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The story behind how this week’s conversation happened is almost as good as the interview itself! So, you may know this already, but I’m a big fan of Grease 2, which I think is a far superior film to Grease. Having heard me rant about it on a previous episode of the show (see ‘Queer as Punk: Gritty, Dirty, Nasty Fun’ with Demi Wylde) a follower on twitter, @rnfrw, who is also a long time listener of the show (hello!) reached out to disagree, and we had a little bit of a back and forth about it. This got me thinking about Grease, which led me to wikipedia, and then I fell in to a bit of a wiki-hole and now I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the two films… But, one of the things that I didn’t know before I fell in to this wiki-hole, is what happened to the singer behind my absolute favourite song from the soundtrack to the Grease movie, which is obviously ‘It’s Raining on Prom Night’. And my internet sleuthing led me to the singer/songwriter Cidny Bullens…. Cidny has had a long and fascinating career, and made the brave decision to transition in 2010 in his early 60s… We had a really great conversation about his life, but I have to admit that we’re kind of stretching the theme somewhat, and rather than talk about one physical space we are talking about the spaces that were created on the 1975 Elton John West of the Rockies Tour. Cidny was a back up singer on this tour, and is currently in the process of writing his memoir, so had a tonne of stories and insights to share about that experience and creating magic in front of an audience every evening…. Find out more about Cidny at his website, or on Instagram, or Twitter.
Cidny Bullens 0:00
You know the 60s had broken open something and I think the 70s was when you know people were were starting to say okay we’re going for this and we’re not going back you know
Hello, I am K Anderson, and you are listening to Lost Spaces, a podcast that mourns the death of queer nightlife. Every episode I talk to a different person about a venue from their past, the memories that they created there, and the people that they used to know.
Ah, I’ve got a little bit of a story for you before we get in to this week’s episode. So, you may know this already because I go on about it surprisingly quite a lot for a show that’s got nothing to do with this, but I’m a big fan of Grease 2, which I think is the superior film out of the Greases. And, having heard me rant about it on a previous episode with Demi Wylde a user on twitter, @rnfrw, who is also a long time listener of the show so hello. Reached out to disagree, and we had a little bit of a back and forth about it, which got me thinking about Grease, which led me to wikipedia, and then I fell in to a bit of a wiki-hole and now I have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the two films… But, one of the things that I didn’t know before I fell in to this wiki-hole, is what happened to the singer of my absolute favourite song from the soundtrack to the Grease movie, which is obviously ‘It’s raining on Prom Night’, and my internet sleuthing led me to the singer/songwriter Cidny Bullens.
Cidny has had a long and fascinating career, and made the brave decision to transition in 2010 in his early 60s…
So, we’re kind of somewhat stretching the theme this week, and rather than talk about one physical space we are talking about the spaces that were created on the 1975 Elton John West of the Rockies Tour.
Cidny was a back up singer on this tour, and is currently in the process of writing his memoir, so had a tonne of stories and insights to share about that experience and creating magic in front of an audience every evening.
Cidny Bullens 2:53
I was living in Los Angeles and just kind of hanging around this one particular studio Cherokee recording in in Los Angeles and who I knew the owners too. They were brothers who were my age are a little older, I guess, because I was only 2425 years old. So in 74, I started doing some backup singing and stuff like that. And in September of 75, I heard from my friends at Cherokee studio, that there was going to be a press party for Neil Sedaka, who was a songwriter singer had some hits in the 60s and Rocket Records Elton’s record label at the time, was signing him to a new contract. And Cherokee was hosting a press party in Studio A the big studio there. And I heard about it and I thought I’m going. So I walked into Cherokee and I like I said, the guys were good friends of mine, Three brothers in their father and they the three brothers were really good friends and I had done demos there and was doing hanging out there. And I walked into the control room where they all were kind of observing this press party that was going on, kind of like a fishbowl, you know, we were that we were looking into a fishbowl of this press party.
K Anderson 4:22
So is it kind of like one of those old studio so you were in the studio, and they were in the know, the other?
Cidny Bullens 4:27
We were in the record the control room.
K Anderson 4:30
Okay, and they were all in the like the actual studio.
Cidny Bullens 4:33
Exactly. Yes, it was a big studio, big old time studio. So Elton John was in there. And he was a I was a huge fan. You know, he was Elton John, for God’s sake. It was 1975 Goodbye yellow brick road and all that, you know. And I turned to the guys, and I said I’m going in and De Rob, who was the oldest brother and kind of the the head honcho turned to me said you can’t go in there. And I said, Yes, I can. I did. I walked in. And I stood there, I remember exactly what I had on for clothes. And I was tall and skinny. And I had on bell bottoms and my big fry boots and I had on this rock and roll jacket that was embroidered in the back, like Tiger was embroidered was purple and green. It was embroidered in the back. So you with a shift and yeah, here and I had big, you know, my big blonde curly, naturally curly, wavy, I should say not curly, wavy hair, which was the 70s cut that mean, I say in my show the main of 70s hair. And I was just standing there, you know, and I went up to somebody and started a conversation and and the guy engaged with me. And before I knew it, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Elton walking toward me. And for a minute, I thought, Oh, he’s gonna kick me out. Well, we all know now that Elton John would not be the person who would kick me out of his own party. But that was the thought I had, you know, I thought, Oh, he’s gonna kick me out. And he walked straight to me. And he said, and I quote, and I know this true because it’s in my journal from back then he said, I don’t believe we’ve met yet. My name is Elton. And honestly, I went blank. I
K Anderson 6:52
say, like, you forgot your name, or
Cidny Bullens 6:55
I all I could remember, I don’t even remember if he asked me my name. I just remembered this saying my name is Cindy. And I say in my memoir, if I had said my name was Chris, or Sandy, or some non gender name, the mystery would have gone on because I looked like a guy. I was in draw genus, completely and totally androgynous I was called Sir, as much as I was called, ma’am, back then or miss back. And really, you could not tell. And that was who I was. That was me. I wasn’t putting anything on. I wasn’t pretending I wasn’t dressing up for a reason. That was me. That was my wardrobe. That was my look. I knew that I felt like a man and a woman’s body. I didn’t have a name for it. There was no name for it back in the 70s that I knew of. Except maybe transsexual, transgendered was not a term that came in until the 80s. And I know now that he didn’t know whether I was a man or a woman. I didn’t know then. So the mystery was over. In a matter of seconds. No man is named Cindy, that I know of. And he talked, we talked now I really have no clue what we talked about. I don’t have any idea what the conversation was after I said my name. And he walked away after a few minutes. And but he didn’t kick me out. And a few minutes later, a little while later, somebody else came up to talk to me, I wasn’t kicked out. So now then talk to me. So I was good. Right? So some so then a young woman walks up to me and and introduces herself as Connie Pappas. And she says, What do you do? And I said, with a cocky voice. I’m a singer. You know, I figured I was in the room. I might as well say, you know, because that’s what I was doing. I was singing backups, you know, I was already a songwriter. And I already played guitar. And I already you know, MS was a musician, but as a but back then, the way I was making my way into the the music business was singing. So I said I’m a singer. And she said, Okay, great. And we talked for a few minutes again, I don’t really remember what about and she walked away. And I was there and had a few more conversations and I was I was getting ready to leave. I feel a tap on my shoulder. And it was Connie Pappas, and she says to me, what are you doing for the next two months? And I said I Don’t know why. And that’s exactly what I said, even though I didn’t know what I was doing. And that’s another story. And I’ll tell you in a minute, but I guess I had the sense to say, I don’t know why. And she said, Elton wants to know if you want to go on the road with him. And this was Wednesday, September 17 1975. On Thursday, I had to make a decision. Whether to go on the road with Elton John, or go on the road with Bob Dylan.
K Anderson 10:41
Oh, just a regular Thursday.
Cidny Bullens 10:43
Yes, a regular Thursday. I had been asked because in this is a whole nother part of my story. In back. This was in September in July, I had been part of a week in New York City that was hosted by Bobby new Werth who was a legend at the time he wrote Mercedes Benz with Janis Joplin. He was Dylan’s best friend, he had his own albums out and was produced and you know, was kind of a one of these people who was a manifester, a doer, a connector, you know what I mean? He was named wasn’t well known, but he connected everybody. And he had met me and liked me from the start thought I was talented songwriter, ironically. So I had been part of this week at what used to be the bitter end, but was temporarily the other end because of some something in New York City on Bleecker Street, one of the venerable folk clubs, the bitter end, people will no but it was called the other end for a minute and a half. And that was the minute and a half we were there. And New Earth had this week of performances that he had booked where he was going to have everybody on God’s green earth come in and play anybody who was in town and I was in he recruited me for the band and I he flew me into New York, from Los Angeles and I, me and T bone Burnett, and who has since become a very famous producer, record producer, David Mansfield, who we met that week, who’s also a big name now and Steven souls who was a singer songwriter back then, and we were the band and there was a drummer and a bass player. And we were going to be the backup band and the singers for whoever walked in, which included Patti Smith, Mick Ronson, Joan Baez, Allen Ginsburg. Oh, I mean, oh, my God, I’m forgetting so many people as we speak. But it was a lineup of people just coming in, stepping on stage and playing a song for a week. And Dylan was there for the entire week, observing, but he was there. I have pictures. So this week, in July, and we were written up in Rolling Stone, I had my picture in Rolling Stone and The New York Times and the Soho weekly news and all this stuff. I was written up I had my own song, I, you know, so it was kind of a big thing for me because I was noticed among all of these people. Anyway, out of that we came the idea the genesis for the Rolling Thunder review, which Bobby Newerth came up with, and Dylan. So I, over the course of the next month or so, of course, was asked to go on the Rolling Thunder review with Bob Dylan, which they were starting in September, the next week, or the next two weeks, I can’t remember the exact timing. So September 17. I meet Elton John. He’s starting rehearsal on September 19. On Friday. I meet him on Wednesday, on Thursday that I’m supposed to start rehearsal with the Rolling Thunder, like the next week. So on this Thursday, I literally had to make a decision between going with Elton John, or going with Bob Dylan.
K Anderson 14:38
Cidny Bullens 14:40
So you know which one I picked?
K Anderson 14:45
I do. But before we get into the reason behind that decision, can we just find out a bit more about who you were at that time, so we already know that you were singing We already know that you had a mane of hair But what like, what brought you to LA? Like, what was the reason that you were there in the first place?
Cidny Bullens 15:07
Well, I went to LA, to literally, I mean, I don’t think this is such a cliche, but it was to find my fame and fortune, you know, I mean, I, I went to New York for a year, so after high school, and I went to acting school for a while in New York City. So I guess two years because I went to acting school for two years, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and, and even though I said to my mother, after I graduated high school, I’m going to New York City to be a rock and roll star, I want to be in music, I want to play music. I was writing songs I was singing, you know, all through high school. I mean, I knew what I wanted to do. And she said, No, you’re going to go to school. Now this is back in the days when mothers actually had something to say to their children that made them do things, you know. And my mother was very strong.
K Anderson 16:07
But surely she didn’t think that acting was going to be more stable than singing.
Cidny Bullens 16:11
She, you know what? Well, I think what she thought no, you’re absolutely correct. But what she thought and and she knew I could act. I mean, I’ve been in plays in high school and stuff like that. But it wasn’t my first choice. Music was my first choice. But I think what she thought is that acting, if that I had to go to a school, that at least if I went to an institution, that I went to some place where I had to show up every day where there was a schedule where there was, you know, some learning going on of somehow. And I also think she thought that acting was more respectable than rock and roll. I don’t think she thought through the fact. In fact, I know she didn’t, because here’s the twist, as an actor, and I was good as I mean, I was a good actor, meaning I could take apart and play it. But I didn’t look the part of anything for any job. I was not an ingenue. I don’t forget, I was androgynous. Even if I put on a dress, I was androgynous. You know, and I couldn’t get an ingenue role because I looked too much like a guy. I couldn’t play a kid because I was too tall. I couldn’t play a character role because I really didn’t have the character look, you know, and so I didn’t get acting jobs, all my friends out of the academy got acting jobs, almost all right away, the ones who graduated the ones who were good, you know, they all got jobs, whether they were small or large, you know, or, or on Broadway, or in summer stock. They all got they all got jobs. I didn’t, you know, I was up for jobs. I was up for Godspell, I was up for Charlie Brown, but I didn’t get them.
K Anderson 18:07
And how did that make you feel? Did that like help justify your desire to go into music? Or did you beat yourself up about?
