Suddenly Cyndi Lauper Is In Our Faces Again


His arms waving wildly the man sitting at the bar finished the story with which he had been flirtatiously haranguing the tolerant bartender for several minutes “and she just grabbed her shirt and lifted it up to show her big round tummy right there on stage and she said am i showing ?” He laughed but that’s cyndi lauper for you.

The obvious question is since when do guys talk about Cyndi Lauper when they are getting plastered at carson street watering holes? But in this case it is somewhat understandable. Cyndi is opening for Cher this week at Star Lake so naturally she is on some people minds. The more subtle question is “what did the man at the bar mean when he said “Thats cyndi lauper for you” ? He might have just meant that she’s crazy even when she is mondo pregnant. By the time she finished that last tour of hers touting her 1996 album Sisters Of Avalon, she was ready to pop at any moment but that didn’t stop her from hopping around onstage as if it were still 1983.

It’s more likely though that he meant something a little broader namely that Cyndi is at her best when she is surprising people. When She’s So Unusual hit the charts 16 years ago it wasn’t just the albums infectious reggae grooves unforgettable melodies and quirky instrumentals provide by fellow 80’s pop stars. The Hooters moonlighting as Lauper’s backup band as they later would for Joan Osbourne that propelled Cyndi into the cultural spotlight. It was her style that clinched it her irrepressible feminist exuberance that came in the form of multi colored tresses songs about masturbation and lots of eyerolling at the tired old male power structure personified by Captain Lou Albano.

Ultimately Madonna proved a lot more sucessful in seizing upon 80’s America’s need for a post Blondie pop diva with punk attitude. But Cyndi did it first not to mention that she’s always been the better singer of the two.

“That album influenced me in a big way” says Chris Carnevali whose band the fuzzy comets has lately been at the vanguard of Pittsburgh fem pop. “I warped the cassette from over use.”

Through the late 80’s and early 90’s uneven material weighed Cyndi down. True Colors was a hit as was her Goonies soundtrack appearance but her failure to follow her She’s So Unusual with an equally outstanding collection of songs was a misstep that cost her superstardom. 1993’s Hat Full Of Stars had a half dozen great tunes but was marred by a half dozen more that were clunkers as well as by misplaced dancehall style production by Junior Vasquez.

Lately though Cyndi seems to have regained her ability to startle people into paying attention. The aforementioned sight of her swollen belly bouncing to and from onstage throughout 1997 ended up in magazine and newspaper pages across the country from Rolling Stone to the New York Post. Her unexpected cover of Disco Inferno for last year’s A Night At The Roxbury soundtrack has finally garnered her what she has been seeking for years, recognition from the dance club world.

The biggest surprise Cyndi hit us with recently seemed to come from out of left field, she can sing the blues like nothing you’ve ever seen. Appropriately enough this was revealed through a new collaberation with her old partners from She’s So Unusual. Cyndi rejoined the Hooters’ Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian and their producer Rick Chertoff for the 1998 roots rock epic Largo, an all star album featuring vocal performances by everyone from Joan Osbourne to Taj Mahal. Cyndi’s solo the torchy blues ballad White Man’s Melody is positioned as the centerpiece of the album and when she performed it live at the CD release party in New York, she made damn sure everyone knew why it was the centerpiece.

We already knew she could do betty boop. What we didn’t know was that she could cross betty boop with Ella Fitzgerald drop down to a whisper and send chills washing over us, making us imagine her musical past had been dressed in long white gloves rather than a ton of jangly bracelets.

If she’s smart she’ll be that well, that so unusual more often. It’s hard to ignore someone who gets a standing ovation in the middle of a concert.

Cyndi Lauper is More than An Opening Act

Two years ago, while on tour with Tina Turner, Cyndi Lauper was a pregnant diva. Now, a mom (to son Declyn), she’s back on the road again, this time with Cher. Hew new dance single “Disco Inferno ’99” (Jellybean Records) has the potential to be the dance anthem of what has started out to be a long hot summer.

GREG SHAPIRO: YOU HAVE HAD A FEW DIFFERENT PHASES IN YOUR CAREER. YOU STARTED OUT WITH ROCKABILY, MOVED TO NEW WAVE, THEN TO POP MUSIC AND NOW DANCE. CAN YOU TELL ME A LITTLE SOMETHING ABOUT THAT PROGRESSION?

