Monday, March 20, 2017

Women Who Rock and/or Make History: Cher and Phyllis Diller

March is Girl Women's History Month.

Fact: girls can do things too!

Fact: girls can't do rock and roll, or so one might conclude from the paucity of females inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (motto: "We've got Randy Newman!"). Real fact: girls can do rock and roll (some of them).

Since I am enjoying getting on my high horse (or getting high on horse), I'm going to double dip with a series of girl-on-girl posts. It's a combination of a female musical act (or a band with a female member [possibly more]) that merits* induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and a female who did something like bake a cake or killed a guy (Laura Bush killed a guy).

I originally thought I would propose Sonny & Cher here. That somehow the Sonny & Cher music was decidedly more rock & roll than her solo stuff (although clearly the Hall welcomes disco, along with rap, folk, reggae, R&B, Farrell's commercials, and pop) -- it might be in terms of proportions, but not in terms of volume.

Celebrating Cher is easy if you can be selective in what you consider. She has plenty of great stuff (music, acting, live performances) in her body of work, even if most of that stuff (music, acting, live performances) isn't great. If we grade her on a pass/fail basis I think she does fine, like at least half of her stuff is solid. But if we assign grades and something like "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me" (which, after reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot Dance Music/Club Play chart, established her as the only artist to have a number-one song on a Billboard chart in each of the past 6 decades), or, even worse, Faithful, would really bring her grade down.

But even the more cynical among us should probably admit that Cher's made a great career out of the talent she has. Saying that isn't insulting is it? While she and Sonny aren't the first celebrity couple to divorce, they are probably the first celebrity couple who came into our homes every week as a couple to divorce, then, to make us happy they put aside differences to keep coming back, still singing "I Got You Babe" even though we were all just going through the motions at that point. The roller coaster of her music career, of her acting career, her high profile relationships, Sonny's untimely death (Sonny died the same year "Believe" made her world famous again). 

Hell, she's probably one of the first famous parents of a transgender child.

It's a multidimensional roller coaster, and along the way she's won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy. She's a Tony award away from EGOT and I think it's entirely possible she can make that happen (years ago I thought Cher and Cyndi Lauper should do the musical Mame on Broadway; since then Cyndi's picked up a Tony)

She's a survivor; her and Keith Richards. That's pretty fucking rock and roll.

Phyllis Diller is a comedy legend, an icon and a pioneer for women in show business. Lucille Ball's career began earlier than Diller's, but Diller really was the first female stand-up comedian. She was every bit as funny as Milton Berle or Don Rickles... I'll just leave it at that.

On a side note, I think there's something genius in her make-up and wig. I think she navigated life under the radar when she wasn't dolled up like that. I'm pretty sure Dolly Parton does the same thing.

And on another side note, Diller bequeathed items from her career to the Smithsonian Institute. Among those, a giant steel cabineet with more than 50,000 index cards, each with a single joke. The Smithsonian is currently transcribing these via a large scale request for assistance.

* There is a wide spectrum of rock & roll gravitas for the artists included in the 31 I will include. I feel like a reasonable case can be made for each, and everyone one of these is at least as worthy as Randy Newman, 2103 inductee.

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