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The Fantastic Baby Dee

February 7, 2008

If you were British in 1994 you might remember the terrible chart-topping techno single Let Me Be Your Fantasy, by some nobs who went by the name Baby D. Last night I was happy to see and hear a very different, and altogether more fantastical type of Baby Dee, in the shape and sound of the Cleveland-via-Coney Island singer-songwriter who performed her camp and sincere songs at Toronto’s Drake Hotel last night. (Of course performing at The Drake is a blessing and a curse — you get a gorgeous atmospheric room, but you also get at least some of Toronto’s worst fops paying stupid money for drinks — but that’s by the bye.)


I’ve also been listening to Baby Dee’s new album Safe Inside The Day for most of this week, so I’ve had time to think about her songs and the way the arrangements allow room for her big delivery. As well as performing with Current 93, she played the harp on the first Antony and the Johnsons record, which might tell you something. I wouldn’t want to make easy comparisons based solely on (trans)gender (Baby Dee is a transsexual artist, Antony spend much of his I Am A Bird Now album exploring transgender issues — you get the point) but there are some meaningful similarities. Plenty of Baby Dee’s songs, like Antony’s, place the singer as — well, as a baby, or at least a child, remarking on an adult world of daddies and mothers and brothers and phantasms. And you get the sense that there’s a child’s world being sheltered from all of this with the exaggerated strength of the performance. Baby Dee’s basically a cabaret singer, but it’s a strangely private cabaret that’s being played. So in performance last night, she swayed about and cackled amiably between songs, but most of her singing was done turned away from the audience with her pink hair covering her face. All this came across, needless to say, with a great deal of charm.

And, as with Antony, there are plenty of weird lapses into confused Catholicism in Baby Dee’s songs, although Baby Dee is more likely to probe Catholicism for its inherent campness (take a song like Fresh Out of Candles). Maybe this is just a Baby trying Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers on for size, in some kind of grotesque enlargement of the family structures already discussed. If you want to say something tenderly, privately, sincerely, camp and comic exaggeration are a good place to start.


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