Cyndi Lauper Rocks

It’s easy to pick out a real Cyndi Lauper fan. She’s the screaming preteen girl wearing smeared purple lipstick, and a bright pink ribbon in her electric orange and green hair. If she happens to be humming a tune, it’s probably one of Miss Lauper’s teeny-bopper hits, Time After Time, She’s So Unusual, or Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.

Of course, not everyone at the Sunday night Concert on the Common had loose, drip-painted clothes or green hair. As one of her other audience (male, mono-colored hair, “normal” clothes), I was mildly amused by Lauper’s deliberately jerky dancing and her squeaky voice. And I found her music – a hodgepodge of pop styles – lively.

But to her young fans, she was much more than a comedienne or musician. Aside from dressing just like her, they brought her flowers and dolls and carried a torn-sheet banner that read, “Cyndi Lauper, we love you.”

I think the reason Lauper’s career has skyrocketed over the last year or so is that, in her childishness and innocence, she fulfills a need for childhood in her young audience. In fact, her biggest hit, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, could be seen as an anthem for a generation of young people whose childhood has been taken too soon. In a time of high divorce rates, latchkey children, and designer jeans, Lauper encourages kids to throw away adult things for a while, dress up outrageously, and dance as awkwardly as they want.

If she is to be more than a passing fad, however, she’ll have to become a more varied and – I hate to say it – mature musician.But in the meantime, she’s one of the more positive of today’s pop stars.

Cyndi Lauper on People Magazine

It may not have the aura of Oscar or the grandeur of Grammy. In fact, the new statuette being handed out this week at the Ist Annual MTV Video Music Awards doesn’t even have a nickname yet (Gramscar? Scrammy?). But this much is known about the new prize from cable TV’s largest rock music channel: It will resemble the MTV moonwalking astronaut logo, and it will, naturally, be forged of heavy metal.

The MTV awards gala at New York’s Radio City Music Hall will celebrate nothing quite so much as MTV itself. The three-year-old cable channel now boasts 22 million subscribers and recently announced plans to clone a sister station aimed at 25 to 49 year olds. Yet if any one performer can steal the show’s spotlight, it may be Cyndi Lauper, a 31 -year-old belter from Brooklyn and Queens who has suddenly emerged as the undisputed clown princess of video pop.

Lauper’s videos for Girls Just Want to Have Fun and Time After Time (both from a debut solo LP of astonishing range, She’s So Unusual) reaped eight nominations-more than any other artist. Moreover, they have propelled her into a state of heavy rotation on MTV, which has helped boost Unusual sales past the three million mark.

“It’s clear she’s for real as an artist, not just a novelty,” says Les Garland, vice-president for programming at MTV. “Look, she’s up for Best New Artist for Girls and one of her toughest rivals in that category is herself, for Time After Time.” Indeed, if the nominations had stayed open any longer, the show might well have turned into a Lauper special: Her third giant hit off the album, She Bop, has now flashed up the charts as well, making Lauper’s debut album the first by a female to put its initial three singles in the Top 3. Not bad for a former high school dropout who in 1983 was declared bankrupt and reduced to stints working at a Japanese nightclub in New York and at a vintage clothing store.

The MTV awards, expected to be syndicated on about 100 stations, will surely showcase Lauper as an amusingly loopy, strenuously eccentric original. The video savants have boldly entrusted to Cyndi the reading of the rules and regulations governing voting procedures, and the critical moment may at least provide some comic relief. “I’m supposed to read them,” says Lauper, “and make ’em funny ’cause I can’t read so good out loud.”

Few artists know better than Lauper how dramatically the vidbiz has revived the rock industry and many of its stars. (Indeed, there are many who should be giving prizes to MTV this week instead of the other way around.) Lauper, behind her goofy getups, is a shrewd tactician who sees videos as electronic canvases on which she imposes her own design and her own handpicked cast of characters-including her mother, Catrine Dominique, boyfriend-manager David Wolff and assorted relatives and friends.

Though Edd Griles is nominated for one MTV heavy-metal moonwalker (Best Director for Lauper’s Time After Time video), Cyndi keeps on top of every detail. During the She Bop shoot, for instance, she meticulously dabbed tint in the hair of some 20 dancing extras, color coordinated from eye shadow to outfits. “I don’t want no Howdy Doody lips, ya hear?” she frowned, shaking her head disapprovingly at one of the dancers.

Obviously, Lauper has mastered the primary law of ’80s rockonomics: Don’t go on tour till you’ve gone on location. She has worked hard to beam a complex image, that of a klunky, kitschy, tough, free-spirited romantic girl/woman. Excluded from the mainstream by her eccentricity, she learned to tur her singularity to advantage, with clothes clashing hilariously, enough oversize plastic and metal trinkets to cause bursitis and enough eye paint to deface a subway car. Her chopped-up coif is part blond Marine cut, part flame-and-fuchsia-colored eruption–physical betrayals of a lifelong shriek for recognition that’s almost punishing in its intensity, all magnificently matched by her alarming, four-octave vocal range.

In Lauper, MTV has found the purest, perhaps most commercial embodiment of what rock video is all about. With her antic, cartoonish image, she has helped the rock industry colonize a preteen minination that virtually formed itself around video. “MTV,” says Lauper, “must be to the ’80s what Sesame Street was in the ’70s. I try to be free and not have any inhibitions, qualities kids have that we lose. I love doing the videos. These little ones come right up to me.

They can mime my songs, even though they can hardly talk. My work is full of emotion. It’s real, you can touch it. In the Girls video you saw Cyndi’s real mother, her brother, real people from her life. I mean, you knew who Cyndi was.” Back before she was on a third-person basis with herself, it took Cyndi long enough to find out.

She spent an often lonely childhood as a quirky out cast looking in–a devoted daughter who watched her mother struggle to feed three kids with waitressing jobs after her parents divorced when Cyndi was 5. She coped by singing “as soon as I could talk.” She says facetiously, xaggerating her accent, “I was always artistic, or was it autistic? There was always that drive to sing like God knows what. My voice has always been stronger than my body.”

She tested the latter (5’3″, 108 pounds) as a “wild,” sometimes “self destructive” teenager, with alcohol and drugs. She survived several car wrecks as a passenger, endured bouts of dehydration and malnutrition, ran away from home at 17 and all but failed Catholic and public schools. Finally, after earning a high school equivalency diploma, she split for the serenity of northern Vermont with her dog, Sparkle. There, she was a housekeeper, kennel worker and waitress.

“I spent years not accepting who I was,” she says, turning reflective. “In high school I felt out of step. Everything became unreal for me. I felt there just wasn’t any room for me in this world. But you can’t escape yourself. ‘Why was I alive,’ I’d ask. I didn’t fit in, didn’t have nobody to do things with that I liked. I did them by myself.”

After a year at a small Vermont college, she returned to New York to test her one irrefutable gift. “I knew I could sing. No one had to tell me.” She sang with “copy” bands, mimicking Motown and Beatles, Jagger and Joplin. By 1977, if she hadn’t yet set the world on fire, she had scorched her vocal cords. She rebuilt her voice with a coach and formed a promising rockabilly band, Blue Angel, with composer-saxophonist John Turi.

Their first LP in 1980 “went lead,” says Cyndi, who once briefly took a temp job in the office of Blue Angel manager Steve Massarsky to work off the living allowance given to her. “My filing system is still recovering,” sighs Massarsky, “from what she did because of her spelling.” Massarsky recalls that Cyndi’s Blue Angel moods ranged from tempestuous to tender. There was, he says, the “total shrieking tantrum” when Cyndi learned that her hair dryer wouldn’t work on European current; the time she accidentally dumped a tongueload of food in a win-a-date-with contest winner’s lap; and the evening she brightened Massarsky’s bathroom with a new shower curtain and towels before a date arrived. In 1981 the pair parted ways, and Massarsky sued the band over a financial squabble. Soon after, Cyndi filed for bankruptcy under Chapter Seven (no assets).

Chapter eight, things picked up: She had met manager Wolff, 35, at a party in 1981 -on the 40th anniversary of Pearl Harbor-and they soon began their assault on the American mainstream by land, air and cable. Her first recollections of Wolff, a onetime exterminator, messenger and Babson College business graduate struggling to succeed in the rock industry, unleash a stream of pure Lauper consciousness.

