When Cher announced her farewell show in Vegas, it was a no-brainer. I hate Vegas but I love Cher, always have, since the first time I saw her with her mane of black hair longer than Sonny was tall, singing that she was a vee aye em pee VAMP (accompanied by a switch of her hips that knocked Sonny off to one side). This is my story of that trip.
We stayed at the Wynn, which is a very nice hotel. You can tell because of all the oversized light fixtures and tassels everywhere. Also the mosaics. As you enter the casino, right away you notice the floor – acres of marble inlaid with beautiful mosaic glass designs of flowers. It’s like someone in the hotel industry wrote up a brochure that said, Mosaic is always a sign of class, spanning centuries of time and a multitude of cultures, and Steve Wynn bought it.
There is a famous ruin in Sicily called I Mosaici (“the mosaics”); it is the remarkably preserved ruins of a palace built before the time of Christ, the floors of its rooms inlaid with intricate mosaics depicting the life of the palace denizens. One of the floors, that of a Roman bath, depicts a woman holding a multicolored ball, a sphere of brightly colored wedges exactly like a modern beach ball – but in scene more than a thousand years old!
Yep. Mosaics equal class, you can count on it.
From the Wynn reception desk you walk through the casino to get to the resort elevators. It is a big casino so therefore a long journey, long enough to give you time to appreciate the thick, soothing softness of the carpeting. Carpeting so comfortable, in fact, it can probably be registered as an orthopedic device, carpeting that literally channels its springy shock absorption directly into the feet of the gamblers it supports, so that they remain at the tables on their strangely rested feet for multiple hours and thousands of dollars past the point they should have gone to bed with possibly enough money left to save the house or the kid’s college fund.
It isn’t until the elevator has whisked you to the upper reaches of the casino, the distant muted ringing and binging and clanging and ranging fading away into a kind of quiet hum that you actually notice what the carpet looks like in addition to what it feels like. You are walking down the hall and there is no shortage of opulent decorative touches, sconces and vases and paintings and Lucite cubes displaying a profusion of glass flowers, but none of these things, not singly nor together, can cancel out the visual noise that is the carpeting.
Extreme beauty and extreme ugliness have one thing in common – once you behold it, you cannot look away. And so it was with this carpeting, which I found myself staring at in a kind of open-mouthed disbelief very close to horror.
I have a good idea for a reality show. “America’s Next Hideous Hotel Carpeting Designer”. Ryan Seacrest could be the host. With a show like that, there are two possible outcomes – hotel carpeting the world over will get even uglier, which has a certain entertainment value…or, it will actually improve and you can look down safely whilst walking down a long corridor without feeling like your eyes – not to mention your basic human sensitivities of simplicity, beauty and harmony – are being assaulted.
I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve decided that hotel carpeting is what you get when you pursue two fundamentally incompatible goals. You want a carpet that is attractive but hides the stains of hundreds of thousands of feet wearing dirty-soled shoes, vomit, spilled drinks, cigarette ash, and the remains of room service.
Those are incompatible goals, so what you end up with is what is on the floor of the Wynn Resort: a pale salmon colored field overlaid with a vibrant pattern of paramecium-like paisley shapes and cabbage rosettes done in tones of navy, red and green. If Laura Ashley designed a nostalgia carpet for Single-Celled Life in vibrant Santa Fe hues, this would be it.
It doesn’t matter how expensive the hotel is, or how downscale – the carpet all looks like it comes from the same place – maybe the Academy of Art University that is so ubiquitous in San Francisco (and can anyone tell me how it can be an academy AND a university? I thought a school had to be one or the other?). Maybe they have a School of Hideous Interior Design: Industrial Carpet Specialization degree. Or something.
I remember staying in the Grand Kempinski in Dallas Texas. Let me just aside here: there can be such a thing as too much name pride…the Grand Kempinski is not a good hotel name. It’s like having a hotel called Le Grande Randy).