CYNDI LAUPER: I always had dance music incorporated in my work, because I always thought that dance was more innovative. I was never, when I first came out like Madonna, she was an all-dance artist. I wasn’t like that. I was more like pop, and then they did remixes in the clubs. But, I got most of the sounds from the dance songs, like the drums, the gated snare, that was all from the dance music. And I always tried to mix the rockabily in with that.

GS: WHEN DO YOU THINK IT WAS THAT THERE WAS THE MOST NOTABLE CHANGE IN YOUR MUSICAL STYLE?

CL: It was really only in ’90 that my work took a shift, when I started to try and use loops with the pop music. I remember calling Shep Pettibone and asking Shep, because I had slowed down a house (music) beat to like 104 beats per minute, and he said, “Well, that’s a good pop song, but that’s not a dance song. It has to be 142 (beats per minute).” Then I just continued working on mixing stuff and taking the stuff I did with the Hooters and was doing with Allee Willis and added loops. I started doing loops with Allee. I was very excited about it. I loved the beat of rap. I’m a big fan of Queen Latifah. I started to mix all that stuff together.

GS: IN ADDITION TO WORKING WITH SHEP PETTIBONE, YOU’VE ALSO WORKED WITH OTHER REMIXERS.

CL: In 1992, I met Junior (Vasquez) and I also met Eric, the guy who was producing Run DMC. Junior understood exactly what I was trying to do…he told me without my telling him…so I figured we’d make a good match. I’ve been working on that kind of stuff since “Hat Full Of Stars.” It wasn’t that popular then, it was something new. Everybody thought I was a little insane. They said, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, that Lauper girl.” And then, in 1995, when Garbage and Alanis Morissette came out, it (using loops in pop music) became a popular thing to do. It was a natural outcome of the new beat that hip-hop created. When hip-hop started, it was like the beginning of rock and roll again, for me. It was like new wave when it first happened or the punk scene. It was new, it was fabulous. Things are still mutating and that’s the fun and beauty of music. I always incorporated dance in that, because Junior Vasquez was from the dance community.

GS: YOU CAN REALLY FEEL THAT ON THE “SISTERS OF AVALON” ALBUM.

CL: When I did “Sisters of Avalon,” I incorporated the dance beat with “The Ballad of Cleo and Joe.” The aim was to write a dance song. I wrote it because I had these wonderful (drag) performers that traveled all around the world with me when I did the “Twelve Deadly Cyns” and they performed with me on “(he Now) Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” the remake. I worked with all these different drag queens in every country, it was the most amazing thing. It inspired (the writing of “Cleo and Joe”). I wanted to write something in honor of them. So, I thought, “Cleopatra and Joe Blow,” it really could be a regular guy who transforms himself into this fabulous creature. Very Fellini. I, myself, am a bit of a drag queen from time to time.

GS: HOW DID YOUR CURRENT DANCE SINGLE COME ABOUT?

CL: “Disco Inferno” happened because it was one of my birthing songs. My husband (David Thornton), was in this movie called “The Last Days of Disco” and he played this guy Bernie. So, he brought all this music home from (the time of) Studio 54 to do his research. “Disco Inferno” was one of the songs (and it has the line), “Burn baby burn,” because his name was Bernie in the film and I started singing it all the time, and then the opportunity came up (for me) to do it in the movie. We did it and then all of a sudden it was nominated for a Grammy, and everybody was saying, “You’ve got to put this out.” So, Jellybean acquired it and now it’s on Jellybean’s label, which is a dance label. I’m going to have a good time with it. I enjoy dance music. The thing about dance music is that there’s a lot of room to sing. I don’t have to worry about someone saying, “Oh, she sings too high” or “Oh, it’s this or that.” It doesn’t matter. The dance community is one place where there’s no racial barrier, no sex barrier, no barrier whether you’re straight or not. There’s none of that prejudice shit. White, black, green, Martian, who gives a shit? Is it good? Can you dance to it? Is it alive? It’s happening.

GS: IT’S A MUCH FREER COMMUNITY.

CL: And you know what, I’m so much more relaxed there (laughs). I don’t do well with “suits.” I really don’t. I don’t know what it is. I guess I have to back into therapy.

GS: OVER THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS, YOU’VE BEEN ON SOME PRETTY SPECTACULAR TOURS. YOU’VE GONE FROM TOURING WITH TINA TURNER TO CHER. HOW DOES THAT FEEL?