“So I seen Dave and we start talkin’, and he’s funny and wacko. The guy’s got a car, so right there I figure he could save me a four-buck cab ride home to the Upper East Side. He’d done a rap record as Captain Chameleon called Grab Them Cakes. I thought he was WASPY, then I found out he was Jewish. He’s from Connecticut, and he’s got flare pants. We’re talking ’80s, right? So that’s two major drawbacks right there-Connecticut and flares. But we get talking about rock pygmies that live underground and come up for wampanini juice, so I says to myself, ‘This must be the kind of new manager I need.’ ” The pairing proved symbiotic. “We filled a void in each other,” says Wolff, who six months later was both boyfriend and manager. When he eventually took Lauper home to visit his family in Connecticut, “My parents thought she had a Continental or European accent,” he recalls. “I said, ‘She doesn’t have an accent. She’s from Queens.’

Together the couple have steered steadily toward high visibility. Their most recent publicity gambit took place at Madison Square Garden before a sellout crowd that had come to see not rock but wrestling. It seems that a onetime member of Lauper’s eclectic entourage included the earringed, goateed wrestling behemoth, “Captain” Lou Albano, whom Lauper had met while with Blue Angel. In cozier days Albano had appeared in Cyndi’s Girls video and, at his own insistence, in She Bop, but he had caused a much-hyped rift with his ludicrous sexist slurs about the singer (“Women belong in the kitchen getting pregnant”). Lauper/Wolff countered with a mano-a-Albano challenge to put his Moolah where his mouth was–his Fabulous Moolah, that is, the woman wrestling champ managed by Lou. Her Lauper-sponsored opponent would be a svelte 25-year-old named Wendy Richter, a Dallas wrestler who describes her physical attributes as ” 150 pounds of twisted steel and sex appeal.” The match lasted 20 minutes, and Richter—miracle of miracles—emerged as champ. Moolah flailed in disgust; Albano’s blubber jiggled in rage; Cyndi squinted and stomped to She Bop. Naturally it was all carried live on MTV. There had been a half-hour MTV debate on the Lauper-Albano crisis the week before, which one MTV staffer dismissed as “97 percent hype.”

The sushi banquet afterwards was taped and used later by MTV, which picked up the bulk of the $6,000 tab, with a little help from CBS and the World Wrestling Federation. “It takes a —- load out of ya,” concludes manager Wolff of his rock-manager duties in the more complicated video era. “If you want to build a major superstar nowadays, you gotta deal with an amazing number of problems. And we aren’t even very far yet either.” But they’re getting there. Although Lauper will be touring through November, she and Wolff have their sights set on a sizable loft in downtown Manhattan (her voice could fill some counties, given the right wind conditions). Asked what she does in her spare time, she replies: “Sleep, if that.” As for hobbies: “I don’t paint any more. I get dressed instead. I can get carried away with the chains and the belts, the this and the that. By the time you finish you go home and you’re tired and you’re so done up you need a chain cutter just to get undressed. So it’s rough.”

Her “junking” expeditions for baubles and duds continue, of course, as does her fondness for old movies and TV reruns. And, she says, card games and miniature golf. But isn’t it true, as the title of her LP’s most exhilarating cut states, that Money Changes Everything? Nothing much has changed,” she says. “I don’t want a Porsche, a Rolls. My gift to society is not getting a driver’s license. I have trouble concentrating on the road. And I ain’t buying no cocaine.” But what does that leave in the way of rock-star indulgences? Her riff on the subject could be Edith Bunker after bagging the state lottery. “After watching Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, I decided on all linoleum floors, maybe even the kind that look like brick. Forget parquet. Linoleum you wax and it shines. You don’t get splinters.” Also: “Only Checker cabs. And as for those guys who won’t change a $10. Forget it, wave’em on. I’m callin’ my shots now. I’m tough and rugged. No more abuse. And I’m gettin’ a washer-dryer ’cause if I don’t have time for laundry I get depressed and cranky. My girlfriend says I should have slaves by now, to wait on me hand and foot-and hair.”

And perhaps to dust the MTV moonwalkers that Lauper is likely to cart home after this week’s awards show. Pondering the reasons for her success, Lauper thinks there’s a message in her madness that MTV’s young viewers have been quick to comprehend. “I’m no doctor or miracle worker. I’m an entertainer, trying to express the fact that you can liberate yourself, and say, hell, yes, I can do it. Life is not a prison sentence.”

Cyndi Lauper The Dream Girl

They all laughed when Cyndi Lauper said she’d be a star. But she knew what she wanted and she got it. Look who’s laughing now.

