30 years after the release of She’s So Unusual, this GLBT advocate is still a trailblazer with a Tony Award win, a best-selling autobiography, and a brand new tour
Cyndi Lauper is on a roll. She had a banner year in 2013 with her revelatory autobiography Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir landing on the New York Times bestseller list, winning a Tony Award for “Kinky Boots,” her Broadway musical adaptation (with Harvey Fierstein) of the film, and she returned to the dance charts with her rendition of “Sex Is In The Heel” from the same hit musical. By the end of 2013, Lauper closed out the year by hosting and performing at the third annual “Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays,” benefit concert in NYC for her Forty to None Project (a national program of the True Colors Fund which works to raise awareness about homelessness in the GLBT youth community), which featured big-name performances and appearances by P!nk, Josh Groban, Susan Sarandon, Nelly Furtado, the Indigo Girls, Rosie O’Donnell, Ingrid Michaelson, Matt & Kim, Carson Kressley and others.
Never one to rest on her laurels, Lauper is currently on tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of the release of her groundbreaking 1983 album, She’s So Unusual. Reissued in a deluxe double-disc edition, She’s So Unusual (Portrait/Epic/Legacy) includes three bonus dance remixes on the first disc, while the second disc consists of eye-opening demos, rehearsals and other rarities. Beginning in April and running through July, Lauper will reunite with Cher (with whom she has previously toured) for several concert dates. With no plans to take a break from her boundless advocacy and charity work, Lauper has always and will continue to walk the walk.
You are currently on tour commemorating the 30th anniversary of your solo debut album She’s So Unusual. What does that album mean to you, 30 years after its release?
It has been an amazing 30-year journey. The fact that this album is still loved by my fans after all this time means a lot to me. I never would have imagined back then that 30 years later we would be celebrating its release. Wow [laughs]! I am a lucky woman and (as) excited about my career now as I was 30 years ago.
The second disc of the deluxe edition of She’s So Unusual: A 30th Anniversary Celebration includes a wondrous array of demos, rehearsals, live tracks and more. Does assembling something such as this feel like you are exposing yourself, like leaving the house without makeup?
Actually, it was really fun to go back, examine and remember where I was, where all of us who made this record together were at the time musically and emotionally. We had so much fun making this record and I think that comes through. Sure, there were creative disagreements at times, but we all just wanted to make a great record.
Which you did! Two of the selections, “Rules and Regulations” and “Right Track Wrong Train,” never made it onto the album. Do you remember why they didn’t? Why was it important for you to include them here?
You have to remember in the ‘80s, albums were put out in two formats — vinyl and cassette. Vinyl was the main format. A vinyl album can only hold around 25 minutes or so a side. We could only put 50 minutes of music on it, so we picked the songs we thought were the strongest. “Right Track” was also a very good song but just couldn’t make the album so we made it a b-side of “Girls” (“Just Want to Have Fun”). “Rules and Regulations” really never came together in a way we were happy with so we shelved it, but I wanted fans buying this deluxe set to hear and see a little bit of everything, even “Rules,” which we never really finished in a way that was satisfactory to us all.
The first disc closes with previously unreleased remixes of “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” and “Time After Time,” which made me think of your connection to dance music and your re-emergence on the charts with your cover of “Disco Inferno” in 1999. Would it be fair to say that dance music was another way for you to stay in touch with and show your appreciation to your gay fans?
I just always loved dance music. (It) was never gay or straight to me. Just love dance and have always had that part of me, whether making sure things were remixed or actually making dance music, as with “Inferno” and “Bring Ya to the Brink”.
You are also the Tony Award-winning composer for the musical Kinky Boots. What does it mean to you to be the first woman to win a Best Score Tony (solo)?
I am proud and humbled. To find such acceptance by the Broadway community is an honor.
You also became a best-selling author with the publication of your 2012 memoir — what was the experience of writing your memoir like for you?
It was very therapeutic, to be honest. It was great to go back to the beginning of my journey and what brought me here today; both personally and professionally. I tried to be as honest as possible because if you are going to share your story you owe it to your fans that buy the book.
Can we talk a little about your philanthropy and your True Colors Fund? Six years after you launched the first True Colors tour, the True Colors Fund is still going strong, with the third annual “Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays” benefit concert, held in NYC in Dec. 2013 as an example. What does the success of True Colors Fund mean to you?
When we started the True Colors Fund five years ago to continue the work of the True Colors Tour, I never imagined we would get this far in such a short period of time. Major milestones were the launch of the Give a Damn Campaign in 2010 and the Forty to None Project last year. The Give a Damn Campaign has provided a unique voice to inspire everyone, especially straight people, involved in moving equality forward for all. The Forty to None Project has filled a significant void as the first and only national organization solely dedicated to ending gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth homelessness. The fact that we have been able to help provide these young people a voice, especially in Washington DC, is something I am particularly proud of. This is a fixable problem, we can bring the number of homeless youth who are gay or transgender from 40 percent to none, we just need to work together.
The Matthew Shepard Foundation was an early beneficiary of the True Colors Fund. Have you remained in contact with Judy and Dennis Shepard and were you able to speak to them at that time?
I continue to be in awe of what Judy and Dennis have accomplished over the past 15 years. The choice they made to start the Matthew Shepard Foundation and to share Matthew’s and their story has helped transform the world in such a positive way that I do not think we can really understand the full impact of their work. Sharing one’s story, especially in the face of hatred and bigotry, is one of the most courageous things a person can do in life. Judy and Dennis have inspired so many people through their example to share their stories and the impact of that sort of change is immeasurable.
You recorded the song True Colors almost 30 years ago, and it is a song that has taken on a life of its own, for you and for others.
When I recorded that song, I had a friend (named Gregory) dying from AIDS. When he got really sick, he said, “Hey, write a song for me so I am not forgotten.” Then this song was brought to me. I didn’t write it. Billy Steinberger and Tom Kelly wrote it, but when they brought me the song, I just wanted to sing it for my friend who had been told most of his life he was no good just because he was gay. He was thrown out of his home for being gay. I just wanted to let him know that he was perfect the way he was. I sang the song for him but then it took on a life of its own and I’m very proud that it has become so important to the community and that it connected the way it did.
I remember seeing your altruistic nature for the first time when you sang on and appeared in the video for USA for Africa’s We Are The World. What role does giving back to others play in your life – both personally and professionally?
You always have to try and be the best friend, mother and wife you can be. I am far from perfect, but I do try. I fail a lot; but I do try and be there for those in my life. Professionally, I think that having success you should pay back, use the fame you achieve to give voice to some that don’t have a voice. (It’s) just the right thing to do.
I recently saw Margaret Cho, who performed in one of the True Colors tours, in concert. She did an affectionate and spot-on imitation of you. Have you ever heard her do it and, if so, what do you think of it?
[Laughs] I have and it’s hysterical! Margaret is a great comedian.
You had quite a year in 2013, so what’s next for you? Do you have a new studio disc in the works?
Of course. Stay tuned [laughs]!