The legendary singer/actress (and former TV variety show hostess) Cher recently teamed up with Atlanta-based rapper (and current mumble-rap icon) Future for a Gap ad campaign that “celebrates what can happen when distinct people connect.” It’s the latest attempt by a big trendy corporation to use artistic and cultural diversity to promote messages of love and unity while bridging our social divides.
The effort is noble enough and Gap certainly gets points for trying – especially in this era of Donald Trump – no matter how outlandish the pairing of Cher and a 2010s rapper less than half her age might be (hey, who said it had to be believable…it just has to get the message across, right?).
But when I went to see one of those two superstars perform in concert recently, apparently not everyone had gotten that “differences-are-ok” memo.
“You’re a Cher fan?!”
Those were the words incredulously spoken to me by a middle-aged gentleman as we both approached the ticket agent for Cher’s concert on a recent Saturday at the Theater at MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Md.
Surprised at his boldness, I mustered a response that I now wish I had recorded because, as I write this article, I cannot recall exactly what it was.
I do remember having a bit of disdain (and slightly heavier bass) in my voice when I said something like “are you surprised by that?” or “should I not be?”.
“Yeah, and what of it” might have been more appropriate.
Obviously realizing that he had crossed a line in singling me – a tall, black, and presumably straight guy – out of a crowd of the many people who were waiting there, the man did what any real man would do in that situation, he placed the blame squarely on his wife.
“No, I didn’t think that, but my wife did,” he sheepishly responded while pointing to her standing at his side.
Actually, real men don’t do what he did, and she likely pointed that out when they returned home that night.
But I digress slightly.
I was too focused on the ensuing concert to take this exchange much further, even though the guy, in a clear attempt to save face, continued to engage me on subjects ranging from our common interest in football, to Virginia (our common home state) and finally, to the comfort of Sketchers – our common brand of shoe choice for the evening.
Okay, that’s my second admission for this article, that I wore Sketchers to a concert, but hey they were really comfortable! (And, by the way, there’ll be no more confessionals by me in this post.)
But I digress again. Slightly.
In other words, as it turned out, this older white guy and I had more in common than either of us likely initially thought (beyond the obviously mutual interest we had in seeing the 71-year-old Cher performance that awaited us). Perhaps Cher and Future had people like us in mind when they got together for that unity ad.
I’ll admit, though, that the guy was not alone in his surprise at my being there. Even people who know me well responded similarly when I mentioned that I was going to see Cher perform live.
In fact, they were arguably less kind.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone else that,” said one of my fraternity brothers during a recent card game when I mentioned my plans to see her. Another brother agreed, “yeah that’s one you keep to yourself, bruh,” as they both made zero effort to hide their laughter.
I couldn’t help but laugh with them (at me), particularly as I thought even more about the spectacle of me going to see Cher – perhaps the most over-the-top entertainer there has ever been and a grand personality whose fan base admittedly doesn’t include a lot of my circle of friends and family.
“I’m doing it for the blog,” I blurted out to the brothers. “She’s an icon,” I vainly tried rationalizing to them weeks before the concert.
Now, about that concert…
Indeed, this was Cher, that truly one-of-a-kind, long-lived spectacle (“artist” doesn’t nearly do her justice) who’s made a career out of being, well…just plain different, not to mention being the mother of reinvention.
I can certainly relate to the being different part, as my attendance at this event would surely attest. As for the reinvention, one need look no further than her legendary timeline to realize that you can never truly count Cher out.
In a career that began in the mid-1960s with first husband Sonny Bono and a No. 1 hit duet, “I Got You Babe,” Cher – to borrow a borderline inappropriate feline analogy – is on at least the seventh of her proverbial nine lives, particularly in showbiz.
Case in point: There were sometimes four and five-year (and even longer) gaps separating her many notable comebacks and winning streaks. To start, that first hit, “I Got You Babe,” was immediately followed by other classics like “Bang, Bang,” “The Beat Goes On” (again with Sonny) and “You Better Sit Down Kids,” before a lengthy cold spell struck in the late ’60s.
Then she returned (with early 1970s story songs like the Number Ones: “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” “Half-Breed” and “Dark Lady”) before having another five-year drought; and then returned again (1979’s disco hit, “Take Me Home”); and again (power rock anthems like 1987’s “I Found Someone” and 1989’s “If I Could Turn Back Time”); and again (her biggest hit: the techno, Autotune-enhanced single, “Believe” from 1999); and again (“Woman’s World” in 2013).