Cidny Bullens 18:15
Yeah, no, well, yeah, I was like, Okay, I’ve tried this, you know, and in the meantime, I was playing in clubs, you know, I’d go down and play on the Hooton- They used to call them Hootenanny nights, you know, not open mic nights, you know, I used to go down to the clubs in the village. And of course, I lived in the village to the West Village, but I used to go down and play play music for passing the hat. Yeah, I didn’t have any money you’d get you get money and you get a hamburger, you know, they they feed you and you could pass the hat. Well, that’s how I lived for you know, the first year. You know, and then while I was going to school, you know, I mean, my parents paid for the school, but I paid for everything else. Those were the days you know, when, you know, my parents did not have money. And so then, after I tried to get work for a few months after school, I said, Okay, screw it, you know, and I went to LA and in 1973 And that’s when and I lived. You know, I lived on somebody’s couch who I didn’t know for a couple months and then I lived in Bob Crewe’s basement storage place you know, that had a loft bed and then I you know, I worked in gas stations, I pumped gas I did everything that everybody does, you know, and I played in little clubs, although LA was very hard to find clubs to play and it wasn’t New York, you know, had it’s a different vibe. You know, and so anyway, and then I then I started getting little gigs and backup backup vocals with Bob Crewe and other people at Cherokee. And then I met out and then I met Bob Neuwirth. You know,
K Anderson 20:03
yeah. So can we talk about your androgyny? You’ve talked about it in terms of your acting career and getting in the way, potentially of getting roles. And you’ve talked about people not being able to gender you on sight. How are you feeling about all of that? Were you just like, oh, like, this is just who I am. Who cares? Or was there an internal struggle about
Cidny Bullens 20:28
both? I went through, mostly during that time. Let me back up a little bit. When I was 19, or 20. And I was in New York City. I went to the New York Public Library. To find out what I was. Now nobody in New York, my none of my friends at the academy, American Academy knew about my internal struggle. Nobody knew. They didn’t I was asexual. Basically, I didn’t have boyfriends. You know, I didn’t have girlfriends. I was pretty much asexual. At the Academy, I had a female roommate, who was still my best friend to this day, who were total friends. Yeah, still my best friend to this day. And I had a roommate who was a woman, we never, never crossed boundaries. And I had a Best Male pal, who I’m also friends with today, who I did have tried because he was in he wanted to have a relationship with me. And I kind of tried, but, you know, it was like, no, let’s be friends. And so I was asexual. And I didn’t tell anybody anything. Maybe Pam, my best friend knew. Maybe I told her at some point, but basically not. So when I was so but in the middle of this on my own, I went to the New York Public Library, and I went to I guess there was a gender studies, something, some kind of, you know, aisle there. And I pulled out a book, and I sat down, and I saw the word transsexual. And I thought, well, I guess that’s me. And there was an address in the book. And it was Tulane University in Louisiana. And I went back to my place. And I wrote a letter. And I sent it to this address. And I asked for all the information that I can get on changing my gender. This was 1970. And about three weeks later, I got this big Manila package in the mail, and I tore it open, nobody was around, I tore it open. There were all these pamphlets and just info booklets and you know, where to go to get hormone replacement therapy, where to go for therapy itself, you know, just all all this information on what a transsexual was now, who knew back then. And I read it all. And I have this line in the show where I, after I talk about ripping open the, the envelope and everything and I say, I can do this. I can do this. And then there’s a pause, and I say, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. And I couldn’t do it. How could I do it? I was 20 years old. I was alone. I couldn’t tell my parents. They weren’t the type of people I could tell. I didn’t even tell my friends. I had no money. There were a plethora, many, many reasons why I could not do it. And I threw everything away and put it out of my mind. Oh, wow. And went on from there. So that was a moment in my life, where I addressed it. I found out what it was. And then I said, Ah, can’t happen. Not gonna happen.
K Anderson 24:31
And so was the dialogue with yourself. No, I’m not transgender, or Yes, I am. But actually, because of all of these external factors. I’m not going to pursue this.
Cidny Bullens 24:43
No, it was yes, I am. Okay. And there was no transgender again. I’ll say it was transexual Yeah, no, that’s okay. You know, now it’s easier we’re trans we’re this we’re that. You know, there’s much more of an acceptance now and even a knowledge the only person that I even had heard about back in 1970 Was this trans woman in the 50s named Christine Jorgensen? Who is an American woman who went to and I don’t know the story and I could be misquoting and somebody else would know all the facts. But what I remember is she, she did have surgery, but I think she went to Europe or something. And anyway, she was a usr, she was a soldier in World War Two, and transitioned in and became very famous. And that was the only person I knew of at the time. That was transexual. And, and I didn’t know her, obviously. But I mean, that that was even a figure in history. There. I knew from the time I was four years old, that I was a boy in a girl’s body, there was no question about it there. There’s not to this day, I don’t have a female bone in my body except my body. You know, my physical being my physical birth, sex is female. My brain, forget about it. I don’t identify with anything female. Nothing. I mean, I call myself a typical trans man now, because and the reason I use that word is because when I back in 19, and 2011, when I started researching and said, Oh, my God, you know, I’m going to look into doing this. Now, I don’t have a relationship. I’ve been single for 10 years, my daughter’s married as a kid of her own, I’m responsible to no one, I’m finally going to address this core issue of myself. So when I started doing the research, I me found out that there’s a whole spectrum of gender. