By Steven M. Housman
Cyndi Lauper's True Covers
Twenty years ago, when Cyndi Lauper came on to the music scene with her debut single, Girls Just Want To Have Fun, and her extraordinary album, Shes So Unusual, she didnt just have a catchy hit song and album, she had a mega-smash hit with both. Unusual went platinum several times over and Girls, with the help of the MTV generation was a phenomenon and as colorful as her hair. Lauper had five smash singles from that debut including Time After Time, She Bop, and All Through The Night. If that wasnt enough, Cyndi won the 1984 Best New Artist Grammy. Two years later, her follow-up album, True Colors, also went through the roof spawning multiple smash singles and proved Cyndi Lauper was a talented artist that many were comparing to the other reigning queen of pop, Madonna. By the end of the 80s, Lauper had over a dozen hit singles on just three critically acclaimed albums. Cyndi was more about the voice and material than what met the eye.
During a four-year hiatus from recording, when Cyndi informed me I lost my voice, she retreated to acting. She landed the part of Marianne on the hit sitcom Mad About You, and won an Emmy Award for Best Guest Appearance Female. Her comedic timing was outstanding. She gratefully acknowledges the creator and star Paul Reiser for achieving another plateau in her career. After several years of time off, getting married, having children, Cyndi found time to make an occasional album, but her heart and soul were now focused on her family.
Now, after selling over 25 million records, Cyndi returned to touring with Cher in 1999 and again for six months in 2002-2003. She was ready to release an album three years ago entitled Shine, which was superb, I even reviewed it as one of the hottest picks of the summer of 2001, but problems with the record company caused the album to be shelved.
I have rarely enjoyed speaking to an artist as much as I did with Cyndi. She was open, honest and held nothing back. Her sense of humor was fully charged even the early morning after her last night of touring. She may have been a bit sleepy at the beginning of this interview, but it took just a few minutes to get her wheels spinning and listen to how blessed she feels to be contributing something special to the world.
Fast forward to the present: her album of pop standards and pop classics titled At Last was released last November to rave reviews. Judging from her latest tour, her voice is better than ever, and Cyndi Lauper is ready to establish herself again as one of the premiere singers to come out of the late twentieth century. In this interview, Cyndi talked about everything from music, acting, gay rights, and President Bushs right to his point of view, even if she doesnt necessarily agree. To quote, God loves all the flowers, even the wild ones that grow on the side of the road. I grew up as a wild flower! I never tried to become somebody I wasnt. She didnt twenty years ago and doesnt now.
First of all, I have to congratulate you on your lengthy tour with Cher. Why did you take such a long break between touring?
Well, I started with Cher in 99 and then thats when I started work on the Shine CD and when that whole thing went belly-up, so I went back out again. Then Cher was going out on her Farewell Tour, so I decided to go out again, even though I was in the middle of trying to make a record. That last tour with her lasted six months.
I gave you a glowing review for the Shine album that actually got printed. I thought it was terrific, what happened?
Oh, thank you! Edel, which is the label it was on, went belly-up, so I retrieved my material and then I was going to go with another label, but I didnt know what was going to happen. So instead of putting out a whole CD, I put out four songs. Then I saved the other songs. You know when youre dealing with certain labels, you tailor-make your songs to what they want. So, everything I did wasnt either pop enough, you know, pop, pop, pop, pop, pop! There are some things on there that, to me, are like the song Shine. Now, Im singing it live the way it was really supposed to be. I kept smoothing it out and smoothing it out until it was safe. What people really respond to is what I do live. Im glad I did that, because whenever I re-record that, which I will, it will see the light of day the way I intended it to.
You sing rock and roll as easy as ballads and as easy as dance and pop. Is there any genre of music you really prefer over the other?
Yeah! I started creating music I could incorporate to all the different styles I like so I dont have to feel segmented. This last album is about pure interpretation, and Im trying to do famous songs that people can actually hear the interpretations as opposed to just songs. These are songs that are stories from when I was growing up and the people I knew, Im trying to tell their story.
You have such a beautiful and unique voice. Did you have any formal training before you first started out?
Before I started out, no, but after, plenty. I was doing covers and I got really tired of my voice and what I was singing, so I wanted to learn more. I started studying jazz, then I lost my voice and I went and studied vocal therapy for about seven and a half years while I was singing so that I could maintain my voice.
Ill never forget that first album Shes So Unusual. Do you still have any particular favorite songs from that first release?
Hmm I always liked All Through The Night. I just remember making that album. Each album marks a certain part of your life and that was a very special time for me working at The Record Plant.
