Culture

The Other Bono: Remembering Sonny (and the Pre-Crazy Cher)

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Cher’s new album drops in a few days.

There was a time when I’d have been very excited about that.

Believe it or not, back in the 1990s and the years that preceded them, Cher was different: apolitical, effortlessly hilarious, and humble.

I saw her in concert back then and her audience was the most diverse I’ve ever seen: all ages, races, and sexual orientations, gathered to celebrate the unsinkable survivor with the single name, who’d had hits in every decade since the 1960s and won deserved acclaim for her acting.

That was before Cher contracted Bush Derangement Syndrome and never found a cure.

It was also — I realize just now — before Sonny Bono died, in 1998.

Her unforgettable eulogy at Sonny’s funeral, and her exquisite televised special remembering their lives together, were Cher’s last great public moments before she descended into crazy-homeless-lady bitterness.

They’d been apart for years by then, but had Sonny served as Cher’s ballast all along?

Sonny Bono takes a lot of flak and always did, some of it well-deserved.

He wasn’t good looking and he could barely sing or play an instrument: neither assets in the world of show biz he was desperate to break into.

By the time Cher met him, she was 16 and he was 28 — which is middle-aged in pop music years, especially in the youth-obsessed 1960s.

Yet Sonny hammered away.

He had, as Cher said in the eulogy, “a vision for the future.”

The unlikely couple became one of the only acts in history to score five songs in the Top 20 at the same time. (The others are Elvis and the Beatles.)

Then, almost overnight, the ride was over. The public soured on their kitschy hippie schtick.

These proto-flower children were reduced to playing hotel lounges, with Sonny in a tux.

They were through.

Then they weren’t: A glossy TV variety show — such things were thick on the ground in the 1970s — made them household names for good.

When the pair divorced (mostly on account of Sonny’s serial infidelity) Cher went from triumph to triumph, working with respected movie directors, winning an Oscar, churning out hits in whatever genre happened to be big at the time.

Sonny tried acting too, but The Love Boat ain’t Moonstruck.

Then he went into politics as a Republican, first as the mayor of Palm Springs then as a congressman.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FWttZvs88Y

I always had a soft spot for Sonny Bono, long before “retro” reissues made such feelings acceptable.

I’d read (probably in some People magazine at the dentist’s) that he’d been suspended from school for hiring an all-black band for the prom, and that always stuck with me.

I admire anyone with his work ethic and burning desire to succeed despite all his liabilities.

He was fully aware of his faults and turned them into assets through self-deprecating humor.

And, sometimes, through pathos — as he did with the hit song “Laugh At Me,” which has been a (secret) personal anthem of mine since my days as a teenaged punk.

Then I rediscovered his other semi-hit, “Revolution Kind,” a few years ago, at a time I needed to most: when Canada was rife with attacks on free speech.

It’s typical Sonny: goofy and bombastic yet so clumsily sincere.

Back when he recorded this patriotic anthem about free speech, people probably rolled their eyes and thought, “Who needs an anthem for the obvious? What next? Apple pie?”

Yet the kind of live-and-let-live liberty Sonny “sings” about in “Revolution Kind” hasn’t been mainstream since political correctness came along.

I wish Cher would listen to it again.