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November 10, 2004

How to Narrate a Self with Cher

Devon Cass is a Cher impersonator, photographer and make-up artist and the author of �Double Take: The Art of the Celebrity Makeover." Our interview was conducted at Devon�s east village studio on November 4, 2004.

Excerpt:
Tina: You can just start where you were�

Devon: I can tell you the first time I ever thought
I was
kind of like a whim in my mind
I was 13
and I loved Cher and I used to listen to her every Saturday when I was cleaning the house
and the album cover Take Me Home
I loved the picture on the cover and I would look at it for hours and hours
and one day I went Oh my God! I have her eyes, I have her nose, I have her mouth.
And then the back picture there was a body shot
she was kind of standing like this [jumps out of chair to illustrate] in the mirror
and I was a little boy at the time and I go into the bathroom and I pull up my shirt and I stood like that [back in chair but gestures with a sweeping motion down his leg]
and I was like I have the same line with my leg
and that was it, I was like OK and I never thought about it again.
I never told anyone that I think I look like Cher.
Then I moved to New York.
And at that time I had short hair
and before I moved here it was odd because these people would come up to me and say do you know who you look like, it�s unbelievable
so I�m thinking I have no idea, you know
I didn�t even think Cher at the time.
And they were like �come on people must tell you this all the time� and I would say who and they would say John Travolta.
And I was like really?
I mean now I look at pictures from then
from that era
and I did look like John Travolta.
I had that greased hair. It was very greased and coming down [gestures] and I had the cleft.
The difference between his face and mine is that his mouth is a bit different.
Not as big. So, that�s why I didn�t see it.
But I see pictures now at that age and I kinda did look like John Travolta
now I see what they saw.
Then I came to New York and at all the Korean deli�s they were like [in a mock Korean accent] �John Travolta, John Travolta!� and I was like Jesus Christ.
So, then I let my hair grow out.
Like the Bon Jovi hair
and so I started dating this guy and he was like �you look like a celebrity�
and I was thinking he would say John Travolta
and he said I don�t want to offend you because it�s a woman
and I was like who?
and he was like you kind of look like Cher.
Interesting.
And that reminded me of that time when I was a little kid.
At this point I had already been doing celebrity work on other people
I had traveled with this show
did photography
did make-up
and I loved the work
the art form
and uh I had worked with this other guy who had do Liza and Judy
and Diana and worked with his make-up and I just loved the art form.
I thought I would love to do this
But who would I do?
so when people started saying that to me [that he looked like Cher]
I thought I am going to try it.
And as you remember in my show I have the thing called the Evolution of Cher
and there�s that first shot and I look horrible
I have my own hair
and I have this horrible dress on
I had been doing the Mommie Dearest videos
Which you saw
And at the end of that I was like let�s see what I look like
If I can look like Cher
So, I tossed up my hair because it was horrible
I could kind of see it
In moments
but then I was like uh no
that�s not right.
I couldn�t get it because I was using my own hair.
Oddly enough, this woman came to me who wanted to look like Cher
She was like a 50 year old woman and she had this wig
So she went to the bathroom and when she was gone I threw on the wig
Oh My God
Even with no facial hair I looked like Cher
I knew at that point, that was when the obsession started.
That was when it was born.
It took me about six years from the time of that first video to get it where it is today.
And I had already been a make-up artist for ten years when I started.
I never thought I would be able to sing live.
I always lip synched and then I became bored
with the studio because it was work and I wanted a hobby, so I started singing lessons.
A friend told me about this guy
Who was a soprano
Who could probably help me sing like Cher.
At that point I would sing like [singing] if I could turn back time
All down here and trying to hit her keys
And I was wrecking my voice.
But with this guy I was able to get it
to sing her songs without getting tired and wrecked
sound more like her.
Now I�m almost singing in her keys
Which is a lot of fun.
The serious aspect of it is that now I can control the show.
Now I am the show
even though I�m doing Cher, it�s really me
I�m controlling the show
How I make people feel
through her, it�s still through her
But it�s me, you know.
With lip synching you really can�t go above her performance
that�s why I like singing live.

Reflections:

How to transcribe the interview was perhaps the most difficult decision posed to me during this task. While I decided in advance of the interview to transcribe the tapes verbatim with ellipses (or some other form of punctuation) notating any pauses, when I sat down with the tapes I realized that the bulk of my transcribed sentences were ellipses. Not only was this visually distracting but it did not capture the movement of the conversation. I still wanted to transcribe the interview verbatim; however, I needed to find a way to record Devon�s particular phrasing. Since each of Devon�s �answers� lasted anywhere from three to fourteen minutes, I really had to pay attention to how he transitioned from one topic to another, to what I think of as the movement of his narrative. I, therefore, used line breaks to indicate where Devon gave pause or took a breath. (Although I anticipate that the formatting of the blog might interfere with the formatting of the longer sentences).

In retrospect, the best preparation for me was really figuring out what kinds of information could be obtained from my interview with Devon. It may seem banal but I had to reformulate my checklist a few times to purge the questions that were part of MY project not Devon's. I think this prepared me to go into the interview with the goal of learning as much about Devon�s understanding of his work, relationship to Cher, etc. I chose the afore excerpt in an effort to highlight the ways in which Devon�s responses narrate and narrativize his/the self. In particular, I am enticed to analyze not only how Cher becomes a point of reference for Devon�s mapping of the self but also how Cher becomes a mode of performance.

Posted by at November 10, 2004 11:28 PM