Cher: Strong Enough by Josiah Howard
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|Cher: Strong Enough by Josiah Howard|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: A biography of one of America's most successful singers and actresses. To an extent it is an account of her life, if a somewhat uneven one; what the title and sub-title do not reveal is that the main focus of the book is an in-depth account of her 1975 TV variety show.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 284||Date: October 2013|
|External links: Author's website|
Having looked at the title and sub-title, the latter being no more than the two-word title of one of her latter-day hits, I assumed this was going to be a fairly comprehensive biography of the American singer. The sub-title, Strong Enough, taken from one of her latter-day hit singles, reveals nothing. Not until I had almost finished it, a little puzzled at it not being quite what I had expected, did I finally look at the blurb on the back – at which point all became clear. This was not the full story of a showbiz career which has lasted close on half a century, but for the most part an extraordinarily detailed account of her 1975 TV variety show.
Fortunately there is a ‘before and after’. The book begins with the early lives of Salvatore (‘Sonny’) Philip Bono and Cherilyn Sarkisian. The elder by eleven years, Sonny was already an established songwriter and recording studio assistant to the legendary (and later notorious) Phil Spector long before they first met. One thing led to another on a personal and professional level, and for a brief period in the mid-60s the husband and wife team, whose duet and transatlantic chart-topping hit ‘I Got You Babe’ made them household names, could do virtually no wrong. It was however her solo records, not his, which helped to keep up the momentum. After a couple of years fans started to lose interest, until the former folk-pop hippie duo reinvented themselves as slick nightclub entertainers and appeared on any TV show which would have them as professional guest stars. Talk shows, comedies, game shows – nothing was off-limits. In due course they were given their own variety show, beginning with a one-off special and then a regular series. However, in the views of those around him, and not only his wife, after a while Sonny ‘seemed to have a case of superstar-itus’. Their personal and professional relationship fell apart, and when time was called on the series, everyone predicted that he would remain the star while she faded into obscurity. The reverse happened, and his solo show was cancelled after six weeks of falling ratings.
Defying popular expectations, Cher’s own series was an immediate hit. Much of this book is focused on the programmes, which saw her delivering monologues, starring in comedy sketches, singing and going through a never-ending variety of often very revealing costume changes. The show featured a dazzling array of guests including the Jacksons, Elton John, Bette Midler and Art Garfunkel. The text goes into tremendous detail on each programme, supplemented with the recollections of those who appeared and worked on the show, and also details of some of the features which were recorded for each episode but never used, sometimes because they did not get past the censors.
Sometimes, personal life did intrude. Cher’s divorce from Sonny was not finalised until June 1975, four months into the show’s run. Within a few days she had become the third wife of musician Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band, realised almost at once that it had been a mistake, and filed for divorce nine days later, citing his alcohol and hard drugs dependency. They reconciled, to remain married for a further four years, and the on-off-on again marriage is also recounted in depth, as was the shortlived professional reunion with Sonny.
For a time, it seemed as if she was the most famous woman in America. Gossip and risqué pictures of her helped to sell many a magazine, and like several women before and since, she was a reluctant ‘queen of the tabloids’. It was even reported that Elvis Presley wooed her with flowers and proposed her marriage, although both superstars never actually met. While she was married to Sony, she had rejected his suggestion that they should go and see Elvis’s show in Las Vegas, but she turned it down on the grounds that he was ‘a gross overweight shadow of himself’.
All things have to come to an end, sometimes suddenly. After less than a year Cher’s show was abruptly deleted from the TV schedules, much to the consternation of the surprised crew. Following several chapters on the programme, there is one on the revived Sonny and Cher series, which again lasted just under a year, when a TV executive announced that their career was ‘headed’ towards nightclub appearances and records.
The epilogue, which covers the rest of her career, is naturally rather longer. The final phase of Sonny and Cher as a live act did not last long, but her subsequent career as a solo recording artiste and film star proved more fruitful, and continues to this day. It might be noticed that during the last six decades she has released over 80 singles. This chapter is chock full of information, and naturally the later years and death of Sonny are alluded to, but at times becomes little more than a breathless rush through her achievements. Maybe it’s inevitable that the book does have something of an American bias, presumably being intended largely for that market. There are passing mentions of her duet with Meat Loaf in 1981 and of a Comic Relief charity single which she recorded jointly with Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton, and which topped the British charts in 1995. Neither record was released as a single in America, but I would have thought that there was more to say about both. Nonetheless there is a fuller account of her renaissance which led to the greatest worldwide success of her career, the record ‘Believe’, which to this day remains the best-selling single of all time in Britain by a female artist.
As an account of the 1975 TV show, the book could hardly have been bettered, and any fan of Cher will relish this in particular. It is strong on her early life and career, but as mentioned, the latter part could have been dealt with rather more fully. Nevertheless, it also serves its role as a work of reference with detailed bibliography and appendices including a full videography, episode guide and breakdown, even featuring a record of items taped but not aired, and discography. There are also five sections of plates, mostly in colour. The author’s attention to detail throughout certainly cannot be faulted.
For the lives of two more iconic American entertainers, you may also be interested in reading:
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