Bonnie, Bette, Cyndi, Rosanne,
and Me: My Intimate Relationships With Four Pop Music Goddesses


Leonard Zwelling

         Those who know me well know a few invariables about me. I
love my wife, would never dream of having a close relationship with another
woman, and haven’t since I met her, even in the lonely days in Washington, DC
among the power elite, the available Senate staff and the snow.

love popular music and have loved it since I bought my first 45 rpm record (Google
it) when I was 9 years old. I have acquired a taste for jazz and classical
music later in my life. I also learned to love beer, sautéed spinach, and
Andrew Wyeth as I matured. But like potato chips, chocolate and Groucho Marx, I
never had to LEARN to like rock and roll. I fell in love at first listen. Rap,
I still don’t get because music has three elements melody, harmony and rhythm,
and one is not enough to make it music no matter how much it sells or how fast
Eminem can talk.

of you also know that I ran the pop concerts during my undergraduate years at
Duke and have met some of my music heroes including Simon and Garfunkel, Aretha
Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Janis Joplin, the Rascals (who I took to a football
game), the Turtles (took them, too), Linda Ronstadt (took to a fraternity party
with the Stone Poneys), the Lovin’ Spoonful and the Fifth Dimension. I still love
to bump into famous musicians and will wait by the stage door to meet them.
Cyndi Lauper (basement at Prada), John Sebastian (Dosey Doe), Jimmy Webb (same),
Janis Ian (same) and Grace Slick (art gallery) have all been most kind to me,
signed autographs and exchanged tales of the intensity of the relationship
between performer (them) and audience (me) in a live concert setting.

are also four currently active performers, all close to my age, who I have seen
in concert on multiple occasions over the years: Bonnie Raitt (four times since
1977), Cyndi Lauper (five since 1984), Bette Midler (four since 1972) and
Rosanne Cash (four since 1986). These women share a few things in common in
their relationships with me. I know almost nothing about their personal lives.
I have only met one of them, Cyndi Lauper, and as I said that was when we were
both Christmas shopping on Fifth Avenue in New York. (She is far more
attractive in person than her image would suggest.) All four of them have
talent to burn and that talent only seems to grow with age, theirs and mine.

have had difficult times in their careers and battled substance abuse, but now
all are sober and doing some of the best work of their lives. In this, they are
inspirations to me. They have seen the heights and the depths and have never
stopped creating. That’s what an artist does and that’s also what an adult
does. They set the bar very high for me.

Raitt started as a blues guitar playing singer with a famous father (John
Raitt) who saw tough times and then recorded the “big album,” Nick of Time, and
became an overnight sensation and a Grammified great of popular music after
many, many years in the business. If you have never seen her live, do so.
Believe me when I tell you, you will be watching a master at work especially
when she plays that slide guitar.

was a fan of Bette Midler before there was a Bette Midler persona, clean or
otherwise. I saw her in 1972 at the Frog and Nightgown in Raleigh, NC and I was
the only straight guy in the house. Her piano player was Barry Manilow and she
told the raunchiest, funniest stories I had ever heard. She has since become a
movie star, singing power pop ballads and has cleaned up her act, much to the
chagrin of those of us who have followed her since her bathhouse days 40 years
ago. Now she stars in Vegas and will undoubtedly fill the Toyota Center in May.
I already have my tickets. I have seen Miss M in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 00s and
this will be the 10s. She never disappoints. Presumably Sophie, Ernie and
Delores del Lago (leading the Harlettes as mermaids in electric wheelchairs) will
be here in May as well (look these up).

was a discovery of my son Richard when he was 3 (he’s 34 now). He was watching
the early days of MTV and liked Madonna, too. I first saw Cyndi Lauper in 1984
at Cole Field House at the University of Maryland right after the first album
came out. Five months later we had moved to Houston and she filled the Summit
with the Bangles opening for her. I have seen her three more times, most
recently at the House of Blues commemorating the release of that first record
on its 30th anniversary, but it was the time before, after she
recorded an album of blues standards, that she really showed her talent and
intellect. She basically walked the audience at the House of Blues through the
history of the blues alternatively lecturing on the origins of the songs and
then singing them. This is a woman of high intelligence who has now won a few
Tonys to go with her Grammys. I know of no greater actress among singers than
Cyndi Lauper.

I save my highest praise for the woman I first heard on Saturday Night Live in
the early 80s when she came on as a punky, country rocker winning a Grammy soon
thereafter and then having had a tumultuous marriage to country star Rodney
Crowell before marrying Jon Leventhal 20 years ago and truly settling down to
make the great music that resonates in her DNA as Johnny Cash’s daughter but
also as a New York resident of the Deep South. This is captured in Rosanne
Cash’s most recent release The River and the Thread, her best record in many

Friday, December 5 we drove to Brazosport College in Lake Jackson to the
Clarion Theater to hear Rosanne for the fourth time. The first half of the show
was the new record, straight through plus stories as a guided tour of her many
trips with Levanthal, her musical director and guitar player as well as life
partner, through the South of her heritage about which she is still learning. These
trips inspired the record.

I go back and see pictures of the spikey hair of that country punker peering
out from album covers without a hint of a smile and listen to those albums, as
great as they were, the singer and the recordings cannot come close to the
mature 59-year old woman whose eyes are finally laughing because she beat the
odds of substance abuse and some serious illness and a bad marriage to become
one of the great performers in the country.

have only met Cyndi of these four and I know very little about any of their
lives, but I know their souls because they showed them to me and for this I am

you like the blog at all, thank them and all of those other musicians who poured
themselves into my life in 3-minute segments. Thanks, everyone. Brava, brava to
my four soul sisters of personal mystery and emotional resonance!

Leonard Zwelling