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know there were non binary people or people that like they felt that they had no gender. I didn’t know there was a spectrum of gender, I knew there was a spectrum of sexuality. I knew there were bisexual people and you gay people and stripe it you know, whatever, and, and a spectrum in between, I did not know that there was a gender spectrum, until I started looking into transitioning myself. So I call myself a typical trans man. And I hope people don’t get offended by that this is about me. Because I’m on the flat side of the other side of the gender law of the gender spectrum. I was born a guy, and I like women, even though I was married to a man for 20 years, but don’t forget, I was married to a gay man. And that’s a whole nother story. You know, I am a guy. I like Guy things. You know, and not to be binary about it, because we all obviously, I had girlfriends in high school and grade school and I, but I, I couldn’t play with dolls. I couldn’t. I didn’t like pink. I rebelled against anything. Female Do I have a female side to me? Of course, I had test testosterone, I had oestrogen running through my body. You know, I bore two babies. I breastfed them both, which I loved, by the way. So that’s the singular. Those are the singular experiences of my body being female, that I cherish, that I wouldn’t give up for anything in the world. I wouldn’t give up being pregnant and burying my two babies. Even with Jessie dying, I wouldn’t give that up. I wouldn’t give up breastfeeding them both which I loved. Because it bonded me with my children. I feel like I have had
Cidny Bullens 29:10
I I mean with all my struggle with all of my confusion about sexuality and, and and gender and who am I and what am I and what am I going to do about it and what can I and can’t I do about it and you know, throughout my entire life being misunderstood, being misgendered being everything, you know, all of that. But I’m still grateful that I had the opportunity to bear children and to have children myself me having them me burying them. Me watching them come out. Me putting them on my chest me having my my newborns breastfeed out of my own breasts. I hated my breasts. By the way, hated them. In them every time I got out of the shower, hated them. And that was the only experience twice in my life that I felt they were useful for that I was grateful to have them for, you know, I despise them, because they were the physical presence that I looked at. Now, of course, I have other body parts, you know, I have, you know, but those to me represented the part of me that I couldn’t hide, even though I didn’t have big breasts. And my daughter says, Nobody noticed the difference. But that’s another story. And, you know, I to me, they were, you know, they were the present, they were the physical presence that couldn’t hide my entire
K Anderson 30:56
Cidny Bullens 30:59
K Anderson 31:00
So if you if we can go back to that, like getting rid of the contents of that envelope and deciding like, I can’t do this. Yeah, I’m not going to go forward with this. And how did that impact on your interpersonal relationships and romantic relationships if you were making this decision? Or was it just that you buried it so deep that it just didn’t come up on your radar?
Cidny Bullens 31:24
Well, I mean, yes, I threw them away and put that thought, a way that I could ever transition. And I kind of bumbled my way through. Now, it didn’t change the way I looked, the way I dressed or any I mean, I dressed like a guy. That’s the way I dressed unless I absolutely had to kind of dress myself up. And I don’t mean in a dress. The only time I ever wore dresses after high school after school was when I was living in Westport, Connecticut with my husband at the time and having two kids and I really made an effort in the 80s to try to be a woman. And that was like three times. And that was it. And then I finally said, I ain’t gonna happen again, because I was so uncomfortable. But anyway, back to the envelope. And back to that moment, I put them away or threw them away, and, and just put it in the back of my brain. And I as I said, I bumbled my way forward. I did not want physical, romantic relationships. Now did I want to be alone? No, I wanted somehow to have some kind of human contact with people. But I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin, that I avoided it like the plague. Now, this comes into my drug addiction and alcoholism, because I did start using drugs really heavily. I did study in which I was not in New York and acting school. I mean, I smoked marijuana and I had a few glasses of wine, but I was not addicted to anything. When I got to Los Angeles. I did my my disease, which was already there, you know, I’m sure of alcoholism and drug addiction, you know, started really progressing. And a lot of that I think had to do with my uncomfortability my discomfort with who I was. And I did, you know, have some episodes, you know, a one off here, one off there with both men and women. I mean, I wasn’t a person who went and sought out one night stands, but I would you know, if somebody had good, you know, I had one, one thing which I never talked about, because it’s I mean, I’m writing my memoir now. So you’re getting things fresh off the page. You know, I have to be honest, in this memoir, I have to dig deep. And fortunately, or unfortunately, as I’ve said, I have journals that go back 50 years. So I’m reading about myself, which is not a pretty picture back in those days. And my choices, both personally and professionally. And I’m reading about my drug addiction in my budding alcoholism and my choices and so I was not somebody who sought out one night stands I was not sexually active in the sense that I needed sexual activity. I really kind of I really wasn’t sexually driven in terms of sexual desire. I was more
