by Marty Demarest

Next Thursday night, Cher is calling it quits. She'll be pulling into town for the year's final performance of her latest farewell concert tour, which is called -- appropriately enough -- "Living Proof." Of course, the concert has been prolonged for a few more dates into 2003, but the Spokane stop comes pretty close to the end of the iconic singer's concert career. She says she has a musical that she wants to work on, and that it's time for her to make room in the world's stadiums for other, younger divas.

There's no doubt that Cher has had a career to rival most of them. She first entered the nation's musical consciousness wearing brightly colored pants and fur vests, singing "I've Got You Babe" with Sonny Bono. Four decades of No. 1 hits later, she's just been honored with Billboard's Lifetime Achievement Award. She made it in movies as well, winning an Academy Award, and making headlines with the clothes she wore to the ceremonies. But all good things must come to an end, and so Cher's concert is intended to culminate and anthologize her entire career. By all accounts, it's a great show. Cher enters on a chandelier, changes costumes continually, plays giant film clips from her career, and makes mean jokes at the expense of people like Britney Spears. You should consider going.

With that out of the way, let's talk about what almost every review of the concert also mentions as being eye-openingly fantastic: Cyndi Lauper is the opening act. Far from coming onto the stage purely as an icon of the 1980s, however, Lauper will be singing some of her latest songs, showing audiences that she's back and has no intention of saying goodbye.

That tenacity has served Lauper well during the years of her up-and-down career. Having learned to play guitar at the age of 12, Lauper later sang for a rock cover band in New York, where she damaged her vocal chords and was left virtually without a voice. Undaunted, she pursued voice lessons, and released the album Blue Angel in 1980 -- the first year in a decade she was going to dominate.

It was her first solo album, She's So Unusual, that brought her to mainstream attention and broke down a few important walls for female vocalists. With songs like "She Bop," "Time After Time" and "All Through the Night," She's So Unusual became the first album by a female vocalist to yield four songs that broke into the top five positions on the charts. Most famous among these was undoubtedly "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" (or as Lauper sang it, "Girls Just Want to Have Fuh-Hun"), an infectious pop-punk anthem that perfectly captured that era's giddy, go-for-broke material attitude. And Lauper's hair spiked with multiple hues, arms weighed down with dozens of bracelets, and mis-matched clothes quickly became the pop-fashion standard. In fact, it's impossible to imagine Madonna -- who lacked Lauper's vocal abilities but transcended her in terms of marketing savvy -- becoming a star without the shoulders of She's So Unusual to stand upon.

Unlike the Material Girl, however, Lauper decided to take her career in a different, more personal direction. With a Grammy, several American Music Awards and the love of MTV tucked under her array of skinny vinyl belts, Lauper released True Colors in 1986. Despite the fact that Lauper was depicted in her full orange-haired, tattered-skirted glory on the cover, the album had deeper intentions. Not only did she sing with Billy Joel, and cover the New Orleans classic "Ico Ico" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On," but the cover song turned out to be an impassioned ballad of empathy and love -- a little too sincere for a decade that was just getting into its self-centered groove.

Lauper's career moved on in its new direction, leaving quite a few of her earlier fans behind. Nevertheless, critics continued to heap praise on Lauper's albums, and like Cher, she began to explore other venues for her talents. She had already demonstrated a game spirit and self-effacing sense of humor when she got involved in professional wrestling, fighting in the women's division of the WWF (you can see a match on Best of the WWF Vol. 1) and managing Captain Lou Albano. A few movie roles, most notably in the film Vibes, followed, and she later had a recurring role on the television series Mad About You. But music was her dominant passion, and in addition to a number of AIDS benefit concerts, Lauper toured with Tina Turner, became a mother, and struck out into the world of indie publishing for her latest album, Shine (which will be available at the concert.)

And if the music on Shine is any indication, Lauper's strength still shimmers with vulnerability, and her bracingly smart lyrics are still tempered by a infectious pop giddiness. A new album is due out soon, and with the increased exposure she's gained from touring, along with the great shape that her four-octave voice is in, Cyndi Lauper appears to be getting her second wind. One diva may be leaving the stage, but another one is coming back.

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