By Nicole Ryan & Jessika McLaughlin
I wish writing about Cher wasn’t so hard. I guess that’s when you know the feelings are real; too deep to ever really be accessed or understood. Words can’t bring the way I feel about her to life. They always feel subpar. Yet here I am, twenty-two and still crying like I did when I was eight, trying to write about Cher
With wide eyes, I listened as my mom explained the show I had stayed up all night waiting for her to get home from. In awe, I was captivated as she explained the mechanical elephant Cher rode out on, and the turquoise boots with the curled toes. As my mom described the show, something inside me sparked. It felt like the stars aligning, as if part of who I was could be found interwoven in who she was. I was instantly mesmerized. Finally, I had an image, a road map for who I was, and who I wanted to be. I no longer felt lost.
My whole life, I’ve never really fit in. When I was young, I always felt like an outsider looking in on the other kids who all so easily seemed to mesh with one another. I spent a lot of time really sick which left me always feeling the need to hide like there was something wrong with me. Amidst the constant bullying at school and undeniable fact that I was different, I felt isolated.
Cher changed everything. She was like a magnet that I couldn’t help but be drawn to. I identified with her feelings of being an outsider and admired her confident, no bullshit attitude, and larger than life presence. She was the first person I ever looked at and said, “That’s who I want to be when I grow up.” She gave me something to aspire to and made me feel as though I had purpose, she made me feel like I had worth. The more I learned about her the more I felt like I was learning about myself, seeing all that I could someday be.
In my childhood, I admired and loved Cher, the singer, actress, superstar. It wasn’t until I grew up, until life really hit me that I realized who I loved all along wasn’t the woman in the black dental floss turn back time outfit. When it came down to it, none of that mattered. I realized more and more that the Cher I loved was the woman who was left when all the makeup has been removed. When all the stage lights have gone dark and the costumes are put away. The Cher that’s vulnerable. The Cher that’s afraid of being hurt so she closes herself off. The Cher who gives wholeheartedly. The shy, introverted Cher who struggles with depression. The Cher who sometimes feels lost, and alone. That’s the Cher I love. I love that Cher more than any music making, Oscar winning Cher, because I know that there’s that wide eyed little girl, just like I once was, existing inside this seemingly confident, powerhouse of a woman. I know there is the vulnerable Cher who puts on the tough, flawless face when she braces the public. And isn’t that what we’re all doing? We all have to put on an act sometimes. We all have to wear a brave face and pretend we’re put together, pretend we’re okay, even if we sometimes aren’t. To me, that’s what takes courage, that’s what makes someone strong. That’s what is real. When you’re little, sometimes you forget your heroes are human. But I learned the reason I loved Cher wasn’t because she was a superhero. It’s because she’s as flawed and messed up as the rest of us, just in 10,000 sequins and a neon pink wig.
I would never have imagined that night, as I stared with eyes sparkling listening to my mom’s story, how greatly Cher would impact my life. If I could tell that little girl one thing, it’d be “you’re one hell of a lucky kid because the things you’re going to learn, the people you’re going to meet and (best) friends you’re going to make, the person you are going to become, are without words.” No one who comes into your life lacks a purpose. Or as Pauli would say, “There are no accidents.” By no accident did Cher come into my life, leading me to the best people and the person I am today. Everything I am is made up of little pieces I’ve collected from Cher. In everything I go to do, I take with me something I’ve learned from her. She’s with me always.
And as I stood in front of her, surrounded by my two favorite people, she looked me in the eyes and said, “Move to New York. Be a Writer.” All of the tears, all of my hopes and dreams and all of the shit I had to go through to realize them, it all felt worth it. Everything felt possible. Things come full circle, and those are the moments life is all about.
There was no solitary moment in time that would suggest Cher would come to mean so much to me. Our lives have always been intertwined and I have no memory of it being any other way. From the beginning, she was always what I didn’t have, so that I could be whatever my heart desired. A North Star for a girl who seems to always be firmly planted in mid air.
I saw myself in the parts of Cher that were still doe-eyed and lost. I am that little girl who had her shoes tied with rubber-bands so they wouldn’t fall apart. I would use tape on mine and call them my lucky sneakers in hopes it would deter the others from asking questions. I saw myself in all the times she held on too long to people and things that weren’t meant for her. In the bricks of the walls that she built too high for good hearts to climb. We share the ability to romanticize the past into poetry and exhaust ourselves while trying to fix what was already broken. I think of her each time I stay in bed past noon.
Yet, we both found those who are willing to let the light in anyway. Friends who forgive us when we are too much and love us despite ourselves. We live in spite of ourselves.
In the light, Cher is the purest form of magic. Her passion for what she loves and believes in surpasses anything I have ever seen in another person. Over the years, I have seen her fail, only to get back up to repeat the process. She is a chameleon, reinventing herself innumerable times throughout her five decade-long career. From a shy backup singer in Phil Spector’s recording studio to the bad-ass in leather and fishnets holding a five-minute plank, she’s paved the way for every female artists by being brave and outspoken in the male-dominated music industry. Whether it be the cover of Time Magazine or an Academy Award in hand, Cher has had to fight for everything she’s ever gotten. Each time critics have tried to criticize or easily overlook her, she’s shown up stronger and in an even bigger headdress. That’s just the rebel in her.
“I feel like a bumper car. If I hit a wall I’m backing up and going in another direction. And I’ve hit plenty of fucking walls in my career. But I’m not stopping. I think maybe that’s my best quality: I just don’t stop.” -Cher
Cher keeps moving.
Keep moving. Like a mantra, I held onto this for dear life. I had it tattooed on my skin on a warm day in November so as to carry it with me every minute. It was a hand to grab as a kid and a deep breath now. It’s the most important lesson I have ever learned. It gets me out of bed before noon and keeps the walls lowered. It lets the light in. When I look down at my arm I’m reminded of Cher. I’m reminded to breathe. Despite whatever happens, because of Cher I’m able to keep moving. I don’t know what I’d have done if she hadn’t.