"Cher's really been very kind to us, in that she lets us know what's been going on in her life . . . Almost on a daily basis"
- Sonny Bono, From his routine with Cher at the Shady Grove
Yeah, but what about Sonny? Who worries about Sonny?
It's just not fair - really, it isn't. He walks into the Shady Grove, not exactly on time (which would make him a non-entity), but not formidably late (which would make him a Superstar). He walks in real casual: blue-jeaned and T-shirted and short and hang-loose and, for the moment, Cher-less. Cher, for her part, now in that fabled marriage to rock-star Allman, is - for the moment - Gregg-less. And Cher is moreover late. Not too late for her appearance in the show, but late enough.
"Cher," her one-time husband chuckles drily, "always comes in late by nature." And therein lies the difference.
For Sonny Bono is a changed man. The myth, by now, is invested in his former wife. Which is nothing new in this country. Jackie, who finally outshone Jack; Liz, who vanquished Dick; even Eleanor who triumphed over Franklin are (yes, it must come to this . .) the precursors of what happened to Sonny and Cher.
Beyond that, life has changed Sonny Bono - he is, after all, 42 and "the nice thing about age is you mellow out." Money has chnged him: "I've been wealthy and poor so often I feel like a cork." His modelling girl friend, Susie Coelho, has changed him.
And - lest we forget - Cher has changed him. Ever since that day, that fateful day in 1970 when she told him it was over. All over.And he, totally unprepared for this ("Maybe I was stupid . . .") was stunned. Just stunned.
"It was like being run over by a 747," he remembers, wincing. "A catastrophe. It took the period of a night. Maybe if I'd been more aware I might have recognized - something. But I was floored.
"I would say there was a feeling of betrayal when we broke up. I felt cheated - not so much over the marriage, but over the whole concept. I mean I was constructing something to go on a long time . . . I think I did a lot to develop her style and performance . . . And it was like someone yanking the plug on me. I would call it a breach of ethnics."
A suit (hers) a countersuit (his) over their business contracts. Finally, an out-of-court deal that guaranteed Sony $1.5 million in shows and appearances with his ex. Sonny Bono sighs and examies the bowl of fruit in the dressing room he will share with Cher. When she comes. "I don't think it was proper that I had to litigate to get what was mine." Yes there is something, not broken, but bowed about Sonny Bono these days.
He is "probably" rich - or will be when the property settlement comes down. He is enterprising and is working on a sit-com series for CBS. But he has also been taken down a notch.
"Our social conditioning is such," he says gently, "that nobody tells you about the end of the relationship, you know what I mean? I mean the end of the story is always, "THEY GOT MARRIED. THE END. You know?"
He smiles bitterly. "Nobody ever says, 'Listen. There's a chance you guys might fold up in a year or two. Nobody ever talks to you that way.Then there's this guilt. I mean you say you're not married and they say, 'Gee. That's too bad.' Well maybe it's not bad. But my point is nobody's prepared for the end.
"Oh I went to see a psychiatrist - three psychiatrists, really. And boy do they charge - 100 bucks, 50 bucks - and that's for the cheap ones." He shakes his head. "I was completely confused. And what do they do - Do you know what they do?"
He leans forward conspiratoriaily, as though imparting a secret. "They come in and they don't say anything to you. They always kind of let you think they'll put you back together. But what they never say, what they never EVER say is 'Wanna know something? There's no way in the world you guys are ever gonna get back together. Just no way."
In the professional sense, Sonny and Cher are, of course, back together. The TV series they shared has canceled ("Or," says Bono, grinning, "to put it much nicer, say, 'They dropped our option.'"). So Sonny and Cher are now on the road for these few months. It seems, as we've all noticed, that the industry accepts them more as a couple than as individuals. And now - all over the country - they are mocking their private grief before packed houses.
"But", says Bono, "this show is part of the (legal) settlement. If I didn't have a legal position. I don't know if I'd be here now. I doubt it. After the summer, it will be over, but I'd like to think that no matter what happens we'll still be able to call each other up and do things. It's a lot easier working with Cher. In fact it's too easy . . ."
Which is different from how it was before.
"When we brokeup," he remembers "her whole attitude - and her camp's attitude - was like, "GOODBYE FOREVER.'
