Still So Unusual

So I'm sitting on my roommate's bed, wedged between a limp pile of dirty underwear and a cockeyed row of those little airplane liquor bottles, talking about the Enron collapse with Cyndi Lauper. Dream come true? Well, I never pictured the underwear—but Cyndi Lauper was everything "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" promised and more.

Fuck guilty pleasure—anybody who has their shit together knows the joy you'll spin out of She's So Unusual is as genuine as pop provides. Cyndi's rag-bag-chic shtick sprouted unmolded by marketing departments out of a girl so stubbornly iconoclastic she dropped out of high school, art school and Catholic school; her coquettish Brooklyn-inflected voice would have played anywhere from the '20s to the 2000s. And her charisma? She'll drop from a joke to raw matter-of-fact honesty without so much as a semicolon, and by the time she's on to the people who in-SPIAH-ed her, you're floating along in the tour bus with her. Was I sucking up? Oh, shamelessly. But it's Cyndi Lauper—what would you do?

For the record, Cyndi Lauper does not approve of Enron (and also for the record, she voted for Gore, as the lesser of two evils, she says). I forgot to ask her about dirty underwear or liquor. But I did ask her about several career highlights—putting her mom in her videos, her short-lived stint in pro wrestling, her pre-fame rockabilly band. And I did ask her about masturbation (and felt pretty proud for saying the word "masturbation" to Cyndi Lauper): Didn't the Catholic Church come down on her when she wrote "She Bop"?

"I got a lot of flack," she sighs. "I mean, of all people—the church is a bunch of wankers. I'm a recovering Catholic. I had the Jesus, as they say, knocked out of me. And I think they should think twice about the way they treat children—especially in light of that they harbor pedophiles. And it's only been going on for centuries. But listen: I wrote a song I felt was funny, and it was written very tastefully so that a little kid would never realize what that was. For people to get bent out of shape was ridiculous—it's not like I had girls in thongs and dog collars! It wasn't 'Smell the Glove,' okay?"

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Yeah, but it was the '80s back then—just like it's about to start being the '80s again—and people were at since-forgotten levels of lame. Cyndi sounded then like a poofy antidote to a pretty gloomy morning in America: "You'll agree that there's nobody sharper, nobody flashier, nobody gutsier and nobody nutsier than Cyndi Lauper!" gushed a 1985 tell-all book, going on to delve into fanatically obscure "Lauperiania" (worked as a geisha girl! Lived alone in the Canadian wilderness! Sold an album once every 15 seconds!). And Cyndi's still okay with that: "If you concentrate on the lighter things, you'll get through," she says.

But now that she's touring her new Shine EP with Cher—drag queens, rejoice!—and angling for a less Lou Albano-related position in the pop pantheon, it's a chance to brush the confetti off her career. Behind the kitsch is a real personality that keeps She's So Unusual—and the preceding Blue Angel LP, rare but worth the search—in more than a few hipster record collections; plus, there's a Portland-based dyke-punk Lauper cover band, and Bikini Killer Kathleen Hanna name drops Cyndi in interviews. And I come to you from between the underwear and the liquor bottles to tell you that Cyndi Lauper's personality is as stubbornly iconoclastic as ever.

"You know, I'm from New York," she explains. "I'm not like, you know, precious. Somebody starts talking to me, I'm gonna talk back to them. But when I became famous, it kinda freaked me out a little, so I kinda went into the closet. But you know what? I am who I am, and if people can't deal with me as who I am, that's fine, but I'm not gonna go and hide. I'm not hiding myself in some friggin' room and not going out and seeing the world. A writer writes and works and is alive and is part of the world."

She's really proud that she "rolled up [her] sleeves" and put together her home studio to record her latest EP and that fans were singing back her songs to her before the EP even came out, thanks to the felonious magic of the Internet.

You know, Cyndi, I say, accelerating into suck-up overdrive, you seem like you've always just done whatever you wanted to do. Shameless.

"I was hoping one day I could be this great artist," she says. "And you can't always get there by doing just any old thing, and I didn't just want fame. I wanted to contribute and have an effect in the world. And that's fine—I did, and I will."

She laughs: "It's all good—and it gets better!"


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