The carpet there was so bad I remember it to this day- a pattern of flowers with twining vines that, when you looked out of the corner of your eye, appeared to be snarling babies’ faces with snakes writhing around them. It made you think twice about getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, that carpet did.
No one else seemed to share my fascinated revulsion for the carpet. The other guests of the hotel did not seem to actually notice the ugliness, or if they did, not mind it.
Thinking about this, I figure that the reason people in general aren’t offended or frightened by the carpet in Vegas is because Vegas is sort of the home of incompatible goals. I want to get rich but not have to work for it. I’ve lost all my money but I think I can win it back. I want my marriage by the Roller Blading Elvis to last forever and ever.
Might as well give them some hideous, brain-twisting carpeting to stare at while they’re at it.
Still, it is a carpet so aggressively ugly it seems almost demonic, as if the pattern might iris open at the center of the casino to reveal the burning gates of hell just beneath the laughing sinning multitudes, who will fall screaming into the fiery maw, blood splattering the carpet as the gates slam shut cleaving them in two but leaving no visible stains due to the cleverly spaced paramecium-and-cabbage-rose print.
Readying For The Trip: A Realization
In anticipation of the Cher concert, I dug up my Cher’s Greatest Hits and listened to it on my iPhone and iPod for the month of weeks prior. I walked to Cher, biked to Cher, ran hills to Cher, lifted weights to Cher, took her to the beach and deep into the woods and high up in the mountains with me. And I had an epiphany, that is, I realized something about her, something that was always there, but that I was discovering for the first time, and that is that Cher’s music is working class hero music for the blue eye shadow set. It’s true.
Cher sings from the position of the outsider. She is among the gypsies, tramps and thieves, she is the half breed, the one who believes in life after love. She sings the songs for the lonely, for the broken-hearted and battle scarred, the ones standing on the edge of nowhere where the only way to go is up.*
*this paragraph comprised entirely of actual Cher lyrics
So in this way, Cher is just like Springsteen except taller and with more hair. And except that fans of Springsteen wear white t-shirts and buffalo check plaid and jeans and engineer boots and live in small frame houses where a screen door is always slamming, and a late model American car is in the driveway, sometimes up on blocks….while Cher fans come from double wide trailers and cinder block apartment complexes, but nevertheless all own at least one pair of satin pants, have a fondness for metallic and animal print accessories and glitter nail polish, and are mad for marabou- or rhinestone-trimmed anything.
But all of them, Bruce fans and Cher fans, feel left behind, ignored and scorned and discounted by the society around them, but fighting the good fight of lonely self-awareness nonetheless.
Side note: if Cher fans and Springsteen’s fans all got married, there would be some real kick-ass wedding receptions to go to.
Going To The Show
We dressed up, the husband in a blue and black houndstooth jacket with midnight velvet navy collar and sewn-on cuffs – a bit of vintage red-satin-lined bespoke from a store on Haight Street.
I wore a sparkly black Ralph Lauren number. Excellent dress, really fab, said the waiter who wore a white-polka-dotted navy necktie that was, in part but not wholly because of his fabulously confident gayosity, somehow working with his black shirt and pants ensemble. He, the waiter, seated us at our early dinner – a dinner that consisted entirely of cheese – at the Boulud restaurant in the hotel.
We’re going to see Cher! I told him.
But you should wear the wig, he exclaimed. I flipped my long imaginary locks over each shoulder, first left then right, chin tucked, neck rigid, the tip of my tongue touching my upper lip just so in a move so evocative of the lady herself that the waiter laughed , the husband impulsively kissed me and all heads in the restaurant turned briefly toward the sense of Cherness that had emanated from our table like a moonbeam flashing on the golden horn of a unicorn as it bends its head to drink from the crystalline pond in the middle of the wood.
Excited as we were to see Cher, we were late, because as it happened ordering just the cheese plate in order to save time doesn’t work if the cheese plate is as excellent Le Grande Toure Francais that is at Café Boulud at the Wynn. It was so excellent that we could not leave it. We declared ourselves full, we declared ourselves late, and still we darted our hamster-fingered forks at the cheese. I had three glasses of champagne.