Congratulations on returning to the label that you started with. Why did you decide to go with Epic/Sony again?
I returned because I missed them. I missed having an A&R guy like David Massey. We did some really great things together and I kind of wanted to go back and work with him again. Theres not a lot of people who do A&R (Artists & Repertoire) anymore. There are a lot of people who posture themselves to do that and a lot of people with a lot of opinions, but they dont really hear as well and they have their opinions on how they do things, but David is very articulate, hes very musical, he really understands music, he can speak very clearly and thoughtfully about what hes trying to get across. Hes a very special guy, and I think for me thats important because the work comes first, not the other stuff. Sometimes people go into the job and then in a year or two, its like the attack of the body snatchers! The guy or woman you knew is no longer there anymore. (Laughs) You know, its a different person altogether! Also, I used to work with a lot of people at Epic, like my old manager is there. Polly Anthony, who was the promotional person on True Colors, is still there.
So, it was like coming home again?
Yes! Things have shifted around, so its nice. Sometimes they shift around and youre in the wrong spot. But right now people have shifted in the right spot, so its really nice to work with them again.
Out of your vast catalogue, do you have any particular favorite songs youve written?
Time After Time obviously will always be special because it really became a classic pop song. Thats a really great thing, because I had to wrestle to get that one on the album. Its a great thing to have done. I try to keep on writing all the time, even though I may not be recording it so I keep the channel open.
For your latest album - What was the thought process to record an album of standards - or do you prefer to call them torch songs?
Its not really standards. I really didnt want to do one of those standards CDs. Torch songs were the original idea, and then I started to feel like it was a little sleepy so I wanted it to have an arc. Its like a collection of love songs, love stories, that I have been collecting since I was five. Ive been listening to people talk to me about their woes, their stories since I was a little kid. From my grandmother to my mother to my aunt to the people in the neighborhood. So, I figured if Im going to tell these stories, Id like to tell them like its a story with scenes. The people that really inspired me, Im trying to tell their stories so it turns out to be like a little show. Its a way of trying to act out these peoples songs.
Do you mean like a three-act play?
Well, I suppose, it has a beginning, middle and an end.
Shifting gears - I have to ask you about your acting. First of all, a way overdue congratulations for winning an Emmy award for playing the role of Marianne on Mad About You. Do you have plans or aspirations for more acting at the time?
That was an extraordinary experience because of Paul Reiser and the people that worked on the show. When you work with people as talented as that, you can do some really good work. I thank you for acknowledging that. But now I have fallen out of acting because I started chasing the music again. So, far as acting aspirations, Im going to try and tell these stories in song. It will be like a one-woman show where I can talk and sing and just bridge these love stories together.
I know, as most of us do, that youre a huge supporter of the Gay and Lesbian community. Thank you for your wonderful contributions. Is this something you did because of anybody in particular, or would you have been there anyway?
Well. I have friends and family in the gay community and I feel, very, very strongly that everyone needs to stand up and be counted, and people need to realize that these people are part of the community. Were all from families; its a family issue. Everyone has friends and family and everyone deserve civil rights. Its just one of those things. Thats why were in this country, the United States, opposed to living in countries where being who you are and speaking your mind would be illegal.
Do you have any personal feelings about President Bushs remarks that he believes the sanctity of marriage is between a man and a woman only?
Those are his views. The President has a right to his views just as I and everybody else has a right to their views. Thats why we live here. Also, who knows if he acknowledges all the people in his family? Who knows if theres someone in his family .you know, hes in a political machine whereas the everyday people who live in the real world. Its a different kind of reality. You wouldnt want your aunt, your uncle, your sister or your brother or your cousins or your friends to suffer because they couldnt be who they are. I used to get a lot of letters from people who were very distraught and depressed, young people and said they were suicidal because of how they felt that they were different, and the sad news is that they felt if they came out they would be disenfranchised from their friends and their family, and a lot of people were. I dont think anybody should be depressed about who they are. Most of the twisted people are the ones who are in the closet and cant discuss and be who they are. My sister, I watched her grow up, she never changed, shes a good woman who works really hard, she loves to help people, shes a good soul, she always been that way. I think that if you know somebody, your own family knows who you are, so why should you be silenced if theres injustice? Why cant we all stand together and say, Hey wait, no, no, no, no, no, these people are part of our family, this is a family issue. This is the United States. This is not Iraq, this is not a Muslim country. Its not about Mohammed anymore, its strange when people get caught up in religion and they think they know who God is and everybody has a different version of it and everybody is right and everybody has God on their side. Its amazing in the end what God would actually say. Because I was raised Catholic, (Laughing) I wonder how many times Christ would roll over with the things that were done and said. For me, God loves all the flowers, even the wild ones that grow on the side of the road. I mean (Laughing), I grew up as a wild flower! I was the way I was, I never tried to become somebody I wasnt, that was all the stuff I was feeling, and then I wore it!
