Saturday, January 5, 2013

Sonny Side Up

"Keep your sunny side up, up,
Drown a frown with a smile.
If you think it's raining for you,
Just remember, others are blue."

Lew Brown

The timing was ironic, I suppose, for Mary Bono Mack's defeat in her bid for another term in the U.S. House last November.

She has represented that California district ever since she was elected to succeed her late husband, Sonny Bono, who died in a skiing accident 15 years ago today.

Whenever I think of him, I mostly think of him as an entertainer, primarily in his musical partnership with his second wife, Cher. They recorded a few hit songs together, the most noteworthy being "I Got You, Babe," which was their signature song.

Nearly all of my exposure to Bono was the result of his entertainment career. And I always made a mental connection between him and the song "Sunny Side Up," even though it wasn't one of his compositions — and, to my knowledge, he never sang it in public.

Sonny was an appropriate name for him. I don't know how he acquired that nickname — it certainly wasn't his given name — but it described his personality.

I can still remember the first time I saw Sonny Bono in a non–entertainment context. (Well, it was kind of entertaining, in its way.)

It was during TV coverage of the 1976 Republican National Convention.

Bono had been invited to sit with President Gerald Ford's family, and TV cameras frequently showed his image as he hobnobbed with the president's wife and children.

The most comical moment came when Bono and the first lady disco danced after Ford had secured the nomination.

Until I saw Bono at the Republican convention, I had no idea what his political leanings were.

And I might never have known his political views if he had not encountered a mountain of red tape when he tried to open a restaurant in Palm Springs, Calif. Largely because of that experience, he ran for — and was elected — the mayor of Palm Springs in 1988.

Six years later, he was elected to Congress. It was a couple of months after he had won his third term that he hit a tree while skiing near Lake Tahoe.

Sonny was a character, but he understood public relations in a way that few do. After the Republicans had seized control of both houses of Congress in 1995, he reportedly observed that Republican leader Newt Gingrich had gone from being regarded as simply a politician to being a celebrity.

And that was a game changer.

"The rules are different for celebrities," Bono told the authors of "Tell Newt to Shut Up."

"You need handlers. You need to understand what you're doing. You need to understand the attitude of the media toward celebrities."

Bono always seemed to handle himself just fine, and it might not be a bad idea for today's politicians to follow the example he set. He was humble, a carryover, perhaps, from his entertainment days when he always used to say Cher was a better singer.

(She was, but that was beside the point.)

He brought a common–man approach to his work in Washington. A member of the House Judiciary Committee even though he held no law degree (he didn't even finish high school), I recall that Bono complained that the lawyers on the committee were fond of rhetorical games and did more to restrict law enforcement than empower it.

Sonny might not fit the modern Republican Party. He was, reportedly, more accepting of his gay daughter (who redefined herself as a transsexual after his death) than Cher, the more liberal of the two.

He was something of an environmentalist, and he was always a patron of the arts. While mayor of Palm Springs, he helped create the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

He was often put down by his congressional colleagues and the media that covered him. He was called a "dim bulb" and an "idiot savant from way beyond the Beltway," but he had common sense that many of today's lawmakers could use.

No comments: