So when she takes the stage in The Threepenny Opera—and she has monologues that open both acts—she’ll be faced with a funny, familiar conundrum: trying to get the audience to forget she’s Cyndi Lauper, while knowing that people are there—that she’s there—because she’s Cyndi Lauper. “I think it’s always better when people don’t know you and don’t have a preconceived idea of who you are,” she says—which reminds me that she probably hasn’t met a person like that since about 1984. But, as she says, “I walked away from all that other stuff a long time ago. Because if you’re in the isolation tank all the time of the persona, who you gonna be, really? You’re not gonna be nobody. You’re just gonna be Miss Thing. I’m not Miss Thing.” And when she says persona, she digs again at the air with two more snakebites.
Nellie McKay, who has, more recently, had some understanding of what it’s like to be Miss Thing, is having her own struggles, having fought with her label, Columbia, over her latest album, which the label consequently quashed. But when I ask Lauper if she’s been able to guide McKay through the conflict, she says, “The business is changing so much right now. I couldn’t give her advice.”
Though, Nellie, if you’re listening, here is a kind of advice: “You cannot be self-conscious,” says Lauper. “If you have a watcher in your head, you’re done. Door closes, everything’s over. I can’t even look in a mirror sometimes. Because in my mind—I’m Dietrich! I’m Cleopatra on the Nile! I’m whoever I think I am. Then you look in the mirror and you see, Oh, it’s so not that. And you’ve broken the magic spell.”