Cyndi Lauper on making it out of 'cover band hell', that famous song of hers and inspiring the formation of Arcade Fire

October 2, 2012

Given the chart-topping, pop sensation that started her career, Cyndi Lauper's musical journey has been full of exciting twists and turns, a far cry from the potential trajectories of current pop stars like, say, Carly Rae Jepson.

But the "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" singer has reinvented herself even more than just musically; her latest project is writing the music for the musical Kinky Boots, based off of the 2005 film of the same time.

The musical opens Tuesday in Chicago at the Bank of America Theater, and before that, Lauper chatted with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about the path her music has taken her on, from empowering women to basically being responsible for the formation of Arcade Fire. Here are a few excerpts from her interview; listen to the full thing on Tuesday's Morning Shift.

On her famous song "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun": You've gotta remember, a man wrote it, and a man was singing it. What do you expect them to sing? So it was a guys song but [producer] Rick Chertoff thought, if a woman sang this song, it could be an anthem. And I said, 'An anthem about what?' So he just kept saying, 'Cin, just think about it. Think about what it could mean.' And as I said in the book, I saw my mother's face and my grandmother's face and my aunt's face: all women I had grown up watching be disenfranchised time and time again. And I thought to myself, 'Okay, I'll make an anthem. I'll make an anthem so big it'll be a movement. And I'll make it so much fun that no one will realize what it is until it's way too late.'

I thought to myself, 'Okay, I'll make an anthem. I'll make an anthem so big it'll be a movement. And I'll make it so much fun that no one will realize what it is until it's way too late.'

I made sure there was every color girl in that line-up that I could get so that every little girl, no matter what color skin was and ethnic background, could see herself and go, that she too is entitled to have a joyful life with a free spirit in her. Not, put the clamp on the brain, don't go to college you're going to get married anyway, don't learn, don't do this -- all the don'ts. I am so happy to be part of something that makes a little girl feel, 'Well, maybe I can.'

People used to ask me, 'Well are you a feminist?' And people would say, 'I'm a humanist.' Because they're afraid to say it. And I'll say, 'Hell yea, I'm a feminist. I'm a card-carrying, bra-burning feminist. You're damn right! You got a problem with that?' And one time Bob Dylan even said to me, 'Oh you're one of those feminists? One of those bra-burning feminists?' And I was thinking, woah. Mmhmm. I said, 'Well, Bob -- because I bit my tongue, of course, thank goodness, because I love him, he's a great artist -- if I am not interested in my own civil liberties, who will be?

How she got involved with Kinky BootsI was just home and [writer] Harvey Fierstein called me up. And I think that Harvey, I'm actually a huge fan of his.

I'm just always reminded that he's a joy, he has integrity, and he knows how to tell a good story. And when he called me up and said, 'What are you doing?' And it just so happens I had finished Bring Ya to the Brink, that was an album I did for Sony, a dance album.

On record companies: I got tired of their whole political thing. At the beginning of my career I was one of three albums they were promoting that year. And when you're not, it's kind of like, that's why when you listen to the radio you hear three songs, because that's all they're doing.

And their quota of women. I guess they have a quota.

On her life philosophy: I've heard real people say all my life, 'Well I shoulda done that, I coulda done that, but I couldn't because you know, this happened to me.' And everytime something bad happened to me, let's say somebody did something bad to me, I'd think to myself, 'Well that ain't going to stop me.'

On her gay rights activism: I got tired of watching what I thought was wrong. I'm a friend and family member and I'm not going to stand by and shut my mouth when there are things going on that shouldn't go on and watch people stripped of their civil liberties one by one.

I grew up, I lived through the Civil Rights movement, to watch people be treated like that because of the color of their skin, and to me as a little kid, I didn't see it, even though they were saying horrible things, because I'm white, so you listen to the worst of it, because you're the same color, everybody feels really relaxed and comfortable to say whatever.

On influencing a new generation of musicians: When I did [the 1993 album] Hat Full of Stars...I met Arcade Fire, and I sat around with them -- I played the jazz festival -- and they said to me that they started their band because they were inspired by Hat Full of Stars. And that's why you can never guess what doing your work will inspire.