EVEN AMID THE EXHILARATING VISUALS OF THE IMPERIAL DRAGON, A Manhattan restaurant squirreled away in the city’s midtown music-biz district, Cyndi Lauper is a riveting presence. The décor here, definitive of a style known to devotees as Screaming Asiatic, elaborates upon vast paneled expanses of seething red-and-gold dragons, which similar mythic reptiles writhing down gilded pillars. Yet it might as well be Bauhaus the minute Lauper walks in, spotting a look that would drop drawers at a clown convention.

Tonight, she is turned out in blazing orange pants and a satin bomber jacket, under which she wears a white-beaded fringe vest pulled over an already assertive red-and-yellow shirt. Many bracelets ring her wrists, and pendulous earrings clatter about her lobes. Her eyes are shadowed with scarlet, the left lid divided by a bright gold stripe, and atop her head is a tartan cap – worn backward – from under which her hair erupts in a haystack of howling fuchsia.

She pauses to survey the room, where several diners sit popeyed over their chopsticks. Not in shock, you understand, but in recognition. Acceptance. Some are even smiling. Lauper, for so long a laughingstock in both her personal and professional lives, is still not completely accustomed to such benign consideration.

“People used to throw rocks at me for my clothes,” she says in her appealing Queens-side wheeze. Now they want to know where I buy them, right? Doesn’t that seem weird to you?”

At the rustling of a kimono, she turns to greet a familiar waitress. Their conversation is brief but animated, and unpretentiously affectionate, Cyndi has friends everywhere. Many of them turn up in the videos which she currently chronicles her existence. Few are of the standard glamour-puss variety, but she treasures them nonetheless.

“People are really somethin’,” she ways as we search for seats. “They’re walking books, all of them. Sometimes you only meet them once, but you’ll never forget them. So you try to enjoy them. That’s why, even if you’re in the ladies’ room, you should always talk to the woman next to you. Even if you’re in the stall, you can say, uh, ‘Hey! No toilet paper! I guess it’s drip-dry tonight!’”

She’s still yukking as we take a table. The manager – another pal – approaches. “Life,” Cyndi says, before turning the full wattage of her winsomeness upon him, “is a great joy.”

Her happiness becomes her. Although she considers herself something of an ugly duckling, she had the radiance of true talent and, nowadays, the beauty of that talent fulfilled. Not so long ago, though, Lauper’s life was nowhere so swell. A long- struggling singer with one lone album to her credit – and that an expensive commercial flop – she had lost the band she’d dreamed of leading to pop stardom and had, in fact, been left without and official penny to her name. (In a dispute with the group’s former manager, she’d felt compelled to declare bankruptcy in a New York court.)

No one who’d heard her sing doubted the brilliance of her freakish, four-octave voice, and her songwriting ability was apparent even on the flop album. But less than two years ago, she was reduced to singing Little Peggy March tunes in a Japanese piano bar. She seemed a pop character without a context: a never-was, and edging toward thirty.

Then an astonishing thing happened – astonishing to everyone, that is, except Lauper and her circle of long-haul supporters. At the very nadir of her career, the dream finally came true. Her first solo album, She’s So Unusual, turned into a platinum-bound Top Ten hit. And its first single, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – which went to Number Two and spawned a rollicking video that’s made her an international celebrity – is now yielding to the bulleted follow-up “Time After Time.” Suddenly, Cyndi Lauper, with her vivid New York yawp and Vegematic clothes sense, is queen of the nation’s TV screens: cracking up Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show, trading Big Apple brays with Rodney Dangerfield at the Grammy Awards. And, of course, she’s all over MTV, the music channel, which has used her as a kind of corporate mascot.

And there lies what even some admirers already see as a problem. With her professional pinnacle as a singer finally in sight, is Cyndi Lauper now being turned into a mere cartoon, another inflatable zany for the MTV/talk-show circuit? Is the mouth overshadowing the music? Will she soon be angled off toward Broadway -. worse yet, Hollywood? In the end, might she really prove to be nothing more than a pop-rock novelty, a passer-through? Some of this speculation has not been without a certain amount of malice, typical in the biz.

Cyndi’s heard this talk, of course. She knows who these people are. “They’ve always laughed at me,” she says toughening reflectively. “People have always said I couldn’t sing, always tried to label me. I ain’t worried about them, because the minute I open my mouth and sing, I can blow them offa their chairs. They can’t take your talent away from ya. I am not a Broadway singer, and I am not a movie-tv person. I ain’t into that shit. I’m no dummy. I’m not a puppet. And all the people that make fun of me, or call me a cartoon….”

