirling, swarthy drama and Cher totally sells it.

The crowd made the magic happen; the band made the music play
This is a perfect lyric for a semicolon and these lines have been an earworm in my head since I started listening to the "He Was Beautiful" remaster. I loved the melody of this song and these were ballads little girls could enjoy. It’s a one-night stand story but like the man referenced in the song, Gregg Allman had long, golden hair. “The pale light of the morning sun./His golden hair had come undone so beautiful./He touched me with his fingertips,/bending close I kiss his lips so beautiful.” Due to various cues in the lyric, I’ve always thought this song was originally written about a woman and Cher turned in inside out.

Krissy and I didn’t enact this song. Well, maybe we did the "spinning around" thing; we were under 10 and very literal.

He was stealing her father’s horses when he saw her standing there
What can I say about "War Paint and Soft Feathers"? We loved this one. It was so easy to perform. An Apache and a Cherokee couple hooking up in another illicit love story. But it's hard to get your historical head around the scenario. When exactly does it take place, pre-Columbus? During manifest destiny? Last week? We don’t know. But in our little St. Louis-imaginations, it was pre-Columbian. And even then Father's didn't approve and haters-gotta-hate.

The girl was also a blue-eyed Cherokee which complicates our theories. And there are lots of unfortunate stereotypes in this song: the chants, the reference to speaking tongues and crossed spears, eagles soaring above, the drumming. A lot had changed from 1973 to 1977...and to now.

But aside from these unfortunate stereotypical tropes, this is a sweet love story, a love across warring tribes that was "meant to be."  The lines themselves are very evocative: "moon-braided bits of silver all through her long black hair" and  "Now the leaves have fallen to the ground over and over again,/from a small oak tree grown taller/where once crossed spears had been./A young man rides his pinto horse and he stands there tall and free..."

A baby is again revealed in the last verse. My friend loved horses and a pinto horse was a very romantic idea in the 1970s; so yes, this song was big in our creative imaginations, although I am 100% sure we did not know that “doin’ what tribal laws forbid” meant sex and that we totally missed the innuendo of “his drums broke the silence of the night.” The song feels like a PC fail today; and by 1977, cashing in on Cher’s Indian-ness was a cynical move, but the lyrics are well written if you can overlook that buffalo in the room.

As sure as the stars shine above you this angel
I’m sure all of these songs got into my head at a very critical juncture in the formulation of my ideas about relationships with boys. And this song, "Love the Devil Out of Ya," was a big difference of opinion between me and Krissy. As memory serves, Krissy loved this song. I was much more ambivalent about it. I guess she saw herself more as a “sure as a stars shine above you this angel" than I did. I felt the song was a bit too much…accommodating. I guess that says something about me. But the song is thankfully short, just two minutes of loving the devil out of you. Which is good because that’s totally not my job! 

Everything she lives and breathes is written on an album sleeve
The Peter Allen classic "She Loves to Hear the Music" is probably my favorite song on the album. I would go on to love many Peter Allen songs but this and Melissa Manchester's "Don’t Cry Out Loud" were my first exposure. Surely I internalized the "Years will not be kind to her" too. This production isn’t much to make over and is in fact confusingly Romani-sounding for an LA recording studio story. But as kids, we loved the song even though there wasn’t much besides secretarial duties for us to perform. We did glamourize the job, as we did teacher, waitress, newscaster, book author and sea-faring explorer.

But all I saw were unfamiliar faces in the rain
All I can say is there’s no Liberace piano flourish whenever I book a plane reservation to Los Angeles.

We also loved "L.A. Plane, but the song strikes me as odd duck today with the horns, maracas and strings, which I guess is all supposed to sound international. She's looking for excitement on boats and trains and unfamiliar faces but, in the end, she's "tired of the pouring rain,/tired of just passing through." She wants a "Southern Californian morning where I was born./ Babe, I’m coming home to you." This is Cher as rock-and-roll man again (see “Long Distance Love Affair” from 1976), almost barely autobiographical in how Cher considers LA as "home" and was apart frequently apart from Gregg Allman due to work. Krissy and I would literally mime taking off like a plane. I kid you not. 

I don’t know quite what to say
"Again" is other ballad. We really liked it although it feels like a big sleeper today. Lots of vowels working here. It sounds Pop Goes the Country with that guitar mashing up with the horns and piano. (They hired a piano player and goddammit they were gonna get their money’s worth!) I think we liked this lighter singing, lovesick Cher. If we enacted anything here it was torch singer, which never failed to please.