Cidny Bullens 34:49
if I had an encounter with someone it was more about just physical contact. But behind that, is that I couldn’t do it without the effects of drugs and alcohol. Okay, I couldn’t be with you physically, without being under some kind of influence. I just couldn’t. So that’s a whole nother story, you know, intimacy issues and stuff like that. But it’s I think it’s all based on my physical discomfort with my body. And I, I didn’t have that much attraction to anybody. I, you know, I’m gonna say this, and I hope it doesn’t sound too, you know, egotistical or anything, but I was. I had charisma back then. And I had a look, my androgyny served me well, in terms of my appearance, my appearance served me well, my my Qi, as my wife would say, served me well. And I had, I like to say people have all four varieties attracted to me, straight men, straight women, gay men and gay men, women. I was hit on a lot. I did not respond a lot. But I was, you know, don’t forget the environment I was in. You know, it wasn’t like I was locked up in my room writing books. I was out playing, I was out performing. So don’t forget, it was the environment, everybody got hit on a lot. Anybody who was in rock and roll, so it wasn’t about me alone. You know, if you had big, big hair and wore bell bottoms and was at all attractive and was in rock and roll, you got hit on. My thing was that people didn’t know if I was a boy or a girl. Most of the time. But it’s back to your question. What did I do about it? And, and
K Anderson 36:47
and yeah, my question wasn’t necessarily about like sexual activity and having a sexual partner. It was more about, like intimacy and being open and trusting other people and whether or not that
Cidny Bullens 37:02
No, I didn’t trust anybody. No, okay. No, I mean, I trusted you, in a way I trusted you to do the right things. I trusted you to tell me the truth. But I didn’t trust giving my body to anybody. You know, I mean, if you said, you know, I know that sounds weird. But I had a naivete that I, I did trust people that they were going to be good people. Let’s put it that way. Okay. Okay. You know, but I didn’t trust if I found out that your motives were not the best. Then I was done.
K Anderson 37:45
Shall we circle back then to find out about why you chose out? So So you have this, you had these two opportunities to little known musicians that, you know, no one’s ever heard. But Bob Dylan and Elton John, and you were like, well, I could go could go without and but you decided on album, what was what was the thought process?
Cidny Bullens 38:09
It’s really very simple. I wanted to be a rock and roller. Ah, there was nobody more famous than Elton John. I, it was more internal. For me. It was more like, oh, I want to experience what it’s like to be on stage in front of 60,000 80,000 50,000 people. And Elton John. There was nobody more famous than Elton John in 1975 and 76. Nobody, not one person on earth. And I had never seen one of his shows, but I knew what they were. I knew that he had hit after hit after hit. I knew who Elton John was you kidding me rock. I mean, goodbye yellow brick road was my favourite one of my favourite albums of all time. You know, is the album that that that he was out he had just recorded rock of the Westies, which was the name of the tour that I was hired for. So I hadn’t heard those songs. It was just coming out. And goodbye yellow brick road was right before it. And Dylan I was never a huge Dylan fan even in high school. I mean, I I appreciated him. I played his songs on guitar. I you know was you know, knew that he was as influential musically as anybody in the music business. But I was not drawn to folk music. And Bob Dylan I appreciated highly. His song craft, his, you know, his impact socially. In the world, of course, I knew that I grew up in the 60s. You know, that was the year or the year, the decade of social change, I was right smack in the middle of it. So I knew his impact. But he didn’t move me in the same way got early, physically as rock and roll, and Elton moved me. And really, that’s why. Now, Bobby Neuworth will tell you I made a big mistake, you know, because he saw me as a singer, songwriter, and somebody who could make an impact in that way, which, of course, later in my life, that’s what happened to my songwriting became my ticket. But at that time, and also, I didn’t know Bob Dylan would know me today, if he fell over me. You know, I didn’t have a personal relationship with Bob, the minute ELTE walked up to me in that party. He looked me in the eye. And I knew and even after I said, my name is Cindy, even if he thought I was a young guy. He saw me and without hearing me sing. He hired me to go on the road with him. Two days later.
K Anderson 41:19
Yeah. And that’s kind of an incredible part of this story. So you were hired to be a singer without having auditioned or anything, were you kind of shitting yourself before you showed up to rehearsals that like, Oh, they’re gonna hear me and go, Oh, that’s not what I had in mind.
