The artist: Cyndi Lauper has been a New York girl from the very beginning—Queens born and bred—but the singer-songwriter has been taking her music around the world even before she broke big with 1983’s “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.” Most recently, Lauper has been spotted down Tennessee way, teaming up with such notables as Charlie Musselwhite and B.B. King for her 2010 album Memphis Blues. Lauper subsequently hit the road to promote the record, resulting in the live DVD To Memphis, With Love, featuring guest appearances by Allen Toussaint and Jonny Lang.
“You Make Loving Fun” (recorded in 1977, released as a Japanese-only single in 1984)
Cyndi Lauper: Oh, my God. [Laughs.] I was not a recording artist then. I had gone—like most everybody from New York, I think—down to Washington Square Park. I used to love it as a teenager, and… I think I was in a cover band by then, and I wanted to sing with the doo-wop kids, who’d just go down there and jam. And one of them said to me, “Hey, you should come down, I’m working for Ed Chalpin, I get $15 a side that I sing. If I sing background, I get a little less.” So I said, “Sure, I’d love to!” You know, make money singing? So I went and recorded in their studio. The trick was, at that time, you had to imitate the person so that nobody would realize that it wasn’t… You know, by the time they realized it wasn’t Christine McVie, they’d already bought it. So that’s what I was doing. And it was… [Starts to laugh] It was an interesting time when I turned around and actually made something of myself, and there Ed Chalpin was putting out a picture of me from Blue Angel, saying that this is what I did when I was in Blue Angel, which is actually not true. But what can I say? Que sera, sera.
The A.V. Club: Was that the only cover that you did back then, or were there others?
CL: Oh, no, I was in a cover band in Long Island!
AVC: No, I meant that you’d recorded for that kind of thing.
CL: Oh, well, it was until I started recording for Epic as a solo artist. And then I did covers. But I did covers that I really wanted to do, and we worked really hard on them, ’cause at that time we were trying to come up with a sound. ’Cause, you know, I’d come from a band, and [producer] Rick Chertoff had come from a band, the people I worked with [Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman] had come from a band, and their whole thing was, “Oh, let’s put a band together behind her!” But when that didn’t work out, I decided that we should just start from scratch, kind of make it smaller and make new arrangements of these songs. So that’s what we did for She’s So Unusual: We created a sound between what they did, what I did, and the modern street sound that I loved. You know, in the beginning, the gated snare was really something. [Laughs.] It was very exciting at the time. Now it’s just synonymous with the ’80s, I guess.
Blue Angel, “I’m Gonna Be Strong” (from 1980’s Blue Angel)
AVC: I’m sure it’s not coincidental that Blue Angel shared its name with a Gene Pitney song and subsequently covered a Gene Pitney song.
CL: We actually weren’t named after a Gene Pitney song. I am so surprised that you don’t know your music...
AVC: Was it after the Roy Orbison song, then?
CL: That’s right! But don’t worry, Roy’s not around to freak out that you got it wrong. [Laughs.] Yeah, we loved Roy Orbison, and we’d sit and listen to him because he was the quintessential. Him and Otis Redding. I also used to sing “Try A Little Tenderness” in Blue Angel. There was a singer that [Blue Angel keyboardist/saxophonist] John Turi worked with, a really wonderful singer, who was kind of… not burly, but he was kind of a big construction guy who had this bruised-sounding voice, and he was in a band with Gene Cornish called Bulldog. And he was the one that kept playing me stuff, and he played me “I’m Gonna Be Strong” and said, “Cyn, ya gotta do this song.” And I said, “Yeah, I know, I love it and all, but…” When I first did it, like everybody does, you do it the way it was written, the way it was originally done. And, honestly, I sounded like Ethel Merman. [Laughs.] I said, “I can’t sound like Ethel Merman!” So John said, “All right, go ahead, arrange it. How do you see it?” So I worked on it and made it my own story.
