Ladies and Gentlemen, Cher
If challenged to categorize my generation of gay men into forums, I’d split them by those who love Cher and those who can’t stand her. I accept this is a stereotype that would prostrate many, but I see it as parallel to being an American who identifies as either Republican or Democrat. Some would argue that Madonna is a better barometer, but with such diverse musical styles over the years, I think almost everyone can agree—including my father—that there is a song or two by Madonna they really do like. Cher on the other hand is more like a drag queen. You either get her or you don’t.
As for me, it wasn’t love at first sight. When Cher had top 10 hits with “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves” and “Half Breed,” I wanted nothing to do with her. I was in love with Joni Mitchell. I also listened to the vinyl of Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, the Stones and the Fifth Dimension. Even back then I loved Cher’s voice and thought it would be great if she would do a pop/rock album. I had always intended on telling her so when we met. “Cher,” I’d say, “do some better music, damn it! You’re such a talented and attractive girl.” As her movie career ignited in the 1980’s, David Geffen founded a new record label and lo and behold the first album released was with Joni Mitchell and the second, Cher. And our love affair began. So, second to Joni and ahead of Madonna, Sade and Stevie (Wonder and Nicks), Cher would define me as “one of those” gay men. Still, it never occurred to me that Cher would be a catalyst that would bind me to a man and a love unrequited.
I saw Cher in concert four times. First in Las Vegas, courtesy of my friends Steve and Margie, who invited me as their guest to the opening of the Venetian Hotel. The surprise being that Cher was the inaugural performer. I didn’t handle that information with any sense of decorum or maturity.
When she came to New York with the “Believe” tour, again Steve got us seats. At one point during the concert, I was staring at Cher and seemed to fall into a state somewhere between hysterical and catatonic. That may sound like an oxymoron but it’s accurate. Steve looked at me and whispered, “You happy?”
The fourth performance was a gift from my high-school era friend, Rick, who took me to one of Cher’s numerous “Farewell Tour” shows. But it is the third concert in which an emotional wrench was curve-balled into my middle aged world.
I feel I should explain that although I’ve loved seeing Cher perform live, I don’t really appreciate the spectacle that defines her concerts. They are massively produced extravaganzas which are not really my thing. For me, it’s all about her voice. It’s an instrument that viscerally soothes this soul like no one else’s. Personally, I like it best when she struts on stage wearing a gown, or simply a blouse and a pair of jeans, long hair flowing, sits on a stool and rips into a song. Eyes staring or closed, I am transported. So even though I’m one of those who loves Cher, I’m probably not her predictable fan. But very typically, I seem to think she and I share some cosmic intimacy that connects artist and obsessed sycophant.
As with the second and fourth, the third Cher concert I attended was at Madison Square Garden. I asked my “hair-dresser” (I love that word—like “stewardess”) Tommy to come with me. Who better to take to a Cher concert than the person who “does” your hair? And typical to Tommy’s romantic side, he suggested that I might meet someone there. Having been to stadium concerts since the age of 8, I knew better.
I wore black leather pants (a gift from Steve and Margie) and a green Versace v-neck I had initially bought for my trip to Las Vegas for the first Cher retreat. We were seated stage left, 7th row, in the CocaCola section of corporate house seats. What a bunch was our cola group. From gay couples of all ages to a nostalgic crew of over-the-hill flower children to silver haired women dressed as if dining at the captain’s table on a cruise to the Bahamas.
Directly in front of us was a treacherously drunk woman in her forties and her escort, a good looking, picnic-dressed man. Throughout the concert the stud kept turning around to stare at me. I became uncomfortable because he was ridiculously handsome. Short black hair, clean-shaved chiseled jaw, a smile an evangelist would envy, dark, hypnotic eyes, and a nose job that made his profile a bit too pretty for his masculine aura. I speculated that he might be a female impersonator who had had rhinoplasty to allow his facial features to imitate Judy Garland or Dolly Parton or Cher.
His intoxicated friend was the first to talk to me. She was bawdy and flirtatious so I took the direct approach, telling her I was interested in meeting her friend. I went so far as to ask if he was single. She said “yes!” and pulled him over. He too was inebriated to the point of slurring, but the flirtation between us was lucid and mutual.
After the concert ended, our crowd streamed en masse toward the bathrooms where human lines stretched beyond the length of a football field. While waiting, I fired up my nerve and told the beautiful stranger that Tommy and I were going to a bar downtown. If he wanted to meet us there, he could and should. Not sure how this was going to go over, I handed him my cell and asked him to punch in his home number. This was also the first time I genuinely appreciated owning a mobile phone.