She pauses to pour some hot sake from a porcelain flask, dismissing the subject with a sweet scowl. “They’re talkin’ outta their ass,” she says.

CYNDI LAUPER WAS BORN IN A Queens hospital not far from her parents’ home in the rough Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Although Cyndi is sensitive to questions about her age – “What am I, a car?” is her standard riposte – an old band bio indicates her natal date to be June 20th, 1953. Her father was a shipping clerk, an unusual man. At home, his interests ranged from archeology to playing the xylophone. Her mother had her hands full, tending Cynthia and her elder sister Elen, and younger brother, Butch. Glittery Manhattan was just over the Williamsburg Bridge, but cultures away.

Cyndi’s parents divorced when she was five, and her mother moved with the three kids to a neighborhood in Queens called Ozone Park. In the pantheon of New Your City boroughs. Manhattan – the real New York – is to Queens as Hollywood is to San Fernando Valley; or, perhaps more evocatively, as Fred Astaire is to Cheech and Chong.

At least that’s how Manhattanites see it. Or hear it: something about the way the typical Queens native talks in a sort of throttled yowl that partakes equally of Arnold Stang and Francis the Talking Mule.

“My speaking voice,” Cyndi admits, “is ridiculous.”

Growing up in Ozone Park was – well, the name says it all. “Pretty spaced out,” Cyndi quips. “I didn’t belong there.” She was tossed out of a local Catholic school – “because my mother was divorced,” she says – and was subsequently sent to a convent type of Catholic boarding school in upstate New York. It was not a happy experience.

“That’s when I realized that nuns and God could not have anything to do with each other,” she says. “These women were trained by Nazis, I think. There were into torture; it was a torture chamber for kids. If you talked to a boy, they’d slap you as hard as they could in the face. I remember one time I scratched this girl’s back in the middle of the night – I was, you know, nine, and she was twelve, and she asked me to scratch her back. A nun ran in, ripped me off her back, threw me against the lockers, beat the shit out of me and called me a lesbian. I didn’t know what a lesbian was.” Two decades later, she is still fuming.

“See,” she says, “my mother didn’t know about this stuff – you never think a nun is lying. It was all traditional: the church, the family, the government. And you know what I learned? Those are the three biggest oppressors of women that will ever come along.”

So, at am early age, Cyndi decided that the straight life was “really bullshit. I withdrew, into music, records. I was different, and I was…you know, kids are cruel to each other. Now,” she says, toughening again, “it doesn’t bother me. I don’t give a shit what anybody says about me. You don’t like it, too fuckin’ bad. Because the truth is, you can’t stamp out individuality – there’s too many of us.”

Cyndi escaped from the convent school after six ugly month (“I asked the nuns if they menstruated, and that was it”) and returned to Ozone Park. There she went to public school and happily discovered the existence of blacks and Jews, and started getting musical. The first records she ever heard were her mother’s, which ranged from Eileen Farrell singing Madame Butterfly to Louis Armstrong croaking “All That Meat and No Potatoes.”

But the major event of her young musical life was the arrival of the Beatles. “I was really fascinated by John Lennon’s lower harmony, the way that it moved. I would copy that when my sister and I harmonized as we did the dishes. Sometimes I’d wash and she’d wipe; or if we really wanted to get funky, I would just wipe and she’d put away, see? Anyway, my voice didn’t sound like the Beatles’. I was so disappointed, I stopped singing.

Having inherited an acoustic guitar from her sister, however, she learned to play “Greensleeves” and launched herself as a typical folkette of the time. At this point, her musical endeavors – mostly singing in parks and at local hootnights with an early songwriting partner – were more successful than her educational efforts. Lauper was sure she had an affinity for music and art, but she couldn’t seem to demonstrate it to anyone’s satisfaction. “I got zero in art, and I went to an art school, Fashion Industries. Then they put me in this genius class – for geniuses that are nonachievers – and I failed that, too. And that was it. I figured, ‘Oh, you though you were a genius, just a genius who couldn’t achieve. But really you’re a dummy.’ I got left back so many times I finally just quit and got my GED {General Equivalency Diploma}.”

By then, she felt alienated and afraid – what would become of her? Her mother, who had married and then divorced again, worked fourteen-hour days in local diners to support her children, a situation Cyndi found horrifying.