Does the Mississippi still run free?
Actually, yes it does. Thanks for asking. "Dixie," not to be confused with 1974's "Dixie Girl," was the southern part of our schtick. "New York’s too big a city for me!...I’m gonna make you feel like a hell of a man." That bit about the Mississippi felt so local. And we even had "the sweet magnolia blossoms" in our own backyard. But even this song feels Hollywood somehow. It's the rough draft of songs like "Midnight Train to Georgia" and “Please Come to Boston.”

Just an interested gentleman caller
Although the music is way too pleasant for the subject matter, we loooved "Send the Man Over." It was so sordid and adult like a bodice-ripping paperback novel. We totally knew what was going on, a man coming up to her room with “script and the cash.” One of us had to be the guy with the script and the other this sad yet hopeful, on-the-skids actress. "I know an actress has to make sacrifices,/but what a price to pay.” Can you believe NBC got a callout from a CBS girl? This is another mixed-race runaway too (like "Half Breed" and the gal from "War Paint Soft Feathers"). And like "We picked up a boy just south of Mobile" in "Gypsys, Tramps and Thieves," here we have "a Georgia drifter came/and we made it to LA."

I loved the part where Cher says with plaintive innocence, “You say there’s nothing today?” It was the first time since the cancelled TV show that I heard Cher’s speaking voice and it sounded so high, such a perfect counterpoint to her singing voice. Cher-as-actress was such a novel idea back then. "Hopefully Cher herself will escape this fate now that she’s trying to become a serious actress." Imagine Robert Altman or Mike Nichols even trying this shit with Cher. What a performance of innocence, this song! "A young actress must give her all,/pay her dues, play her role.”

Those footsteps in the hall of that dingy room above the Hollywood bar! So tense and scary. What will happen next?

I swear I heard the north wind call your name
I can barely ever even remember "Thunderstorm" every time I hear it. The song feels like the typical 1970s glam-country sound that was in vogue at the time. The deep background vocals are pure Olivia Newton John backup singer from "Let Me Be There." We get more thunder and lightning in this song, situating it with I’d Rather Believe In You's "Knock on Wood" and the upcoming Allman and Woman' song "I  Love Makin' Love to You." Okay, we get it. Sex with Gregg Allman is like lightning and thunder. Electric, stormy, lethal. Love as tornado chasing. TMI.

I’d love to know who played on this album. There are lots of good photos from album shoot. (Click to enlarge.)

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And that’s not all. This was the first Cher solo album tempting us all into the official fan club, Cher's Friends. I found the album at our local Styx, Bear & Fuller department store in 1978 and I already felt way behind the curve on joining up. But I immediately wrote out a letter for my mom to post and received this missive back (note the postmark):

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I cut out the application form (as you can see) and sent in my five bucks (or at least believed my mother mailed the cash). But nothing ever arrived back. I kept the order form as a reminder to keep waiting. 

So when I joined eBay in 1998ish and an elderly gentleman posted the fan club packet for sale, I won the auction for 35 bucks. And then again, nothing came. (And back then eBay didn’t reimburse you; it was all buyer beware.) Lots of us got “scammed” by this fellow but then someone sent around an email to all his buyers (you could do that back then) saying he had passed away and his widow wasn’t willing or able to finish doing his eBay business. Sigh. I chalked it up to a donation to funeral expenses. Then I waited another year or two and another fan club packet popped up and I did receive this one with the following items.

A cool folder, a welcome letter, a poster.

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A biography booklet, some pictures, a quiz and two very conspicuous textbook-covers.

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The bio had a very short discography on the back. There was also a reprint of the 1975 Time Magazine article with a special note from the publisher on the back.

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Other fans had received these additional items which were not in my initiation folder (stationary and a club card).

Cherfriends2

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And without the card, I feel so unofficial right now.


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

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Re-Releases!

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

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

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

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

Sonny Bono Dinner Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect Pork Chops (Correction)

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

Cher in Vogue

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

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

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


Stinky Cher Words

Review"It hugs my body and caresses my soul"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Updated: Cher and the George Floyd Tweet

PhoneUpdate:

What are the odds that the day I posted this summary of the Floyd tweet,  Cher would get embroiled in another Twitter-snafu (another Twitterfu)?? All you have to do now is google "Cher apologizes" and there you get:

Cher apologizes for confusing Sinema, Gillibrand (The Hill)

Same (CNN)

You kind of think maybe Cher should run all tweets by someone and then you think, nah, this is better. Uncensored Cher is a better thing.


So it’s time to blog about this year’s Cher twitter controversy (or this season’s maybe). I've been putting this off until I could get my thoughts written out. And I was worried I wouldn’t get it right. But this fear of saying the wrong thing can't shut the conversation down so here we go...

