Cyndi Lauper has proven to be an enduring powerhouse talent
Some artists are, simply, national treasures, and have entered our pop consciousness so thoroughly that they've become part of the family. Cyndi Lauper is one of those.
New Year's Eve with Cyndi Lauper
Place: Sheraton Waikiki Ballroom
Time: 9:30 p.m. Monday
Tickets: $100 with special packages including admission to concert and after-concert party, and two drink tickets
» $230 "Silver Package," including tapas at Rumfire
» $280 "Gold Package," including buffet at the Ocean Terrace
» $330 "Platinum Package," including five-course dinner at the Hanohano Room and up-front concert seating
» $500 "VIP" package that includes a personal meet-and-greet with Lauper, available through Ticketmaster (www.ticketmaster.com)
Call: 921-4600 or visit sheraton-waikiki.com
Also: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at the Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets $55, $65 and $75. Call (808)242-7469 or visit mauiarts.org. Plus, 6 p.m. Jan. 5 with special guest Jake Shimabukuro at the Palace Lawn of the Hilton Waikoloa Village. Tickets are $60 in advance and $70 at the door. Call 345-3100 or visit kingmichelconcerts.com.
As an experiment, we took the recording of a telephone interview with Lauper and isolated a single phrase: "How are you?" chirped Lauper. But in her cheerful, high-octane Noo Yawk accent and Tweety voice, it comes off as an adorable "Yowaya!"
We then played it for a dozen people without saying who it was. Every one of them exclaimed, "Cyndi Lauper!" And a number added, "I LOVE her!"
Yep. Cyndi Lauper is part of our national consciousness, an uncompromising pop artist of great talent who, for some reason, also elicits unconditional affection. Although publicity materials tout her as an icon of '80s MTV videos, Lauper is no relic. She continues to write, record and perform, pushing that envelope. Her Wikipedia listing of accomplishments is exactly the same length as Bing Crosby's, another national treasure who's part of the family. An '80s MTV icon? Lauper made MTV bearable and moved on.
She's taking a break from working on her next record to perform three concerts in the islands, starting with a New Year's Eve gig at the Sheraton Waikiki.
"I'm in the studio in Connecticut, ready to head back to New York at any second now. I'm desperately trying to get it done. It's just weird recording around Christmas, y'know? But it'll be fine. There's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it's not an oncoming train."
Howard Stern bills himself as "King of All Media," but Lauper might be the queen. In addition to wildly popular albums — her "She's So Unusual" debut scored an unprecedented four Top 10 singles — Lauper has won an Emmy for acting, Grammys and American Music Awards, is noted for writing songs for movies, devotes much time and energy to charitable causes and children's television, and recently earned Broadway accolades for "The Threepenny Opera."
But it's music that moves her. In her blog, Lauper reveals herself to be a total gear wonk, getting seriously technical about musical equipment. (Don't separate her from her 900-series handmade German Gefell microphone!)
"And I play ukulele. Badly. But we're gonna have Jake (Shimabukuro) play with us (on the Big Island), and that's exciting, too. I don't want to pretend to be any good on the ukulele, but I kinda like it. It's so much fun. You play to relax. And then you start to build up your own little repertoire, which is totally different than anything you've ever played in your life! It's so cool."
In the last decade, Lauper has also become a dedicated dulcimer instrumentalist, and her last album, "Body Acoustic," featured stripped-down acoustic versions of some of her hit songs. "I wanted to get close to instruments again, back to my roots.
"But the next record is gonna be a rhythm thing. I got tired of playing soft music. That's it, man! I wanted to work with dance people, and because dance music has to many different umbrellas, you get to work with so many people. I get to sing in ways that I haven't before, at least in ways that are legal."
She went to England to team up with Basement Jaxx and Digital Dog. "I realized that not only do (the British) drive on the other side of the road, but they also sing on the other side of the beat. They laughed when I told them, but it's kinda true. Their influences, and what we were exposed to, are different. That's exciting to me.
"It's absolutely true that English and Americans are separated by a common language. You talk to them and you're saying one thing but they hear something else. I love those differences. I always laugh and tell them because I'm from Queens, I'm the one actually speaking the Queen's English."
This "rhythm thing" is new for Lauper, although she did start out singing in a disco band. "I did the high backgrounds, wearing these tall shoes" — laughing at the memory — "but I couldn't dance and sing at the same time in those platform shoes! I used to fall a lot."
You need your whole body to sing?
"Yeah! That's it! You'd be surprised how much the weight on your feet affects your voice. Ever seen footage of Pavaroti singing? When he goes for a note, he leans forward and goes up on his toes. Gives you that extra little goose to extend your air or hold the power of the note."
One of Lauper's professional-singer tricks to tone her instrument — inflating some balloons before a gig — has let to a bizarre Internet rumor that she huffs helium.
"They told you in school to do phys ed, and they weren't kiddin'. When you're strong and in shape, your voice is strong, too. And I discovered that yoga was good for my voice." Her choice is a version of Ashanta yoga. "I don't go to the yoga-Nazi classes. They wanna twist you into a pretzel and I'm not into injuries."
So, being a musician who's not only popular with fans but respected by other musicians turns out to be a demanding, full-time job that uses body, mind and soul?
"Pop music, meaning popular music, is something people give their whole lives to. It's a serious business. It reflects the times we live in and incorporates everything around us, all our experiences that make us human. It's an art. Things have changed so much just in the last decade — hip-hop, the jump-rope rhyming scheme — words, and the way they're used in a song, are evolving. Sometimes phrases are used like sound bites. A song isn't just melody and production; the lyrics are super-important. Getting the most said out of the least words has always been a goal of mine."
After playing the islands, the Lauper Express will do a month in Australia. When she began to hit it big, Lauper discovered that the requisite travel was as inspiring as it was tiring.
"I had a fabulous experience, traveling and writing. It really and truly woke me up. It helped me find my own voice as a poet and filled me with admiration for the great poets of our time, all around the world. I was really excited. Really, really, really excited. Can you tell?
"I listen to all kinds of music, and when you travel you get to hear everything. It really moves me. Just this week we were working on something, and I used a timbre in my voice I've never used before. Never. New territory! That's so exciting.
"I love singing. Oh my god, don't you? I want to sing everything. Singing just picks you up and carries you away, like dreaming. When I discovered that I cold make a living as a singer, that was it for me. When you discover that you can be great at something — well, as great as I can try to be — your life falls into place. A blessing, that's what it is."