Then we ran, me in my high heeled boots sounding like a Storm Trooper clattering across all that smooth glossy concrete that they put all over Vegas, a feature that reinforces the idea that you are in a life-sized theme park rather than a city.
The Show of Cher
The show (it was not a concert, but a show) followed a detectable formula: The dancers danced to a Cher-ish song from the late 60s-mid70s (my favorite: Disco Inferno). They finished and the video wall lit up with a segment, for example a vignette of all of Cher’s movie appearances –a tear-jerking scene from Mask that showed her at her biker chic tough vulnerable best (and Cher might love rhinestones and tiaras and have shiny beautiful hair but she is a biker chick in the truest sense, a woman who draws the grizzled tattooed knotty-haired dusty booted ones into her aura of acceptance and wiseacre understanding of the perennial outsider who embraces their outsiderness); the hot scenes from the Witches of Eastwick, the sweet scenes from Mermaids, scenes from Silkwood, the funny scenes from Moonstruck that showed the sensible Cher that always tried so hard to dominate the true heart of the happy ending romantic that beat within:
With Olympia Dukakis: “Do you love him?” “No ma.” “Thank God for that.”
With Nicholas Cage: “I love you Lorena!” (slap!) “Snap out of it!”
One of the video vignettes was a Warholian slide show of Cher images through the years, her nose and chin and cheeks rounding, flattening, filling out, going tawny, then pale, the hair dark, then blonde, then dark again. People talk about Cher’s plastic surgery, but the only thing really detectable in the slide show was a bump on her nose that disappeared and reappeared as the pictures made their cycle from early days to glory days to present days and back again.
I remember watching Cher on an interview once where she talked about getting the bump taken out of her nose, and how that seemed to signal to everyone that there was no surgery Cher would not do, no depth she would not sink to in altering her body for pop-sterity.
“Someone says I hear Meryl Streep had something done and everyone says no, that’s her natural beauty, they stick up for her. Someone says I hear Cher had four ribs removed and they say huh, yeah, I can see that. They’ll believe anything about me. I have no idea why.” ~Cher
But here’s the thing – as her face morphed through age, hair color, tanning fashions, weight gain and loss, those extraordinary eyes, those amused, hooded dark eyes gazed out at us, unchanged through it all (except for the color of her eye shadow). Those eyes are the brown and deep anchor of that face (except when she is wearing blue contacts, then they are the deep blue anchor), eyes that define the Cherness that is she, eyes that dared us to look away, to try to figure it out, what was real, what was her, what she had done, and it didn’t matter, not with those eyes looking out at us and we couldn’t look away.
Sonny and Cher – The Audacity of Their Cool
But the most mesmerizing vignette of them all was the music video of Sonny and Cher singing “The Beat Goes On”. The video wall lit up with a 50 foot high image of Sonny and Cher standing next to one another in what looked for all the world like a department store. There was a moderate crowd behind them – mostly the kind of nicely coiffed middle-aged white women, the very embodiment of not cool, that you find clogging the malls – then, apparently, as now.
In that Midwestern bouquet of normalcy the young newlywed Bonos looked exotic – not beautiful but something more transcendent – awkward, strange, ethnic, funny, full-headed-of-hair, confident, colorful, unquestioning of their right to be there and command the crowd. They were, in a word, cool.
Watching them sing their duet, the footage spliced with scenes from the Sonny and Cher show, publicity stills, candids taken from what had to be family and friend footage, I could feel my heart swell, not with sentimentality but admiration. How audacious were they, anyway – tiny mustachioed Sonny with his mop of hair and his creased face, this boy from South Detroit like the Journey song, son of Italian immigrants, standing there in his Cuban heels in a world of Newmans and Redfords, wisecracking and grinning next to this tall, gawky girl towering in a world of Mia Farrows and Sandra Dees, a girl with a sheet of blue black hair that, remarkably, did not define her looks, everything about her at war with everything else in the fight for prominence: her height, her long wondrous waterfall of hair, that noble blade of a nose, the endless abdomen, her true affection for Sonny most of all.
