Big Titty Bee Girl | Out Magazine

Big Titty Bee Girl

Big Titty Bee Girl

In the last decade or so, Baby Dee has been a church organist, a YMCA lifeguard, a topless dancer at New York City queer nightclub Pyramid, a tricycle-riding accordionist, and the owner of a tree-trimming business in Cleveland. The self-proclaimed "dime-a-dozen tranny" -- who used to pedal on her trike through the streets of lower Manhattan in the mid 90s, impersonating Shirley Temple while plucking her harp -- has released a new album, Safe Inside the Day, a spare piano-and-string-driven collection of boozy blues and tavern ditties. She may be a bit more introspective and grounded now, but Dee still has a wicked sense of humor, as demonstrated by the albums bawdy vaudevillian sing-along "Big Titty Bee Girl." Out caught up with the eccentric chanteuse to chat about the afterlife, crowbar obsessions, and X-rated puppet shows.

You just got back from Valencia, where you were performing with Marc Almond (formerly of Soft Cell).
Yeah, he does two kinds of shows these days: one with a rock band, where he shakes his hips, and then a show thats all torch songs and ballads, more like a dark cabaret. He likes me for those shows. He covers some of my songs. At the Royal Albert Hall, I started his show with a couple of my songs, and then on my third song, Safe Inside the Day, he came out and sang with me. It was our first time singing it together. It was like a dream.

I had an interesting introduction to you. I caught some YouTube clips on Brainwashed where you described a Christmas Eve performance at the Pyramid with an obese woman in a diaper, playing baby Jesus. She was covered in chocolate cake. Its a great summary of how crazy you are.
This was 95 or 96. It was a set of performances started with this woman named Otter, but then she went to Amsterdam, and a tranny named Gloria Hole took it over. Shes the person who named me Baby Dee. She was a nightclub performer and an astrologer.

What was your attraction to the tricycle and Shirley Temple costume you used to wear when you performed?
Well, I had a whole career as an organist in a church, which is probably a large percentage of your readership [laughing], but not too many of those organists are trannies, so I had to change jobs. It was a Catholic church in the south Bronx, so I left and started dancing topless at the Pyramid. [When you want to transition], you have to hold down a job for a year as a woman before you can do the surgery. So I was a lifeguard at a YMCA in Chelsea. Id be on the bar dancing at night, and then Id come home from the pool in the morning. One of those mornings, I was sitting up there watching people swim up and down, and I had this idea of having a big tricycle that I could carry my harp around on. The tricycle would have to be really tall -- I wanted to be up very high -- and I wanted to be a cat. I was completely broke, but I had a harp. I borrowed the money from my mother and had designer George Bliss create it. It was better than my vision -- it was one of the most beautiful things Id ever seen. People just loved it.

You called yourself a hermaphrodite...
I wasnt born a hermaphrodite. That was a whole sideshow bit, but you never tell anyone whos not a sideshow person the truth about anything. I felt obliged to stick to the rules, so I told people I was a hermaphrodite. I dont have to tell that lie anymore. I wasnt a real hermaphrodite, just a dime-a-dozen tranny.

When did you have the surgery?
That would have been the early nineties.

And what about Shirley Temple?
I just love her. I have this friend Victoria Roberts, whos a cartoonist for The New Yorker, and she wanted to do a Shirley Temple show. This was back when Jackie 60 [in New York] was the coolest nightclub that ever existed. There was this wonderful weekly show called Biography, which was brilliantly fun. Victoria couldnt do it, so I did it myself. Very fabulous people were in it, like Antony [of Antony and the Johnsons] and Amanda Lepore. I got crazy for Shirley Temple and got an outfit made. I found a dress the size to fit a baby, then I found a doll, then I sawed the dolls head off. I felt kinda strange. Then I tied the doll around my neck and had black behind me, so it was my head with a puppet -- it was a puppet show. Then I had a larger version of the dress made to fit me. The big finale of the show was particularly wonderful. Shirley Temple became a politician -- a right wing, scary one. One time she ran for office. She gave a speech during the Vietnam War, and it culminated in the phrase Bomb Hanoi! She was too scary, even for right wing California voters. So I had this idea to have this Vietnamese go-go dancer -- who was a very good tap dancer -- dressed in fake napalm. At the end, I was Shirley Temple giving the speech Bomb Hanoi, then bombs started, and a napalm-singed naked girl -- well, naked except for the tap shoes -- joined hands with me and we sang Be optimistic. It was a great end to the show.

