Her Father walked out when she was 5 years old. Her mother remarried, divorced again and went to work as a waitress to support the three kids, she was expelled from Catholic school, dropped out of high school and left home “with a brown paper bag” when she was 17. “I was such a failure”, she says, “I didn’t know what I was on this earth for, ‘cause I couldn’t take just failin'”
Cyndi Lauper-rock star, feminist, wrestling fan-is in the backseat of a long silver limo, headed to the airport with live-in boyfriend and manager Dave Wolff. They are on their way to Minneapolis, where Cyndi will be the surprise guest at a convention of disc jockeys. “They’re the ones who make it happen.”
It certainly has happened for Cyndi Lauper, the funny-looking girl with the funny sounding voice, Her latest single, the theme song from Steven Spielberg’s Goonies movie, a kind of anthem for misfits, was one of hits of the summer.
Her previous five hits – “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”, “Time After Time”, “She Bop”, “All Through the Night” and “Money Changes Everything” – all came off her She’s So Unusual LP, Which broke the record, set by the Beatles in 1963, for most Top 10 singles from a debut album. The album itself has sold almost 7 million copies worldwide and earned Cyndi a Grammy in 1984 as Best New Artist. She’s also won several MTV awards and been honored by the Women in Film organization for her fresh and funny videos, which co-star her mother, her dog, her friends from Queens, N.Y., and Dave Wolff.
That cozy familial cast of characters is one of many signs that success has not gone to Cyndi’s tie-dyed head. Another is her sense of humor, which she often directs at herself.” She tells me on the plane after she’s settled into her first-class seat with a diet soda and a box of high-nutrition crackers, “I thought I’d wear something conventional.”
She’s wearing a long green tunic over a short Hawaiian shirt dress, black mesh stockings, black flats and a straw Chinese straw hat that is almost as wide as she is tall-about 5 feet 2. Her purple-browed eyes are sheltered by silver sunglasses rimmed in rhinestones. Other accessories include a brassy palm-tree brooch, a khaki plastic Japanese watch that opens into a miniature mechanical turtle, a fake leopard-skin satchel and the paperback edition of Alice Walker’s “You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down.” To top it all off, her hair is a rainbow of yellow, pink and blue.
“I’ve been dyeing’ my hair since I was 12 years old,” she says in her disarming Queens accent, which is not a put on. But you gotta understand. I never set out to look real crazy. This is what I thought looked nice. I feel better about myself when I fix myself up.”
Cyndi’s style is as much a statement as Cyndi’s music -as an act of rebellion against the sameness of fashion, a declaration of independence. “Nobody should tell you what you should look like,” she says. “Nobody but yourself.” Ironically, young girls, who are her biggest fans turn up at her concerts dressed exactly like Cyndi, which she finds disturbing.
The whole idea of this,” she explains, “was to tell people to do their own thing, that they could be free enough to do that,” it has taken Cyndi Lauper 32 years to become free enough to do her own thing. “I had a lot to fight through to get where I am,” she says, “but I’m a fighter. When you’re down, when you’re always fighting your way up, that’s just a natural thing after a while, you become a fighter for what you believe in. But it’s OK.” She smiles “It’s the good fight, as everybody calls it.”
Cynthia Lauper was born on June 20,1953, in Astoria Queens. Her father was a shipping clerk who played the xylophone for fun. “He left when I was 5 years old,” Cyndi says “Yeah, I see him sometimes. But I talk about him in interviews.” Cyndi’s mother moved the family to Ozone Park, a neighborhood of small frame houses near Kennedy Airport. She got remarried, “Cyndi says. defensive edge coming through, as if the wounds have yet to heal. She had problems with her second husband. A lot of people do. See, she was a workin’ woman tryin’ to support three children. A waitress. She had it rough.”
Throughout the interview, Cyndi jumps from her own experiences to larger issues, not unlike the way she does in the songs she writes. Now she tells me, “You know, I think the big campaign against alcohol and drugs is very good. But there’s another thing that I think Nancy Reagan should consider: Kids do drugs to escape. I mean, kids are beaten at home, or molested, or they’re not understood. And when they’re poor, they have no choices, you see they feel trapped. That’s why they start doing things that make them feel they can escape. I know, ’cause I was there.
Thank God, cause God put his hand on my shoulder and gave me a voice- without it, who knows where I’d be. I thought I’d be dead by the time I was 21. But I’m not, you know.”
Music was Cyndi’s escape and, ultimately, her salvation, though it took her a long time to realize that. There are voices that soothed me from when I was a child that I will always love,” she says. “Judy Garland, Billie Holliday, Ella Fitgerald. And I love the Beatles. I did not like the Rolling Stones. Cause when I was growin’ up, I needed hope. I didn’t need to be told that I was just a piece of trash who should be clamoring around after some man who was going to treat me like garbage for it afterwards. That was always the impression I got from the Stones. It was just an image, but when I was little I took everything so seriously.”
Unfortunately, no one seemed to take Cyndi or her artistic and musical ambitions seriously, maybe because she herself didn’t. Though she was accepted in a special public high school for students with talent in the visual arts, she was left back several times and finally quit altogether, without a diploma, in 1970. She also left home “I lived with my sister and her girlfriend,” she says. “Then I moved in with this older guy, thinkin’ I was gonna be the next to be married.
