Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir, by Cyndi Lauper with Jancee Dunn
This book is a clear example of the way that knowing more about an artist whose music one may casually like at least a little makes them much less appealing if in a totally unsurprising way. There is a lot about this book that gives the reader a sinking feeling that they have seen this story before, and that the same things that led to so much suffering and misery in the author’s life were precisely the results of the sort of life that she celebrated in her work and of the political and moral worldview that she supported. The author comments throughout this book that the age of free love and no strings relationships in fact had consequences, and she views this as some sort of wicked aspect of an imaginary patriarchy that is holding her down and not the natural result of the ties that intimacy is supposed to build, ties that she seems to lack any sort of understanding in. Of course, the author shows herself to be hostile to godly morality in her personal life and devoted to various misguided and mistaken leftist political ideals, but none of this is exactly surprising. Given the author’s disordered life, it is little surprise that she seems to have suffered so much from various inflammatory diseases that are the natural result of her own behavior.
This book is more than 300 pages and gives a harrowing tale of the life of a quirky singer whose easy-going persona as a musician is deeply at odds with the events of her life and with her strident political attitude. The account is straightforwardly chronological, which means that a great deal of the book covers the early life of the singer and her long period of struggle to make a living and to find her way in the world of music in 1970’s New York as the lead singer of Blue Angel, a group that had some hype but which never had any sort of sustained success. The author discusses her personal relationships, her political activism, and the way that she struggled to maintain her identity and build a sustained music career. Her discussions of her struggles against label heads and sexism is quite similar to that of Pat Benatar during the same period, although Lauper comes off as a less appealing person herself, even if her career is broadly similar in combining quirky music with theatrical instincts. The author’s interest in Grammy award nominations (if not wins) and her desire for respect from other artists is interesting and demonstrates her longing to be loved and appreciated, which is certainly a humanizing tendency.
Even so, despite the fact that the author’s lifestyle is frustrating and clearly tragic, there is something intriguing in this book. The author makes it clear, for example, why her voice is not nearly as good as one would hope, given the fact that she refers to it as having been destroyed through various behaviors on several occasions. For a singer, having a voice destroyed is a major problem. It is also rather telling that Lauper considers herself to have been a particularly influential artist not through her music so much as her sense of fashion as well as her approach to music and style. She quite understandably shows no hostility to Madonna, against whom she was pit in the fashion that is so common in the world of music where creative people are pit against each other as rivals, rather than simply allowed to coexist together on the charts and perhaps work together or respect each other or to have or be mutual fans. And one would have to have a heart of stone not to be at least a little sympathetic with Lauper’s upbringing, which led her to escape a pedophile stepfather at the age of seventeen and led to quite a long period of struggle to find her place within the world where she could live a decent life not subject to immense privation. If the success of Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” seems to have come out of left field, she was already about thirty or so when it happened, which is fairly old for a “new” pop star, it must be admitted.