“Believe in magic and it’ll happen.” ~ Sonny Bono
Don’t you love how we all have unique soundtracks to our lives?
Hear a certain song and it instantly takes you back — right there, feeling all the feels . . .
They say we’re young and we don’t know
We won’t find out until we grow.
Well I don’t know if all that’s true
‘Cause you got me and baby I got you
I got you babe
I got you babe
The year is 1965, a very good year for popular music. The Stones sought “Satisfaction,” Dylan confronted us with “Like a Rolling Stone,” the Temptations crooned about “My Girl,” Pet Clark hung out “Downtown,” the Beatles played Shea Stadium, and Arlo Guthrie got arrested for littering.
My friends and I lived and breathed music, poring over the pages of Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine, saving our money for albums and concert tickets, daydreaming about meeting our many idols. Long hair and guitars? Yes, please. British accents? Triple yes. We instantly became rabid fans. So many cute rockers, so little time. 🙂
And then there was Sonny and Cher. Never dreamed we’d fall so hard for such an oddly dressed couple. Sure, there were other singing duos we loved (Chad and Jeremy, Peter and Gordon come to mind) — but these two were so different, clearly smitten with one another, and their chemistry on stage had us clutching our hearts, yearning for that same brand of pure, perfect love.
We tried to emulate fashion icon Cher, with her gorgeous long black hair, Cleopatra eye make-up, bell bottom outfits and flashy gem stone rings. Sonny was adorable and fun-loving in his bobcat vest and Caesar haircut, exuding a certain paisano charm and friendliness.
Their signature song, “I Got You Babe,” released in July 1965, shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, selling over a million copies in the U.S., while also hitting #1 in the UK and Canada. Once their first studio album, Look at Us, came out in August, there was no stopping them and they were everywhere, touring and appearing on popular TV shows like “Shindig,” “Hollywood Palace,” “The Ed Sullivan Show,” “American Bandstand,” and “Hullabaloo.”
And we watched them all, and listened to their music constantly. When we heard they were coming to Hawai’i for a concert in December, we were ecstatic.
Remember the local fan club I told you about? Somehow we were lucky enough to arrange a private luau with Sonny and Cher, to be held at the swanky beachfront home they were renting on Diamond Head Road, a few days after their concert at the HIC Arena (now Blaisdell Center).
It definitely seemed surreal, a dream come true, and of course we were beside ourselves with excitement and anticipation. The luau was scheduled for a week night; just getting to Waikiki from Wahiawa was an adventure. None of us were old enough to drive, and though we faithfully took the bus every Saturday to the K-POI radio station studio in Honolulu for our club meetings, we’d never ridden the bus at night to travel that far from home. Since it was a school night, I was surprised my parents let me go.
The bus trip took almost two hours (with one transfer in downtown Honolulu). It’s always a treat to cruise through Waikiki at night — there’s just something about the lights and busyness that’s glamorous and exhilarating.
Past the city, we rode a short distance along the southeastern coast of O’ahu before deboarding at the stop closest to the Otani estate. I’d always loved the large, luxurious homes in the area; they were the kind of homes rich people you didn’t know lived in, homes you could only dream about visiting.
We rang the bell and were allowed access through the gated entrance. With wide eyes and dropped jaws, we slowly took everything in — the gorgeous house, beautiful pool, manicured grounds, that certain magic of gentle tropical breezes at dusk.
There couldn’t have been more than 30 club members in attendance that night. Low tables had been set up in the pool/patio area, and after chatting briefly amongst ourselves, we saw Sonny come out of the house, as casual as could be. We played it cool, of course, like it was an everyday occurrence to be that close to someone you’d been idolizing for months. We kind of stared politely from a distance as he chatted with our radio DJ/club advisor and our fan club president and vice president.
We soon took our seats on the grass, ready for typical luau food: poi, kalua pig, laulau, lomi lomi salmon, and haupia (coconut pudding). I remember Cher was a little late joining us. Apparently she had been swimming or something before we arrived, and had to shower before dinner.