I also wrote the material for Blue Angel with John. Working with John Turi was a huge part of my development. I worked five years with John, from 1977 to 1982, and through a failed record deal. And, you know, when you first get the record deal, you feel like, “We made it! We’re going all the way!” So I’m dying my hair blonde and apricot, I’m wearing the kind of clothes I really love… Except the kind of clothes I loved were the kind of clothes where, when you went back to the neighborhood, they teased the hell out of you and told you how weird you were, until it was on the top-40, and then they’d all wear it. ‘Cause that’s the way it goes. [Laughs.] But it was an interesting time.
I gotta say, the times that I spent singing covers in a cover band are what taught me to perform in front of a large crowd. My first gig as a lead singer was at a place called the Boardy Barn. I had my heart set on being a background singer like Merry Clayton—I loved Merry Clayton—and when I realized I couldn’t dance and sing at the same time, and I kept falling, the guy that was going to manage the group said, “Listen, the chick in the back that keeps falling, she sings good. Why don’t you just bring her to the front and make her the lead singer? If you do that, I’ll take on the band.” So we did that, and he said, “You’re gonna sing Janis Joplin covers.” And, I mean, I knew who Janis Joplin was, ’cause I grew up listening to her and Hendrix, and I remember when she died and Hendrix died and Jim Morrison died. We felt like all our peeps were gone. But singing her songs? I never thought I would do that. But I did, and I learned a lot. And that started my journey. But when I first started singing, I sang in front of 10,000 people at a bar, at one of those Hampton Beach bars where they have, like, stupid-priced drinks… watered-down beer, I guess, for a nickel or a quarter or whatever. You’d come and drink your head off and listen to rock ’n’ roll music and party. So that’s what I was doing.
I didn’t want to leave out the fact that working in the cover bands really helped me develop, too. I really took the long route. I didn’t take the easy way. I certainly had a few opportunities with people who wanted me to do things that I didn’t want to do. I worked for a famous producer who… I won’t even say who he was, but he wanted me to imitate Deborah Harry on a record that he originally wanted Deborah Harry to sing. But she wouldn’t. So he wanted me to sing it. And I sang it my way, and he was very upset with me, but I said, “Listen, if you want Debbie, ask Debbie!” ’Cause I just felt like it was really wrong to rip somebody off like that. I’d already been making a living, or whatever it was. It wasn’t really a living by the time you finished paying everything off, or it was a very meager living, playing in clubs. For me, anyway, ’cause I wasn’t successful. In retrospect, Debbie did tell me, “Cyn, if you had done well, just think about it: You might be up to singing cruise ships by now!” Which just made me comfortable, ’cause I don’t swim well. [Laughs.]
“Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (from 1983’s She’s So Unusual)
AVC: Had you already been friends or acquaintances with Robert Hazard, who wrote the song, or did someone bring it to you?
CL: Nope, Rick had it. He was holding onto it—he thought it was a great song. And I was, like, “Uh, no, it’s not. It’s not for me. What am I supposed to do, pretend I’m a moron?” Because it was like… [Adopts smarmy voice] “Heyyyyyy, dad, we’re the fortunate ones, ’cause girls just want to have fun, nudge, nudge.” Which, of course, it should be like that, ’cause a guy’s writing it. What do you expect him to write? But he kept saying, “Think of what it could mean.” So we did the same thing to that song that we did to all the other songs: We arranged it in our sound. And that’s what you hear today.
Rob had a setting on his keyboard, a Roland, which was very popular at the time. The way the synthesizers work, they have a lot of sounds that were, like, background sounds, that you would put on top of another sound. It was just a bed. But I heard it, and I said, “Let use that! It’s funny!” I remember we were laughing as we were putting together, and we had a lot of fun doing it. And he said, “Cyn, what kind of music is this, anyway?” I said, “I don’t know. It’s catchy, right?” He said, “Right.” “It makes you feel good, right?” “Yeah.” “Well, then, that’s the kind of music it is: catchy and feel-good.”
“Time After Time” (from 1983’s She’s So Unusual)
CL: With She’s So Unusual, my intention was that we’d make a very catchy record. I mean, if you’re gonna sing covers, you might as well. I’d become quite good at arranging, but then I decided I wanted to write with Rob, so I said, “Let’s write!” And we did “Time After Time,” which everybody was happy with… So happy with it, in fact, that they said, “It should be the next single!” I said, “Well, why didn’t you let me write more, for goodness sakes?” But I let it go. The second and third records I lost touch with him, though. It wasn’t until I got to do Hatful Of Stars that I hooked up with him again, and we rekindled all our friendships. It took awhile.
