RJ’s Obsession (Recreated)

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Cyndi and RJ partying like it’s 1999–because it was.

RJ’s Obsession
(Or, seriously, what’s with the constant Cyndi Lauper posts?)

This blog was originally written and posted in 2012 on the awesome Kriss Morton blog Cabin Goddess as part of my Haunting Obsession Book Tour. Through the years, sharing the link to that article would be my go-to answer  to anyone who’d ask me about my “Cyndi Lauper Story.” Sadly, Kriss took down Cabin Goddess and has no plans at this time to bring it back. That article is re-posted here (lacking her graphic awesomeness) with her permission. Tweaks have been made to update links and information.

Since Haunting Obsession features a thinly veiled homage to Marilyn Monroe, and is the story of someone who takes his fandom way too far, it’s easy to assume I’m an over-the-top fan of Monroe. And yes, I do fixate on many things Marilyn. But she is not the person I am most obsessed about.

I also love pop music of all eras. But I am a child of the 80s. I was in the tenth grade in 1983, a couple years after M-TV debuted, so the woman who stands above everyone else in my pop music universe is Cyndi Lauper.

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1997, my first backstage visit. Mrs RJ, me, Cyndi, and my local Cyndi buddy Michelle.

Yes, Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She-Bop, Money Changes Everything, and the most awesome ballad of all time Time after Time. [Edit: I considered linking each song, but come on, kids, Google them. I can’t do EVERYTHING for you.] THAT Cyndi Lauper. Her rendition of Unchained Melody performed live in 2003 in a small Chicago dinner theater is the only time this six-foot four inch man ever swooned. Were I not already sitting down, it could have been embarrassing.

I see you. Yes, you. Hovering your pointer on the back-button, ready to bail out of this post. I know what you are thinking. I will say it for you. Cyndi Lauper. What a kook. RJ’s hopelessly stuck in the 80s. Isn’t she just for girls? See, I’m psychic that way.

I remember in 1983 the first time I heard Girls Just Want to Have Fun. My exact thoughts: “Wow, fun song, too bad it will never catch on.”

Hmmm. . . so much for my psychic powers.

It was Time After Time that reeled me in. A song, at the time, that reached beyond the typical “I love you” of most pop music and instead said “I’ll stand by you,” a decade before Chrissie Hynde. But I don’t need to defend that song–its significance as a timeless classic stands on its own.

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The Amazing Jan Pulsford and me 1997.

What is less known is Cyndi’s singer-songwriter period, which continued well into the 1990s and beyond. And though on the Sony label, she operated as an Indie artist, as the label abandoned her while shackling her to a contract neither party had much interest in. The irony is that with 1993’s Hat Full of Stars, 1996’s criminally obscure Sisters of Avalon (co-written with the fabulous Jan Pulsford–pay attention to that name) and 2002’s Shine, Cyndi’s songwriting skills fully bloomed, and in this fan’s opinion, she created some amazing music. (Everything is also on Spotify).

At the same time, the internet entered everyone’s lives, and Yahoogroup communities formed. I can remember in 1994 discovering the “Shebop” group. Being a fan, at that time, was very insider. Like a secret club. We knew she’d never have another pop hit, but we could share this fabulous set of songs between us, secure in our fine taste and bask in our smugness.

In 1997, my Cyndi buddy Michelle and I planned a trip to Chicago to see Cyndi open for Tina Turner. Cyndi’s tour manager Jan Pulsford frequented the Yahoogroups, and she answered our email request to say that said that yes, we could briefly meet our idol. Backstage, when I told Cyndi of my dream to be a writer, she tapped my chest and said “Follow your heart.”

Corny? Cliché? Sure. But it beats the hell out of “what are you gonna do for a real job.”

And that would have been the end, except for maybe the occasional repeated story of other backstage encounters. And that would have been cool.

Except for a sad Yahoogroup email that caught my attention in mid-2001 from a Ms. Mary Kay. She and her same-sex partner were unaware that Cyndi had canceled an appearance in Indianapolis. Mary had flown from Wisconsin to see her. Worse, Mary was confined to a wheelchair due to her chemotherapy.

I was moved to write Mary, at first just to send my apologies, because I had known of the cancellation. Someone, somewhere (I suspect Jan still monitoring the group) made Cyndi aware of the situation. When the tour hit Mary’s hometown, Cyndi extended an invitation to meet her. Very cool.

I was moved by Mary’s story. She was fighting breast cancer, with a prognosis of a death sentence. She struggled to pay for some comfort items–not medically necessary but which would help her recovery–a robe of special material, and an adjustable medical bed are two items I recall.

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I held on to a couple of the Fade booklets.

