Cyndi Lauper: A singer who persevered against the odds

Cyndi Lauper Jo Ann Toy/Atria Books

"It's not what others think about you that will allow you to succeed. It's what you think about you that allows you to succeed." That isw hat pop singer Cyndi Lauper writes near the end of her recently-published book, "Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir." And it's a fitting description of Lauper's attitude towards her life and career, as someone who did thing things her own way and spoke her mind despite personal and professional obstacles. And along the way, Lauper, who has always evoked both charm and spirit in her stage persona, became one of the most successful artists in pop music in the '80s with iconic hits as "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "Time After Time" and "True Colors"; she is also a fashion-trendsetter who blazed the trail for today's female pop singers like Katy Perry and Lady Gaga.

Cover of Cyndi Lauper's book "Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir"
Atria Books

The word that comes to mind from reading this artist's memoir (co-written with Jancee Dunn and published by Atria, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, which is an affiliate of CBS Corporation), is hardscrabble, because that was the type of life she led before being famous with her 1983 solo debut "She's So Unusual." Raised in Queens, New York, Lauper left a troubled home situation when she was 17. School wasn't her forte and she worked (or, to be more precise, failed) at numerous jobs: waitressing, art modeling, cleaning at a Hare Krishna temple, and working as a receptionist ironically at Simon and Schuster. Initially pursuing art, Lauper found her niche as a singer and ended up in a couple of bands, including Blue Angel, but they never went anywhere.

That turned around, however, in 1983 with the "She's So Unusual Album" -- and through some cross promotion with the World Wrestling Federation -- she became an overnight pop sensation with her hit singles, videos, tours, and her look. But like most successful artists, Lauper went through up and down moments marked by the music industry's sexism and expectations of the next big hit that stifled her growth as an artist. That hadn't deterred her, however, in exploring different sounds with her subsequent albums, even as those record sales never matched the spectacular success of "She's So Unusual." Additionally, she married, had a child, and became active in gay rights issues capped by her creation of the True Colors Residence in Harlem, which provides housing for young LGBT people.

Told in her distinct opinionated and humorous style (as if Lauper is directly talking to you in a conversation), "A Memoir" portrays someone who refuses to kowtow to convention, and who speaks her mind even when it backfires at times: "I never had a problem opening up my big mouth, and it didn't change when I was famous. Like I said, I was always saying the wrong things to the right people." For fans of '80s pop, Lauper provides plenty of fascinating anecdotes from the period, such as the behind the scene stories off the "She's So Unusual" album as well as videos for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" and "Time After Time." She also addresses the supposed "rivalry" with her contemporary Madonna that was more of a creation by the media -- "She was so smart about business and marketing (I never was) and she always was and still is beautiful," Lauper writes.

"A Memoir" puts Lauper's career in a much wider perspective than just her being an defined as "'80s artist"; and it generates a greater appreciation for the music before and after "She's So Unusual" (Listen to her record with Blue Angel, "Hatful of Stars," or "Memphis Blues" as cases in point). It's an engaging and charming look at a pioneering female artist who persevered against the odds to leave her distinct mark in music and pop culture.

  • David Chiu

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