Cyndi Lauper is talking to me at the most unrock-star hour of 7:30am from a tour bus somewhere in America – possibly, she thinks, Florida. It is, she says. “so cruel”, but there’s stuff to promote and she is a helluva trooper. There is something extra discombobulating about her much-commented-on adenoidal Brooklyn accent (she was actually born in adjacent Queens), unmediated by the presence of her striking visuals.
She is having a Moment right now, although it is impossible to resist the observation that there have been other moments – indeed, time after time. Lauper is on tour with her hugely successful new album, Detour, and Kinky Boots, the musical – for which she wrote the score – has been garlanded in awards, including a Tony, a Grammy and, this year, an Olivier Award.
But her great excitement now – “it’s assam [awesome], are you kidding, me?” – is that she will be performing on Glastonbury’s Acoustic Stage on Sunday at 9.30pm, a first for her. Knowing the Curse of Glasto, does she own a pair of very unkinky wellington boots? “Hell, yeah! I think I have a pair of red or yellow ones from when I did a shoot.”
Her look is so elaborate – and, at 62, only marginally pared-down (her hair is a candy-pink confection; make-up, ultra-visible; heels, high) – that it’s hard to imagine her ever being an outdoorsy, nature-loving type. She won’t be camping, like the rest of the festivalgoers, but Lauper recalls as a child, she and her older sister, Elen, used to pretend to camp under the kitchen table when they lived in Los Angeles. “We’d take it in turns to play ‘the careless camper’ making a fire, and the other one would be Smokey the Bear from the fire awareness commercials.
“I remember washing the floor with my mother and she would go, ‘What is that? It doesn’t come off?’ and I would say, [the voice of innocence] ‘Gee, I don’t know…’”
When I ask her about whether she had any female role models growing up, Lauper talks about the women in her family. Her aunts, her mother, her grandmother (Nana), her aunt Gloria. Her father left when she was five.
“But until then, I was like the biggest pain in the ass. I followed him everywhere, like a pup. When he left, I watched the women and I noticed their unhappiness because they could never become who they wanted. I listened to their stories about growing up. My grandmother’s marriage was arranged. Her family in Sicily sent her to this country to marry her husband, which is, well…” she sighs. “The Italians… gee!
“And my mother’s story…” Cyndi’s mother won a scholarship to study singing in New York, but her grandparents wouldn’t let her go, because, as she was told only whores go to school in Manhattan. “She was derailed.”
As a young woman, she had to fight to get recognition as a songwriter. “Women who had big voices then, did not write. They just sang other people’s songs. I fought with the producer all the time. And, of course, I was like a harridan.”
So when she discovered that Miles Davis wanted to cover Time after Time, “It was like a soothing balm for my heart, after being told over and over, ‘You’re not good enough.’”
She didn’t write the song with which she is, perhaps, the most synonymous, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but she might as well have given birth to it. “In the beginning, that song brought three generations of women together. I saw grandmothers come to the concerts in their rhinestones, and mothers with bandanas on the sides of their heads, and children dressed as little, scary versions of me, and I felt like I was bringing women together. Which is so important because if you understand the history of the women of your family, you don’t slip on the same banana peel.”
She and her husband, David Thornton, married in 1991, having met on the set of a film called Off and Running. She describes him in glowing terms. “He’s a really wonderful, incredible person, wildly talented himself, with such a great eye for photography and literature. He’s a trained actor so he’s no slouch. But he stepped away from that to raise our son, hands on, because we didn’t want a nanny to do that.”
The couple’s son, Declyn, was born in 1997, when Lauper was 44. Did she always know she wanted to be a mother? “At first I did not. But when I was doing those concerts in the 80s and I saw all those little kids, I realised that I would like to have my own. Because of my career, I wasn’t there in the way I would have liked to have been, but my husband was.
“I made a lot of mistakes. And I’ll always worry. I’ve never slept through the night since he was little. That’s partly to do with my job, but when you come home you don’t sleep. I still wake up and find myself praying for him.”
When Lauper was 40, a friend talked her into having a leopard tattooed on her ankle. “And she’s over there, gettin’ a freakin’ butterfly! And it hurts! And I’m thinking, ‘If this is fun, why don’t I just go and get a root canal?’”
Does she still like her leopard, some 20 years later? “You know what, one year in the 90s I went home for Easter and I was wearing a leopard shirt with a silver Vivienne Westwood skirt. I walk in and look down the table and I see my aunts, my mother, my grandmother and my cousins – all in different versions and different decades of leopard shirts. I was so shocked that I just started laughing, and said, ‘Oh, I’ve come home to the pride!’”
Cyndi Lauper takes to the Acoustic Stage on Sunday at 9:30pm