Cyndi Lauper is still so unusual, 30 years after the newly crowned Tony winner’s debut album

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Cyndi Lauper is still so unusual, 30 years after the newly crowned Tony winner’s debut album

Posted on: April 27th, 2014 by tommyj

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Cyndi LauperHeadliner: Cher When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 2. Where: Quicken Loans Arena. Tickets: $25.50 to $105.50, plus fees, available at the box office, Discount Drug Mart locations, online at and, and by phone at 1-888-894-9424.

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Thirty years ago, a weird, wacky, wonderful artist gave the world a gift called “She’s So Unusual.’’ Cyndi Lauper is STILL so unusual . . . and she’s also still weird, wacky and wonderful.

Lauper, who opens for her friend Cher at The Q on Friday, May 2, won a Grammy as best new artist based on that album. Since then, she has gone on to put out eight more studio albums – including the Grammy-nominated “Memphis Blues’’ – collect a Tony Award for best original score for the musical “Kinky Boots,’’ write a best-selling book about her battle with depression and abuse, and appear on television in everything from the drama “Bones’’ to voicing the telephone operator in the animated “Higglytown Heroes.’’ Along the way, she’s also become one of the greatest advocates the LGBT community has had.

Now 60 – where does the time go? – she’s much more than the off-beat singer behind “Girls Just Want to Have Fun’’ and “She Bop.’’ She’s finally showing her “True Colors’’ as an American icon.

Lauper has been dealing with some voice issues, so she is limiting her interviews to email. We were fortunate to grab one.

Where are you as you answer these?

In my kitchen in my apartment in NYC (there’s a picture in the album art of my album “Bring Ya To The Brink” where I’m sitting at kitchen table in my apartment).

It’s been 30 years since you shocked the world with "She’s So Unusual,” and now we’ve got the anniversary release, with all the extra bells and whistles, like the reusable stickers and concert footage. What’s the biggest surprise — the most "unusual” thing — fans are likely to discover in this package?

I don’t think they will find anything “unusual” per se. What we hoped to do is bring everyone back to that moment in time through the demos and the live material. We all (producer Rick Chertoff, engineer William Wittman, musicians and collaborators the Hooters) had such a great time making this album, and I think that came through in the recordings.

When you went back and were putting this together, what memories did it conjure up?

Just all those amazing times we had in the studio. Of course, it also brought me back to what I think was a great time in music. It was an exciting time. Just so many great, unique, amazing artists came out of the ’80s, and it was an exciting community to be in. Everyone really supported and cheered one another on, too. So we all celebrated each other’s successes.

It was a debut solo album, and in looking at it now, can you see the hints of the multifaceted Cyndi Lauper you are today?

I always had “dreams of grandeur,” as my grandmother used to say. I always had passion for art, for Broadway, for movies and I’ve always loved TV. I always went to shows and watched old films like a student, not just someone in the audience: Why were they using that angle of camera? Why was that person onstage hitting that mark? Even as a little kid.

I even thought at one time I would be an artist (painter) and moved to Vermont to go to school there. Out of the ’80s, of course, the video age was born and I just loved that medium.

And [if] ya do enough videos, you get a taste of “acting,” and to be offered movie and TV roles was just a thrill to me.

So I really feel lucky that so many different creative avenues were open to me because of my music career. I have been on TV and in movies and continue that work.

One of my very first loves as a kid was performing and singing to my mother’s Broadway records to my family, so to be given the opportunity to score the music for a Broadway musical ("Kinky Boots’’) was yet another dream come true.

And the same year that “Kinky Boots’’ opened (it won the Tony for best musical 2013), my autobiography came out and it was a NY Times bestseller, so it’s pretty remarkable life, I have to say.

You and Cher go back a long way. What is there about the two of you that makes a good bill?

Ya know what? We have a lot in common. We both look at the world a certain way. We both have always worked very hard and have been very truthful to our art.

As far as live [music] goes, we share a similar audience. Hers is bigger than mine (lol) but our demographic is exactly the same, [even if] our shows are quite different. She puts on a very stylized, fantastic, jaw-dropping extravaganza, and my show is more like an ad hoc punk club show.

And on personal note, I love her. She’s a great egg.

You have always danced to your own beat and sometimes, it’s made it tough on you. That’s incredibly admirable, but can you talk about why it is so important for people to remain true to themselves and their principles?

Yeah, you do get beat up a bit when you dance to the beat of the drum the label partners don’t hear. And sometimes when you take the path that is true to you, but the path the “industry” doesn’t dig, ya go it alone, ya know?

But at the end of the day, and at the end of your career, you have to say, “Am I proud of my work?” And I am.

Maybe I could have made different choices [and] maybe those choices would have given me more commercial success, but I have to say I am so happy and proud of every twist and turn of my career and wouldn’t change anything.

“Kinky Boots’’ was just announced as part of the Broadway Series that will be coming to Cleveland next year. Your Tony was well-deserved, but can you tell me about the difference in writing music that others will be singing vs. writing for yourself?Really different! When writing songs for a musical, your job is to help move the story forward. And sometimes ya come up with a great song, but guess what? It doesn’t help move the story forward. So you go back and come up with a song that does.

On a CD, you write a great song, it’s on the album because there you are not telling one story. On a CD, you are telling 10 little stories.

