Ed#437 Boots and All

19 July 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#437 Boots and All

Three years ago I was browsing through a selection of CDs that had come into The Big Issue office for review purposes. In a small pile of discs that nobody seemed to want was one called Memphis Blues. Because I’ve a) been to Memphis and b) occasionally listened to blues music, I picked it up to find out more. And that’s when I discovered it was a Cyndi Lauper record. Cyndi Lauper? The girl who once just wanted to have fun? Yes, indeed. She was branching out and doing something different, just when people like me had either forgotten about her or figured, incorrectly, that she’d faded away into retirement. Not at all. Then, in June this year, she was back in the news winning major gongs at this year’s Tony Awards, including Best Original Score for a musical called Kinky Boots. Three years ago she was singing the blues (not badly at all, by the way); now she has some serious cred on Broadway. It seems as if we might all have underestimated Ms Lauper, who is now 60.

Wind back 30 years and it was impossible to go anywhere where a radio was on and not hear one of her songs: ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun’, ‘Time After Time’, ‘She-Bop’ and, a little later, ‘True Colours’. In the mid-1980s – long, long before Lady Gaga – it was as if people, women especially, had to choose between Lauper and Madonna – both as performers and fashion icons. Back then, Madonna was in her Desperately Seeking Susan phase: she was the Material Girl who hadn’t yet discovered Malawi. In the same way that, in the 1960s, a choice was demanded between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, it seemed as if you had to choose between Cyndi and Madonna. The latter has made more money but, at least in one respect, Madonna might have borrowed from the misfit girl from Queens, New York. In her memoir, published last year, Lauper (who will soon tour Australia) described the impact of her wildly successful first couple of records: “Maybe I made it a little easier for kids who were different from the norm. Because for one minute, everything was reversed, and the different people became the norm and the more conservative people became different. And it really wasn‘t just young people. My music bled through generations. My hairdo, my clothes – everything – became fashion. I wore corsets like you would wear a blouse, and then Madonna did it after me, and after a while, everybody wore corsets…”

I am painfully aware here that I have no credibility on the subject of women’s fashion, and particularly corsets. This is one reason why we got our former Music Editor, Clem Bastow, to write this edition’s cover story. Seems that a much younger Clem used to dance to ‘Girls…’ while looking a lot like Lauper. She eloquently describes Lauper’s impact on her and, indeed, a generation of young women.

As for Memphis Blues, well, Lauper has this to say in her memoir: “I wanted to do a blues album for six years, but when I finally did, it was good timing, because it seemed to me like everywhere I looked, everybody was singing the blues. People were losing their jobs, their homes, and all over the world, hard times had hit… All the songs were chosen because of their spirit, their story and their timeless theme of history repeating itself. Here was a great American music created by people who were oppressed and who wrote music that was uplifting. You know, even though it’s called the blues, you feel better somehow listening to it. I wanted to take the old glamour of this music but also make it into something that could be embraced now. I am always hoping to make music that is timeless.” It’s an admirable aim. Time after time.

 

Authors