Lady Cher: My Favorite Tramp and Po-Mo Thief

On a recent morning at Logan Airport, I saw Cher, in a black leotard and fishnet stockings, gracing the cover of Vanity Fair.

Of course I bought the issue. Of course I inhaled the profile by Krista Smith, although it wasn’t transcendent journalism, just the usual celebrity applause. It was Vanity Fair, after all, its “December 2010” issue on the newsstands in early November, one of many time-defying acts of postmodernism.

Cher is the time thief of them all, and I love her for it.

These cross-country trips to see my ailing parents bring out the ’70s girl in me. There’s a whiff of the elegiac now, the echoing soundtrack of my youth, my parents still young and wearing the most awful fashions (Mom in a halter sundress with big orange flowers; Dad with hideous sideburns and napkin-wide ties). Maybe our parents’ young lives can never seem anything but ridiculous, while our own have the aura of earnest sweetness.

Yet at 64, Cher is still here, in all her un-earnest glory, and she crosses the generations. I watched The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour with my parents. My mother and I both got a vicarious kick out of Cher’s slinky outfits, her exposed navel, that waterfall of black hair she was always flicking aside. I went on to more outré icons—David Bowie, Patti Smith—but Cher came first.

I’m a creature of my cultural moment. For me the subversive gender bending of Bowie mattered far more as I entered high school, the kitsch of “Half-Breed” forgotten like a childhood love of Neccos.

The funny thing is, Cher seems to have seized the current moment far more than Bowie or David Bryne or other hipsters of my youth. She was the one introducing Lady Gaga at the 2010 MTV Video Music Awards. According to the VF profile, she was the one who held Lady G’s “meat purse”—“this is a steak!”, Cher later joked during her own Vegas show. “I thought, I’ve seen weirder things than that in my life.”

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