“All Through The Night”/“I’ll Kiss You” (from 1983’s She’s So Unusual)
AVC: “All Through The Night” is a Jules Shear song, but “I’ll Kiss You” is actually a co-write between you and him.
CL: Yeah, that was an interesting write. We laughed a lot, but it was very nerve-wracking, because I would sit there kind of like a deer in headlights, ’cause I didn’t know him. And I kept coming with guitar in hand or whatever stupid instrument I would have that I could communicate chords to somebody, and I’d just be sitting there, a little horrified, because it’s, like, now you’re gonna sit and spill your guts and open up your heart to somebody you don’t even know. But instead we ended up just laughing. And we wrote “I’ll Kiss You.” I think at first when I don’t know somebody, I’m really good with humility. It takes me a minute to walk around and think about what I’m gonna say. But he wasn’t like that, so… It was an interesting process. But he’s a wonderful writer, just wonderful. In my life, I’ve had the honor and privilege to write with a lot wonderful writers, and I’ve learned from all of them.
USA For Africa, “We Are The World” (from the 1985 single)
CL: I always referred to it later as “We Were The World But Now We’re Not.” [Laughs.] I felt it was a very magical time. I was upset that I still had paint in my hair because I did a performance art piece. I talked the people at Dick Clark [Productions] into letting me do a performance art piece for the American Music Awards, and God bless for them for letting me do it. I was so blessed to have worked with them and have done that. But when I went to “We Are The World,” I had orange and yellow flakes coming from my head, and I was so upset, because I didn’t have time to wash up. I had to go as I was. And I felt like everyone was… like, Bob Dylan backed away from me. [Laughs.] I was, like, “Okay, I can see how this is going.” But, you know, it was fine. It was very inspiring. It was something to see. It really, truly was. I listened to all of the wonderful voices. I was sorry I didn’t get to hear Bette Midler’s voice that much, ’cause she was there, and I’m a huge fan of hers. And I was sorry I didn’t see Aretha. But there was Dionne Warwick, there was Tina Turner… I didn’t see Chaka Khan, though. I missed her. But, hey, it was what it was, and it was a great experience.
“The Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough” (from 1985’s The Goonies: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
AVC: Did the producers of The Goonies approach you and ask you to write the song?
CL: Yeah. I had been writing with Steve Lunt—we had written “She Bop” together—so we started writing again and wrote a couple of songs together, including “Good Enough.” I really enjoyed writing with him. And Dave Wolf went to them and said, “We have a song that would work!” And then they made me call it “Goonies ‘R’ Good Enough,” which kind of hurt the progress of the song, I thought. But it still became an underground hit all over the world regardless, because many people related to being a Goonie.
AVC: Out of curiosity, why wasn’t it on your first greatest-hits disc?
CL: Ah, the movie company owned it. But I know it’s out there somewhere now, because there are just so many greatest-hits collections of mine. One time they put out this compilation called The Great Cyndi Lauper, so I said, “If I’m so great, how come you’re not promoting my new record?” [Laughs.] I’m just so glad I’m not doing the major-label thing anymore. I met Prince once, and he yelled at me ’cause I’d gone back to Sony. He was, like, “What’s wrong with you? You know it’s not good.” And I was, “Yeah, I know, but I can’t fund it myself.” And he was right. He’s just a really brilliant business guy, and I’m… not. [Laughs.]