“It was really the pits,” she says. “She looked like she was killing herself. She always tried to be happy, and it wasn’t a conventional thing then for women to be really happy. I think that the reason I am the way I am comes from watching my mother and grandmother and the women in my family and in the neighborhood. It’s funny, in a neighborhood, you see the women as teenagers, and then you see them with grown children – all in the span of your being five to ten. And you see them take on the same look in their faces that you saw on your mother’s. And this is the life of women, you know?”

It was not for her. At seventeen, she left Ozone Park with no regrets. “I was packin’ since I was fourteen, so it was about time, you know?”

LAUPER WORKED ODD JOBS, AND SHE TOOK walks, long ones. “I used to walk and walk and walk,” she remembers. “I felt like I was going to walk off the end of the earth. I felt really in a different world from everybody else.”

She met an artist, a man in his sixties named Bob Barrell, with whom she studied for a while. He introduced her to poets and politics (although she’d already been a peace marcher in high school) and to such writers as Thoreau. Inspired, Cyndi set off with her dog, a mutt named Sparkle, for Canada, where she spent two weeks in the woods north of Toronto, sleeping in a tent and sketching trees. She got homesick for New York, though, and wended her way back by way of Vermont, where she stopped to take classes at an art school near Stowe, supporting herself by working as a waitress, a painting-class model. A race-track warmup attendant and a peddler of karate and judo lessons, about which she knew not the first thing.

“Sometimes I felt so crumbled,” she says. “I thought, ‘How will I live?’ I used to pray all the time that I would change into this or that. But you can’t. You can never run away from yourself. And I tried so hard.”

Finally somewhat demoralized but still determined to escape the traditional woman’s lot, Lauper returned home to Ozone Park.

“I came back to do what I know how to do, and that is sing. Nobody has to teach me how to sing.”

This assumption later proved technically inaccurate, but it was that right attitude. In 1974, she landed a job as a back-up singer and dancer in a Long Island copy band called Doc West. “It was disco,” she says distastefully. “Cover, cover, cover. I used to sing Chaka Khan things, LaBelle. I used to sing ‘I’ve Got the Music in Me,’ which I really hated. I didn’t know much then, and I couldn’t understand why on some days I could hit the notes and some days I couldn’t. I’d be standing onstage going, ‘I got the muuu…, I got the muuu…,’ and wondering what happened. Finally, I figured out why it was stuck: I had it in me, but it couldn’t come out because I was doing covers. It was always someone else’s muuu.”

The group also featured Cyndi in a typically tacky “tribute” to Janis Joplin. “I did that really good, until my friends started saying things like, ‘When you sing, it’s almost like her.’ And I though, ‘That’s right: I’m living in her body.’ Onstage, I would feel her all around me. Finally, I just said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ It wasn’t me. I was wearing platform shoes, and I had pin curls in my hair. I looked like Isaac Newton.

Next, she started a band called Flyer, a more rock & roll-oriented outfit that played all the predictable hits by Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones, et cetera – the Long Island bar circuit not being known for its love of originality. “It was always, ‘Why does she run around so much?’ And ‘What’s the matter with her voice? It sounded so weird and different.’ And ‘Why does she talk like that?’ It was, like, give me a break, you know?”

In 1977, after some three years of mimicking Joplin, Stewart and Jagger, Lauper caved in. Her voice was shot, and when she called in a friend to replace her in the group, the friend recommended that she see Katie Agresta, a classically trained Manhattan voice coach.

“When she came to my studio seven years ago,” Agresta recalls, “she could no longer speak. She was whispering. She had been told by three doctors that she would never sing again. I think she had one foot off the Brooklyn Bridge, to tell you the truth.”

Agresta taught her new student about vocal exercises and warm-ups, proper diet and damage that drugs and alcohol can do – not that Lauper was a serious abuser in either category. And slowly but surely, over the course of a year, Cyndi started singing again.

“I knew the day I met her she was going to be a star,” Agresta enthuses. “She’s a phenomenal singer, and what she’s doing now is not even using a lot of what she really can do; it’s a marvelous instrument she has. She always makes me cry. I’ve watched her go through the tortures of the damned. She came from nowhere, from nothing, and she had no help from anybody. She had so many opportunities to just give up, and she didn’t.”

