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Cyndi Lauper on Lady Gaga, Missing the Eighties, and Her Crazy Hair

Cyndi Lauper, at 56-years-old, can still throw some punches. You may have seen her recently slugging it out on The Celebrity Apprentice or flash backed with her on Gossip Girl, 30 Rock, or American Idol. The neon hair is back, and she’s collaborating with blues legends Allen Toussaint, B.B. King, and Ann Peebles on a new album, Memphis Blues. We spoke to Lauper about her run-in with Obama, what she thinks of Lady Gaga, and why she'd never perform at Rush Limbaugh's birthday party.

Why a blues record?
The blues are the roots of everything I’ve ever sung, and America is kinda going through the blues right now.

You mean the economy? The oil spill?
Yeah, everything. To get our country out of the claws of companies is going to take a while. The Republicans have got amnesia — who was in charge the past eight years? Who was on CNN saying, “Drill, baby, drill”? And the friggin’ tea party: What are you going to be making tea with? Dirty water? You gonna be having any fish for dinner?

You were also invited to the White House this year for the signing of the Hate Crimes Bill. When President Obama came to shake your hand, what did you say to him?
That was awesome. I said, “So I heard you opened for [Lady] Gaga [at the Human Rights Campaign Fund gala a few nights prior]. How was it?” He smiled and said, “She stole all your moves. You’re the original.”

You and Gaga toured together promoting Mac Viva Glam lipstick and AIDS awareness. Do you see yourself in her?
Gaga does performance art, but she does sculpture; I do performance art and I paint myself. When I saw her, I said, “Yeah, right.” You should never listen to people who say tone it down. I never painted myself so people would look at me; I did it because when I looked in the mirror, it made me feel alive. When I have color on my hair, I wake up — I can think, I can see. And I can’t understand spending all that time painting your hair and not making it look like a flower. I like tulips a lot. When spring comes and you see tulips all over the city, it’s too much for me. Eventually, I’m going to have to get the paintbrush out.

What did you think of Elton John singing at Rush Limbaugh’s wedding?
I think Elton John took his money and put it into promoting equal rights. Some people look at it like that.

If it had been you, would you have been able to hold your tongue and not say something to Limbaugh from the stage?
Me, nooooooo. There are some things I just won’t do. Like I won’t go to the Middle East. You could have a billion dollars, I won’t take it. And I can never hold my tongue.

You’re playing Town Hall on July 21. Tell me about some of the clubs you played in the eighties with Blue Angel.

We could never get a gig at CBGB’s ... We used to play Privates, a great club uptown — right by Gimbles. It was the only club uptown that was cool. This was, like, 1981. Remember when German Town still existed? The Ideal Restaurant. Most of the club kids would go up there after hours. I used to go there with Stanley Meisner, the writer. The thing about the Ideal Restaurant is the waitress was so nasty, you would laugh. Hilarious.

What do you miss most about the eighties?
Everything. The scene, the clubs, the music, downtown fashion, the way we were free. All the stuff invented in New York. You know, we had our own royalty.

Photo: Patrick McMullan