CL: When I went on tour with Tina, I thought it was a great opportunity to promote the “Sisters Of Avalon” CD. It was a fabulous tour for me, except that her audience was much older. So, when I was talking about house music and deep house and I would look out in the audience, and these people, they don’t go to the clubs. So it became more like a stand-up (routine). It was a spectacular thing, because just touring with Tina alone was one of the most inspiring things. She’s got a great voice and every night when she would sing, she’d hit every freakin’ note. It’s pretty amazing. And I was sort of the big pregnant lady on tour (laughs). I used to wear the Iris Chacon outfits, because I figured I’m not going to wear a sack. I wore skin-tight latex. I figured, “Show the kid.” So me and the kid, on the inside, we’d go out there in foo-foo shoes and sing. Now, he’s on the outside, so it’s kind of peculiar.

GS: WHAT ABOUT THE CURRENT TOUR?

CL: This thing with Cher, the most remarkable thing is that I didn’t really want to go on a tour because I don’t have a full-fledged album. I just have this single coming out. I went on a few meetings and I felt like, well, “Do I really want to run right back into a corporate situation again?” Maybe I should just take a little bread. And then, when it came up a second time, and they said, “Come on, come on, this could be the biggest tour. You can do it, this is great, blah blah blah.” And I said, “Well, I’ve got the kid…but things started to become do-able. I decided to do the tour, and now, thinking about it, what I’m really knocked out about is two women (Turner and Cher) who people discounted, and who proved that it doesn’t matter how people see you, it’s how you see yourself. They came back with their strength and their longevity and they chose me to be with them because they feel that I have longevity, I guess. These are women who are remarkable, honestly, when you think about what they’ve done. And I know Cher, she’s a bit of a drag queen and I’m a bit of a drag queen. I’m right there with her. She’s an actress, she’s a singer. And I’m a singer’s singer, so I know she’s got a good voice, that one.

GS: ABSOLUTELY. WHAT DID YOU THINK THE PHIL COLLINS’ COVER OR “TRUE COLORS?”

CL: It was interesting. They made it work. I don’t know how intimate it was, but they made it work. They took a lot of stuff from our arrangement that we originally did and they added more music. That song can’t take a lot of music. You start putting a lot of music on there and it turns corny real quick. With that kind of sentiment (in the song), I always feel I go against it. I tried to do it in a really intimate way, to come from a very pure and emotion place, kind of naked. For me, I had a friend who had just passed away, and it was about healing. It was a healing song. It wasn’t just for the world, although it was, it was also for me. It was personal thing that I did. The Phil Collins version, I don’t know if he got that deep, but it was a good and beautiful song. Certainly, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly wrote a beautiful song. However you use those songs to tell your story is your business.

GS: WHEN WE SPOKE A COUPLE OF YEARS AGO, I ASKED YOU ABOUT WHAT BROADWAY MUSICAL YOU WOULD WANT TO DO IF YOU COULD DO ONE. YOU ANSWERED “ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.” GERNADETTE PETERS IS NOW DOING IT ON BROADWAY. WHAT ARE THE CHANCES THAT YOU WILL GET TO PLAY ANNIE IN A NATIONAL TOUR?

CL: God bless Bernadette Peters. She just got a Tony (award) for it. I don’t think I’d do a national tour. I either do it on Broadway or I wouldn’t do it.

GS: ARE THERE ANY OTHER SHOWS YOU MIGHT CONSIDER DOING ON BROADWAY?

CL: Yes. I’ve been approached to do some stuff. I’ve got to think about it. Somebody came to me when the heard the “Sisters Of Avalon” CD and they were inspired and they have backing. It’s pretty amazing. But, I’m just trying to get this tour mounted and make sure that the music and how we look is right. It’s an amazing little group–four women and three guys–and the women play just as well as the men. I’m very excited. You don’t just want cute girls (in your band). They’re cute, but they also play.

Cyndi Lauper is the Woman Beneath the Crazy Hair


LOS ANGELES – Cyndi Lauper’s latest hair color is blue.

More than 15 years since this spunky songbird from Queens, N.Y., burst onto the music scene with wild orange hair, punk/retro-wear outfits, and the revolutionary idea that Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Lauper’s style is still uncompromising.

Sitting in her Manhattan apartment, the singer/actress is taking care of business. Her latest single, a remake of the Trammps’ Disco Inferno, is set for a summer release; she’s working on a new studio album; development has begun on a TV pilot in which she’ll star; and she’s the special guest performer on Cher’s Believe tour kicking off Wednesday.

Her chirpy voice and Queens accent sound familiar over the phone. Lauper, 45, who speaks about her life with blunt honestly and cutting humor, says she truly began to focus on singing after she bombed out big time at everything else she tried: the list includes painting, art school and fashion design. Some people come to the planet to do something, she says, I guess (singing’s) what I could do.

