It’s 9 a.m. in Los Angeles, and Cher is awake. This is surprising because it’s hard to imagine a groggy Cher rolling out of bed at such a workaday hour, slipping her feet into bunny slippers, revving up the Waterpik, pouring a bowl of bran flakes. It all feels too, well, human.
But the star has good reason to be up talking on the phone to me at this un-Cher-ly hour. It’s March 2002, and she’s stumping for her new album Living Proof. It’s the follow-up to the 1998 smash “Believe,” featuring the single of the same name, which turned into her biggest hit ever.
Craig: One of the things that I think is interesting about this new album is that people often think about you as making a comeback. But this time, you’re coming back after a real peak. How does that feel?
Cher: Well, I mean, I don’t really know how it feels. You know, you make something, you make a movie, you make an album, you do something, and then you just put it out, and then it’s gotta sink or swim on its own merits. There’s not much you can do about it. You just do the best you can.
I mean you can be disappointed if it doesn’t do well, but you can’t agonize too much. You then gotta go, “Okay, well that didn’t work.” And you just keep going.
Craig: Do you think people expect a certain kind of music from you? Because this is sort of a return to the “Believe” sound.
Cher: You know, I keep trying different music. The reason I did this in the same vein as “Believe” is because that was so successful. And I thought that people would still like to hear the same kind of up-tempo songs. I mean, will I do it for the next album? I don’t know. I don’t think so. I would want to change. Even [the single] “Song For The Lonely,” it’s not your typical [dance song]. I mean, it’s much more U2 than it is, you know, “Believe.” Even the sound of it, you know, [with] the heavy guitars and stuff like that.
Craig: I saw the “Song For The Lonely” video the other day, and it was a great video. But I could also see somebody saying, “Oh look. Here’s Cher trying to save New York. She doesn’t even live there.”
Cher: Well, I mean, I have lived there three times in my life. And I’m not trying to save it. New York is still one of the great cities of the world. I just was trying to show that sometimes people forget how great a place is.
Craig: Do people sometimes forget or trivialize your contributions and the things you’ve accomplished in your career?
Cher: No. I really don’t, because, look, I’m not curing cancer. I just perform. I think that people sometimes maybe forget everything that I’ve done. But they seem to remember as much as is appropriate to remember.
Craig: I was talking to somebody about you yesterday and they said that, because they watched so much of your life be played out in the media, they almost got the sense that you weren’t a real person.
Cher: When I think of all the people that you could name, I am the person that usually gives the most about who I am. I really try to do things that reflect me as a person. I pick movies that really are reflective of me, and I think in my interviews, I don’t skirt around issues. I’ve been in the media since I was 18. I’ve been working since I was 16. But I think that what I’ve done and what I choose to do really shows people who I am.
Craig: Do you ever think that glamorous image, maybe, gets in the way of people taking your work seriously?
Cher: Well, If you look at my movies, none of them are glamorous, if you look at Silkwood or you look at Mask, or Mermaids. Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, there was nothing glamorous about that.
Craig: Let’s talk a little bit about some of the songs from the album. I’m one of those annoying people that read the lyrics and want to know what they mean to the performer. On “The Music’s No Good Without You,” you “pray that a DJ lifts my heart.” Do you remember the first time you were on a dance floor and really felt the power of the DJ?
Cher: I think it was more back in the ’70s. You would go to a club because a DJ really had great taste. I remember a DJ at Studio 54 that was really great. I used to go to a place in New York called Heartbreak. I would only go there, like, one night a week, maybe two nights. They played all these great, old songs, lots of Motown, Stevie Wonder and, you know, just great, great stuff. And I wouldn’t go there on the other nights, because I didn’t like the DJ.
Craig: Let’s move on to some other lyrics. Obviously, I know, you didn’t write the songs, but I’m curious what they mean to you. This one’s from “Love One Another:” “Everybody needs a release from the cell they locked themselves in.” What’s your “cell?”
Cher:I think it’s more about hiding yourself. People are less apt to share their true personalities in our particular society. As much as we claim that it’s an open society, it’s not very open. It’s not very safe to show your feelings to most people. You’re lucky if you can show your real feelings to a very few people because I don’t think people are as kind as they used to be. I mean, the media isn’t very kind at all. I expect nothing from them. They’re like soulless, godless, motherless, trash.
Craig: Does it get to a point where what the media says doesn’t affect you? Or does it still hurt?
Cher: Well, I don’t pay any attention to it. But I mean, of course, it hurts you when you see your children having to go through stuff that they wouldn’t have to go through if you weren’t their parent.
Craig: Do you think it’s balanced by the opportunities they’ve had because you’re their parent?
Cher: Well, I don’t think anything balances out that particular thing. But I do think they’ve had great times even though they’ve had parents that were famous. But I [also think they’ve been] attacked, you know, just bitterly attacked. And they haven’t really done anything. The only mistake they’ve made is having a mother that’s famous.
Craig: On the song “Alive Again,” you sing, “I believe when it hurts, we must keep trying.” When does that apply to you?
Cher: Pain is not the worst thing that can happen to you, you know? There are a lot worse things that can happen. No one gets out of here scratch-free, but [what matters is] what you do with [bad things] happen to you.
When you’re having a great time and your life is going perfectly, no one stops and goes, “Oh my God, why is this happening or what can I learn from this?” You really only grow when you’ve got things that make you stop and look at your life.
Craig: You know, a lot of dance music deals with survival, even “Strong Enough” from your last album.
Cher: I think a lot of people think that dance music is really fluff. But I don’t think it is. You can say whatever you want to say. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s got a dance beat or if it doesn’t.
Craig: How does “Song For The Lonely” apply to you?
Cher: I thought it was a different way of talking about people who’ve had problems and who’ve gone through heartbreak in life, and that’s not just heartbreak from love but just anything. It’s good to have songs that show you can handle it, even if you can’t really get over it, you can handle it.
I’ve had a lot of adversity in my work. I’ve always felt like I was kind of an outsider in whatever work I was doing. But it didn’t keep me from trying stuff.
People keep going, “Oh, that’s it for her.” And I guess someday it’s gonna be it, just so far, it hasn’t been.
[edited for clarity]
Bonus: My Fave Cher Song: “Take Me Home (12” Version)”
It was a staple at the legendary New York City nightspot, Paradise Garage, which catered to the black and Lantinx gay community. DJ Larry Levan, a black gay man, was known for his eclectic musical tastes. Said one frequent partier, artist/curator Pierre Francillon, artist and curator: “At some point, he played ‘Take Me Home’ by Cher…In the song, Cher sings ‘It would be ecstasy!’ The whole room exploded into a roar and cheers.”