This week’s issue of Scene will feature an interview with transgendered singer-songwriter Baby Dee, whose new album, Safe Inside the Day, includes collaborations with indie-rock icons Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney. The CD will be released on hip indie label Drag City on January 22.
Dee talks about growing up in Cleveland, moving to NYC, returning to Cleveland, and her music. What we didn’t have room for in the feature is a rundown of Dee’s career in the circus. Here’s what she told us about it: ...
“I mostly did music, but there was a month with the Kamikaze Freakshow when I was laying on broken glass and getting concrete slabs broken over my head with a sledge hammer. I hate to think how that might have influenced me, but I guess it did. By that time, I was already pretty brassy and indestructible. Years on the street will do that to you.
“There was a wonderful vaudeville act. I can’t remember the guy’s name, but his act was for people to throw things at him -- eggs, tomatoes, that sort of thing. He had a suit made out of linoleum, and he’d hold a fork in his mouth and catch the rotten fruit as it was thrown at him.
“There was an element of that in what I did. For example, at Coney Island, my job was to convince people that I was a real bilateral hermaphrodite --there is no such thing -- and that I was going to show them my bits. Now this was a family show and besides, I would never do such a thing for less than $50. You’d be surprised how many people could be taken in. And the more I got them to believe I was going to do it, the more angry they’d be when I didn’t. So at the end of the act, I could judge the success of it by how loudly they cursed me and booed.
“I’ve shed a lot of that brassiness, but you can’t do a thing like that for years and not have it affect you. It’s a place that’s way too easy for me to go back to. I don’t go there all the time. I mean, not in every show. But that’s always an option.
“It’s like Felix the Cat and his bag of holes. That’s my hole. If I’m getting a bad vibe from the audience, or if I’m getting sick of me, I can take out the hole and jump in and hopefully climb back out for the next song. Once in a while, I’ll stay in the hole. But not for long, unless it’s a real loser of a gig -- which doesn’t happen very often. It’s fun and even necessary for me to go there sometimes, and I do it in most of my shows. I used to live in that hole.” -- Michael Gallucci