Sass appeal

From the minute she stepped out of the wings, Cher dominated the Graham Norton Show last night. Never mind that already decorating his sofa were three Names to be Reckoned With: Jennifer Saunders, Michelle Pfeiffer and Robert DeNiro (trying his best to look above it all). Once Cher appeared she ruled.

As well she should.

Cher has ruled me for a lifetime. As a kid I insisted on striped bell-bottoms and pestered my mother for a furry vest. Her ingenious solution was to remove the fuzzy zip-out lining of her raincoat and convince me that it was indistinguishable from the real thing. I wore it out and about as a fashion accessory while she stayed home sniggering. Did I abandon this sartorial choice out of shame, or due to the onset of cooler weather? No idea.

But what really changed my life was the Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour. It debuted at a time when the dynamic duo were more joke than Joe Cool, and  introduced us to their slick Vegas look. Gone was this:

Replaced by this:

and this:

All credit to Bob Mackie, whose sketches are the objects that began this post. In Cher he found his ideal mannequin. He often spoke of the perfection of her armpits.

Cher had a big nose and dark hair. She was no Barbie blonde, not without a wig, anyway. She had a deep, dark voice and odd articulation. But swathed in yards of bugle beads and sequins, she always looked AMAZING, even when she looked ridiculous. Most crucial of all, Cher was sarcastic. Incredibly, scathingly sarcastic. About everything. Including herself.

And the audience loved it. I loved it. Me, the fat, sarcastic pubescent with the prominent honker sitting in her living room, laughing or singing along with the show, feeling vindicated. There on screen, grabbing the lion’s share of the ratings week after week, was proof that you didn’t have to be conventionally pretty or demure to be a bona fide glamourpuss. The rise and rise of Cher gave me hope, despite my flab, my inability to sing, and the shortage of sequins in my wardrobe.

Anyway, how can you not love a woman who resurrects her variety show starring opposite her ex-husband while hugely pregnant with the child of her second? It was the 1970s, when anything did not go on American television. But Cher’s demeanour said, “Yeah, so what?” She taught me that attitude is everything. Admit the facts then “snap out of it, already,” because we’ve got more important things to do, such as belt out songs and make fun of things.

I want to write a manifesto entitled What Would Cher Do?. For example, two things convinced me to get my nose done during my thirtieth year, when I worried that it was too late, and that I’d lived with my birth nose so long that I was stuck with it. First, I realised that Cher underwent renovations at around the same age, though her face had been plastered across billboards in its original format for years and years. Changes would not go unnoticed, but she had the balls to brazen it out.

Second was my brother’s sensible advice: “Just live to be 61 and you’ll have had the new nose longer than the old one.” (A final clincher was the plastic surgeon, who tilted my head back and asked, “Can you suck any air up that thing?” Not much, I admitted, what with my septum trying to exit via my left ear.)

Cher’s work ethic is another inspiration. She’s the performer many of you love mocking, but I am pretty certain she is one of the few singers to have had a major hit in every decade from the 1960s to the present day. (Think about it.) We’re talking fifty years, people, and her career’s not over yet.

I could go on and on, but frankly it always returns to glamour: the attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing (per Oxford dictionaries), from the Scots word for enchantment. Who doesn’t want to be appealing? I certainly do. But women, especially, are indoctrinated with the belief that appeal lies within narrow margins. If your looks and personality lie beyond those parameters, you’re shit out of luck.

You won’t be surprised to learn that strong, sassy women have always appealed to me. Screwball Comedy, with its razor-sharp dialogue, is my favourite film genre. Bette Davis was my first favourite actress. I always thought Rhoda had better lines than Mary Richards. And then came Cher. Unlike the movie goddesses I admired, Cher’s brand of glamour felt attainable, maybe because I deluded myself that there were more areas of overlap. I knew I couldn’t enact a Charlotte Vale-style reinvention, but maybe even with my big nose and my smart-ass cynicism I could approach Cher’s fabulosity? The possibility got me through many a tough time.

Cher’s very Cher-ness makes me happy. Long may she sparkle.

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3 Responses to Sass appeal

  1. Andrea says:

    I bet you’ve read her autobiography, which is an absolutely cracking read. I wish she’d do more acting, she could be great in a cable drama – Katey Sagal in Sons Of Anarchy definitely owes a lot to Cher in Mask.

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