Also, in a musical you have to write for all the characters, for many voices and many points of view. It was a challenge to learn that skill set, but I really loved it. And to have my partner be Broadway legend Harvey Fierstein was like learning from a master. He really was an amazing sound board for me throughout the process.

You have long been an advocate for LGBT issues. Is that what compelled you to undertake “Kinky Boots?’’

There were many reasons why I got involved with “Kinky Boots.’’ I mean, Harvey Fierstein called me on the phone, and before he finished the sentence, “Would you like to collaborate with me?” I said, “Yes!’’

But then he told he about “Kinky Boots’’ and what story it would be telling. I knew I wanted to be involved. The message of “Kinky Boots’’ is acceptance, for loving someone no matter what. The issues of family, of expectations that parents have for their kids and the strain on that relationship as a result if those expectations are not met is the core of the story.

In the work of the True Colors Fund, we are trying to help kids who have not been accepted for who they are. Homeless, gay and transgender kids, kids who are kicked out of their homes by their parents, just for being who they are.

That is why we have up to 40 percent of the homeless youth population in this country identifying as gay or transgender, yet they only make up 7 percent of the general youth population.

You have to love your kids for who they are and not for who they want them to be. My hope is that “Kinky Boots’’ will help spread that message. For all parents, not just parents of gay or transgender kids, of course. Lola disappoints his father, and so does Charlie. I hope that after seeing the show, parents call their kids and tell them they love them, that they accept and love them for who they are!

Your activism on several fronts is well-known. Why do you think it’s important for someone with your notoriety to get involved like that?

Listen, I am fortunate to have some fame, and if I can use that to shine a light on issues that I think are important, I am certainly gonna do that. Whether I was famous or not, I would still be doing whatever I could. I am friend and family, and where I come from you do not sit by and watch your friends’ and family’s civil rights be stripped away. You stand by them and stand up for them.

You have multiple Grammys, a Tony, and an Emmy. No Oscar (yet). Clearly, you act, you write and you sing, and all very well. What do you get out of each of those disciplines?

Thank you very much for saying that. I do work very hard and have been so lucky to work with so many talented people in each of these fields. I always try and learn from every experience I have and just get better at what I do. I just have a great passion for the creative process, whether it be songwriting or acting or singing, etc.

Essentially, when you are singing a song, you become the character in the song – you’re acting. How does your music help your acting, and vice versa?

You hit the nail on the head! For me, I’ve always imagined myself the person in the song and think what is she saying, what is she going through? I try and really tell the story of the song, and for me I have to go to that place in order to really feel the song. And through that process, over the years and – I’ve been singing my whole life, since I was like 5, when I would perform for my family – I think I learned A LITTLE about acting. My husband, David Thornton, is a great actor. He studied at Yale and is amazing.

Bobby McFerrin told me there was a time when he hated “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,’’ but he’s learned to embrace it. Have you ever felt that way about “Girls Just Want to Have Fun?’’

Nope, never. When I first recorded that song, I had this dream that the song could become a song women would hear and feel powerful. I made sure to include women of all races and types, so that when girls/women were watching the video, they could see themselves. Then, for the song to have the kind of reaction it did was awesome.

Even then, I would see mothers bringing their small daughters and dancing and singing together. Now, 30 years later, I see three generations of women at my shows. How could you not love that, feel empowered by that? I’m getting power back from the women I performed the song for. It’s pretty perfect.

“Time After Time’’ may be one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, and your delivery is just wrenching. Is there a back story to the song?

There is, of course. I wrote that song with Rob Hyman, and we were going through changes in our respective relationships. [It’s] about a love that has run its course, but there was and always would be love there. But it’s also a universal experience: Love loss and love remains.

You have had to overcome a lot – abuse, depression, etc. I don’t cite it to do that “Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’’ cliche, but how have those struggles manifested themselves in your art, as a singer, songwriter and actor?

All us artists feel a lot, ya know! Lol! Sure, I had some rough patches, but I always believed in myself and I never thought of giving up. Life is up and down, and without the downs, you can’t have ups, right? Every life experience — the good and the bad ones — affect you as an artist, of course. You draw from life experiences when writing, performing whatever.

How is the “grown up’’ Cyndi Lauper different from the one who lived in the woods for two weeks as a teen? And is that story true, or apocryphal?

True story. Went to find myself. Went to Vermont to study trees. Found myself homeless. Luckily, I found help, an organization that worked with young people, helped me find a place to live and helped me apply for the art school I went to.

I was really naive then. I was just 17 when I left home [and] thought I could take on the world. I know how ridiculous that was now, of course.

When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A singer. A songwriter.

I know you worked retail and odd jobs while struggling to make it. What was the worst job you had, and why?

A gal Friday for Simon & Schuster. It wasn’t the worst job but I was horrible at it. I was really bad. And that was tough going to work every day knowing you are pretty useless at it. I got fired eventually. Funny how 25 years later, they gave me a book deal, huh?

OK, this is just a silly question: I understand you started experimenting with hair color and fashion even as a young girl. Why?

I always loved fashion and hair and makeup since I was a toddler. Seriously, I had an outfit and a hairstyle I worked on for weeks before I stared kindergarten. I wanted to dye my hair bright yellow like a sunflower. My mother of course said no. I wanted to make a statement my first day of school.

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