During a frigid November night in 2018, I dragged myself from my toasty Brooklyn apartment to to see a new Broadway musical called The Cher Show. In a tribute to the many lives Cher has lived, three actors portrayed her at different stages of her life: Babe, Lady and Star. It featured all the glitz, glamour, feathers, sequins and Cher anthems you might expect.
然而, as the three manifestations of Cher appeared for the opening hit, If I Could Turn Back Time, the lyrics left me bitter and enraged. A month earlier, on a trip home to Italy, I had found my mother struck down by a ruptured aneurysm. You have, I was told, 10 minutes to save someone when this happens. Paramedics estimated that I had walked in 20 到 40 minutes after the stroke. She died 36 几个小时以后.
In the weeks after, I considered turning myself over to the police for failure to properly assist. I toyed with the idea of joining the foreign legion, a convent or completely relinquishing my identity. I trawled pagan and necromancer online resources to see if I could, 的确, turn back time. “If I could find a way …” as Cher sings. I was alone in my despair, with only Cher’s haunting lyrics for company.
Cher’s music had soundtracked the imaginary movie of my life since 1998, ever since I came across Believe. Its Euro disco melodies filtered through AutoTune and her powerhouse contralto sounded like an idealised video game or anime soundtrack, which was all I knew of pop back then.
I never followed the lives of performers – I admit I don’t know much about Cher’s personal life, other than her knack for phoenix-like pop rebirths. I associate her with the people I love most dearly: it was my best friend who dumped her discography on me when I started high school, initiating me into a now lifelong appreciation of divas, retro pop and camp.
As an angsty kid, I found refuge in the song Strong Enough, which seemed to hold some prophetic power. I have no idea why: back then I didn’t speak a word of English, but the fact that her voice could apparently lend Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star the gravitas of Der Hölle Rache deeply resonated with me.
The fixation stuck. The Shoop Shoop Song made me giddy when I got a boyfriend in my final year of high school. Her cover of Walking in Memphis serenaded me as I prepared for my university exams and during the painstaking process of moving to the US. Her rendition of Love Hurts was there during a university fling with a guy so motivated to get even with his ex that, by the end of those two useless months, I knew more about her than I did about him. Save Up All Your Tears, with its Liberace-worthy opening chords, is my own personal I Will Survive, in any applicable situation: Cher is reprimanding a less-than-upstanding ex, but I interpret the song as a reminder not to always give in to sorrow.
Back in 2018, at the end of The Cher Show, the three Chers sing Believe. Did I believe in life after love? In love after love? In life after life? I was unsure at that time.
A few days later, on Thanksgiving, my then boyfriend – whom I lived with – announced that he was leaving me because I had been a disappointing partner. After that and my devastation at my mother’s death, Cher’s songs kept a lingering will in me to keep going. As she sang in You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me, from the film Burlesque: “But I’m gonna stand my ground!”
Five months later, I flew back home to sort out some of the bureaucracy that follows a death. 一夜, I ended up at an underground karaoke in my local Chinatown where the temperature hovered around 40 degrees and drinks were €3. My best friend, his wife and two other good friends were there with me, and for me.
In a room full of fellow retro-pop fans, after the obligatory renditions of Wannabe and Complicated, we decided to sing Believe. As I croaked into the mic and twirled in my dress, I realised that after months of pure agony, I was happy to be exactly where I was. Cher’s music was there with me.