Cardinal Cyndi


By Jason Lamphier

This summer quirky songstress Cyndi Lauper will team up with Erasure, Debbie Harry, Rufus Wainwright, the Gossip, Margaret Cho, and a slew of other performers for the 'True Colors' tour, a 15-city event to support the Human Rights Campaign. The girl who just wanted to have fun loves a good cause'and, of course, her drag pals.

Tell me about the 'True Colors' tour.

It's the first 'True Colors' tour, presented by Logo. We'll be going through 15 cities, and proceeds from every ticket sold will go directly to the Human Rights Campaign. It's five hours of wonderful artists like Erasure, Debbie Harry, and the Dresden dolls, and Margaret Cho will emcee.

I recently pulled out Sisters of Avalon. It's one of the few albums at that time [1997] that offered accessible gay material, with songs like 'Ballad of Cleo and Joe,' 'Brimstone and Fire,' and 'You Don't Know.' Is 'Brimstone and Fire' based on your gay sister, Elen?

There was nothing on the album for my sister, so the song was for her. I added my stuff to it, like the part about [the lesbian couple] eating spaghetti together. When I first left my home, all I could cook was spaghetti. I lived with this guy who didn't work, but he would hunt, and it was up in Vermont, so he shot a squirrel. I made squirrel spaghetti sauce. It tastes like chicken, except a little gamy! But, you know, in Vermont they eat squirrel. It was in the '70s, I thought I would be a house painter, and I was struggling. And I knew how to clean the squirrel, because when I was hitching back from Canada I met this guy who lived near a river, and he taught me how to clean a fish. So I cleaned the squirrel the same way I cleaned the fish.

I saw a drag queen named Helena Troy perform 'Ballad of Cleo and Joe' soon after I came out. He was very dramatic, wore a tall hat, had great facial expressions, and definitely did the song justice.

This is how I did it in the clubs. I had to do all these songs. I think that I came out in a gorilla suit and this blond wig. I think I had an arrow through my head, and I had to take it off. I would then change my shoes and make it a different number. I had a fake mirror where I would put on makeup, then I'd change behind the screen. But just doing that in front of everybody, with everybody watching, it's engaging.

Why did you decide to include gay material on that particular album? Why were gay issues resonating with you then?

In 1994, my friend asked me to do the Gay Games at Yankee Stadium. Let's face it: I'm not Liza Minnelli, so I borrowed my drag friends. They danced and I kind of did my spasm thing around them, and I noticed that they didn't have any cameras on any of the guys. I thought, My God, even if you just showed the shoes it would be fantastic! Then I realized that it was discrimination within the community and that I could change it by making them be seen. I could direct my next video and put them as the stars. I was on tour and I had to lie because I was doing television in Europe and they wouldn't let me say that I was going on with drag queens. I met Annie Lennox, and she told me the way to get around that is to tell them that they're dancers. I did the tour with them, and I realized that I wanted to write a song for them, so I wrote 'Ballad of Cleo and Joe.' Men do not dress up like women because they want to feel like a woman. Some men dress up like women because they feel like more of a man when they do. That's what it's about'it's about transforming. Let's face it, I'm a drag queen myself. I don't wake in the morning looking like I do now.

You have a new album coming out soon. You've said it's a dance record.

Yeah, and I'll be doing new material on the tour. It's like a jukebox. I worked with all different kinds of people. It's a rhythm record. I've done all of these slow songs, and now I want rhythm.

The 'True Colors' tour kicks off June 8 in Las Vegas.