You wore it well.
I did! (Laughing)
Youre obviously very close to your sister.
Yes, and I have many friends that are gay and I wouldnt want any of them to suffer. I dont think anybody ever deals with it from a family perspective. We all come from families. There are mothers and fathers who are good parents who raise their children and sometimes the kids are gay. The same as any straight person was raised. I think the family issues that should be looked at is child abuse, lack of education, if youre going to talk about family and childrens issues, why not bring that stuff up? Thats the real deal. I have a belief in people and in my country because its freedom of thought and freedom of speech, freedom of expression and thats what I believe in. Im so glad I was born here. I love this country with all its faults. You always want to make it better, and it can always get better.
Back to music - who are your favorite singers?
Oh my goodness. I listen to all different things at different times for different reasons. I listen to everyone as much as I can. Right now Im listening to old songs because Im doing old music. I always listen to Billie Holiday. I love her and shes taught me so much about singing and phrasing. And Ella, she comes from a completely different place, but also equally wonderful. Nina Simone, who we just lost, was such a wonderful spirit and Celia Cruz, which I have no idea what the heck she was singing because I dont speak Spanish. I mean theres a lot of great music, so many different genres and so many wonderful singers. I dont just listen to this one or that one. I just listen to the radio when Im driving and I tend to discover things at the end of the dial. Listening to college stations, public radio. I just walk into Virgin or Borders and find music. I just like to hear everything thats out there. When I was doing the Shine CD, I kind of got into Jill Scott. I just listened to her all the time and she became like a girlfriend. I like rock music. I love the screaming! I love to listen to the heavy testosterone screaming sometimes. I love the work that Christina Aguilera just did and Lil Kim. I can see her [Christina] growing as an artist. It will be interesting to see where a lot of these artists go. Ive always been a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I think Dr. Dre is brilliant. Hes really a great innovator. Theres a lot off rap where the rhythm is really spectacular. Im not keen on some of the very depressing lyrics, the violent lifestyles; Im not into that. I ran away from all of that and decided I would change my life. I never want to live in misery again (Laughs). Queen Latifah is an absolute joy, India.Arie is wonderful. I like some of Tori Amos stuff and Alanis Morissettes last record I really liked. Hey listen, right now I have the Latin Lounge music that I adore. That whole 50s Latin Lounge sound is so brilliant and so alive. I cant even mention all of it because there is so much. I just really love music, all different kinds. I think its important to listen to all different kinds and I think its important to know the music history. Theres nothing like a great Led Zeppelin song! Janis Joplin and the whole 70s era which is fantastic with Teddy Pendergrass and Ann Peebles, so many wonderful soul singers. Then theres the Motown era and people like Marvin Gaye, then of course, The Beatles. I grew up listening to their sense of pop, they were extraordinary.
Is there anybody you would love to collaborate with?
I want to collaborate with so many people. There is a collaboration on my At Last CD with Tony Bennett. Depends on who says yes and who says no!
Out of all of the songs, why did you choose to use "At Last" for the title?
Oh, I thought I was going to go with Love Stories or Love Songs, but the title track was so appropriate.
What about songs youve either written or recorded or both? Name your own favorites.
What do you like?
My personal favorites are True Colors, Money Changes Everything, She Bop, Hey wait, Im interviewing you!
(Laughing) Of course all those songs have a special place. I cant name them. Is that disappointing to you?
No, I interview a lot of artists and they basically tell me its hard to choose. Their songs are so close to them for so many different reasons. They will usually answer with the latest project theyre working on.
That usually is the case. I do two different kinds of things. I interpret music and I also write, and usually they dont go hand in hand. So, instead of being put into a little square box I just continue to write so I can keep myself balanced. When things go really wrong, I just start writing. I mean (Laughing) gosh, I should be really upset and thats when I find myself writing! I guess its the honesty that keeps me balanced.
Youre not done yet; you have the CD, and the concert DVD that was just released. I wish you major success.
Thank you, youre very kind. I wish you the same with your writing.
We both said that in unison! (Laughing). Okay, thank you!
© 2004 Steven M. Housman. All Rights Reserved.