I wanted the montage to go on forever. The images flashed by us and we soaked them up, the fringed vests and striped pants, the platform shoes, the go-go boots and the micro minis, the psychedelic prints and the beads and the head bands and the peace sign necklaces and the cascading earrings and rhinestones, rhinestones, rhinestones everywhere, at least everywhere there was Cher. The moustache was Sonny’s rhinestones. The moustache and of course Cher herself.
Which is how we’ll always think of him, even after the show, after the divorce, after he became first a mayor and then a Congressman, and even in the strange footnote of his death by skiing accident, we see him always with the moustache, and always with the ghost of that long tall dark-haired drink of water next to him, arching an ironic eyebrow at us, inviting us to see him as she did, inviting us to join her in loving him, laughing at him with that wry humor, that humor that did not try to leave behind humble beginnings or insecurities but cradled them and lifted them up and showed them to us with a laugh and a toss of her head that trusted us to laugh with her and not at her, and we did. We did.
The montage finished with a shot of Sonny and Cher looking into one another’s eyes with the most surprised expressions of joy. Look at us, they seem to be saying. We did it! They look young and happy and in love. It brought a happy lump to my throat, that picture did. We should all be captured for eternity in a moment like this, a moment where someone is looking at us and smiling at us and just generally showing us how happy our presence in the world makes them.
More On The Formula
After the dancers finished their dance – and those dancers were good, those dancers were the best dancers I’ve ever seen, they were so good that I’d go see them without Cher, no problem – the new song would start, the Cher song, the song that Cher would be singing. The introduction to the song would be complete with the arrival of the Cher Delivery Device, which would settle in the exact center of the stage. The Cher Delivery Device was a painted cart from a gypsy caravan, or it was a tee pee, or it was a
Viking Boat floating on an S-curved rhinestone river, or a futuristic sphere like a water bubble. You can probably mostly guess which Cher Delivery Devices went with which songs so I won’t go any deeper into the detail here.
When the singing started, the doors to the Cher Delivery Device would slide open and reveal Cher. Cher would sing the first line of the song, standing framed in the doorway of the Cher Delivery Device so we her adoring fans could get a good long eyeful of her costume, each successive one of which had no rival in the galactic fabulousness department.
With each successive door-throwing open of the Cher Delivery Device, the crowd went crazy for her, our Cher, presenting herself to us, confident that she is worth looking at, willing to be vulnerable and going all the way in those outrageous costumes that say not just look at me, but, if you’re going to look at me, going to pay tribute to me in this way then by God, I am going to give you something to look at – something worthy of tribute!
Or maybe she just likes sparkly gaudy stuff, met a short guy and got swept to Hollywood, the epitome of luck and the American dream.
Half Breed: The Cher Delivery Device teepee flaps part and there she is resplendent in a red sequined gown with abdominal cutouts, a red and white feathered head dress swooping up from her noble brow and then down her back to the floor in a seven and a half foot display of faux Indian-ness that that makes the gay Indian Chief from YMCA look like a teletubby.
Believe: The Cher Delivery Device is a gate that opens outward, a gate made of rhinestones and gold and crystals and unicorn eyeballs and there she stood, our Cher in the sort of outfit normally reserved for Olympic ice skaters, specifically the kind of outfit the female skaters wear in the pairs ice dancing competitions, an outfit comprised entirely of rhinestone fringe that draped diaphanously over her breasts and shoulders and the tops of her shimmering, glimmering mile-long thighs.
Gypsies Tramps and Thieves: The Cher Delivery Device disgorges a Cher draped in silk and velvet and rhinestones, an outfit that is age-appropriate while culturally inappropriate but still pretty great.