And, as she showed with the 90-minute MGM Theater extravaganza, Cher is still not through with us!
The Saturday evening show was part of a brief two-week residency Cher took up at the MGM Inner Harbor. It was a tribute to the songstress – delivered by the legendary star herself – that was at times happily nostalgic, at others mournfully reminiscent, but always incredible, as the singer/actress (and self-proclaimed stand-up comedian) herself is.
Cher and her entourage of dancers and acrobats dazzled and delighted in a spectacular performance that included an amazing career-spanning opening video montage of the singer, period-appropriate props that looked as if they came from a Universal Studios movie set, and some well-placed instrumental musical interludes – presumably to allow time for Cher’s many costume changes (I counted at least a dozen – the set list only included 18 songs).
The icon had people dancing at their seats and in the aisles to her more upbeat tunes while those old enough to remember even shed a tear or two as the singer took us down memory lane with poignant retrospectives of her days with first husband, Sonny Bono.
“I always listened to what ‘Son’ told me,” she said while recalling their rise to fame and how he promised her during their early struggles that she’d be a big star in two years.
That story was just part of a 12-minute monologue that seemed natural and unscripted, somewhat rambling but certainly less stuffy than the ones that more élite musical artists often give when talking about how albums were created or which singers influenced them the most (although Cher did give a nod to Hank Williams, Tito Puente and Elvis Presley).
Cher waxed randomly about working in a Motel 6 (in the really early days), struggling through burlesque venues, doing jokes on the Sonny and Cher variety TV show, and that infamous David Letterman episode in which she called the talk-show host an “a**hole.”
She also talked about turning 40 (in the 1980s) and how that milestone “missed her,” although, apparently at least one movie producer – at the time – didn’t agree while turning her down for a role (because he claimed she wasn’t “sexy,” much to the awe of this audience; she didn’t bother naming the offender).
And then, Cher finished the stand-up segment with a quick reminder that she still defies age: “I can do a five-minute plank…what’s your Granny doing tonight?” she quipped before getting back to what we were all there for in the first place…the music, and the spectacle of her performing it.
That spectacle included multiple hair changes, like the huge black Afro wig that she donned during the opening numbers (and that long monologue). She also sported long straight tresses in some segments, curly ones in others and shoulder-length blond wigs in still others.
At one point, during the song “Take Me Home,” she wore a revealing blue-sequined shredded gown and matching headpiece. At another, during “Half-Breed,” she donned the floor-length, feathered headdress so often associated with Native American Indians (and with the song itself).
Oh, and speaking of her penchant for crazy outfits? Well, this hypothetical visual comparison quickly came to mind: place the average 71-year-old in the skimpy, body-hugging, ass-cheek-revealing outfits that Cher wore in the 1970s and ’80s.
Now put the 71-year-old Cher in those same outfits.
Let’s just say they still fit…Cher, that is.
Let’s also just say that, with Cher, for better or worse, there was no need for her to “turn back time.” She and her ageless frame have little regard for what year it is, or that she’s been around for 71 of them.
Indeed, it’s now 2017, and the timeless wonder that is Cher is still dazzling to say the least. Sure, some of her stage antics may seem like a bit much for a 71-year-old, but Cher has always been over-the-top, as that is her allure.
Plus, most importantly, she can still pull it off – literally and figuratively…with emphasis on the figure.
Oh, and that connection with the rapper Future that started this whole blog post? Well, it’ll be interesting to see which one of the two will still be around and performing concerts in front of thousands of adoring fans in, say, five years from now.
My bets are on Cher.
Here’s the Set List for Cher’s show at the MGM Inner Harbor Theater on September 9th:
- “Woman’s World”
- “Strong Enough”
- “Gayatri Mantra”
- “All or Nothing”
- “The Beat Goes On” (virtual duet w/Sonny Bono)
- “All I Really Want To Do”
- “I Got You Babe” (virtual duet w/ Sonny)
- “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves”/”Dark Lady”
- “Welcome to Burlesque”
- “Take Me Home”
- “After All”
- “Walking In Memphis” (Marc Cohn cover)
- “The Shoop Shoop Song (It’s In His Kiss)”
- “Bang Bang”
- “I Found Someone”
- “If I Could Turn Back Time”