She finally emerged in a red and white floral print long muumuu, hair still damp, no make-up. Her half-sister Georganne was there too, wearing the same muumuu in another color (blue?). Unlike Cher, Georganne had blonde hair.
We were seated too far away to hear any of their or Sonny’s dinner conversation, or to notice whether they actually liked the Hawaiian food. No matter, we would get closer later.
When it was time for dessert, we all went inside. That house! It had at least 5 different living rooms. Never seen anything like it, not even in the movies. It was like Cinderella finally going to the ball.
Now was our chance to mingle freely with our idols; we had brought our souvenir programs to get autographs. I wish I could say that I was able to approach them and make clever small talk, but I was awestruck and dumbstruck, and naturally shy to boot. Awkward and nerdy doesn’t begin to describe it.
I was 14, Cher was 19, and Sonny was 30. What do you say (without senseless babbling) to the hottest rock duo on the planet? I somehow managed to get them both to sign my program: “To Jama, Love Cher” in her big loopy hand (she had practiced her autograph for years growing up). And, “For Jama, Love Sonny,” in cursive with more of a right slant. I know I was shaking the whole time.
But. This is the part I’ll never forget. Sonny made me feel at ease. Where Cher was quiet and more introverted, Sonny was outgoing, personable, and very unassuming. His smile made you feel warm all over. He was happy to pose with us for as many photos as we wanted (remember Instamatic cameras?). He made us laugh. A very kind man, with lots of charisma.
For dessert we’d ordered this big sheet cake — chocolate dobash. Cher perked up when the cake was brought out and confessed that sweets were a big weakness (I’d read that she also loved milk shakes). She happily gobbled up her piece, licking the frosting off her fingers.
All too soon it was time to go. We starry-eyed teeny boppers drifted outside, pinching ourselves over what we’d just experienced. It would take weeks before our feet touched the ground again.
You see musicians on a concert stage, on TV shows and in magazines, and they’re larger than life. You idolize them and make up fantasies about what their lives are really like. When you’re 14, your fandom can be very intense. You can truly love people you don’t actually know; the point is that you can make them into whatever you need to believe in at the time.
I so envied Sonny and Cher’s relationship and lifestyle. When they sang, “I Got You Babe,” they were really living it. A few years later, though, their popularity would begin to wane. Music tastes had shifted in favor of druggies and psychedelic rock. Despite their outlandish dress, Sonny and Cher were pretty straight. They didn’t seem to fit into the big picture anymore.
I continued to follow their careers with great interest over the years, as they did the nightclub circuit (which Cher hated), to their successful prime time TV shows, even with their two box office bombs (“Good Times” and “Chastity”). I was sad to hear of their divorce after about a decade together, but impressed by their resilience and determination to reinvent themselves.
Cher, of course, went on to mega stardom as an Oscar and Golden Globe winning actor, Grammy winning solo singer, and pop culture icon. After a brief stint with television work (remember Sonny on “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat”?), he opened several eateries in California and Texas, before launching his political career, first as Mayor of Palm Springs, and then as Representative from California’s 44th Congressional District.
I was quite sad when I heard Sonny had died in a skiing accident (1998), and wept through Cher’s moving eulogy at his funeral.
It is true what she said. Sonny had the smarts to take an introverted 16-year-old and an Italian with a bad voice and turn them into ‘Sonny and Cher.’ When they first met, they shared big aspirations — Cher for fame, Sonny for success. Sonny wanted nothing more than to make Cher a big star; he was constantly honing his skills as a writer, arranger, and producer, eager to learn wherever and from whomever he could.
Both he and Cher worked as session singers for Phil Spector before hitting it big. Because Cher was petrified of singing alone, Sonny sang with her, standing alongside her in the studio, encouraging her every step of the way. That’s how they became an unintentional singing duo.
Although Sonny has said in interviews that he thought Cher would have become famous without him, I think first being part of Sonny and Cher was critical in her growth as an artist for many reasons, not the least of which was her witnessing Sonny’s relentless pursuit of success, and his ability to create his own opportunities where convenient/obvious ones did not exist. And I don’t think she could have found anyone else at the time who so wholeheartedly believed in her and her raw talent like he did.