What instruments did you play on your new album, Safe Inside the Day?
Well, the songs were written for piano, so thats me playing the piano. Then I play a little bit of harp too. At the end of The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities I play a little arpeggio. Also, I play harp on a couple of the instrumentals.

Whats the significance of the records title?
Its about the inside being more important than the outside. Some of the songs are very, very dark, but I feel that they happened in the context of a larger good feeling that encompasses the album. The title song is a gospel song about getting to heaven, except its not about getting to heaven -- its about having already been there. If there is a heaven, it should have something to do with life on Earth. I always get willies when they talk about the Second Coming and the afterlife. I got to a point where I realized that I didnt want to live forever, and then not at all, which is really a shame. The whole point of the song is the lyric Ill live another day, which can be the afterlife or actually another day. At one point in my life, one seemed as likely as the other. But to me, its a very positive song.

It seems like you were navigating through this dark period while writing the album. In your press release, you say, I didnt like where it was leading me. I wanted to go someplace good, but each step led me back to the bad place, the place I didnt want to go. What was this bad place?
One of the songs, Fresh Out of Candles, explains how everyone has these moments of great epiphany. This was a dark version of one of those moments. I finally had this breakthrough that I was fresh out of candles and that there was no light. That was the place where I was at, but a real, honest darkness is better than a false light. There are a lot of terrible truths on this album. I didnt want to write these songs, and I didnt want to take anyone else there either, so I didnt do any new stuff in a few years.

Why did you keep finding yourself in that dark place?
It was inevitable. I had deaths in the family. But I had to go there. The best thing for me was to do the album. Fresh Out of Candles was the one song I didnt want to do, even when we got to the studio. But I sat at the piano and let [the albums producer] Matt Sweeney find the groove. This song I couldnt stand, I really started to love it. Its got to be one of the darkest things ever written, but somehow it doesnt leave me in a dark place. I set out to create this hopeless story, but somehow its not so bad.

Some of the material is autobiographical. In The Only Bones That Show you reference your stint as a tree trimmer. This was in Cleveland?
Yeah, I started climbing the trees in early 2002.

What exactly would you do?
In Cleveland you have big trees in residential areas, so the trees basically have to be cut down. Sometimes you have to climb it and take it down bit by bit. At that insane time in my life I realized I really wanted to do it. It was the biggest change Id ever made -- to change myself from a hermaphrodite on a tall tricycle into a tree climber. It was a tall order. A lot of the crazy things Ive done, the only thing they all have in common is that Ive always been up high. At the church organ, when I was dancing on the bar, on the tricycle, as a tree climber. I just loved being up high. I wanted to have a pedal-powered blimp that would hold me and my tricycle, and then I would land in New York City. I had plans made, but then I let it go.

Have you given up that dream for good?
I think Im getting a little bit long in the tooth for that kind of exploit. If I had money to burn, Id probably do it. Never say never.

The highlight of the album for me is Big Titty Bee Girl (From Dino Town)." Where did you find the inspiration for this song?
I love bees. Theyre the best critters in the world, selfless, beautiful little creatures. So I wrote songs about them. My friends grandfather was a beekeeper, so we decided to do this puppet show about bees for children. We went to Vancouver to workshop it, and after it was over we went on a camping trip. We were driving along the road and thought that we should do an X-rated version of the show. I said we should call ourselves the Big Titty Bee Girls, and just at that moment we were passing a billboard for this roadside attraction for kids called Dinotown, with concrete dinosaurs or something. So I came up with the song Big Titty Bee Girl (from Dino Town).

And what about the albino you mention in the song?
I had to find something to rhyme with the lyrics Big Titty Bee Girl from Dino Town. I was pumping gas on the way to Seattle, and it just came to me, like Mozart seeing his symphonies: You just cant keep a good albino down. Then I thought of all the things you can do to an albino, but you just cant keep him down. I wanted to reach out to the albino community in friendship. Its a celebration of the albinos stoicism [cackling].

And what about your fathers Freudian crowbar obsession in The Dance of Diminishing Possibilities?
That is absolutely true. When I was a child, he had a collection of crowbars that he prized above all other things. It was the center of his life. He worked on a railroad, and I think he stole them. He had about a dozen of them. [One day], he and our neighbors demolished this piano with his crowbars. I watched them do it. They didnt want it, so they just dragged it onto the lawn. Picture these grizzly bums from across the street in their dirty T-shirts with sledgehammers demolishing a piano. Then theres this little kid standing there with toenails painted red, fumbling with the [parts] left behind.

Check out Baby Dees performance of Big Titty Bee Girl (From Dino Town)" in Dusseldorf, Germany, here.

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