Cyndi Lauper, folk artist? It’s true: the eighties megastar with the neon hair, World Wrestling Federation gigs, and number-three Billboard hit about female masturbation is now a 52-year-old wife and mother who, at her record company’s behest, is revisiting her old hits. But these are no overproduced dance mixes or jazz standards: Lauper called the album The Body Acoustic, invited a bunch of guests, and put on a back porch jam.
Her reasoning? “I wanted to make back porch music,” she told Girlfriends during a pause from her recent tour. “I wanted that feel of people getting together after dinner to sing and play.”
Sitting on the swing with her are, among others, Sarah McLachlan (“Time After Time”), Shaggy (“All Through the Night”), Puffy Ami Yumi (“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”), and Ani DiFranco and Vivian Green (“Sisters of Avalon”). Lauper also gets together with a dulcimer, which she says she has been playing for years and features on most of these re-recordings, most surprisingly in a whistling, moody rendition of “She Bop.” It’s an instrument she was motivated to pick up in 1987 after seeing another gentle iconoclast, Ruth Gordon, in the film Harold and Maude.
“Maude never did play the dulcimer,” Lauper specifies. “What she did do was open up a closet of instruments. I don’t believe she could properly play one of them. And that didn’t matter at all to her. What mattered was the joy of just picking up an instrument any time she felt like it. This seemed so inspiring to me that when I was able to afford it, I went and bought all the string instruments [I could]. While I was [at the music store], Chryssie Hynde was on the phone. She had suggested I buy myself a Mel Bays instructional book. I did, and learned how to play.”
Not all her guest musicians fit the pared-down sound of the new CD. But that doesn’t bother Lauper. It just adds to the back porch mix, a collection she finds inspiring. “I have always embraced the diversity of the American landscape,” she says. “It is a highly unique and enriching sound. My music has always been eclectic. That is what inspires me.”
Inspired by the experience of LGBT life — in part thanks to her sister, who is gay — in 1996 Lauper released the heavily gay-themed Sisters of Avalon. “Because of my sister and my close friends, this is my community, too” — so much that she’s hosted numerous Pride parades, starred in a PFLAG ad with her sister, and joined forces with the Matthew Shepard Foundation. “I care very much what happens within this community because it affects me and mine. We are all family. I wish everyone would embrace theirs. Maybe we wouldn’t be a minority.”
With over twenty years of activism and household-name star status under her belt, Lauper says she found ultimate inspiration for The Body Acoustic from the same source she has always tapped, her spirit: “I find myself being more brave than ever now, brave enough to dream in the face of adversity. I don’t know if I’m anything like Maude, but I do know that freedom of spirit can inspire us to do great things and give us a connection with our souls. I think that’s a good thing.”