A generation’s fears and aspirations captured in one ceremony
So there I was with my youngest daughter, surrounded by a crowd where women in the fifty plus category were clearly in the majority. And judging from their looks, not having the same access to the sort of healthcare that preserves youth and sexiness even when you are closing in on seventy, like the pop diva they were about to see. In all likelihood they were here some eleven years ago when Cher’s first farewell tour blitzed across North America, only to see itself repeated this year with the Malibu-based pop diva hitting the tender age of sixty-eight. I had missed that opportunity back then and had resolved to go and see her if she ever made it to town again. That said, I had never for myself been quite able to define what so deeply attracted me to her, apart from enjoying a few songs like “I Found Someone” and her pretty unique ability to defy – with whatever means available – old age.
The “Cherest Show” started – following a great opening act by Cyndi Lauper – with nothing short of a standing and boisterous ovation, making it impossible for Cher to address the audience for quite a few minutes. And it was clear to both the singer and her audience why the prolonged welcome took place. A deep joy of seeing Cher again in pretty much the same youthful look as before, knowing it might really be the last time she did a live tour, but also quite likely a deep recognition that pulling this off at age sixty-eight deserves some respect. Never did I see such a moving moment between a stage artist and a crowd.
The show itself has now morphed into more of a Cirque du Soleil type fantasy extravaganza where the music plays far less of a role. It is more a celebration of the multifaceted phenomenon that is Cher and nowhere did that become clearer halfway the show where a series of movie clips captured the Hollywood career of the artist with some of her more noted performances (with the classic Jack Nicholson scene from The Witches of Eastwick) and quotes from a number of interviews. And right there it was. In one excerpt Cher said that she never really knew what she was, a singer, a moviestar, an artist or whatever, but that she had always achieved and been successful at that what she had pursued, but never ever belonged to a particular group. That statement had a deep impact, at least on me it did. Because therein lies the key attraction to Cher as a persona and something that for many is so hard to achieve: to accomplish goals and be totally yourself without ever succumbing to group pressures or group identities. More than that, to carve out your own niche in life.
That of course Cher herself has done in spades and the standing ovation in no small part was evidence of that all so human aspiration. But the near religious atmosphere of paying respect to a higher being was also driven by all those fifty plus boomers who are all so desperately seeking to defy that one thing that even wealth and success can not postpone: old age and death, eventually. The diva however invited a healthy does of realism into that, “ I am sixty-eight” and if I am going under “you will not be far behind” pointing to an older guy in the audience adding, “Is that your wife? Must be your second or third!” and alluding to a not too distant funeral ceremony, “you’re coming with me!” Cher’s ability to make light of the inevitable resonated with all present, again emphasizing the bond the star and her audience enjoy.
Her performance is a celebration of defying age and trying to carve out a unique role for yourself, one way or the other. All of it is buoyed by extravagant and colorful costumes, light and showy glee riding high on the pulsating drums of “Believe” and “Strong Enough”. And bringing back the life and times of Sonny Bono was another emotional twist in capturing the fluidity of life in the show.
The most endearing moment however came at the very end and it captured the heart of coming of age and saying goodbye in its most poignant form. After gliding across the stadium and singing her final song, Cher walked to each and every corner of the stage and as a somewhat timid older mother waved in the most friendly and innocent ways to the excited crowds. It was as if she was saying, I am going now my kids, my friends, please take care of yourselves because it is unlikely I will be coming back anytime soon, if ever. It was the most genuine scene of the evening. While the glitz faded, the diminutive stature of Cher made her so complete and human that there was nothing left to be said and done by star and audience. The premise of the ceremony was fulfilled.
I glanced at my twelve-year old who absolutely captured the beat and show, but it will take another thirty years for her to grasp how her parent’s generation jumped on to that lifeline handed to them by one of the most transformative stars of the twentieth century.
We attended the June 27 show at the Rogers Arena, Vancouver, Canada. This article also appeared on Medium, here.
Or how to compare the two different House of Cards trilogies
So on Friday night we got right into it and knocked off the first two episodes of House of Cards, Season 2. A good start with a driven and scheming Frank Underwood, but as was the case with season one, thoughts inevitably wander back to the original FU, British prime minister Francis Urquhart. And begging the question, who is the better one and if there isn’t one that is better, how do they differ and why?