Mark Mothersbaugh with Ellen Shaw a.k.a. Cyndi Lauper, “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” (1986)
CL: Pee-wee asked me to do the Playhouse theme song, but I was worried about being taken seriously, ’cause I kept doing that fucking wrestling thing, which was a lot of fun, but it kinda was starting to interfere with my real career. Because, you know, I had my True Colors album, and I did this whole Cocteau thing with Annie Leibovitz for the cover. I loved her, she taught me so much, it was a work of art… I thought. She hated the lettering. It was my fault. I did a bad job, whatever. But I loved her work, and I loved working with her. We had a listening party for the album. Ron Howard even came. It was one of the most wonderful things. But Pat Patterson [of the World Wrestling Federation] looked at it and was just, like, “Eh.” And I thought, “You know, Cyn, you just don’t need to be treated like this anymore. You’re famous. You can walk away and say, “Hey, I had a great time, but I’m not having such a great time now.” And it was right about this time that Pee-wee asked me to sing the theme song, and I was worried about singing it because I thought if I did nobody would take True Colors seriously. So I got a friend of mine to let me use her name. She’s actually a great rock singer that I knew, and she let me use her name so I wouldn’t get busted for singing it. But in the end, I still got busted, anyway. [Laughs.]
“True Colors” (from 1986’s True Colors)
CL: Oh, gosh. Well, it had come to me through Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly. They were pitching it to Anne Murray, so it came to me like a country-gospel song, and I had never heard anything like that before, but it wasn’t my style of music. But the melody and the words really stuck. I had just lost one of my best friends, who died of AIDS at the very beginning of 1986, and he had wanted me to write a song for him. And I tried. I wrote “Boy Blue” for him, in which I poured out my heart and my love… but, unfortunately, that’s not good for repetitive play. But I did wind up singing “True Colors” because, on a very personal note, it was a very healing song, so I sang it for me and for all of us who survived him.
And it became a really interesting moment in my life and career because, at the same time, I had gotten the script for this film called Vibes, in which I had to become a psychic. So I started to go to psychics to look and see what their process was and copy them, and I started to study stones and crystals, what their properties were, why they used certain things, and colors. I learned about color therapy and things like that. So when I was doing True Colors… Well, when I actually sang the song, I was wearing black all the time because my friend died, but everybody just thought it was a fashion statement. [Laughs.] But afterwards I realized what a great healing song it was—that and “What’s Going On,” which is another great healing song. There are a few wonderful songs in the world, and “True Colors” was definitely one of those songs.
I realized it needed to be very bare and very raw. Sometimes you need to trust the lyrics and the melody. You don’t always need a lot of kack on everything. You need to be plain and simple sometimes. And I learned the power of a whisper. That’s basically what I called it. So I approached the song and the production in a way that… I was very clear with everyone about it, so we were all on the same page. Lennie [Petze, producer] had brought that song to me in the first place, and I spoke to him and said, “It’s got to sound like, when you’re driving in the car, a voice is whispering in your ear, comforting you. And there has to be a drum on it that’s simple and archaic, distant. So that’s how I approached it.
I was at the [Christopher Street] Pier and had just done the parade with all the drag performers and my friends and family, and we went to the Pier to do the nighttime show. A guy came up to me with a brand new rainbow flag. I don’t know if you remember the rainbow flag I’m talking about—it wasn’t a complete rainbow, but they called it the rainbow flag—and he said he’d designed this new flag because he’d been inspired by the song. And that night, I put the flag on when I sang, and I realized that my friend that died, he finally got his wish, ’cause I did sing a song that became as famous as… Well, at that time, it was as famous as “That’s What Friends Are For.” And it led to the True Colors Tour, the True Colors Fund, and the True Colors Residence, which has a little plaque in a meditation garden with my friend Gregory’s name on it along with the chorus of “True Colors.” So it’s a funny road that you take in life.
I’m a friend of the [lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender] community, of course. Where I come from, you stand behind your friends and family. I guess I started to become active in the cause when I realized that President Bush—maybe inadvertently, maybe he didn’t realize that he was doing it—was speaking words of hate, almost promoting hate crimes. So I figured, “You know what? It’s not dissident to stand up in your own country.” I was taught my whole life that it’s “we the people,” not “him.” It’s “us,” not “him.” He’s one person. He has a right to speak whatever stupid thought comes to his head. As do I. So I became active and tried to make an inclusive tour, which led to people saying, “Hey, they’re straight and doing a gay tour,” but I thought, “Well, isn’t that fabulous?” [Laughs.] And then that led to the “We Give A Damn” campaign with my friend Gregory [Lewis, executive director], who was working with us. I said, “That’s a brilliant idea, but let’s make it all people: straight people, everybody.” Because in every civil rights movement, it’s about everybody, not just the people afflicted. I said, “Let’s make it sexy to believe in equal rights!” Because it is sexy to be brave enough to be free-minded and accept yourself, and, by accepting yourself, to be able to accept somebody else. You’ve just gotta try. You can make a difference. You really can.