Tommy and I exited the Garden and casually strolled down 8th Avenue to Chelsea. While walking, I called what I thought was the mystery man’s home. Instead of going to an answering machine, someone picked up. Reacting like a teenage twit, I hung up. I looked at Tommy wide eyed and said “shit, he has a roommate or a lover or something. Some guy just answered.” Then my cell rang back and I froze. Tommy rolled his eyes.
My phone registered a voicemail. He’d given me the number to his cell (obviously). The message said he wanted to talk to me. I took a deep, dramatic breath and nervously returned the call. He explained he wasn’t free to meet but could we please speak later. He was on a train heading home to the New Jersey suburbs. And I finally learned his name. Tony would get in touch soon. “Soon” was the next afternoon.
Contrary to what his drunken friend led me to believe, Tony had a wife and two children. The marriage was at its end—or so he claimed. He was 39 years old and if he was telling me the truth, he had never been with another man before. He also said that no one knows he’s gay. I replied that his concert date must know, but he swore that she was too drunk to be aware of anything going on between us. I finally asked, “Let me see if I understand this. You go to Cher concerts and have that nose job but nobody knows you’re gay?”
On a Tuesday morning, after a week of erratic but extended phone conversations, Tony came to my apartment, dressed in a suit and tie. Cher’s one acoustic cd, “not.com.mercial” was playing on a loop, soft and pervasive. With no alcohol in his veins, it took him into the afternoon hours to get comfortable enough to undress. I don’t deny the seemingly endless anticipation was as powerful as a drug. The song “Born with the Hunger” came on as I took his hand and led him to my bed. With complete abandon, Anthony made love to me with manic desperation, as if he thought he might not live to see another sunrise.
Skin on skin, drained and exhilarated, our conversations were unmapped territory. I remember thinking the words Tony spoke may have been the most profoundly honest thoughts he had ever said aloud. In a world away from his suburban upper-middle class existence, he saw in me what could become home. His goodbye kiss tasted natural and sad.
I never knew when Tony would call but the pattern set was always a weekday visit. Often first making love, then going to a neighborhood bistro for lunch. If there was time, we’d come back to my apartment and have sex again. He sometimes talked about what it would be like to have a place of our own. Here in Manhattan, or maybe in South Florida, where he felt he could be himself. But his insular mindset was so engrained and confining he couldn’t consider dreams like these. His family and friends would never understand. When I brought up living free after his children were adults, the suggestion was unfathomable. Possibilities be damned, this is all he could allow himself—all he and I would have. Nothing out of the ordinary for me, completely fantastical in his eyes.
Tony would stay with his family; he wouldn’t come out of the closet; I would never learn his home address. As obsessive as our trysts were, there was nowhere to go as long as he kept going back across the river. I was his confidant and his high-wire flight and I was also aware I could not be content with this long term. Come summer, it was gone. And for reasons I hadn’t connected at the time, I stopped listening to Cher.
Late December, on a Tuesday morning, the buzzer to my apartment rang. My intercom wasn’t working and I chose to ignore it. But as in any good script, it kept sounding, so I went down to the lobby to see who the hell was leaning on my buzzer. Standing outside the two glass doors in a gray three piece suit, with his SUV double parked, was Tony, looking like a daydream movie idol.
I told him to park the car. He said he couldn’t. I told him to park the car. He said he had an appointment downtown. I told him to park the car. He came upstairs and made love to me like a soldier returning home after D-Day.
Tony called me the next day to see how I was. I was okay. There may be occasional phone calls and possibly, from time to time, a clandestine afternoon of heat, as long as I’m single and he can find me. I liked being his secret and I miss the frantic addictive intensity of our borrowed time. No angry comments on how I think he should live his life – after all, I live mine the way that I choose. I let him in and I understand the consequences.
He has never called again.
Sometimes late at night while lying in bed, I’ll put on headphones and listen to Cher. In my mind’s eye I see a beautiful man standing in front of me at a concert in Madison Square Garden. Cher is singing “The Way of Love.” He’s crying.
Andrew Sarewitz has written several short stories (published work listed below) as well as scripts for various media. His play, Madame Andrèe received an Honorable Mention from both the 2018 Writers Digest Competition, Play/Screenplay Division, and the 2018 New Works of Merit Contest (Loyola University, New Orleans), as well as garnering First Prize from Stage to Screen New Playwrights in San Jose, CA, winning the honor of opening the festival series in August of 2019. The script for his play Five Men, Four Beds advanced to the Second Round at the 2019 Austin Film Festival Competition and Andrew’s spec script for his sitcom, The White House is a Finalist in the 2019 Pitch Now Screenplay Competition.