It’s 1984. Nikki, aka our babysitter, aka the coolest girl in the whole world, has MTV turned up as loud as it will go. When Cyndi Lauper appears on-screen, Nikki throws a cassette tape in the stereo and creates a surround-sound, after-school concert experience that no one would ever guess was occurring behind the closed shutters of that unobtrusive brown brick ranch house. All this while somehow managing to paint a perfect hot pink and chewed manicure, practicing her French lessons and talking to her boyfriend on the phone.
My little sister and I have changed into our splatter-paint and lace punk outfits and devoured enough Little Debbies to procure the perfect sugar high for properly she-bopping off the couch and the fireplace. “Geels Just Wanna Have Fun!” my sister exclaims with all the angst a 3-year-old can muster, not having learned to enunciate her r’s yet.
Too bad it’s actually nearing the end of 2001. And Cyndi Lauper has yet to re-create a single glorious pop anthem that compares to any off She’s So Unusual. “True Colors” came close, but after watching Lauper hike up her skirt and get scolded by Captain Lou Albano, no one was really ready for the queen of plaid and checks to actually mature as an artist. It’s not her fault, entirely. Lauper has kept up her end of the deal, releasing album after album into the jaws of a voracious cult following. The push just hasn’t been behind her since.
And at this point in her career, she’s trying something new, albeit following in the footsteps of a few of her contemporaries, Cher and Madonna, by dipping her toes into the disco-diva whirlpool.
“It’s all dance,” Lauper says about her upcoming show at Space. “I’m playing a dance club. This is not a regular Cyndi Lauper show. I’m not playing a guitar. I’m just going. This is my other personality. I have two personalities. One that everybody knows and then there’s the other one where I can go into a club like this and know that I am not going to be the one, or I might not be the one with the most fabulous dress on. OK — but, no, no, of course I will be!”
Lauper’s using this show to try out some dance versions of songs off her new album, Shine, which won’t be released until early next spring.
I ask her about one of the tracks — “Madonna Whore” — thinking it might be a swipe at the artist whom Cyndi was at one point positioned next to as an equal, before somehow getting left in her sparkly diva dust.
“No silly,” she laughs. “There was a Madonna before her. God bless Madonna. I love her. But there was somebody before her, babe, named Madonna.
“You know, there’s a syndrome called the Madonna-Whore Syndrome. You should go online and, hmm, I don’t know how you’d do that without pulling up all the porno sites, but there’s stuff written in great length about it. The way they take young girls, young models and they advertise them in really trashy, whorish kind of looks and that’s what a young girl is supposed to be. And then the older woman is not even there, or she’s the mother. And that’s it. And that’s what women are supposed to be. And the song is about that, because I wouldn’t put down another woman. That’s not what I do. I support other women, because, you know? We’re all working girls.”
Lauper’s got a 4-year-old son and she’s pushing through those ever-dreaded 40s. With all this, is she still a “geel” at heart?
“Well, when I was pregnant, I had purple hair. And last time on tour I had blue dreads. You know, I don’t know. What you just described to me is what we’re taught to think. Do you believe that? Is that how you’ll plan your future?”
“Um, no!” I yell, thoroughly inspired by this pop-culture icon.
“See, that’s what I mean,” Lauper continues, all worked up and in motivational mode. “That’s what we’re taught. That’s the trick. To just look at it and go, ‘Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be this now and this here and this then and blah blah blah blah.’ I’m not goin’ there. I’ll do whatevah I feel in my heart is right and what I feel like doin.’ And if I feel like skippin’ down a block, baby, I’m goin’ to. I don’t care. What are you supposed to do, fall in line and be a sheep? I’m not a sheep. And I don’t play a good one. But that’s in the song. You’ve got so many dos and don’ts. Do this, do that, don’t wear this, don’t wear that. And who you talkin’ to anyway? What do ya mean? Don’t wear this and don’t wear that? Come on!”
Recently, there’s been a bit of a resurgence in many of the styles — music and fashion — that Lauper first pioneered back in the ’80s.
“Well, yeah, I see a lot of my numbers walking around. But it’s not as wild as what I did. And it’s not as wild as that time. That time was an extraordinary time because it was new. Usually every decade copies a decade. In the ’80s, they took all of the decades and mushed them together. Well that was what I did. I couldn’t make up my mind. Should I wear this? Should I wear … ahh! I’ll wear it all. I wore things for different reasons. I wore things to empower me.
“The whole thing with fashion, and how much you have and how much money you spent on this and that, I think that’s not good. That’s not something I want to get into or be part of. Because you know what? A woman’s style has nothing to do with what she’s told she has to wear. If you conform to what you’re told to wear, you’re fucked. What are poor women supposed to do? They’re supposed to look at all the designer clothes and go, ‘Hmmm, wish I could wear that.’ Or look at clothes that are made for the body of a 12-year-old who’s trying to look like she could afford the clothes that they’re making, that only the older women could wear, but they couldn’t unless they were totally emaciated. What is that saying to our whole species? It’s just wrong. I don’t quite buy into all that crap. I kinda think, you gotta look at your body shape, which is what I did, and figure out what looks good on it. And you’re always changing. Your body’s always changing. Your persona’s always changing as a human. You just go with it. And things that make you feel beautiful are the things you should wear. It doesn’t matter what store you buy ’em in. You’re not going to try and look like you’re 12. But who does? I wouldn’t want to be 12 again if you paid me. It was awful. For me. It was really hard. Certain things you fall in love with because you know they look good. Certain things you wear for the effect. Certain things, yeah, they’re a mistake, but hey, if you don’t try ’em, you never know. And who cares? Get over yourself. You can’t get that serious about it.”
Lauper does admit, however, to having tried the Atkins diet.
“While I was on the diet, I’d occasionally dream of finding cookies — cannolis and pinola cookies — and eating whatever the hell I wanted. I remember one dream, I piled up all this cereal in a bowl and I was all ready to dig in and I realized, ‘Oh! I don’t eat carbs!’”
But for now Cyndi just wants to have fun. And she’s excited to check out Space: “This is a fabulous club that somebody said, ‘Do you wanna do it?’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah.’ I get to try out a version of “Shine” and some other songs (some older classics and even a few Christmas songs). I wanna see how it is and say hi. I like to find a fabulous club, do something and then go home.”
And then she mentions how her 4-year-old son likes the Red Wings, “but he doesn’t say it so good. He says the ‘Wed Wings.’”