Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cyndi Lauper: a Memoir by Cyndi Lauper

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These days, it isn't enough to show admiration for a favorite musician or actor. You have to be on somebody's team. Are you Team Edward or Team Jacob, Team Gale or Team Peeta? Ever notice you don't hear much about Team Bella or Team Katniss - it's as though both need a man to be complete. But, I'm getting off track here. The reason I bring up the team concept in the first place is because one could argue it has its roots in the earlier pop culture. The Beatles versus the Stones, etc. I'm dating myself here, but I still remember reading in the teen pop magazines of this supposed rivalry between Cyndi Lauper and Madonna.

We were led to believe they hated each other, and vied aggressively for the same fan base - like there wasn't room for both in our Sony Walkmans (see the dating I did here). So it did come as some surprise to read in Cyndi's memoir that the two, while not the best of buds, actually got along in the brief moments their paths crossed. In reading the rest of the book, control appears to be a major theme in Cyndi's life, in particular a lifelong struggle to hold onto it and make the right decisions, even if they don't result in phenomenal professional success.

One thing I am reminded of in Cyndi Lauper is how her solo career exploded. We marvel now about Lady Gaga's meteoric rise to fame, but it's important to note Cyndi was no different thirty years prior. She's So Unusual was fricking huge for its time: four songs hit the Billboard Top 5, a feat no other solo female artist had managed before then. An album's release timed with MTV's infancy (and perhaps peak) only helped project her voice and unique style. As a middle school Catholic girl on the westside of Jacksonville, Florida, I was enthralled. People didn't look like Cyndi Lauper where I lived, or dance with reckless abandon down busy streets, not giving a damn what other people thought.

It was awesome.

Cyndi didn't display the blatant sexuality of Madonna or the endless string of clones that popped and fizzled in subsequent years, which was something I had always liked about Cyndi. Yes, she looked unusual, but she had the talent to back it up. It used to baffle me that she kind of disappeared after two albums. Yeah, she'd show up in a movie or TV show, but not the way Madonna did.

Well, now I know why. Cyndi's frank account of the progression of her career in music is laid out in her unfiltered voice. It's a true lesson for anybody who's sought the attention of a record label. When you read of her successes you want to be happy for her, but as Cyndi tells it even at the heights somebody wants to give you a reason to look down. It's not enough to have one of the biggest selling albums of decade - you have to carry home an armload of trophies and sell out every show. If you don't, and refuse the tow the line, the label finds another way to spend the marketing budget. Cyndi's determination to remain the architect of her career helped her grow professionally despite her superiors looking for artists who would play nice. What you do learn in this book is that Cyndi never went away. A harrowing history of abuse and disappointments helped toughen her for work conflicts, while life with friends in the early days of AIDS strengthened her compassion and determination to speak for equal rights.

Readers may be drawn to Cyndi Lauper the way fans are to reunion tours, as an opportunity to relish nostalgia. Reading Cyndi's autobiography not only sparked memories of a girl who wanted to have fun, but allowed me to appreciation a woman who continues to find her own fun, her way.

Rating: B+