Having just started the second season it is of course not possible to render a fully baked verdict, but there are some notable differences between the American and British Francis. The latter, a living monument to the phenomenal acting talents of the late Ian Richardson, was in political terms a staunch Thatcherite. In fact, the series creator Michael Dobbs has been rumoured to have coined the name ‘FU’ after meeting the late iron lady in person. Underwood, the Democrat is devoid of any deep ideological urges and is more of a Clintonesque power broker willing to cut any kind of political deal in order to advance his career. A battle with the teacher’s unions in the first season ends with a bill that ultimately satisfies most parties with Underwood taking credit, Urquhart in all likelihood would not have rested until he had personally reduced the union to a pile of human rubble. From that perspective both series reflect the political era in which they were created, Urquhart coming out of the polarized eighties, whereas Underwood stands atop the centrist model that has framed the Clinton-Bush-Obama-Clinton era.
One of the other key differences between the two political maestros is related to that. Urquhart’s is indeed not a nice guy by any means, in particular when he addresses the viewer directly to elaborate on his dire views of humanity and his political friends and foes. He in fact is a very lonely and bitter warrior whose disdain for the world around him makes him seriously unlikeable. Underwood however comes across as a kinder and gentler soul, precisely when he talks to the audience and you find yourself thinking, yes, that somehow makes total sense. A drinking spree with former college buddies in season one and trying to neutralize Raymond Tusk’s influence on the oval office give Underwood a human and sometimes almost admirable foundation, something utterly lacking in Urquhart’s cold world. The notion of a nicer Underwood is also supported by the sort of victims he makes. The ambitious Zoe Barnes will get on your nerves as a not particularly likeable journalist, and it is quite hard to warm up to late congressman Peter Russo. Yet to this day I have warm feelings for Zoe’s British equivalent, Mattie Storin and recall the brutal way Urquhart dispatches her when he throws her off a Westminster roof. The viewer is upset and misses her, but it is hard to feel the same about Barnes and Russo. Simply put, Urquhart is the crueler politician and Underwood’s creators must somehow have positioned it that way in the script.
Yet it does not make Urquhart unlikeable. Far from it. The acceptance of evil as a viable tool to heal the nation and further one’s career is given wings by the classic parody of Westminster politics that the British version of the show is. Nowhere is that better exemplified than in the second season entitled ‘To Play the King’ where Urquhart takes on the constitutional monarch, a thinly veiled caricature of Prince Charles who has just ascended the throne and wastes no time to implement a more social and caring agenda, putting him on a direct collision course with our hardcore capitalist Urquhart. The battle of inherited privilege versus the fearless commoner, a role Urquhart masterfully assumes, somehow gives the prime minister the upper hand in the demise and forced abdication of the new king, resulting in this classic scene:
To Urquhart in the end it all is a game, playfully moving from target to target with a wink and a nod only to accumulate more power. Inflicting deep loss and ridicule on his victims is an integral part of this mission and he accomplishes it with verve and style. To the audience it is a hilarious way of commenting on the realities of political life as we understand them and therein probably lies some of the respect we ultimately extend to Urquhart. Despite all his brutal tactics he has a point. With Underwood that is far more difficult to establish, it is almost as if there are no deeper truths or wry commentary that the viewer can take a way from the southern politician. Underwood at times is bland and reluctant to mock and criticize the foundations on which present day Washington power broking is built. He is a willful part of it all and Americans take it the way it is. Carried by Kevin Spacey it makes for great drama, but it lacks the punch of the British House of Cards.
Above all it is the ability of the Brits to distance themselves from the subject to assess its inherent weaknesses and shortcomings while talking real political issues. “To temper economic rigor with a little more respect for human values” as the embattled monarch in the second season states – against Urquhart’s explicit wishes - is as real an issue today as it was in the eighties and nineties. It elevated the original House of Cards to a benchmark in political drama that will stand the test of time. The American version is as dark but in its delivery a lighter version of the original. That said, you have to work hard to keep the urge to binge watch under control, because House of Cards Season 2 is a riveting experience.