After rebuilding her voice, Lauper got a gig singing at Trude Heller’s nightclub – in Manhattan, at last. Ted Rosenblatt, her manager at the time, came to see her one night and brought along a songwriter named John Turi, who also played keyboards and saxophone. Turi and Lauper hit it off and soon were collaborating on tunes. By 1978, they had put together a Fifties-style band called Blue Angel.

In the spring of 1979, a tape of Blue Angel demos found its way into the hands of Steve Massarsky, an attorney who at the time managed the Allman Brothers Band. Massarsky was not impressed. “The tape was terrible,” he says. “The songs were bad, the playing was bad. There was something interesting about the singer’s voice, but that was all.”

Massarsky was nevertheless inveigled into checking out the band in performance at an uptown club called Trax. “Cyndi walked in,” he recalls, shifting his voice up into a register reminiscent of Daffy Duck’s, “and she said to me: ‘So you’re Steve, huh? I’m surprised you showed up. Nobody ever show up when you want ‘em to; they just show up when you don’t expect it, and we don’t play good.’” Massarsky resumes his normal speaking voice. “I though, oh, great. But she got onstage, and she opened her mouth to sing, and it was magic. I’d never heard anything like it. I felt in love. Of course, she was doing things like tripping over other players and knocking things down as she walked – as klutzy as you can possibly be onstage. But she was magnificent.”

Massarsky was so impressed by Lauper’s potential that he paid some $5000 to buy her management contract from Rosenblatt. Massarsky set up a showcase for Blue Angel and invited all his industry contact to come see the band. The reaction, he recalls, was unanimous: “The singer’s wonderful, get rid of the band.”

Cyndi wouldn’t hear of such a thing, though, and she held her ground until, six months later, Polygram Records offered a recording contract for the whole group. But the band’s debut album, Blue Angel, released in 1980, was a stiff. Critics liked it, but not for the rockabilly stylings the band felt to be its specialty. It was Lauper’s spectacular, octave-vaulting vocals on such doo-wopish tunes as “Maybe He’ll Know” that caught the few ears that ever heard the LP. Lauper was angered by the whole experience. “She even thought the photos on the album made her look like Big Bird,” Massarsky recalls.

Still, Cyndi resisted all efforts to lure her from the band and into a solo career. Massarsky remembers the time, before the first album was recorded, when Polygram flew him and his protégé out to L.A. to meet with the renowned Italian disco producer Giorgio Moroder, whom Polygram originally wanted to produce Blue Angel. The premise for their meeting was that Lauper was to take a crack at singing the theme song for a teen-exploitation movie called Roadie, which starred Meat Loaf and Deborah Harry of Blondie. Moroder was a big gun in the biz, but Cyndi wasn’t impressed.

“She was convinced that she was not gonna do this, and she set about to fuck it up,” Massarsky remembers. “At one point, we were all in a coffee shop across the street from the studio, and she looked at Moroder and said, ‘So, George, what kind of music do you listen to?’ And Moroder said, Well, ah, what do you mean?’ She said, “Well, I mean, are you into Buddy Holly? Ya like Elvis? Whaddya think of Eddie Cochran?’ And Moroder’s going: ‘Who are these people?’ She goes, ‘George, there are the roots of rock & roll. You wanna produce me, you’ve gotta understand this stuff. Who’re yer influences?’ And Moroder goes: ‘I am an original. I only listen to Giorgio Moroder.’

“Cyndi,” Massarsky says, “was a star before her time.”

It was Roy Halee, best known for producing Simon and Garfunkel in the Sixties, who eventually would up producing the first Blue Angel album – and, as it turned out, the last. A new executive regime had taken over Polygram and was demanding dynamite tunes before it would let the band back in the studio. Blue Angel had a falling-out with Massaraky, and when they dismissed him as their manager, he responded by filing suit against the group for $80,000 he claimed they owed him. Cyndi was among the members who decided to file for bankruptcy, which was granted, in her case, in the winter of 1983.

“That was the last time I saw her,” Massarsky says, “at the settlement. I walked up to her, kissed her on the cheek and said, ‘Hey, now go make all the money was all thought you could make in begin with. Go become a star.’”

“And the judge,” Cyndi recalls with a giggle, “the judge said, ‘Let the canary sing!’”