Born into a family of Italian immigrants, Lauper was raised in Brooklyn and Queens by her hard-working waitress mother, whom Lauper describes as a high stepping dame. She recalls her neighborhood as rather bizarre: It was kind of like purgatory, but there were moments of real beauty.

Catholic boarding school took its toll on her, with its emphasis on conformity and regulations. But, as with most of Lauper’s early life, what didn’t kill her only made her stronger. I will never be like a sheep, she says. It’s just not my nature.

In the early ’70s, Lauper dropped out of art school and started singing with cover bands in small Long Island clubs while supporting herself with odd jobs. After a few years of this, her untrained voice gave out from the strain. I didn’t know what I was doing in the beginning, so I lost my voice, admits Lauper, who now has a four-octave range. It made me very suicidal.

After a year of intense vocal training, and with the aid of what she calls a fight, fight, fight attitude, Lauper formed Blue Angel, a ’50s-style rock band, in 1978, later filing for bankruptcy when the band split. By the early ’80s, with the aid of her then manager and boyfriend David Wolff, she landed a record deal as a solo artist on CBS’ Portrait label.

Her debut release, 1983’s She’s So Unusual, went to No. 4 and won her a Grammy for best new artist, eventually selling over 5 million copies. The album’s success made her the first female artist to have four top five singles: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She Bop, Time After Time and All Through the Night. When the Girls video went into heavy rotation on the fledgling MTV cable channel, there wasn’t a teenage girl in America who didn’t want to emulate the freewheeling Lauper.

That freaked me out, says Lauper. It wasn’t just being famous, it was the fact that everybody wore my clothes, they imitated me and looked like me and sounded like me. I literally couldn’t get away from myself. Lauper recalls getting to the point where hearing her songs on the radio made her retreat into a corner and shake.

Her counterculture image and musical style made her a poster child of the early ’80s. Though she was praised for her ingenious image marketing – unlike Madonna who also emerged at that time – Lauper says, it wasn’t made up, it was really kind of where I lived.

From the party anthem Girls Just Want to Have Fun to the pro-masturbation rocker She Bop, Lauper became a feminist pop icon. In 1985, she was named Ms. Magazine’s woman of the year. Lauper, who says she happily burned her training bra during a protest in New York City, gets excited when talking about Ms. Magazine founder Gloria Steinem. I was so into her because she changed the history of women, Lauper says. Right out of the gate, my life was different and better, and I knew the difference because my mother’s life and my grandmother’s wasn’t.

Her second album, 1986’s True Colors, did not match the success of her debut, even though the title track went to No. 1 and earned her a Grammy nomination. A Night To Remember (1989) was not well received by critics and only yielded one hit, I Drove All Night.

I was in conflict because I was involved with my manager (Wolff) and it was our life, says Lauper sadly. For him to be successful, I had to be successful. And, of course, because he loved me he wanted me to be successful, but I would always say, `successful at what price?’

Lauper found herself becoming more and more creatively unsatisfied. I can’t just stand there and sing a song that I don’t like, she says. I couldn’t, because to me, music was always real, it wasn’t fabricated.

After Wolff and Lauper split up in 1990, she was devastated. We had nothing together and we achieved something that was not in the realm of a normal reality, she explains. It was like hitting the lottery together: we starved together, we stuck together, we made it together.

She returned with Hat Full of Stars (1993) and Sisters of Avalon (1996), acting as co-writer and co-producer on both albums. Though neither was a commercial success, critics applauded her musical risk-taking. What keeps her going, Lauper says, is that Italian thing – as long as you can stand and you can endure, you can continue – you’ll win.

After so many years of riding the ups and downs of the business, Lauper is coming out on top as an entertainer. She won an Emmy award in 1995 for her appearance as Marianne Lagasso on Mad About You (a role she recently reprised for the show’s season finale), and she stars opposite Christopher Walken in the upcoming independent film The Opportunists.

As ambitious as ever, Lauper admits she sometimes feels like she’s trying to be superwoman. In addition to her numerous projects, she and her husband, actor David Thortnon, whom she married in 1991, are the parents of a baby boy. I want to be with my little baby, I want to sing, I want to do so much, she says. It’s very difficult, the art of happiness.

Though Lauper will miss her 18-month-old while on her three-month concert tour, she says getting on the road will be good for her. She’s especially pleased that the tour’s lineup is all female, with Wild Orchid as the opening act.

It’s women, she says, that’s what’s making me happy. I’ve always said women can work together and do well.