Sexual conservatism takes one in the jaw
Baby Dee, god bless her harangued soul, may never grant an interview that does not include a line of questions about her gender transformation. And maybe her music will always play first wife to her long hair, lipstick, big hands and tits. That’s a shame. Because, in spite of everything we’ve achieved as an evolved homogenised society; and contrary to the advances of women, the potential emergence of Hilldawg as the most powerful leader of the world; the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, Ladyfests and all that hooey, we’re still just a bunch of school-yard kids getting cheap thrills debating the absence or presence of willies.
“I’d rather not get into that,” says Baby Dee. The sex-op that is, but a biography can make a musician and Baby Dee, aka Pinky Pinky Pinky, ex-tree surgeon, ex-organist, ex lap-dancer and ex-man has a story big enough for her own scene.
“I was kind of a bum, musically, and decided to become musically literate. So I took a class and I don’t know why but I became fascinated by Gregorian Chants. I became really obsessed with that type of music, and that’s what got me sort of singing. But I’d never really thought of myself as a singer.”
It’s Baby Dee’s voice that’ll either suck you in or spit you out. Hard to describe but here goes anyway: think of Fagan from Oliver Twist, Tom Waits, Joanna Newsom, the boys who were thrown out of choir for taking the piss, the low end notes on a tumble dryer, the sound of this symbol: Ω and that other ambiguous New York character, Antony.
“I never really got too far beyond Bach,” she says talking about those classes. And eventually graduated as an organist taking a job in a church in the South Bronx. Then Baby Dee had her Paul on the road to Damascus moment and realised that her vocation lay in being a woman rather than a man. “When I realised I was a tranny I had to do something about it and that was the end of my career in the church.”
‘Jesus got a plan for you. He’s gonna fry your fat ass in hell,’ is the line in Baby Dee’s The Song of God’s Great Plan.
‘What does a hooker know about loving?’ is another line from another song. “I turned a few tricks,” she says, “I had my time, not particularly successful at it. Lucky for me because if I’d been better looking I probably would have gone down the tubes.”
For someone so candid lyrically, Baby Dee is quite shy in real life, and on stage comes across like your nine-year-old niece who’s been rehearsing her party piece in her bedroom for six months but never imagined she’d be called upon to perform. It’s endearing. Crowds love her, as she ambles across small stages in odd, torn socks, from her harp to her keyboard, and then back to her harp again. I guess it’s because she’s gracious. She didn’t get her first band until she was in her fifties, and would probably have never been doing this interview if it hadn’t been for a certain Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy coming along to one of her shows and convincing her to make a record. For someone who previously had only been accepted in the entertainment world in freak shows, riding tricycles and going under the description of a ‘Bilateral Hermaphrodite’, to be treated like an artist must be a whole lot of vindication, and none too soon either. If music has the power to transport then most of what we hear today gets you about as far as an elephant on rusty rollerblades; Baby Dee shoots you out of a cannon into a completely different world.
She’s now 53. She drinks Scotch on the rocks, smokes Old Holburn tobacco that she rolls too loose to stay lit and wears a combination of Dalmatian and leopard print, fleece and hiking boots, with her dyed red hair pulled back tight inside a hood. Her only makeup is a thin line of red lipstick. She’s tall. A good three inches over six foot, with shoulders that look like they could carry grown men out of burning buildings. Baby Dee can handle herself, which is good because she stands out. On the day we meet, in a beer garden of a hotel, packed with tracksuits on £1Ryanair flights from some god-awful place like Hull or Wolverhampton, every head turns and it’s a bit hairy. Baby Dee doesn’t seem to notice and when asked about her role as a famous transsexual replies, “I’m not the spokesperson type,” she says. “I just do my part.”