“Maybe He’ll Know” (from 1986’s True Colors)
Billy Joel, “Code Of Silence” (from 1986’s The Bridge)
AVC: Given that you and Billy Joel appeared on each other’s albums in 1986, were “Maybe He’ll Know” and “Code Of Silence” done in the same session?
CL: Yeah, Billy was next door, working with Ray Charles, and I was just going, “Oh, my God, he’s working with Ray Charles? How come he gets to work with everybody?” That’s how I felt. But I got my friends, too. I got The Bangles on my album, and Billy, too. Billy sang great doo-wop, and he also played on “Change Of Heart.” Didn’t he play piano on “Change Of Heart”? I think so. Anyway, he was in the studio, and I was trying so hard to get everything ready for them that I tripped over my own feet, and he jumped up. It was very Art Carney. It was a very fun time.
“I Drove All Night” (from 1989’s A Night To Remember)
CL: I chose that song—again, it came to me through Lennie—because it was about driving, and I hadn’t heard a lot of songs with women driving, and it seemed like, “Oh, this is a power song!” A woman behind the wheel, as opposed to being driven. I love Roy Orbison’s version. My version had a few incarnations. At first it was kind of dance, then it turned into this rock thing. We got Steve Ferrone to play, who’s a wonderful drummer, and it turned into what you heard.
AVC: How was the experience of putting together A Night To Remember, given that you were coming off the back-to-back success of She’s So Unusual and True Colors?
CL: It was hell. Lennie Petze broke his leg. I was with this guy who was going through a lot of problems. He was an alcoholic, and he was abusive to me in every way. Finally, I didn’t know what to do with the album, ’cause I’m under pressure that I had to get it done, and if I didn’t get it done in time, then I had this whole campaign… See, I gave my new image away to Details magazine, and it was supposed to come out with a huge campaign, putting it on bus shelters and everything. It was a whole Vargas look. And that went out ahead of the album, so the album was always after the fact. That was one not-so-good thing that happened. It was a tough time. I wound up going to Russia because I couldn’t figure out how to get out of doing it. And then Tommy Mottola took over Sony, and they had different heads of A&R. There was this guy named Don Grierson who loved Diane Warren and thought that everything had to be like Diane Warren, and I... just didn’t really want to sound like Heart. So we never quite agreed on much. And I didn’t want to be remade over into who he thought I was as opposed to who I actually was, because the whole reason that I went with Lennie was because I could be who I wanted to be, and that my success would be mine. And then it became the time of the record executive that was more famous than the artist. That was a difficult time, because I am not a robot and I will never be a robot. I did things in my life and career where I sang songs that meant something and sang them for a reason.
I started to work on the music. I wrote with Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, and I really tried to write heartfelt things. But I was being constantly made to feel like there was just no way I was going to be able to climb this fucking mountain, because I’ll never be who they want’—because they’re the new guys and I’m the old guys. I’m part of the old regime, the guys that used to be. So I was just… there. And it was always like that. A Night To Remember was filled with love songs, but in the end, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t get to do what they wanted, and I didn’t get to do what I wanted.
Pink Floyd, “Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2)” (from 1990’s The Wall: Live In Berlin)
CL: Another extraordinary experience. I wanted to be part of it, so I lied to the record company. [Laughs.] I would’ve told them anything. As a famous person, I never got to play any festivals, never got to meet anybody. I was isolated all the time, up and down—or at least that’s what it felt like, anyway. So finally my friend Peter Woods was doing all of these different things, and I said, “You’re so lucky! What’s it like to play with all these people? It must be so amazing!” And he said, “Well, you could do it if you wanted.” I said, “I could? ’Cause I’d love to!” So he said, “Okay, I’ll get you in.” Then I realized that I had to talk to my record company, ’cause I had to ask their permission.