I had the idea to take a short story I’d written, inspired by a rare Cyndi Lauper song. (Fade. No, you probably don’t know the song, but if you look for it on Spotify, the band is Blue Angel or just watch this YouTube video) I recruited a couple of Cyndi fans who were also artists to add illustrations, and target the booklet to other fans to help raise money. I asked for a minimum $25 donation to receive the booklet.

Yes, it was self-serving and promotional. I wasn’t exactly Father Teresa. But I was unpublished and it was all I had to leverage. [Update: here is another blog that goes into more detail about my story Fade, written  to promote my short story collection Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy where you can read the story now).

The fans saw what I had started, and many of them dug out their memorabilia, T-shirts, ticket stubs, other things, and put them up on E-Bay to add to the fund. Someone (Jan again?) made Cyndi aware of our efforts, and she did a simple but very cool thing.

Cyndi gathered up some old posters, 45 records, rare radio promo discs, other awesome things. She signed them all (I have come to realize that a Sharpie and a signature is a celebrity magic wand, and the only kind of magic wand that actually works in the real world) and mailed them to Mary Kay. Instead of raising $24-50 an item, we were now getting $100+ an item. We hit our goal of $3,000.00 and then some.

On New Year’s Eve 2001 (in a show that continued into Jan 1, 2002), Cyndi played Disneyworld Pleasure Island. Cyndi extended an invitation for us to join her. It was, in a word, amazing. Add to this, it was the first time Mary Kay and I met face-to-face.

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RJ and Mary Kay New Year’s Eve 2001

Against all odds, Mary Kay recovered. I’ve seen Cyndi several more times with my concert-going fan group. She has treated this fan beyond graciously. She has met with us when I know for a fact she was running late.  When I met her November 2011, I handed her a copy of Haunting Blue and Indiana Science Fiction 2011, which contains a reprint of Fade. I signed my novel to her. “You once told me to follow my heart. This is where it led me.”

So no, no scary stories of fandom gone wrong.

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“It’s about time you got around to talking about me, silly boy!” Marketing model and Cyndi Fan Lily as Maxine in my faorite-est author photo.

But this has a lot to do with Haunting Obsession. Lily MonsterMeat–she’s my Maxine Marie Marketing Model in the standee, the banners, the author photo, and in the book trailer–we “virtually” met years ago on the Yahoogroup. [Update: and we have big plans for my new series in 2019 under my DarkWhimsy Books label]

And that brings me to the awesome Musical Magician, as I call her, Jan Pulsford. Jan co-wrote my favorite Cyndi album, which is to say, my all-time favorite album, Sisters of Avalon. To be blunt, in this fan’s opinion, Jan is why Cyndi wrote the best music of her career. Since greeting us in 1997, she has never lost touch.

Jan, a professional electronica solo musician and songwriter, created a special remix of one of her pieces for my use in the book trailer, and offered an answer on how to adapt “I Want to be Loved by You” legally and free. She did this in exchange for my writing some marketing pieces on her behalf. Here is the Haunting Obsession book trailer featuring Lily and Jan.

These collaborations happen, I think, because Cyndi draws kindred artists together who understand and want to help each other.

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Reading is FUN-damental! Ya gotta love that!

So you can say all you want about me and my odd fandom. I have heard it all. But I will not tolerate a negative comment about Cyndi as a person. Yes, I saw Celebrity Apprentice. Yes, her thoughts really fly out of her mouth stream of consciousness. Yes, she will not suffer fools gladly. If you think she’s ignorant, rude or unkind, keep it to yourself. Hurricane RJ will strike, and it’s ugly. Just ask the last poor soul who made that mistake.

And out of respect for the many kindnesses Cyndi has shown me, for the ways she has inspired me to follow my heart, I will continue to post my “Cyndi-Tracker®” updates.

RJ’s Cyndi Lauper Facebook photo album.

[Update: In August 2018, I had a chance to give Cyndi a copy of my short story collection Darkness with a Chance of Whimsy. I asked her if she would pose with the book. She happily did so, and gave me permission to use the photo for marketing purposes. That’s how the photo above happened. Was I super-excited? Yes. Yes I was.]

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About R.J. Sullivan

R.J. Sullivan’s latest book, Commanding the Red Lotus, is a novel-length collection of three space opera tales in the tradition of Andre Norton and Gene Roddenberry. His novel Haunting Blue is an edgy paranormal thriller and the first book of the adventures of punk girl Fiona “Blue” Shaefer and her boyfriend Chip Farren. Seventh Star Press also released Haunting Obsession, a Rebecca Burton Novella, and Virtual Blue, the second part of Fiona’s tale. R.J.’s short stories have been featured in such acclaimed collections as Dark Faith Invocations by Apex Books and Vampires Don’t Sparkle. R.J. co-hosts the Two Towers Talk Show YouTube program with John F. Allen. He resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. He drinks regularly from a Little Mermaid coffee mug and is man enough to admit it.
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