Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Cyndi Lauper was so hungry she ate a squirrel.

It's no secret that I've been in thrall to Cyndi Lauper since the dawn of my worldly understanding, and I even wrote a piece for Out about being able to thank her that fortuitous time I ran into her in the Lower East Side. It seemed also fortuitous that my editor at DNA should hand me her autobiography.

I was so excited to see what influenced this girl from Queens, and the best part was reading all about her growing up, different, unlucky with men and especially unlucky with work. She was super poor, for many, many years. At one point, she was living up in Vermont and she had a boyfriend and they were so hungry that he went out in the back and shot a squirrel, which she skinned, fileted and cooked. The boyfriend had invited a taxi driver in for dinner and when he asked what kind of meat it was she lied and said it was chicken. He didn't believe her, so finally she said it was squirrel and then he didn't believe her -- so she showed him the skinned pelt in the garbage. The dinner ended abruptly.

Leading up to her fame as a musician and singer, she kept getting fired from ill-suited jobs, each one more absurd than the last and all told in her distinct bubbly voice. There doesn't seem to be any resentment or rancor throughout. At one point, Cyndi worked at a dog kennel and pound. She liked the pound dogs better because they were more loving and appreciative but, "the woman who owned the place used to like to put them to sleep (she had this weird thing going on). Whenever I would see she was coming to put one to sleep, I'd take the dog for a walk. Then she kind of got wise and killed them on my day off."

Later she worked at a sort of general store underneath the elevated subway in Queens with these old ladies during an early 80s recession when the oldies were forced back into the workforce. One of these coworkers was 80-something Minnie, heavyset and wearing all black with nurse shoes and stockings worn above the knee (Cyndi writes that she was punk and didn't know it) and Minnie was a real character who would "start out talking normally - until I kept questioning her about something she didn't feel like talking about. Then she'd say something like, "Look, you seem like a nice kid - but go fuck yourself." Another hilarious aside comes when Cyndi asked what she's doing for Christmas and old Minnie said she'd be lying naked on a bearskin rug with some milk and cookies waiting for Santa to come up her chute.

One of the main reasons behind her gay activism was her friend Gregory, who looked out for her in Manhattan before she hit it big. He was super-creative and lived with his boyfriend downstairs and bedazzled everything, "including me". He was kicked out of his home at 12 years old by his parents and then, just as she rocketed to fame, died of AIDS. Her hit True Colors was a demo Ann Murray had turned down. She writes, "True Colors was kind of a country ballad with gospel overtones. I heard the lyrics and melody and thought, If it's a kind of prayer to feel better then it should be sung like one." And so she did. She has since dedicated this healing hymn, as well as her True Colors residence for homeless GLBT youth in Harlem, to Gregory. 

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