As a reminder, here are some of the stories about the tweet that broke Twitter:

Cher divides Twitter wondering if she could’ve prevented George Floyd’s death: ‘Maybe if I’d been there... I could’ve helped’ 

Cher apologizes for 'not appropriate' George Floyd tweet 

And this rough read for a Cher fan: Cher’s George Floyd tweet of white fantasy is part of a dangerous pathology 

During the murder trail of police officer Derek Chauvin, lots of people around the world were expressing horror at the details of George Floyd's gruesome death. Cher herself said this: "Maybe If I'd Been There,...I Could've Helped." Some tweeters (both white and people of color) defended Cher and others expressed disgust and annoyance. Some examples on both sides:

“Oh yay another White person centering themselves around blk ppls pain. I wish I was there to stop you from tweeting this.” (@Iconiecon)

“If I Could Turn Back Time, I would stop Cher from tweeting this.” ( @geeta_minocha)

“I mean — maybe she could’ve helped. We’ll never know. Lots of us wish we could’ve done something to change the outcome. Lots of things to be mad about but this tweet ain’t it.” (@flywithkamala)

“She could have worded it differently but I think her intentions were true. She wishes she could have helped. She’s an ally. People need to let this one go.” (@CDonatac)

As part of the turmoil going on last year, the company I consult for provided us with free LinkedIn inclusivity training. One of the people who really impressed me was corporate trainer Mary-Frances Winters and so I bought her book Inclusive Conversations, which I’m still in the middle of reading. Anyway, she talks about being an ally for your co-workers who feel marginalized and she says being an advocate as a white person means more than silently supporting them, but actually speaking out on their behalf, among other things. And for this to happen, we all have to create a safe space and have patience when people make mistakes while speaking out. If not, advocates won’t speak out and our friends will feel completely or inadequately supported. Allies can't be too afraid to say something wrong.

I feel Cher has always been an objectively strong ally, albeit an imperfect one. She has always braved the trolls on Twitter and spoke out for communities in distress. She makes mistakes yeah. Unfortunately on Twitter, groups on the extreme right and left have a zero-tolerance outlook that makes allyship particularly harrowing. It’s to Cher’s credit that she hasn’t stopped for long. She just apologizes and perseveres.

That’s not to say white savior syndrome isn’t a real thing. Just watch some well-meaning white suburbanites descend on an inner-city school with a list of sure fixes, with no comprehension of the experience of poverty or diverging cultural factors. White saviorism is a thing. It needs to be checked. But there are worse things. Much worse things.

This is also not to say celebrity narcissism isn’t a real thing. Cher has admitted her own narcissistic tendencies and I for one believe she does better in this area than many other celebrities of her stature and iconic, practically mythmaking, category. She was just cast as God in a Pink video. For the love of...

And some of that was probably all in that tweet. But it’s not all white savior celebrity narcissism. They way we can tell is to replace George Floyd in the tweet with an Armenian or a white woman who was murdered. Although this isn't as likely and this scenario is not part of the national crisis, it does happen and we can explore the whole tweetstorm again in this light. 

There is this very human element in play, one not based on race, gender or orientation, a human ideal we’ve all had in the fantasy crisis of our own mythmaking minds, this absolutely firm belief, especially strong when we were young adults, that we will be the kind of person to help a person on the street, a person who would stop for an accident on the road, someone who would rescue all the lost dogs in the neighborhood.

But then decades roll by and you see all the accidents, street dramas and wandering dogs you didn’t help. There are reasons: you once heard a story about that guy who got shot helping a stranded motorist, maybe the dog isn’t lost by a free-roamer, and are you going to get yourself killed doing this Good Samaritan thing? The mind scrambles with doubt when the situations actually present themselves. The hard, cold fact of life is that enough of us don’t stop. We all feel this commitment to stopping but stopping isn’t easy. We need to learn to do this. Bravery needs to be modeled and learned, the same sad way we’re now learning to throw our cell phones at madmen in Active Shooter training.

So I greatly sympathize with Cher’s impulse in the tweet, which ultimately all feels sadly human and heartbreaking.

It goes all the way back to our response to tragic fairy tales like Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Match Girl.” Surely this girl would not have frozen to death under our feet. I used the Anderson story to process this whole situation in a poem for NaPoWriMo 2021: marymccray.com/napowrimo-2021-by-mary-mccray.html#april7

  


Cher, Elizabeth Taylor and Helen Hardin

IMG_20210315_193844 Notice the caption in the image to the left ("anticipates Cher") from an Elizabeth Taylor biography. 

