RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Cyndi Lauper, that girl power icon of the '80s, has a new album out. Her newest collection of songs takes a distinctly southern turn. It's an album of classic country covers. It is called "Detour," naturally. But it still feels like a familiar place to her.
CYNDI LAUPER: To me, it's like the roots of rock 'n' roll because it's around the time period when rhythm and blues and country were very linked, just around the time Elvis kicked the doors down.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FALL TO PIECES")
LAUPER: (Singing) I fall to pieces each time I see you again.
MARTIN: I read that after your first big album came out, you had, like, a moment with Patsy Cline's music. She was - she was something of a muse for you.
LAUPER: Well, she was something of a, I don't know, BFF 'cause (laughter) I didn't go out much.
LAUPER: No, when you become famous, everybody's up your butt. You become friends with random people because your own friends are sick and tired of trying to have a conversation with you and it's all about you. And then, you know, I'm not going to go out by myself. And then I just figured, you know what? I'm better off just hanging in. And my friend was working at MCA at the time when the movie came out about Patsy Cline, so she had all the catalog.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I FALL TO PIECES")
LAUPER: (Singing) You tell me to find someone else to love, someone who'll love me, too, the way you used to do.
I just spent hours singing at the top of my lungs in my loft with her. You know, kind of like when I was 9, I was singing at the top of my lungs - no, 8 - I was singing at the top of my lungs with Barbra Streisand. She never knew how close we were.
MARTIN: (Laughter) Barbra?
LAUPER: Yeah. No. No idea. We were really close. BFFs, you know?
MARTIN: So you grew up with a single mom who worked hard, as I was doing my reading, to expose you to a lot of arts, a lot of music. And what was her thing? What was her music?
LAUPER: Well, it was pretty eclectic. But, you know, first things first, we were Italian. We're Sicilian. There was a lot of opera. It's all about who's the greatest singer in the world, kids? It was Caruso. Who was the greatest movie star in the world? It was Valentino.
And we had - she had a lot of showtunes. I used to listening to "King And I" a lot. And I guess I kind of learned how to change my voice around 'cause I would play listening to her records. I probably ruined her records. I played "The King And I" so many times. And my grandmother came down from upstairs, walked in the kitchen and took "The King And I" off of my little red record player, didn't say a word and went back upstairs with it 'cause she couldn't take it anymore.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WHISTLE A HAPPY TUNE")
BARBARA COOK: (Singing) While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose and whistle a happy tune. And no one ever knows I'm afraid.
LAUPER: I don't know what to tell you. And my mother used to play, like, "Satchmo Does Fats," (ph) that album.
LAUPER: That was a great album. And we used to dance wildly to that.
MARTIN: You and your mom?
LAUPER: Me and my mom, me and my sister, me and my little brother. We all would dance around. You know, like, if we were doing laundry and you separate all the piles - that's what they always said. They said you got to learn this stuff 'cause you're going to be doing it all your life. And then she'd play records and we'd dance around. And it just made it fun.
MARTIN: She said that to you? She said you're going to do this?
LAUPER: Yeah. That, her, my grandparents. Yeah, everybody believed that women and girls, you have to learn how to do that. You know, I just realized recently that when I was upstairs with my grandmother - two shows I'd watch with her all the time - and one was "Queen For A Day" and one was the "Arthur Godfrey Talent Scout" (ph) show. And the "Queen For A Day" was everybody would send in letters about their mom or their aunt or someone who, you know, they toiled for their family, which I guess, at that time, they thought that was our job as women. But they would have her on. My grandmother would cry. They'd usually give her a washing machine. My grandmother would cry, and then I'd cry 'cause she was crying 'cause I knew my grandmother used to wash the sheets in the tub.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE END OF THE WORLD")
LAUPER: (Singing) Why does the sun go on shining? Why does the sea rush to shore?
But deep down inside, I felt like queen for a day and you give her a washing machine? What the heck? And then we'd watch "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" show and it happened to be the one that Patsy Cline was on. And I saw her, and I thought to myself - she's beautiful. She sings great. Maybe instead of being the queen that's crying about the washing machine, I'm just going to be a singer.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALKIN' AFTER MIDNIGHT")
LAUPER: (Singing) I go out walking after midnight out in the moonlight just like we used to do. I'm always walking after midnight searching for you.
MARTIN: Did your attitude about shaking things up and finding a different path, especially when it came to the history that your mom and your grandma had set - wanting to strike out in a different direction - did that ever backfire on you?
LAUPER: Tee hee hee hee. I think my whole life. But, you know, I always said the wrong things to the right people. But, you know, you learn (laughter). You learn not to dive into the vat, whatever that is. Just step back and let the stuff rise to the top and let it go because it's - it's not important. What's important is what you want to do. And you don't have to agree with everyone. You could listen. And you could think, well, I don't agree and look over their shoulder because you know where you want to go. And that's how it's always been for me. I know where I want to go. And I know there's a lot of ways around a brick wall, and there's a lot of gatekeepers. But the gatekeepers are not going to stop me - not now, not then, not ever.
(SOUNDBITE OF CYNDI LAUPER SONG, "HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER")
MARTIN: Cyndi Lauper - her new album is called "Detour." Cyndi, thanks so much for talking with us.
LAUPER: Oh, thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HEARTACHES BY THE NUMBER")
LAUPER: (Singing) Heartache number one was when you left me.
MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. BJ Leiderman wrote our theme. I'm Rachel Martin.
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