This summer I finally got around to reading his autobiography, Sonny Bono: And the Beat Goes On (Pocket Books/S&S, 1991). I learned that their relationship as well as their career had many ups and downs — different, of course, from the idyllic fantasy life I’d imagined them leading when I was 14. It was not a disappointment, but a revelation, and my admiration for them has only deepened.
I’m glad our paths crossed, however briefly, when they were at their peak. They were still young, didn’t take their newly won fame for granted, and represented a unique brand of individualism, creativity, and idealism characteristic of the 60’s.
I marvel at how I’ve carried Sonny’s kindness with me all these years. Just goes to show that nothing matters more than how you treat other people. Long after you’ve forgotten, there will be some who will always remember.
When S&C were together, Sonny did the cooking. He’d always enjoyed cooking at home and entertaining friends, so it’s not too surprising that he decided to go into the restaurant business.
He first opened a trattoria in L.A. called “Bono’s” in 1983, with a sister eatery in Houston following soon after. Eventually he sold his share of the Houston restaurant to concentrate his energies in L.A.
As fate would have it, one day a beautiful young woman dining in his restaurant caught his eye. Mary Whitaker, 22, was fresh out of college with an art history degree. He struck up a conversation and they soon began dating exclusively, with Mary moving into Sonny’s home in Palm Springs. She helped Sonny find a small restaurant there that was part of a golf complex, which he leased and then renovated into a laid back version of the original L.A. Bono’s. He and Mary were married about a month after the Palm Springs Bono’s opened, and they would go on to enjoy a happy, peaceful life with their two children.
Mr Cornelius grew hungry after hearing about Sonny’s restaurants (no surprise), so we dug up one of his favorite pasta recipes. It’s a very basic fresh tomato sauce with spaghetti. Probably blanching and peeling the tomatoes is the most time consuming part of the recipe. With a good quality olive oil, fresh basil and garlic, you really can’t go wrong. I imagine canned tomatoes would work just fine when juicy summer tomatoes aren’t available. No simmering required, so this one comes together quickly.
Sonny Bono's Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce
- 1 pound spaghetti
- 5 large ripe tomatoes
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 bunch basil, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Crushed red pepper to taste
- Parmesan cheese to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions. While cooking, prepare sauce. Blanch tomatoes in boiling water for 1 minute, then peel and dice. Sauté garlic in oil over medium heat until tender. Add tomatoes and sauté one minute. Add basil, stir, and remove from heat. Toss pasta with tomato sauce. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with crushed red pepper and Parmesan.
While you’re digesting your spaghetti, listen once again to Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” First video is from 1965, and the second is from 1987, the last time they sang it together on “The David Letterman Show.” So much had happened in between.
Here is how Sonny describes writing the song:
There are times when all the desperate strings of the tapestry you are trying to weave come together magically. It is impossible to explain why. You aren’t doing anything different than before, but for some inexplicable reason, everything gels. At those times, it is best to be either at the crap tables or the piano, which is where I was when I wrote ‘I Got You Babe.’
Actually, the song came quickly, in one energetic spurt, as did most of my songs. Sitting at the kitchen table, I began absentmindedly scribbling lyrics on the back of a sheet of cardboard I plucked from some laundry just back from the cleaners. When it was about half done, I went downstairs and completed the song in about an hour. Then I sprung it on Cher, who grabbed the cardboard from the piano and grinned, ‘I’m going to save this forever.’
Occasionally you write a song, don’t think much of it and then, surprise, it explodes. But other times you know, absolutely, without a doubt, the song is solid gold waiting to happen. That’s the type of enthusiasm Cher and I had about ‘I Got You Babe.’ We knew. We couldn’t race to the studio fast enough to record it.
Sonny had tears in his eyes by the end. Despite the bad blood that had passed between them, their musical bond was still there. He’d believed in magic, and together, Sonny and Cher had been able to convey the magic that had touched their lives to all of us.
Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at Teacherdance. Be sure to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Stay safe, be well, mask up, and enjoy your weekend.
Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.