Out of the blue, a friend contacted José and I to ask that we join the group marching with Cyndi Lauper in the NYC Gay Pride March yesterday. Lauper was plugging her new charity, The Forty to None Project, dedicated to stamping out homelessness among LGBT youth (or, as the site forebodingly promises, "helping to bring an end to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth experiencing homelessness"). Look, one way or another, we gotta get these kids offa the street! And what an honor and a treat it was to be able to march alongside such a tireless advocate for gay causes, not to mention one of my very first musical idols.
Sidenote: Before Madonna for me, there was Cyndi. (Even before Debbie Harry, who I didn't get into until Rockbird.) I was absolutely floored by She's So Unusual, which I still think is one of the most perfect pop records ever. It propelled me into a music store to buy my first-ever poster (which, if you've been reading me a while, you'll recognize was the start of something big), a fabulous, punky shot of Cyndi that was, unfortunately, a little crushed. Nonetheless, it became the very first poster on my wall in a room that would be covered (including the ceiling) by the time I left home.
In 1995, Cyndi was the first person I ever interviewed. I was working as a news assistant at Reuters and pitched a Q&A with Cyndi to my bosses. They went for it, she went for it (she was plugging Twelve Deadly Cyns), and so I found myself spending probably 45 minutes chatting with her in an office. I remember she kept looking at my pages of questions, probably wondering if they'd ever end, yet she answered everything at length and gamely posed for some pictures with me after signing quite a few odds and ends I'd brought with me. (I didn't care if it wasn't professional—I hated that job otherwise!) I'd even brought my "Hole in My Heart (All the Way to China)" picture sleeve, at which she'd exclaimed, "Oh, that! Well...that one I liked, though." (It was "Goonies" that she kinda hated.)
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Flashing forward again: José was traveling in Puerto Rico, so I arrived to the March with my Madonna Cyndi husband Jason around 11AM at 41st between Fifth and Madison. It was hot but not unbearably so, sunny and breezy, and as always, as goofy as Pride might seem before you're in the midst of it, there was an infectiously optimistic vibe of unity radiating from the diverse crowds milling around their meeting spots. We were all about to march in a parade whose roots go back to that history-changing night at the Stonewall and nobody's feet were going to be dragging.
Once we found our area, I wound up wandering a bit and snapping atmosphere shots as well as, of course, photos of sexy menz—I always have pervert pride, though I wound up asking quite a few of them, which was a new concept. I was also killing Jason by tawking and singin' like Cyndi Lauper (complete with lip snarl) at every available opportunity.
My good friend Rich with GLAAD was with George Takei and Jennifer Tyrrell, the lesbian booted from being a boy scout den mother due to her sexual orientation (had interviewed her here), and he graciously introduced me to George and facilitated a photo op.
I told George that I've been supporting him on Twitter a long while and he thanked me and was supernice, looking spiffy and giving us boy scout realness. "Oh, my!"
Back to Cyndi's group, I waited with camera in hand and caught great footage of her as she emerged from the Andaz decked out in what could only be described as a Twelve Deadly Cyns top hat. Between that and her ageless face, it was 1995 all over again for me. Cyndi was businesslike as she positioned herself in her red convertible, allowing photographers to swarm over her and briefly acknowledging the crowd. In a flash, she took off and we all filed into place behind her car and banner.
Before things really got going, I was able to get lots of close-up footage and photos of Cyndi in her parked vehicle. At first, tons of people were approaching her for photo ops (which she was granting liberally), so I asked a handler if I could snag one for my blog. He said yes, so I went around and commandeered a fabulous photographer (Jason was still amongst the marchers) named Marie to take my shot and e-mail it to me later. She complied as did Cyndi—and it came out pretty terrific!
I'm sure Cyndi was a bit more excited to meet and speak with New York State Sen. Tom Duane, who helped us achieve marriage equality and who was the country's first HIV-positive person elected to office (or at least the first to be open about it, which is what counts).
Soon after, the procession began in earnest, and we were given temporary tattoos and Kinky Boots download cards to hand out.
At first, it was a little quiet. Something about the initial Midtown crowds was a little sedate, almost like they weren't prepared that the actual March was beginning. But soon, it became much more of a give-and-take, with Cyndi's waves and kisses eliciting superpositive responses. I filmed a lot of footage of attendees, finding the different perspective really interesting (and catching legendary performer Joey Arias—pictured—in the process).
Sunkissed and sore, we were in for a surprise once we turned onto 8th Street—after the 1PM moment of silence (Cyndi had to shush some who totally missed that memo) it was like the whole March and all of its attendees were suddenly plugged in! People were going nuts screaming for Cyndi, who got nothing short of a heroine's welcome in the Village.
Her music was blasting much louder from the float behind us now, including my favorite latter-day Cyndi tune; I was tempted to fall into Cyndi's highly imitable dance moves from the video when "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" came on and was pleasantly surprised that everyone seemed to know the words to "All Through the Night", a huge hit for her back in the day that I don't think I've heard anywhere since.
Only 90 minutes later (the beauty of being at the front!), we finally hit the end of the road, where Cyndi's convertible was directed to the left and we were all directed to the right and restraining orders were handed out. Kidding on the latter. We just kept walking and wound up eating in the meat-packing district ($100 brunch...fiscally irresponsible pride!) while our sunburns soaked in (fried pride!) before ending our day at an affiliated street fair.
The fair had a bunch of merchandise and various gay-interest product to offer (I'm not sure if Broke Straight Boys is a proper way to celebrate gay pride, but I did take their picture).
These Cocky Boys (Work Unfriendly and Safer-Sex Unfriendly) were plugging TLA
Bumped into a friend from TLA and wound up getting a photo op with many guys' favorite porn star, Austin Wilde, a versatile talent if ever there was one.
And then it was over.
We walked back to Hell's Kitchen and continued walking until we parted and collapsed in our separate beds, bursting with brunch and with the same giddy gay pride I'd first experienced over 20 years ago when I moved to Chicago from Michigan and had been so thrilled to witness that city's own carefree march. Back then, the marches were still a little more political in nature, but we had drag queens and half-naked guys and dykes on bikes and "defectives" (or goonies...) of all shapes and sizes.
What we didn't have then but do have now are too many things to list. But the teenager I was would say "Cyndi Lauper" and the adult I am would throw in a host of social and legal advances including the right to serve openly in the military and to marry one another in a growing number of states, things that seemed like wishful thinking when I was first getting into Cyndi Lauper's music and even later, when I was first getting acquainted with gay pride in college.
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Cyndi was right when she warbled that we shouldn't be afraid to let our true colors shine through—it's not always a winning strategy in the short run, but it's always a winner in the long run of history.