Only I didn’t fit in with that… that thing, you know? You have to get up, vacuum, make the beds, clean everything up, then make sure the laundry’s done, then prepare for the evenin’, so when he comes home, you have dinner all ready for him. And everybody’s happy. Now, I liked macrobiotics. This guy was a meat-and-potatoes man. And I liked to sleep to 12 o’clock, and when I get up I don’t wanna vacuum. I want to sit down and do a pastel. Of course, that relationship didn’t last too long.”
Cyndi moved on, groping for a way out of her unhappiness. Inspired by Horeau, she even spent two weeks in the woods in Canada, living in a tent with her dog, Sparkle, “tryin’ to find out about myself, life and nature.” She worked as a waitress, a life-class model, a door-to-door peddler of karate lessons and a horse walker at Belmont Racetrack.
I was very poor,” she says, “I couldn’t keep livin’ like that. So I went to this office one day, and said, “listen, I just don’t wanna be like this all my life. You got any trainin’ programs?
The training program led to a clerical job, high school equivalency diploma and an attempt at college. But Cyndi still wasn’t doing what she really wanted. “Sometimes,” She says, “you’ll find you have a talent that other people around you don’t know you have. So you have to seek out in yourself what you love to do. And that’s what you should do for a livin’. And you’ll do a your job better, and you’ll love to go to work, and you’ll have a good time in life.”
”Poor people,” she continues, “people who never lived happy, they will always tell people who are struggling to be happy that it’s not worth it…you may as well be miserable like everybody else. But you have to look at that as comedy of error and move on to what you love to do, I always knew I wanted to sing. But the idea was frightenin’. I didn’t know how to go about it. Till I just said, “forget it I’m just goin’ on auditions. And that’s what I did.”
That was in 1974, and though it took a decade more to make it to the top, at least Cyndi was finally singing, if only in a Long Island disco band. In 1978, she helped form a band called Blue Angel. Their first and only album was released in 1980 to good reviews but never made the charts.
Management disputes followed, and Cyndi filed for bankruptcy. But she says “I wasn’t gonna be stopped. I was meant to create. If I had to fight for that , I did – I was gonna continue my career despite anybody.”
Three years ago, she met Dave Wolff at a party, “He had a car,” she says, “so he saved me a $4 cab ride home. Then he called me the next day. By the second night, I knew this was it. So I lucked out, I work very closely with Dave, and he’s also my best friend.” Does she think she’d be where she is today without him? “No,” she answers. I’d be singin’. But I think that Dave is really a brilliant manager, ’cause he knows how to take what I do and make it commercial. See, we’re a team, and I think that’s why I’m successful.”
Will they marry someday? “I don’t know,” Cyndi says. “I always look at marriage now as just something that brings you closer together. But I know I won’t be married in the traditional way. I would never give up my name, my identity, my social security number, everything that makes me equal-which ain’t much in this country.
How does Cyndi, who is probably a millionaire by now, feel about her new wealth? Has money changed everything? “I have more clothes now, “she replies. “But aside from that, I don’t really live any differently than I did. I mean, I care about havin’ enough money to make the quality stuff that I want and to be able to come home and relax and not feel claustrophobic. And I like to take care of people I love. Does she help her mother?
She works in my videos. She gets paid for that. She has a stage name Catrine Dominique, and she’s getting better and better.” Cyndi says proudly. “You know, for a long time we didn’t talk my mother and me. We had different views, we talked it out, and we’re better friends now. So, if you’re not getting along with your mother, finally you got to say, “I’m this way and she’s that way. You gotta realize she’s another person. you gotta cut the cord sometime and just become like two people.”
Making a movie is Cyndi’s next goal, after she finishes her second album, due in early 1986. She’d like to write the script as well as star “And get a wonderful director who understands me and isn’t threatened .” she adds, “Somebody who’s a master and shares.”
How does she feel about the success of Madonna, whom the press likes to portray as her archrival? ”I say: ‘Way to go,’” she replies, “ Women are on the go, and they’re doin’ good. Now maybe women will be considered like other musicians and not be separated.”
But we’re opposites in a lot of ways,” she adds, “she likes to wear a lot of jewelry too, but I wouldn’t wanna have real diamonds ‘cause I’d feel bad if I lost them. I love rhinestones./dd
In a sense, pop stars are the archetypes of our age, Madonna, undoubtedly, is the Material Girl. Cyndi Lauper on the other hand, can be called the Committed Woman, carrying the weight of the world on her frail shoulders. ” I get depressed,” she says, ” when I follow the news. I mean, I’m a citizen of this earth. I can’t ignore it. But sometimes I can’t watch, it’s so awful”
Her concern is believable, as is her anger. ” You know what I wish for the Ayatollah Khomeini ? she asserts. “I wish he would die and come back as a woman- under his regime See I care about the whole world, cause if you just cutoff America from the rest of the world, honey, it ain’t going to be long before the rest of the world is knocking at your door. Same thing with pollution. You think it’s polluted in New Jersey or New York, But it ain’t gonna be long before it’s polluted everywhere.”
“I guess I do sound negative,”.she says. I’ve just seen a lot of negative things, and I know that they could be changed. ‘Cause I’ve seen change happen. I’ve seen it happen in my life.”