Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir

Hi everyone,

Photo credit: © Kat Villacorta
A few weeks ago, I caught Cyndi Lauper on "Front and Center" on PBS. This hour-long concert (which you can watch here) celebrates the 30th anniversary of her debut album, She's So Unusual, which she performs from start to finish. And there I was, in the middle of the night, remembering all the lyrics, singing and dancing along like no time had passed.

The last time I saw her in concert was with my dad and sister in Boston Common when she was touring in support of this album. It was my first concert ever. The two things that I remember from it are 1) Cyndi belting out "Money Changes Everything" while fearlessly climbing high above the stage on sound equipment and running along back-wall scaffolding, and 2) the photos I took of her from atop my dad's shoulders, above a sea of bouncing fans. The only thing visible in those photos was the shock of Cyndi's orange hair, a fiery dot from our distance. 

I've lost track of her music over the years, but the same Cyndi-infused delight resurfaces in me whenever she shows up. Were you as excited as I was about her recurring role on "Mad About You" in the '90s? Did you catch her surprise appearance on "The Voice" a few years ago? Didn't the Tonys telecast become instantly cooler with Cyndi there in support of Kinky Boots? I guess I shouldn't have been surprised this year when my mom described an outfit I had just received for my birthday as "very Cyndi Lauper" and that the next gift I opened was her recent memoir. (Thanks, Dad!) 

Cyndi Lauper's memoir is a quick read, maybe because I read it every day since opening the cover. During the first half of the book, I was shocked to learn about this young girl in Queens, who grew up poor in an unstable family situation, struggled in school and with various jobs, and had to run away from home for her own safety. She suffered from illnesses and depression while fighting off hunger and barely paying rent. I stopped reading every once in a while to inspect the front cover: This is Cyndi Lauper – amazing singer, songwriter, and performer, Grammy and Tony winner, and all-around cool, confident artist – right? 

What kept Cyndi going were her singular vision of the artist she wanted to become and her deep connection to music and singing. Just as I felt while watching her climb far above the concert stage all those years ago, reading her story, I was taken aback by her fearless drive to move forward in life to reach her creative goals and her matter-of-fact acceptance of whatever hurdles are thrown in her path.

The second half of the book caught me up on the music I've missed since Cyndi's second album, True Colors. The number and variety – from rock and dance to jazz and blues – are surprising. Cyndi's still doing whatever she can to grow as an artist and offer something new. She lets you into her unique, all-encompassing creative process; the look, sound, and feel of everything she does has artful meaning behind it. She talks honestly about her shortcomings and struggles to grow and be heard in a male-dominated, sales-driven industry. She offers empowering advice about how to lead your life as you want it and inspires with every triumph, including her work, her sense of humor in the face of darkness, and her dedicated efforts toward equal rights for women and the gay community. Throw some wrestlers and drag queens in there, and you've got an entertaining story about the unpredictable, rewarding life of a special lady.

My favorite thing about this book is Cyndi's one-of-a-kind voice and approach. It's as if she is sitting next to you, personally telling her story. As if we were catching up like old girlfriends, she ends some anecdotes with "(Can you believe it?)" or "C'est la vie... (That's French for 'whatever!')" Taking her time when working on an album is for the best, she explains, "I mean, I could have done it really quick, but what was I going to put out – some piece of poop? (You feeling the alliteration?)" And, though she puts herself down for having no filter when speaking her mind and doing things her own way, she takes it in stride, always with her eye on improving: "I'm learning more and more how to do this without ruffling feathers, but I must confess that I don't know how to do it as well as I'd like to. I've plucked a few chickens in my time. I have never been a delicate flower. Hopefully I am getting better. Or, as Yoda would say, 'Better I'm getting.'"

Can you hear her? While reading this book, your internal voice will absorb Cyndi's infectious enthusiasm and boldness and develop a heavy Queens accent. What else can a fan ask for? This memoir is "very Cyndi Lauper." Awesome she is. 


No comments: