September 2016 - Cover Story: The incomparably talented Cyndi Lauper
I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing Cyndi Lauper in Las Vegas in 1996 when she was the opening act for Cher. That adventure involved a fake backstage pass, HBO, and Studio 54, but that's another story. Standing in the presence of an icon—a true artist—is one I can't forget. Since that meeting in Las Vegas, I got to witness Lauper’s rise from being the girl from her 1983 debut album, She’s So Unusual, to a Tony® Award winner in 2013. At 63, Lauper shows no signs of stopping. As she prepares for her performance in Albuquerque at Sandia Casino on September 17th, she took a moment to sit down with me and take a look at her stunning career and the dream she still intends to fulfill.
Over 30 years in the music business. What led you to pursue a career in music?
Honestly, even as a kid, singing is what made me feel alive. When I was 5 years old, my neighbors would give me a quarter when I would belt out. I started writing songs and poetry with my sister when I was like, 11. I really didn’t think I could make a career out of it until much later in life. I went to art college, I had odd jobs, but the first time I got into a band as a background singer when I was around 20 I finally figured out where I wanted to be. I didn’t last long as a background singer, just a few gigs, when the manager of the band said, “One, you are not a good enough dancer to be a background singer, and two, your voice belongs in front of the stage.”
I am sometimes nostalgic for the days when artists grew out of the live scene. Where labels were important, highly selective, and things like that. You had to work for a long time and sharpen your skills as a performer and songwriter before you were actually heard by a wide audience. When music had a monetary value. I worry sometimes with unfair streaming rates and the recent decision from the Justice Department - how can the next Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, or Metallica develop when artists are asked to give away their music for free? How do you put food on the table or a roof over your head without getting a day job? How hard is it to come home at night after working all day and find the time and energy to write? Labels don’t have the money anymore to do what they were good at - investing in bands by giving tour support and doing great visuals and hiring great producers to record and work with young artists. But then you see artists like Chance the Rapper who, through the internet, found his fans and actually still makes money, despite giving his music away for free. But he’s more of an exception than a rule.
October 14th of this year will be the 33rd anniversary of when She's So Unusual was released. What was the process like when you created one of the most beloved albums in history?
That is very nice to hear. It was a magical recording process. Just remember it being so fun and exciting. There weren’t any expectations of the label on us because I was a new artist and we were allowed to create and record in this bubble. And it was pretty effortless, to tell you the truth. It just felt right, all the time. And we were thrilled with the way it came out.
Kinky Boots made you a Tony® winner. What was it about this story that moved you to put it on a Broadway stage.
I have been a fan of Broadway musicals since I was a kid. My mom only bought and listened to cast recordings of Broadway shows, so, as a little kid, I would put on a show for her and act out all the parts. I tortured my brother and sister with these performances, too—and sometimes made them join in. So I’ve always had my eyes and ears set on one day doing something on Broadway. I was asked to be Pirate Jenny in Three Penny Opera, and that was a thrill. I never imagined, in a million years, I would be asked to SCORE a Broadway musical. So the day I got a call from Harvey Fierstein, who is a friend, but also a Broadway legend, and he asked me to write the songs for Kinky Boots, I was beyond excited. I hadn’t seen the film yet. So I watched it that night and called Harvey back in the morning and said that I would be honored to be part of telling the story of love and forgiveness and redemption — and the shoes! Come on.
Will we see a touring company show soon for Kinky Boots?
There is a touring company now. [It] opened on Sept 4, 2014, in Las Vegas and has been on the road ever since. To date, we’ve been through many cities and should be coming to New Mexico very soon! The show is in Chicago right now. 92 weeks and still going strong.
I was surprised when I saw your interview with AARP. You're proving that age is just a number. How are you keeping up with the demands of the business?
I've always had a lot of energy, interests, and goals...I take care of myself. I do yoga, take long, brisk walks with my husband every day, and try and hit the gym three or four times a week. I eat healthy (most of the time). I’ve never been much of a drinker, so I think when you stay active and take care of yourself, age is just a number.
Do you still dream? If so, what are your dreams now?
I still have a bucket list and I plan to do everything on it. My biggest dream is to win an Oscar so I can have an EGOT. (Emmy®, Grammy®, Oscar®, and Tony®.) I have an Emmy, Tony, and a Grammy. Now, I just need an Oscar. My goal is to write a great song for a movie so I can be nominated, becoming closer to my EGOT dreams.
Tell us about Detour. What inspired you to do a country album?
When I first started to think about what kind of record I was going to make next, I really liked the idea of doing a companion record to Memphis Blues. When I first met with Seymour Stein (President of Sire), we just were hanging out listening to songs. I wasn't sure what kind of record I was going to do. I have been doing a lot of writing, but it's for a new musical, not songs for me to record for my own CD. When I started listening, I found that the songs I was moving towards were songs from the same era as the blues record. Seymour explained that the golden era of country, which all of the songs off Detour are, was happening at the same time as the era of Memphis Blues. It was when segregation was still very deep, especially at radio. But the cool thing was, and this is before Elvis and Jerry Lee and Wanda Jackson and acts like that kicked the door down and merged the two sounds, the blues, and country guys were listening to each other. So there was a community, and when you listen closely to them you hear it. So I picked songs from the golden age of country. I had some amazing friends and artists join me - Willie Nelson, Vince Gil, Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, and Jewel. I’m really happy with how it came out.
Looking at your career, if you could go back and tell Cynthia Ann Stephanie one thing, what would it be?
Have fun. Stop and smell the roses, follow your gut, it will all be ok!
We're excited to have you back in Albuquerque. What can we expect with this tour?
I actually have some good production this time. Usually, it’s just me and the stage. Now I have some cool, little, set pieces I think people will like. I’m doing all my hits, some selections from Detour, and a few songs that have always been fan favorites. I have a killer band. It’s fun. So don't be silly! Go get tickets and join us!
What other upcoming projects can we expect?
I’m working on a new Broadway project. I’m writing songs for myself, for the project, sometime down the road. Still touring Detour, and Kinky Boots is opening in Japan and Australia this year, so I have to be in those territories to work with the cast before the shows open. I also have a TV project I’m shopping — I always have a lot going on!
What would you like your legacy to be?
She always did her best!
When it comes to doing her best, Cyndi Lauper does it in spades. With an Emmy®, Grammy®, and Tony® already in hand, we bet that Oscar® isn’t too far behind, and with Lauper’s tenacity, she is sure to be as captivating in the future as she has always been.