Other costumes include a tight blue jeaned get up with a rhinestone and velvet jacket as she covered ‘Walking in Memphis”, and a black leather number that combined elements of the “cop” of YMCA, one of Nancy Wilson’s more memorable outfits from the more memorable Heart videos of the 80s, and how I imagine Tom Selleck to spend his Saturday evenings: thigh high black patent leather boots with six inch heels, fish nets, garters, a black leather bustier and a leather policeman’s hat.
I can’t remember the song that went with this outfit. Neither can my husband.
The Hotel Again
The Wynn is the project of a Steve Wynn who has a lot of money and a taste for ornamentation on a fantastic scale. The Wynn does not have an easily identifiable theme like, say, Caesar’s Palace or The Venetian or New York New York. It is basically stuff that Steve Wynn likes, or stuff that he thinks his guests who spend a lot of money on hotel rooms in Vegas will like. The décor is best described as Narnia meets Tuscany meets Marie Antoinette. There is an indoor waterfall that is cleverly engineered to fall through a night club, two restaurants and a bar where they charge $14 per drink to help offset the astronomical cost of this wondrous display.
I read somewhere that the Wynn has the best hotel robes in Vegas, and this is pretty much true, and I might or might not be wearing one as I write this post in the comfort of my living room far far away from Vegas.
There are two swimming pools, once for drunk people and one for everyone else. The drunk people pool features loud music and water at least ten degrees warmer than the water in the everyone else pool. This warmth makes me think, uncomfortably, of pee. I think how funny it would be to put that solution in the pool, the solution that goes into the water as a clear liquid but interacts with the acids in urine to form a bright blue cloud billowing around the genitalia of pool peeing culprits.
The pool for drunk people permits European style sunbathing, an invitation that , despite the elegant restraint of the wording, seems to be understood only by the type of women you expect to stake out bars and clubs on the rumor that Girls Gone Wild will be filming there later. The most exciting nudity was the thickset son of Italian immigrants, a Sonny Bono-mustachioed guy whose build screamed ‘fireman’ who strode across the pool area in an electric green Borat banana sling.
There is an elfin tan man that wears a burgundy velvet blazer. His skin is that fake tan color that might appropriately be called “Coffee With Cream” and his hair is a shade of deep golden butterscotch. His job is to smile at you when you get on the elevator, and when you get off, and wish you a cheerful “Good Luck!” He was incredibly good at timing this greeting so that it fell just within any brief caesura of the conversation you might be having. You simply had to say Thanks! and return that smile. It was a kind of genius.
I grew to be very fond of elfin tan man, and we went out of our way to ask him directions to this restaurant or that shop, even when we knew the way. We liked how his white teeth were each rectangular and the exact same size, like Chiclets. If he was bored by this job, it didn’t show.
The elevators at the Wynn are average to fast. But here’s the thing about elevators – you are always waiting for one, and it’s always too long, especially when you have to look at hotel carpeting. Elfin tan man gave me something else to think about besides the carpeting, and for that I was grateful.
Las Vegas Staff
There are no residents in Vegas. They are all staff. They are all staff on the payroll of the city, and their job is to convince you that parting with your money is a good idea. There is a Vegas-wide conspiracy to make you believe in your own luck. Everyone says “good luck!” You get off the plane and there are greeters there to say “Good luck, have fun!”
Taxi drivers say ‘good luck!” The hotel staff asks, “Are you having fun?”
The hucksters try to get you into their clubs, luring you with coupons and drinks and the promise of brushes with celebrity. They focus their chatter on the girls that pass, knowing that where the girls go the boys will follow. There are many variations on hey baby, hi beautiful, come dance with us lovelies, hello gorgeous. I pass by with the husband and one calls sweetly “Hi there, happy couple!”
