By Melissa Ruggieri
No matter the decade, Cyndi Lauper always manages to reinvent herself.
From her ’80s days as a fuchsia-headed pop belter to the ’90s and ’00s period of bopping from lite-alt-rock to club thumpers to torch songs to her most recent success as a thoroughly authentic blues mama, Lauper long ago proved her versatility and resilience.
She also dialed up her public activism, creating the True Colors Fund to advance equality for the gay community. In 2010, she competed on “The Celebrity Apprentice” to raise money for the Stonewall Community Foundation for True Colors.
Last month, she helped open the True Colors Residence in Harlem, a shelter for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender youth.
In between her advocacy work, Lauper last year released “Memphis Blues,” a collection of classics such as “Early in the Mornin’,” “Crossroads” and “Just Your Fool,” that became the biggest blues album of the year on the Billboard charts.
She’s taking those tunes on the road with New Orleans piano legend Dr. John, though she’ll also play her classic pop tunes, albeit with some smoky twists. On Oct. 25 she releases “To Memphis with Love,” a live DVD/CD taped earlier this year at The Warehouse in the Tennessee city.
In a recent chat from her weekend home in Connecticut, Lauper talked about why she loves Memphis, her small gaffe during a 9/11 rendition of the national anthem and if we’ll ever see that long-discussed reality show.
Q. You’ve had a lot of success with the ‘Memphis Blues’ album. What is it about Memphis that you love so much?
A. It’s a wonderful city, a city with great heritage. I love them for their food and music. Music and food, it’s an Italian thing! Every time my diet consultant would call, I’d have a piece of Gus’s [World Famous Fried] chicken hanging out of my mouth and she’d say, ‘Did you take the skin off?’ and I’d say, ‘Are you kidding me? That’s the best part!’
Q. Were these songs harder for you to sing from a technical standpoint?
A. No, easier. Pop songs are much, much harder. Well, mine are. Now I go back to singing my songs and I’m like, holy cow, that’s hard! The trick about pop is to make it seem easy. But if you ever went to karaoke and did ‘Girls Just Want to Have Fun,’ it’s not an easy song.
Q. Tell me about the DVD. Is it all concert footage from The Warehouse show you taped in Memphis?
A. I had started a documentary when I was making the album. I said, ‘Ya gotta film all of this, please.’ So I took the documentary stuff I had of the people I was going to perform with, like Tracy Nelson, Allen Toussaint. I took footage in rehearsal so people can hear them talk, to know who they are, to understand their mentality and then hear them play. That’s the most important part. You know who I am. I wanted it to be about these people.
Q. Is it true that you’re doing another Christmas album?
A. I love Christmas, come on. I did a Christmas single with my Memphis band and Norah Jones, ‘No Place Like Home for the Holidays,’ to benefit the True Colors fund. And I did ‘Blue Christmas’ just because I like it. They’ll be on iTunes.
Q. You’re such a New Yorker. Have you been to the 9/11 memorial yet?
A. [Pauses.] I can’t quite go yet. If you lived in New York before [9/11], you know … my son, Declyn, was a little boy then and anytime we walked down the street, we went right to the firehouse. They used to lift him up and talk to him. And then 9/11 happened and the doors were closed. And one of the guys who used to lift Declyn up never came back. Times were tough. It was so heartbreaking. And you know, I sang on 9/11. And I botched it.
Q. Yeah, I heard.
A. I wanted to be perfect. I even had the dress and everything. But just as I saw the folded flag, I started thinking about those firemen and I was like, ‘What did I just sing?’ Oh my God, I’ve been singing this since I was 5 years old. I found myself getting louder and I was like, no, no, no, this needs to sound easy and soothing. I tried to make it soothing.
Q. So what’s next for you? Do you still have a reality show in the works?
A. Oh yeah. I already shot it. It’s with Mark Burnett. The title was first ‘It’s Hard to Be Me’ ‘cause it’s about me and my manager friend. We’ve been working together for years and years, so it’s my work with a little bit of family. As much as they want to be involved, ya know? But I keep going off and doing other things, so the producers say they’re gonna call it, ‘Cyndi Lauper Can’t Say No.’
Q. Are you still writing original songs?
A. I’ve been working a few years on ‘Kinky Boots,’ a Broadway play written by Harvey Fierstein. I’ve been writing and working on the music. As it goes, you write and you write until it’s right, ya know? It’s a wonderful play. Harvey is brilliant. It’ll probably be another year or so to get it going.
Cyndi Lauper with Dr. John
8 p.m. Oct. 12. $37-$73. Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, 2800 Cobb Galleria Parkway, Atlanta. 1-800-745-3000, www.ticketmaster.com.