Regular readers will know of Anna Smith, this blog’s occasional Canadian correspondent. She tells me about quirky happenings over there, mostly in Vancouver, which seems to be a hotbed of the bizarre.
A couple of days ago, Anna sent me a link to a YouTube video – someone called Carole Pope singing – after a fashion – Lesbians in The Forest.
I have led a sheltered life and had never heard of Carole Pope.
“The mighty Pope?” reacted Anna, aghast. “Do you not know of her work?”
“Nope,” I told her. Never heard of her or seen her. I think maybe you had to be there.”
Anna replied: “You had to be at The Colonial Tavern, 201 Yonge Street, in 1977.”
No, I had no idea either.
I usually describe Anna as working in a bookshop in Vancouver, which she does. But she has a back-story.
This is a tiny part of it, in Anna’s own words:
In the dressing room at Le Strip, whenever we heard Carole Pope being interviewed on the CBC, the strippers would shout:
“SHUT UP, SHUT UP! It’s The POPE! The POPE! THE MIGHTY POPE!”.
We all knew her from The Colonial Tavern in Toronto. It was the first bar to open in the city after World War II. It broke the ‘colour bar’ and became a famous jazz dance venue.
By 1977, the jazz had evaporated. Newspaper ads promised: ROCK BANDS AND EXOTIC BLACK BOTTOM SERVING MAIDENS. I was one of the serving maidens, dressed in lingerie and heels, but my bottom was not black. The serving maidens also danced on stage.
The ‘house dancer’ was Hot Tamale, a robust and temperamental older Jamaican woman, who did a fire act called HOT TAMALE AND HER FLAMING BATONS .
We tried to stay out of her path because she was often in a foul mood running off the stage, sickened by the kerosene.
One quiet afternoon, I was serving beer. I could not fail to notice the band Rough Trade. It consisted of a male bass player and a shockingly sexy slender young woman with short black hair. Carole Pope. She was the first female punk singer I had ever seen, and she was a hell of a lot sexier than any of the serving maidens – whatever colour their bottoms were.
Thick with youthful ignorance, I wondered: Wait a minute – What is going on here? I am supposed to be the sexy one, She’s only a musician.
When I tell someone that I was a striptease dancer they often ask: “So, you did that thing with the pole?” And they wave their arms a bit. It is like telling people you live on a boat. They always ask: “Doesn’t the…(and then they make a rocking movement with their hands)… bother you?”
When they ask about the pole, I have to explain: “I am from before the pole. (It sounds like Beyond the Pale.) I am from before the cassette tape was invented. We had to dance to real live musicians, except in some places where we had to dance to juke boxes, which was a whole other nightmare.
One of the worst places I ever danced was a country music bar in Toronto. It was not on street level – You had to go up a flight of stairs. Everyone there looked like they had been drunk for weeks, so it was not really dangerous because they could barely stand up. They were all old people, dressed like country music fans, and – of course – smoking
I panicked a bit, trying to pick up the songs, which I didn’t know. People were lurching past me. The first song to play was Ghost Riders in the Sky, which was tolerable, I made an effort but, at some point, I ended up slowly, slowly, very slowly removing my red bra to It’s a Fine Time to Leave Me Lucille and the old people started singing to it.
It seemed like the song would never end. I felt like I wanted to die. There wasn’t even a stage in that place, I was dancing on a small parquet dance floor.
I never went back there.
But that’s why I’m fearless on stage now, having gone through that experience.
Now we jump to The Emerald Supper Club in Vancouver on 18th October 2014 – last Saturday.
I was sitting in the front row making a fuss.
Carole Pope looked a bit shaken when I yelled out: ”All the strippers in Toronto call you The Mighty Pope!!!”
I settled down eventually, after Carole started to look slightly alarmed. She has enough crazed stalker fans as it is.
So I did my best to sit quietly and leaned against the comfy shoulder of the agreeable slightly plump agoraphobic man sitting beside me whom I had never met before. His name was André.
André was eccentrically dressed, wearing a fedora, a nice navy blue woollen jacket, a steel cell phone watch and, next to that, another slender gold-lamé watch decorated with diamonds. His other hand was bandaged with tape and he was carrying a very fancy knapsack.
He said that he had met Carole Pope before – they had a photographer friend in common. He was not sure that she would remember him. He knew all the words to all her songs and sang along.
I don’t know her work that well. I just did not want to miss her performance and it certainly was not a disappointment. I laughed all the way through her satiric song Lesbians in the Forest and, halfway through her set, I applauded too hard and burst a blood vessel on my left palm. On my walk home I encountered a happily drunk sixty year old native man who was out looking for his nephew.
“What are you doing down here?” he asked me.
“Do you know Carole Pope?” I asked him.
“Of course,” he answered. “High School Confidential. Everybody knows that.”
“I saw her tonight ” I said.
“You’re kidding!” he said. “Where?”
“She gave a concert in a little club,” I said. “I clapped so hard I busted a vein in my hand.”
High School Confidential was the first song about a lesbian crush to become a mainstream hit in Canada.
That was last Saturday.
A friend just messaged me that he saw her tour bus leaving town and had been worried that I might be on it.
There is a video of High School Confidential on YouTube.
Yesterday, I sent Anna an e-mail.
“Hold on!” I said. “You wrote: That’s why I’m fearless on stage now… NOW????”
I got a reply this morning:
Did I not mention that hearing The Outbursts’ song Dead To Me compelled me to perform a striptease this August at The Flamingo Motor Inn, a place that I normally would cross four lanes of highway to avoid? It was to raise money for the children of dancers orphaned by cancer. I worked my full shift at the bookstore, took the train to Surrey (in Greater Vancouver), and had one hour to prepare for my show. I told the compere, a lady named Charlie, that I felt a bit nervous and she said: “Oh, don’t worry, you’re not on for an hour.”
Yes, I thought, but I haven’t been ON for 25 years.
Oh – Carole Pope… She was born in Manchester, England. Dusty Springfield was her partner.
In 2000, Carole Pope’s autobiography Anti-Diva included the fact that, in the early 1980s, she had been in a relationship with British singer Dusty Springfield.
There is a clip on YouTube of Carole Pope introducing Dusty Springfield singing Pope’s Softcore.
Also on YouTube, there is a cracker of a video of Carole Pope singing Lou Reed’s I’m Waiting For The Man. Not relevant, but I like it.