Everywhere you go, everyone that works in Vegas sells you on Vegas. They want you to lose money, or give it to them, but they want you to feel good about it. The cocktail waitress at the pool (not the drunk one but the other, with the families, which was actually more fun) complements me on my swimsuit. The bartender not only lets me borrow his pen but says keep it – and offers paper and something to write on. All of them complete our transaction with a sunny smile and a ‘good luck!” You start to feel like you are on an amazing adventure for which courage is a must, and luck something the gods will visit upon you if you prove your mettle.
We looked for a place to eat and I noticed the reassuring names of the food court shops, food bought there would surely comfort the newly broke, the newly adulterated, the newly cheated on, the newly hungover, and even the newly weds, some of them anyway.
Fit into one of these categories and you’ll surely want Auntie Ann’s pretzel, she of the domestic Aunt Bea from Mayberry-sounding name. Or you could go to Ruby’s, where the hamburgers are made fresh so take a little while longer, but well worth the wait! (this is what the sign says). Eating here is like visiting a throwback to a time that has never existed, but is no the less real for all of its recognizable iconography – the black and white and red and chrome color schemes, the pictures of sassy girls in long Jessica Rabbit hair and gleaming gams that all look like cartoon versions of Betty Grable, Lana Turner and Ava Gardner if they died and went to Happy Days heaven.
There are slot machines at the airport, and many of them are occupied by men and women who are wrestling the one armed-bandit to get back what they lost, the money lost in the market, the money sunk in the house, the promotion missed, the new health insurance premiums, the love of a bored spouse, a second chance to know, really know the kids. These are the people who will later pick morosely at their big cheese-coated pretzels and onion rings wondering where it all went so wrong.
My husband does not choose comfort food from Auntie Ann or Ruby, because he did not gamble away his fortune, his future or his family. He is still in the same financial position as when we arrived – the escape of Las Vegas, for him, is that someone like Cher exists, had a great career being herself, and is now playing in a city that is basically an homage to people like her. He had no expectation that we’d win our Cher investment back, or ‘break even’ as everyone else seems to do. He saw the investment as an homage that we practiced with every other person at the show, people who travelled by car and plane and boat to come to the manmade shores of Las Vegas to bear witness to Cher, as appropriate atop Vegas as a bride in lingerie atop a wedding cake, like a big fake diamond in our cheap tiara.
It was a noble quest, and my Prince Charming brought back food fit for such a fellow as himself, a fellow journeying more than 400 miles into the great dessert heat to honor Cher, he went to a café with a name appropriate to a Knight such as he – we went to the Sausage Kingdom. And returned with a super tasty grilled polish sausage enrobed in perfectly grilled vegetable medley of onions, red and green peppers, with a hint of caramelizing and just a breath, like a wind puffing on your cheek, of garlic.
But Was It Really Her?
Do you believe in life after love? I sing-ask the husand.
She didn’t say anything to us, the husband says.
I can feel something inside me say I really don’t think you’re strong enough, I sing-tell the husband (I have had 2 mimosas).
Cher, he says. There was no patter. She didn’t talk between songs.
I stop, think about this. I am open-mouthed with surprise, because heis right – she didn’t talk. She arrived for each song in her Cher Delivery Device, sang in the doorway of the Cher Delivery Device, walked ten steps left of the Cher Delivery Device, then ten steps right of the Cher Delivery Device, then returned to the Cher Delivery Device to be borne away by bare-chested male dancers and a wave of applause.
But never once did she talk to us. Not even to say “Hello Las Vegas!” not to mention “Are you having a good time?” or even “Good luck!” It was very unCher-like.
You’re right! I told the husband.
It might not even have been Cher, the husband pointed out. They never showed a close up of her on the video wall.
And he was right. It could very easily not have been Cher in that show, climbing out of all of those gorgeous Cher Delivery Devices. It could have been a transtastic imposter, for all we knew.
We looked at each other, shocked.
The husband broke the silence.
I don’t care! he said. It was still great!
And he was right – it was all great, the Cher show that might not have starred Cher was great. It was all just great, a show of shows in that place of places.