Toronto
5 min

Carole & Dusty between albums

A tale of stage drag, robbers, stalkers & a funeral

PUERTO RICAN DRAG QUEEN. Two divas, Dusty Springfield and Carole Pope, settle in Cabbagetown. Credit: Xtra files

In 2000 I wrote anautobiography entitled Anti Diva. Once you start writing about your life, it’s like opening the floodgates of hell. You can’t stop. Long after the book has gone to press, you’re in perpetual flashback mode. You ask yourself, “How could I have forgotten that?”



Here are more of my memories about living with and loving Dusty Springfield. Dusty and I met in 1981 at the Grand Finale in New York where she was performing. Springfield’s voice, liquid, incandescent and shimmering with emotion, held the audience inits thrall. Her songs were mini dramas, charting the euphoria of love and the heartbreak of its loss.



After the show, I went to Dusty’s dressing-room and was confronted by the heavily made-up, sequin-clad Springfield. I was instantly drawn to her bursts of brilliance and very British warped sense of humour. Dusty was self-deprecating about her appearance and stage drag. Surveying herself in the dressing-room mirror she said, “I look like a Puerto Rican drag queen.” I thought she was hot. Her speaking voice was as sensual as her singing voice.



I was just coming off the high of my band Rough Trade’s first platinum album. Dusty’s career was in limbo. She was between albums and frustrated with the industry. That meeting was the beginning of a tempestuous affair that would last for 18 months. Dusty came to live with me in Toronto. After all, we’d been on two dates, and that is tantamount to marriage in the lesbo world.



I gave up my swinging bachelorette pad on Earl St, and rented a house in the insipidly trendy and bucolic Cabbagetown. Not a pretty name. It originated, so they say, because of the vegetable gardens planted by the wave of Anglo-Celtic immigrants who settled there, downwind from the mansions of Rosedale, in the late 1800s. We lived at 10 Geneva Ave, which is bordered by a park. I liked the sense of history in Cabbagetown, the Victorian mansions and the Necropolis cemetery, where William Lyon Mackenzie lies among Canadian pioneers.



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As soon as Dusty moved in, we went to the Riverdale Farm so Dusty could bond with the critters. In Dusty’s opinion, humans were secondary to animals. She had a point. As we petted every beast in sight, Dusty told me the animal she thought she resembled most was the Shetland pony. When I asked her why, she said they shared the same hairstyle and personality.



We went food shopping in our new ‘hood. The closest store was an expensive and pretentious joint which was all style and no substance. Dusty loved to eat. It was a sensual experience for her. Our eyes locked in mutual desire. The lack of food selection was an excuse to hoof it over to our favourite hang, The Courtyard Café in the Windsor Arms Hotel. It was open late and Richard Burton might be dining with Tatum O’Neal, or Patti Smith might be slouched in a corner munching on a carrot stick. You never knew.



Our bedroom was located on the second floor of the house, and was one of the only rooms that was together. I was not crazy about Dusty’s collection of Paddington bears, which if left unchecked, threatened to take over the room. When it came to décor, I wanted minimalism, but too bad for me. The living-room was surrounded by chaos. We never really unpacked everything. It mirrored the state of our relationship.



We experienced our own version of the panic room. Dusty was one of those women, and there have been many, who have to have the bed made up perfectly, with hospital corners and 5,000 pillows. She would jokingly bounce a quarter off the bed when I made it. The room had to be hermetically sealed so that no light came in. One night Dusty woke me out of a deep sleep whispering, “There’s someone in the room. Don’t you see him standing there?”



I was a) myopic and b) in a stupor. I stared bleary-eyed into the darkness, and said, “No, honey, there’s no one there. You’re dreaming go back to sleep.”



“Are you sure?”



I got up, walked around the room, peered into the darkness once more and told Dusty everything was fine.



There had been someone there, as we discovered in the morning. Our wallets had been stolen and some man had been watching us while we slept. We felt thoroughly creeped out and violated.



We called the police and Const Richard Crooks, one of Dan Aykroyd’s good pals, came over and checked out the house, especially the living-room windows. He told us that a gang of boys had been robbing people in our ‘hood. The pre-teen felons crawled into windows too small for a full-grown thief to drag his ass through. Dusty was freaked out, but I’d been robbed before, so I thought I’d check out the crime scene myself.



Later that day I took a walk in the ravine near our house. There’s always a ravine. There’s got to be someplace to dump the bodies. I found our wallets tossed in the snow. Amazingly, our IDs and credit cards were there but our money was gone.



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Needless to say we were paranoid from then on. We were both really pissed about being robbed. It was bad enough dealing with our stalker groupies.



They’d banded together and were staking out our house 24/7. These losers would wait for us to walk out the door and tail us. We’d be walking along and some scary chick in a Gremlin would drive along slowly beside us. I’d been stalked for years. My first fan/psychopath “Babe” (she wasn’t) would toss used tampons through my mail slot. Without fail stalkers are obsessed with conspiracy theories. They thrust reams of evidence in front of you, 500 pages of diagrams and calligraphy they’ve painstakingly slaved over. Do not. I repeat, do not accept anything from them.



Pretty much for our own amusement, we decided to build a burglar alarm utilizing common household objects. Dusty went to the kitchen and started pulling cutlery out of a drawer. I got some coat-hangers and string. We constructed a macramé-like system of trip-wires that would alert us to any further attempted home invasions. We hung on it on the front door. You can’t say we weren’t resourceful.



We had to laugh any time someone came to the door. One knock would set the spoons and coat hangers in motion. It was fucking noisy, and sometimes our visitors would get tangled up in the mess. Delivery people looked at us like we were insane and Dusty’s temperamental cat Moomin was always setting it off. Eventually we heard the slimy little robber boys had been caught and we deconstructed our alarm system.



Dusty went off to LA to begin work on a new album. Not surprisingly, the project turned into high drama. That, and Dusty’s substance abuse problems, caused our now tenuous relationship to fall apart. Dusty and I kept in touch over the years, and one awful day I found myself at her funeral. She died of breast cancer in 1999.



At a reception after the funeral I met the Pet Shop Boys, who knew all about my relationship with Dust (as they called her). They invited me to the Groucho Club later on that night. I sat at an eclectic round table of middle-aged Youth Quakers, trendy models and British eccentrics. We held an Irish wake lasting until dawn, sharing stories and drinking toasts to Dusty and her profound impact on our lives.