Wait, wait, wait! Don’t go away yet. “I think,” laughs Cyndi Lauper, “we all need a break from me.”
Cyndi Lauper’s She’s So Unusual, for anyone without access to electric entertainment of any form, has become the first debut album in history to rack up four top five singles. Name those tunes and, very likely, you can sing a chorus, along with all the Lauper loopies who cover the age spectrum, from dress-alike five-year-olds to grannies gone groovy: All Through the Night, She Bop, which inverted Gene Vincent’s classic Be-Bop-a-Lula into a thoroughly unapologetic paean to female autoeroticism; Time After Time, and Girls Just Want to Have Fun, a kind of antic feminist anthem that helped get Cyndi on the cover of Ms. As one of its women of the year. No other women has made an album at any point in her career that launched so many heavy hits.
Lauper is nominated for five Grammies, including Best New Artist. She is also a) nice to her mom, with whom she frequently appears in photos and whom she cast in three of her wacky videos; b) tireless, until very recently, in her pursuit of media exposure (appearances during the past six months have included telethons and Dr. Ruth Westheimer’s TV sex-advice-show); and c) a wrestling fan, who has shown up at ringside to bait her sometime buddy, Captain Lou Albano, with a rush of feminist banter and a fan’s hortatory impertinence.
Cyndi Lauper is the manic outsider in every high school class – brassy and sensitive, dippy and shrewd – whose hair seems to have been colored by a box of melted Crayolas and who dresses in the kinds of duds gypsies might wear if they had proms. Part Piaf, party Little Peggy March, she also has a razzle-dazzle, multi-ocave range, a voice that can coax a broken happy wheels demo promise out of a ballad or pin a rocker right to the mat. She has the whole package.
Lauper, 32, has her own plans, a new album for one. She will finish a theme song for a Steven Spielberg-produced adventure film called Goonies, and there were discussions about the master directing her new rock video. Nothing came of them in the end, but still it is not difficult to see how Lauper’s slapstick winsomeness and unexpected soulfulness could attract a director who has such a proximate relationship to fantasy fulfilled.
Lauper too had a very bumpy childhood, from the time she grew up in Queens, N.Y., watching her mother break up with her father and try to keep the family together with waitress jobs. Both Madonna and Lauper floundered for a time in parochial schools. Lauper eventually dropped out and stumbled around, while Madonna made a beeline for the big time. Lauper did not even know where it was. She walked racehorses; she sang in bar bands and about burned out her vocal cords before getting help from a voice coach. She felt, as she says, “so crumbled.” She was vocalist for a band called Blue Angel. They made one album that, as she says, “went lead,” and soon Lauper was back, solo, singing in a local Japanese piano bar.
But she found a manager in David Wolff, who brought her to Portrait Records to make a deal. By the time the album was in the works, Wolff and Lauper were living as well as working together, and it is now Wolff who is doing the career engineering. “If you want to build a major superstar nowadays,” he observes, “you gotta deal with an amazing number of problems. And we aren’t even very far yet either.”