WITH BLUE ANGEL EFFECTIVELY demolished by its first tilt toward success, Lauper was finally ready to go solo. But she wasn’t about to rush into it. If stardom was to be hers, it would have to be on her own terms. So, before she’d jump for a new record deal, Cyndi waited and did what she could to make ends meet. She sang oldies at a Japanese piano bar called Miho, and she worked for a while at an Upper West Side vintage shop called Screaming Mimi’s, whence came several of her more eye-catching ideas about clothing. A little bit earlier, she had met David Wolff, a manager whose own Connecticut-based band, ArcAngel, was signed to Portrait Records, a subsidiary of CBS.

Wolff, who has since become Lauper’s manager and boyfriend, put her together with CBS executive producer Lennie Petze, who in turn arranged a meeting for her with producer Rick Chertoff. Soon a solo album started taking shape, with Chertoff calling in two friends, Eric Brazilian and Rob Hyman of Philadelphia’s hooters, to help with the music. Songwriter Jules Shear also took part, as did drummer Anton fig and bassist Neil Jason, two crack sessionmen. The resulting album, She’s So Unusual, was probably the most exuberant vocal debut of 1983. And some of its better tunes were cowritten by Lauper, including the clever little masturbation ditty, “She Bop.”

The most immediately impressive performances on the record, however, were three inspired covers: the Brains’ “Money Changes Everything,” Prince’s “When You Were Mine” and Philly rocker Robert Hazard’s previously unrecorded “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” which Lauper couldn’t identify with when she first heard Hazard perform it.

“I changed the words,” Cyndi says. “It was originally about how fortunate her was ‘cause he was a guy around there girls that wanted to have ‘fun’ – with him – down there, of which we do not speak lest we go blind. I tore it apart.”

But it was the video for “Girls” that really made Cyndi Lauper a star. In it, she told the story of her own repressed childhood, her yearning for freedom and her mother’s unhappy entrapment in the female status quo. She even persuaded her mother to play herself, and recruited a party load of friends and family to participate, including her brother, Butch, and her dog, Sparkle. “My mother was wonderful,” Cyndi says. “Now it’s gone to her head. She’s picked out a stage name – Katreen Dominique – and she wears sunglasses whenever she walks Sparkle. As a matter of fact, Sparkle wears sunglasses now, too.”

The video for her new single, “Time After Time,” is equally autobiographical, recalling the time Cyndi once ran away from home. Her mom’s in this one, too, as is David Wolff, typecast as her boyfriend. “Art should reflect life,” Cyndi says, “not art. This video’s about two people in a small town – small towns are great, if you choose that. Nowadays, there’s more and more choices in the world, there really are. But no matter what you wanna be, you gotta break yer ass, you gotta work hard. Do what’s in your heart and don’t take no for an answer.

“Me, I always wanted to make world music – to say something that’s worth sayin’ and really touch humanity. That’s why I’m here. There’s a wonderful place that you go when you sing, there’s a really good feeling. And it’s wonderful to reach out and touch someone with it, because they touch you back. And sometimes, that’s worth the price of beans.

Cyndi Lauper – She`s So Unusual

Brooklyn-bred Cyndi Lauper sounds like no other singer on the current scene. She may be the finest female junk-rock vocalist since the heyday of the great Maureen Gray, more than twenty years ago. Like Gray, a black Philadelphian who had a string of local hits in the Sixties, Lauper has a wild and wonderful skyrocket of a voice–the epitome of pre-Beatles girl-group pop–and at her best, as she often is on this smartly produced solo debut, she sounds like a missing musical link with that long-gone golden age.

But She’s So Unusual is no mere oldies pastiche. Lauper’s already been that route with her former band, Blue Angel (on whose 1981 album she came as close to the girl-group grail as is probably possible with the breathtaking “Maybe He’ll Know”). Here, boosted by a powerful, synth-based band, Lauper turns away from nouveau trash and trains her talent on some really first-rate material. In the process, she comes up with two instant hits: a thundering “Money Changes Everything” (in its original version, by the Brains, one of the great lost anthems of the Seventies) and a breathy, beautiful cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine.”

She also has a good, goofy time with Robert Hazard’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” does an almost tasteful reading of Jules Shear’s attractive “All through the Night” and makes like Cars-meet-Eurythmics on the riff-stoked “She Bop.” There are some problems: “Witness” founders in its own aimlessness, and “He’s So Unusual,” a brief, cutesy antique from the Twenties, has no business being on the record. But when Lauper’s extraordinary pipes connect with the right material, the results sound like the beginning of a whole new golden age. (RS 413)