It’s 1982 and an executive working at Epic records walks up to a newly signed vocalist on the company roster. He takes one look at her outfit—made up of mismatched patterns and vintage clothes—and asks “what is that you’re wearing?” in a disgusted tone. The singer looks him straight in the eye and answers back with an equally appalled pitch: “What your daughter is going to wear next year!”
Sounding more like legends than the stuff of legends, these kinds of stories are what pop star Cyndi Lauper has decided to use to pack up the chapters of her new self-titled memoir. Written with the help of former Rolling Stone contributor, Jancee Dunn, the book mainly recalls the music industry of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s through Lauper’s heavily masacara-ed eyes. The memoir’s dramatic dialogue and cinematic appeal is so strong that the reader could easily envision a film adaption inspiring an Oscar-winning performance for a budding actress (Emma Stone would be a solid choice).
Unlike many singer autobiographies steeped in diva prose—i.e. language that sounds like a slew of cobbled together press releases—Lauper has chosen a much more authentic way of presenting her life so far. Instead of keeping her commentary to a minimum, the singer’s candid bias is front and centre on almost every page and her literary tone rarely veers from the singer’s actual speaking voice. Lauper is unapologetic about any career missteps she has made (she stands by all the bizarre cross-promotion she did with the World Wrestling Federation, now WWE), her supposed rivalry with Madonna (“my feeling was, don’t knock another sister, ever”) and what she recurrently describes as her “big fat mouth.” Many of the chapters also do a good job of including examples of how the 59-year-old talent was a feminist and gay rights activist well before the days of Girl Power and Lady Gaga.
The book does contain a few obvious faults. A little too much ink is devoted to Lauper’s meager days growing up in Queens, New York. Her success was a hard-won deal and needed to be explored but the stories leading up to her first hit—”Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” —feel a little too over-explained. They also pale in comparison to the tales surrounding her rise during her first three discs, 1983’s She’s So Unusual, 1986’s True Colors and 1989’s A Night To Remember. Filled with more booby-traps than a Road Runner cartoon and more false promises than a scientology convention, her Billboard ascent throughout the 80s inspires a few eye-brow raises. For example, Lauper repeatedly provides reasons as to why she did not reach Celine Diondom, claiming she never agreed to comeback tours and at the best of times, could not behave like “a good soldier for the suits.” In contrast, she often fought furiously against her record company’s marketing and A&R teams, who frequently insisted on changing her sound and vision for the sake of record sales.
For the most part, when describing her development as a full-fledged hit-maker, Lauper’s ferocious on-page voice remains just as forthright as her on-stage one. She bluntly cracks jokes about meeting A-listers (at a lunch with Steven Spielberg, she told him he was “not creative”) and liberally drops a minefield of F-bombs when recounting her pre-Grammy occupations as a former waitress at the International House of Pancakes, a past “gal Friday the thirteenth” and a temp secretary for Simon & Schuster, the book company she chose to publish her autobiography with.
The memoir really starts to cook when Lauper opens up about the people she’s worked with and the famous projects she’s nixed or latched on to. Despite a push from her record company—she explains why she never partnered up with songwriter David Foster (who, she claims, makes “very middle of the road music”) and reveals why she said no to major movie roles in films such as Steel Magnolias and Working Girl. She also calls out fellow songwriters, such as Bob Dylan—whom she says she had a sexist run-in with—and Bruce Springsteen, who Lauper says was hanging out with Republicans.
Of course, like most good musical autobiographies, notes on the process of songwriting and observations from collaborators are a given. Fortunately, both are baked into this memoir and one of the best descriptions of Lauper comes from a quote from her longtime producer Eric “ET” Thorngren. Instead of comparing her to another musician, Thorngren calls her “the Vinnie van Gogh of rock music.” It’s a description few would be comfortable with but as Lauper’s chutzpah suggests, it’s a title she would gladly wear with pride.