Cidny Bullens 41:37
Um, you know, I, of course, I was nervous, of course, you know, you’re showing up and everybody’s already been hired. And I find out later, they fired somebody, you know, to hire me. I didn’t know that at the time. I also didn’t know that in between Wednesday and Friday, when rehearsals started, that they did it, somebody must have said to me, you know, you better make sure she can sing so. So they did they confirm that I could sing, you know, I had, I had done some things. So, um, but I wasn’t so nervous that I wouldn’t perform in that way. Because I knew from my little bit of experience that I had a voice that could blend. You know, I was that’s what I was doing. I was doing background ground singing with people. So I knew that I my impact I you know, that’s probably the best quality of my voice. My voice, I don’t think is the best song solo voice in the world. It’s not, you know, it is what it is. But I’m not a great singer, you know, but, but as a background vocalist, I could blend with anybody. And I knew that I had already worked with some of the best background singers in the world. I’d already worked with Timothy Schmidt from poco, who I thought was like one of the best singers in the world. So I mean, I knew that I could sing backup. So that wasn’t nerve wracking. What was nerve wracking was walking into rehearsal with Elton John and his band, you know, and, and, and being the new kid on the block and just, and having to learn the science. These people, the new backup singers that he had hired, had had the records for weeks to learn the songs. I had literally. So Wednesday night, I meet him. Thursday afternoon, a limo pulls up in my little drunk, crack driveway off Laurel Canyon, in my little hovel, which it was this little, tiny little apartment with an orange shag rug and no bathroom door. And a limo pulls in and a guy gets out. And literally, he has a stack of Elton John albums that were in my mind a foot tall already in 1975. And he hands them to me, and the rehearsal starts the next day. So I have no time. Now I know at some of his son, you know, we hear the songs on the radio. So I know many of the songs in my mind, you know, you sing along in the radio and stuff like that, but I don’t know what part I’m singing. I don’t know. You know, all of this really old ones from 1970 You know, and stuff like that. I know more, you know, from 72 on. So I’m showing up in less than 24 hours after having the album’s dropped off to me to sing.
K Anderson 44:47
Wow. And so what do you do you remember anything about that first rehearsal?
Cidny Bullens 44:51
Yeah, I Well, I remember, you know, walking in and saying hello to everybody and being nice and You know what, what we kind of split up into groups and Davey Johnstone, who everybody knows and still without him to this day, very sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet man, he kind of because he sang to, you know, it wasn’t just the three background vocals, he he also sang on the records and onstage. So he guided us through and luckily, I’m really quick, you know, very fast. So, you know, we just got we got through it, but I was totally in awe of everything that was going on around me and trying to kind of keep my head about me so that I could learn what was going on. You know what I had to do, because God forbid, I screwed up, you know, so I was coming in kind of under the eight ball, but I you know, I did it.
K Anderson 45:56
And so do you remember that first night in San Diego?
Cidny Bullens 46:01
Oh, god, yes. I have a whole scene about it in my in my show. Well, a whole paragraph of just he he in that tour rock of the Westies tour, Elton went on first by himself. And he sang your song. So he would walk up the riser, onto the stage. So I, the first night, I thought, you know, he came out of his dressing room, I was already standing out in the hallway of the San Diego sports arena. Before they all had corporate names. And followed him quietly. I mean, I you know, didn’t touch him or talk to him or say anything. Because I wanted to see I wanted to witness and I stood below at the bottom of the riser that his piano, if you’re looking out to the audience, his piano was more stage right? The backup singers were behind him. And then the band is to his left stage left. The background singers were behind him stage right. And he goes up on stage right riser to his piano and of course you can hear the thunderous cheers, just this wall of sound from the audience. And I standing there and the lights come up of course and and it’s just otherworldly. And, of course he, we all can hear it because we all know these chords. He puts his hands on the piano. Don Don don starts playing the first few notes of your song, the crowd gets even wilder. And then he sings. It’s a little bit funny, you know, and even louder, and I’m standing down below. And maybe there were people around me, maybe they weren’t, I see myself alone. Of course there probably other people there. I was completely entranced. And listening and thinking, I’m here, this is me. I’m, I’m here, I’m witnessing this. And after he finishes a song, I walk up that riser and onto the stage. And there are no words in the English language anyway, that can describe what it’s like to walk on stage and have Elton John right in front of you. Only a few feet, maybe at the most, what, six feet, seven feet. 10 feet, not far from where I’m standing. And hearing this crowd cheering you know, beyond you know, you’ve been to a rock concert you’ve been you’ve been to these things. Well, I’m on I’m up on stage. You know, it’s another worldly experience. And I experienced that every single night for a year and a half three tours.
K Anderson 49:20
Wow. Wow. Is is what am what is some of your best memories from those tours?
