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Not Your Average Rock Star

Freddie Mercury, Billie Jean King, and Bullens in NYC in 1976 Courtesy of Cidny Bullens

by G.W. Mercure

Cidny Bullens, the singer-songwriter and musician with a string of critically-heralded solo albums and a trajectory through the popular music world of the 1970s that makes Forrest Gump look like Emily Dickinson, has a lot to say. And he says it like a songwriter. He rolls out a damn good chorus—like, I can’t wait to get it into this story—and a few minutes later rolls it back out, its meaning clearer, its delivery and impact more dynamic, its meter tightened up a bit. When asked if he’s learned anything about the relationship between identity and the creative process, Bullens says, “I write with my experience; my experience, my talents, my art: whatever you want to call my expertise as a songwriter.”

The identity in question is complex. In 2012, Cidny Bullens became a man after living, performing, writing, singing, gaining success in the music industry, marrying, bearing children, and losing a child, all as a woman named Cindy Bullens. The question provokes the long meditation it should. As he deals around interstate traffic while traveling from Nashville, Tennessee, to Maine, decades, nuances, intricacies, memories, erupt. He is fearless in the dark canyon where the complexity of one’s identity belongs in too many ways to other people.

He does think about identity, then he doesn’t. He is a man, but he doesn’t dismiss the life he lived as a woman, even if he “never had a question ever in my life that I was born into the absolute opposite body I should have.” The “grandparent name” he is called by his granddaughter is still a feminine name and he accepts it. He reflects on how quickly the world changed for trans, LGBTQ, non-binary people, and with what strange rapidity it has begun to feel like it is changing back.

Bullens onstage with Elton Johnin 1976
Photo: Mike Hewitson

“The question again?” he says. “I’m sorry.” Hearing the question repeated, we get a perfect refrain: “I think about experiences more than I think about my own identity,” he says.

The refrain didn’t result from a search for a publication-friendly answer; the refrain resulted from a search for the truth. And that is where his rhetoric and his songwriting really cross paths—not in their tender catchiness, although both possess that, and not in their eager application of hard-won craft, although both possess that as well: in the truth. Songwriting is a puzzle for Bullens. The assembled picture isn’t always photorealistic, but it looks like the picture on the box.

“I have always written songs that have some kernel of my life,” he says. “Most of my songs are pretty close to the truth. But every once in a while, I will extrapolate a little bit from something else, but the souls of the songs that I write come from a personal place.”

Cidny Bullens performing in San Francisco in 1979
Photo: Mel Chaplowitz

Bullens ran away from home as a teenager and spent a brief spell in New York City. He later traveled to California, found songwriter and producer Bob Crewe and became his protegé. From Crewe, Bullens received expert guidance; an ability to trust musical instincts; opportunities to mingle and perform with a ceaseless list of popular music royalty; connections to Elton John (with whom he toured), Rod Stewart, and others; and an ugly cocaine habit, which he kicked.

In 1978, Bullens released the stellar solo album Desire Wire, which earned him critical acclaim and a Grammy nomination. As Cindy Bullens, he married Dan Crewe, brother to Bob Crewe, in 1979. The pair had two daughters: Reid in 1982 and Jessie in 1985.

In 1996, complications from Hodgkin lymphoma took Jessie’s life. In 2002, Crewe and Bullens divorced. In 2016, with coaching and direction from his soon-to-be wife Tanya Taylor Rubenstein, Bullens developed and debuted his “one wo/man show” Somewhere Between—Not an Ordinary Life, a modest success. In 2020, he released his first recording as Cidny Bullens, Walkin’ Through This World, which was enthusiastically received by critics and fans and will be rereleased later this year on Kill Rock Stars record label.

Author Cidny Bullens today

During the pandemic, Bullens began writing TransElectric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star, a memoir, which he’ll be reading from and discussing at East End Books Ptown this week. The book is very well written without any qualifiers. It’s not “well written for a non-writer;” it’s not “well written for a celebrity memoir:” It is just very well written and its pages sail by.

“I’ve had a very interesting life,” he says of the decision to record that life in prose. “I wrote a one-person show after I transitioned, as a precursor to the book.”

The book covers Bullens’ life from early childhood, (during which he suspected that his mother was aware even neonatally that Bullens was misgendered), through the loss of his daughter and the launch of the show. “I knew that even before I wrote the show, after I transitioned in 2012, that I had to write the book. I tried to write a book after the death of my daughter and it never came to fruition.”

Forty minutes talking with Bullens is more than enough time to learn that only a scant fraction of him can ever be truly penetrated. And the openings you can get through, well, they’re made to be sung, or told, or written.

“After I transitioned, I realized I had the arc of the story, and the end,” he says. “I mean, the impetus for the book was, I knew I had an interesting life.”

It just needed a good refrain.

Cidny Bullens will be reading from TransElectric: My Life as a Cosmic Rock Star on Thursday, July 13, 6 p.m. at East End Books Ptown, 389 Commercial St. For tickets and information call 508.413.3225 or visit

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Ginger Mountain

Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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