He grimaces sharply, then smiles. "But you can't make predictions.Especially with Cher, you can't make predictions."
Furry tops, bell-bottomed trousers, corny-mod and deeply-deeply in love, they were, in 1965 the tuneful incarnation of every first kiss. The united-we-stand defiance of they-say-we're-young-and-we-don't-know.
Well, perhaps they didn't.
"Cher was 16 when we met," muses Sonny who is almost 12 years her senior, "and she really wanted to be protected. So your subconscious takes over and you protect this person and you guide her career . . .
"It grew out of her wanting something real bad - to be a performer, and her wanting to be a performer so much that it really let out my natural creativity. You know it's always easier to do things when you know the person you love will give you a Browniepoint for it."
Brownie points, indeed. "I Got You Babe," written by Sonny, sold to the tune of 4 million copies. Sonny was "awestruck." Cher was pliant. They said they were married. Now he says they were not - not then.
"I couldn't get married then,' cause I was getting a divorce. Then what happened was we got publically known. So we didn't marry legally until '67. Quietly at home."
And then came the barren period. After '65, you heard from them, it wasn't as if they'd fallen off the earth or anything, but who cared? Who wanted to know from olve?
"I would write a sporadic hit occasionally," he says. "Bang-Gang'and "The Beat Goes On'. But during that time it was difficult financially. So then I wrote a movie called 'Chastity.'"
Here's how Sonny Bono described his movie, 'Chastity' back in '68: "Today women are as independent as men, but they don't want to be. Every woman wants a man to take care of her and protect her. A woman will always test her man . . . but she wants him to set the limits."
A smile of contrition plays about his lips, as Bono listens to this old quotation. "That's why I say I really got an education. Today I would never make quote like that. I believe it's a stupid quote. Today I wouldn't step on anybody's tail-feathers - meaning women's."
In the summer of '70s, Sonny-Cher returned with a vengeance. On TV and right on target for that time.A brutal couple: she hostile, strong, aggressive and baiting. He - the womp. It was a new facade, and a highly calculated one: the disintegration of young love into prime-time antagonism. Sonny says they made Cher the dominant partner "because she dowsn't animate very much . . . She's very physical and glamorous, so we made her the focal point."
But it could not have been otherwise.
What they designed together, she became (if you can believe the women's mags) singly. He says they get along well; that they like each other; that they work well together. And that it's over. He says "She's a funperson to know" and that they "laugh about certain things." But it's over.
"You know I live in L.A." says Bono "but Susie, my girl friend often models in New York. And Cher will say, 'How can you let Susie be in New York? You never let me do anything . . .'"
Sonny shrugs. "But if Cher had said to me, 'Look I'm gonna to so-and-so, what was I gonna do about it. Everything changes and it changes on a regular basis. You change your opinions."
And the beat goes on . . .
"I like Allman," says Bono "I like him very much. He's certainly much better than David Geffen who got involved with what I could or could not do with Chastity (their daughter). Then, I can tell you I got very emotional. But Gregg - he never wanted to do anything with Chastity except be very good to her."
And is there any residue of the old I-Got-You-Babe feeling for Cher?
He shakes his head. "Cher's not my type, No, I'm not kidding when I say that. It's funny how nature takes over once you get over the ego thing . . .
"But I couldn't be hostile to Cher. When you're close to someone and you build something, it's much like a parent. You want them not to live every mistake. And then -" he shrugs - "They go out and do it anyway."
A parent? Was he then, perhaps, a father to Cher?
"Ya, I think so. It developed into that. It might have started out that way, too. That's why I say I really got an education . . ."
And do they get sick of each other's company? No they didn't, he says. And he grins wryly.
"It's better than being with a stranger."
Her perfume precedes her as she glides in 20 minutes before she is to appear, long after, all black hair and slinkiness, and it lingers long after the dressing room door is closed.
"Saw you on television," Cher informs her ex.
"Did you? He beams.
Teh minutes later she emerges from their dressing-room, diaphonous in her semi-nudity. Her breast, partly covered by sequins arranged in the shapes of a birth's plummage; her turquoise gown transparent under the lights. It is impossible to envy; hard not to admire.
"It is," she announces, "what they expect - you know?
"Wow . . . Cher," someone breathes, huskily, tonelessly,
"Yes," she acknowledges, "that's what they say."