Cidny Bullens 49:30
Ah, I don’t know my best memories are first of all, the most magical night of all, and I just wrote about it. My memoir was the second show of Dodger Stadium. And on October 26, the 1975 so as the last show of that particular tour, you know, we had the James Cleveland choir which was a God’s gospel choir big gospel choir at the time on stage. Billie Jean King, who was a friend of Elton’s, who I had met during the tour was up there on stage not the whole time but singing back up with us on the encores and and there were some other extraneous things for me, I was a huge sports nut, I was a huge baseball fan. So for me to be in Dodger Stadium itself was, was a thing. I mean, I ran around the bases, I walked through the dugouts, you know, these are things that were important to me, and maybe not important anybody else. But that’s show the second night especially. I can remember, I think this is the the quintessential memory of that tour was being on stage. Singing, don’t let the sun go down on me as the sun is literally setting in the bat, the way the stadium is set. The sun goes down in the middle of the bleachers in the back, you know, or in the middle. No, I think home plate anyway, the middle of the stadium, the sun goes down. So we’re looking out from the stage and in the middle of, we’re looking straight at the sun going down as we’re singing, don’t let the sun go down on me. And the audience, almost the immediate Second, it disappears behind the stadium. It seemed like 60,000 people all had lighters. And they all flicked on. Like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, at the same time the sun was going down. And they were all singing. And you could feel the hairs on the back of your neck go up. Everybody did. Everybody did. It was like we were all just levitating, including the audience off the ground. And there wasn’t a person who witnessed that who won’t tell you the same story. The of course from their own perspective, but the sense of it, the feeling of it was one of those moments in life, one of those singular moments in life where everything is perfect. And in order. And everybody is I’m going to say it, but it’s true. Everyone was at one with each other. How it was a singular moment in time. And that is what it is. That’s that’s the singular moment. That’s that’s a moment I will never forget as long as I live. Yeah, that’s that’s my big memory.
K Anderson 52:59
Do you remember what the last night that you performed on
Cidny Bullens 53:03
Madison Square Garden in 1990 9090 9076 was August, something late August, Madison Square Garden, I think we did seven nights or some stupid thing. And I can remember being now so this is late September of 76. I got sober in mid November of 76. So I was really at the end of my own battle with cocaine, which was my drug of choice. And it had impacted me throughout the tours. In terms of my mental mental state, let’s put it that way. And by the end of the larger than Concord, not quite as pretty tour we started in Europe in late March. And we really didn’t break until the end of August of the same year. So it was close to six months of constant Tory and everybody was fried. Everybody was worn out, you know, everybody was tired. And for me personally, not talking about anybody else. I was close to a breakdown because of the stress and because of my own addictions. And so for me the end i mean i i You know, the touring was was a wonderful thing, but it started everybody started getting frayed you know? And because that’s what happens you know if you if you’re you know you You’re going from one place to another to another to another, you’re on your, on your, on your, on your on Iran. And I’m only speaking for myself, I will say that everybody was tired, but only speaking for myself, I was really frayed, I was really undone and tired and was at the end of my rope with my own. And I knew I knew that I had a problem. And I was at the end of the rope with my own problem, and I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do about it. So by the end of the tour, even though the shows themselves were still inspiring, and still wonderful, and still an incredible experience, personally, I was spent. And so by the end of the last tour, the end, for me, it was a relief, to stop. And I got off the road, and within the next couple of months got my shit together, as we’ll say, and take Thank God, you know, by the grace of God, you know, I don’t know, and I don’t even know if I believe in God by the grace of something other than myself, you know, and, and support. So it was a kind of a double edged sword, or at least a dual picture for me at the end of the tours. Because while I again, while it was still incredible experience, and, and the shows were absolutely wonderful. And the experience was wonderful. I mean, Madison Square Garden, you know, the all the stuff. I was personally not in a good place. And that impacted me. And though I did my job, I felt like I was not at my best,
K Anderson 57:18
you’re just done. You’re just ready to be. Yeah.
Cidny Bullens 57:23
And but again, if I had been a sober human being clean and sober human being in the beginning, I wouldn’t have you know, so the drugs really did impact me my drug usage. And again, I only speak for myself, my drug usage, I was a drug addict. I’m an alcoholic, and a drug addict. And I’ve been sober now for almost 45 years. So November 13, will be my 45th anniversary of when I stopped. So it was a gift. To know to have that stark contrast of being in now I’m talking personally about this, but it was a gift for me to be in that stark contrast of not of a being on stage with the biggest, most famous the best, in my opinion, rock and roll solo artist of all time. And to be drowning in my own drug addiction and alcoholism, the dichotomy of the two things and, and and trying to reconcile those two things, for me, was the breaking point. And because I knew where I was, I knew what I was doing. I knew the opportunity I was being given, I knew who I was with. And yet I was dying on the inside, you know, I was I was literally I could literally have been dying on the inside. And screwing up in my own mind, not at my best not presenting. And I knew all of that. I was aware of it. So it was hard. It was hard for me and I think I do think God or the universe or whatever it is we call it when anybody calls it whatever I think something my higher power as we say in a and I am outing myself and I don’t care. After 45 years I really don’t care who knows and who doesn’t. But I really do thank let’s say the greater good for that dichotomy for that split, because had it not been so it may have taken years more for me to come to terms with my own disease.