Now, I’m half-German/Swiss and half-Sicilian, so the whole Second World War thing has always got me at odds. [Laughs.] Also, the whole Hitler thing, the Nazi thing, always got in my craw. So I wanted to dance on Hitler’s grave so fucking bad. I told the record company… Wait, what did I tell them? Oh, right, I told them what I always say, because I thought it would make it easier: “It’ll be good for my career if I do it.” But I’m thinking, “These people don’t care. The bottom dollar, that’s what they care about.” So I said that, and Tommy Mottola turns around and goes, “Yeah, and it’s for a good cause, too, Cyn, huh?” And I looked at him, and I was, like, “Go figure.” You can never figure these guys. If you tell ’em it really means a lot to you, they’ll tell you it’s not good for your career. If you tell ’em it’s good for your career, they’ll tell you, “Yeah, and it’s for a good cause, too.”
“That’s What I Think” (from 1993’s Hat Full Of Stars)
CL: That album was two things: not only was it my homecoming with Eric Bazilian and Rob Hyman, but I was also working with Bill Wittman again, who is one of the most brilliant people I have ever met—smart and clever and quick. So quick in the studio and he understands what I’m talking about. Sometimes I guess I need a translator, because nobody really understands what the hell I’m talking about. [Laughs.] I found that out when I was on The Apprentice. Nobody really understood what the hell I was talking about on there. When the swimmer guy from the Olympics [Summer Sanders] turned around and said, “What the hell are you talking about?” I felt like, “Oh, my God. Et tu, Brute? Everybody…? Okay, why don’t you all just say I’m from Mars? It’s all right.” [Laughs.]
In the end, because of the type of mentality that was going on at Sony, I did Hat Full Of Stars under the radar. They let that go to hell, that album. But it was one of those albums that actually moved music in a direction, and I must say proudly that Alanis Morissette took my record and another record into the studio to play for the guy she worked with, Glen Ballard, and said, “Like this.” So I’m proud of that. I’m so proud, because somebody heard it. At the time I was doing Hat Full Of Stars, I didn’t know who else was doing that. Had I hooked up with other people doing what I was trying to do… You know, there’s power in numbers. I was a little isolated, so it was kind of hard. But I had the opportunity to work with real hip-hop guys.
AVC: You also worked with Junior Vasquez.
CL: Right. I chose to work with him, and he was wonderful. But I also was going to work with Eric from Run-DMC—I can’t remember his last name, but he was a remixer, a guy who worked on loops for them—but I was afraid we’d both get run over by the company, whereas Junior was a whole different thing. At least there was the dance thing that I could run to. I didn’t know if I could run to the hip-hop world. [Laughs.] Although I dig hip-hop. I love it. I wanted to mix hip-hop and folk and dance and rock together. So that was what Hat Full Of Stars was about.
It was during the videos for Hat Full Of Stars that I learned to be a director. Not that I wasn’t always in the edit bay working on my videos in every way and learning as much as I could. I enjoyed the process. It was one of my favorite things, making videos and working in film. I loved it. So when I did Hat Full Of Stars, because they wouldn’t pay for it and kept bringing in younger and younger producers and directors, I just figured, “Well, I know how to do this. I’ve been doing it since 1980, when these kids were still in school.” So I took the money they would’ve spent on them, used it on a wonderful camera guy and editor, and I directed ’em. [Laughs.]
“Come On Home” (from 1994’s Twelve Deadly Cyns)
CL: I was working a lot in Europe. Honestly, I almost moved to Australia after Hat Full Of Stars and started working there, but didn’t. I wanted to move to England for a while to record there in the early ’90s, but didn’t. I guess it’s because I didn’t want to leave New York. My family was here, my friends were here, I didn’t really want to be somewhere else. I like to visit other places, but I love to come home. [Puts on an affected voice.] There’s no place like home, dahling. No place.
AVC: Hence the new song on Twelve Deadly Cyns?