I'm doing a poetry/story HTML project right now for a class on Digital Literature and I needed to beef up on the subject of Elizabeth Taylor for it. I was never a huge fan because (a) this was my mother's era and (b) Taylor was on somewhat of downward slide when I first learned about her in the late 1970s. But I've gained a lot of respect for both Taylor and Richard Burton since reading more about them.

CleolikeSo it's come as a bit of surprise to see some natural parallels between Cher and Elizabeth Taylor, especially considering Cher doesn't call out Taylor as a major inspiration like she does Audrey Hepburn and Katharine Hepburn, aside from the obvious references to the movie Cleopatra: Cher's eyeliner methods and Sonny & Cher first calling themselves Caesar and Cleo.

But there are a few other connections I:

  1. Elizabeth Taylor loved to make big entrances in shows and in life. Many times in books, people mention her "big entrances." This might go back to the biggest entrance of all in Cleopatra.

  2. She pushed some fashion envelopes. See above. The big headdress screamed Cher when I saw it in one book. The second book I picked up even calls it out. 2.b Costume Changes: apparently Taylor broke a record for most costume changes in a movie with Cleopatra, a record eventually broken by Julie Andrews.

  3. Elizabeth Taylor embraced the good and the bad about being famous and was able to cope with it. Cher often expresses the same kind of ambivalence but not bitterness about having to deal with mobs and the wheels of show biz.

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I didn't find a lot of Cher-Taylor mashups online but Cher did appear at Taylor's televised 68th birthday bash.  See the photo below of Taylor and Michael Jackson clapping to Cher's comments.

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And here's a link to a 60s-era photo of Sonny, Cher and Taylor

Interestingly, the tabloids were also trying to get rumors going about an affair between Cher and Richard Burton, which seems funny in retrospect.

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1714750Also, I finally came across this picture of artist Helen Hardin on the cover of New Mexico Magazine with her late 60s wings. This photo always reminds me of Cher's wings in 1968:

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And in 1969:

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Moonstruck for Christmas

MoonstruckOy vey. Good grief. All the things.

I feel like I've been living in a funhouse for the last month and a half. Some of the scenes have been a complete nightmare (like the Trumpers post election still denying covid, the day when we thought we were losing my mother for good) and other things amazingly good, (like being home with my parents for Christmas today). But by the end of it, I'm not sure I'm the same person anymore.

My elderly parents both came down with Covid-19 in mid-November and have been in the hospital literally on death's door (more so for my mother with her breathing ailments).  Thankfully, miraculously they both made it back home in Ohio and are slowly on the mend. I'm now in the Cleveland area helping them out. 

So I've missed pretty much all the Cher stuff. Which has been quite a few things I will need to catch up on in the coming months: the Cher tour cancelled, Cher on The Late Late Show, the "Stop Crying Your Heart Out" video, all the Kaavan stuff,  the bobble-head movie, all the press interviews, the scam gargoyle I got on eBay in a moment of weakness, a piece that was purportedly a Sanctuary item but is nowhere in the catalogs and is assuredly nothing Cher would have in there. All the things.

But I didn't want to let Christmas go by without a Moonstruck post. It's been such a success this year.

Continue reading "Moonstruck for Christmas" »


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

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

Believe

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

Puzzle!

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

Puzzle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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GqfanFan Psychology

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

Cruisegods

 

 

 

 

 

 

CherhairCher Hair

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

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

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

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

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

Acting V. Singing

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

Imagine! Here are the pertinent excerpts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the squabbling went downhill after that.


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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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.

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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.


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.


Our Local

PetroglyhsSo part of last year's drama was we had to move suddenly at the end of summer. And we're old and so this was painful but we moved into a much nicer place with room for a Chersonian Institute proper and so all that ended up a good thing. And now we even have our our own mini-pedernal hill similar to Georgia O'Keeffe's because we're situated near the Albuquerque petroglyphs. 

Mural2We've also been exploring our new neighborhood haunts. Once Saturday we poked our head into our nearest pub called Spinns and saw they were playing a Chiefs football game. The screenshot to the left is from that day watching our new celebrity player, Patrick Mahomes.

This was great and as I turned around I saw a big celebrity mural painted on the entire north side of the place. 

And who should I see featured most prominently: Cher herself! She is portrayed as a waitress serving beer circa the turn of the decade. How strange and great! The likeness is pretty good, as Cher art goes.

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I even questioned at first if this really was Cher considering the waitress aspect,
but the outfit and face do indicate Cher circa the early 80s and who else has that face?

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The full mural with Marilyn Monroe, Nat King Cole and some other celebs I can't identify.

Mural3Parts of the mural are very New Mexico-ish, like this picture within the mural of a New Mexico-styled graveyard.