CL: [Sighs.] I loved that song. But everyone else… It was never good enough, ever. It was always that it wasn’t this, it wasn’t that. In the end, if you can’t please anyone, you please yourself.
“You Don’t Know” (from 1997’s Sisters Of Avalon)
CL: Oh, wow. Sisters Of Avalon was an extraordinary experience. I wrote a lot of the music in my living room, as I did with the Christmas album [Merry Christmas…Have A Nice Life], and I truly loved working with Jan Pulsford. I really, really did. Of course, she didn’t get along very well with Steve Barnett, who was my manager at the time, so that didn’t really bode well. And every time you get to write with somebody that you’re having a good time with, somebody always comes by and says, “But they’re not famous! You should be doing this or that!” And it’s really a pain in the butt, ’cause I don’t really care who you are. If I work well with you, who cares? Make good music. Make it catchy. Make it fun. And I think Sisters Of Avalon was one of those CDs that I’m proudest of having made.
Unfortunately, I went on tour with Tina Turner to promote the record, and it was not the right tour to promote Sisters Of Avalon. I should’ve gone on tour with a younger group and been able to promote a more alternative music, because there were some people in the crowd when I was singing the songs… Like, I wrote the song “Love To Hate,” and it’s obviously not about the people in the audience, but I’d be singing it, and ma and pa from wherever would look at me like it was. And I’d be, like, “Oh, no, no, no, it’s not about you!” [Laughs.] Also, I was pregnant at the time, and I was afraid of trying to sing a two-hour set, ’cause I didn’t know how that was going to go. But it was one of those things. We did it, but we didn’t sell many records on that tour.
And then Cher came along. I’d just had my baby, and they said, “Just put the baby in the bus! Everybody’s doing it!” But my baby didn’t like to travel like that. He became a restless sleeper. Plus when you’re opening for somebody, it’s not like you’re doing your full show. You’re opening. Everything’s less money. I had young kids playing with me, and some were good, and some I wanted to kill. [Laughs.] Not really. They were just inexperienced, and I had been used to playing with more experienced guys. It was a great experience being on the road with Cher, because she taught me a lot, and she talked to me, too.
“Eventually” (from 2004’s Shine)
CL: The second tour with Cher, that was an extraordinary band, and we had some extraordinary nights. That was part of the Shine promotion. Borders, which just closed its doors, was very much part of the success of that CD, which was independent and which I practically sold one by one, door to door. It was during the 9/11 thing when I did that album, so things like “Water’s Edge” and “Eventually,” those were relevant times for us to be reflective of what we do in the world and be aware of how eventually everything comes back. Whatever you put out will come back your way.
“Into The Nightlife” (from 2008’s Bring Ya To The Brink)
CL: Oh, that was part of my jaunt to Sweden. My husband was kind enough to say, “Go ahead and go.” He stayed with the kid, and I went and wrote. It was like going on a writer’s holiday. I didn’t have to deal with anything. I just wrote. I got up, I wrote. I wrote poetry. I usually write stream-of-consciousness and then read it and make lyrics. And I write about what’s around me and what I hear people say. There’s always an element of everyday language because, in my heart of hearts, I still believe in what the Impressionists did: that you take a picture of the time that you’ve lived. I played a song for my son, and he would be, like, “Mom, let me play you some good music now,” and he would play Ludacris or something, and now I’m constantly listening to Soulja Boy. So that’s what influenced me on lines like, “Shake your body, sister / Gonna make ya body blister / Say hey, hey, hey.” [Laughs.] And I was also including my everyday life into the work, which was important. That’s why every album I try to make it so that you know what time in the world it was made.
Cyndi Lauper featuring Charlie Musselwhite, “Just Your Fool” (from 2010’s Memphis Blues)
CL: I’ve had a really great career, working with some wonderful and talented people in all different genres. I’m doing the blues thing right now, and it’s pretty incredible. I’m learning every day, and that’s the most you can ask for. And I’m singing in a genre with musicians who are masters. If you really want to find the masters of rock ’n’ roll, it’s playing the blues. The blues is where rock ’n’ roll came from. And for me, I still want to be a better singer, and sometimes there’s more room to sing when you’re singing the blues.