Lady Sings the Pinks
The first time I met Pinque, a Houston-born and -bred female vocalist, she was wearing dyed pink Doc Martens, pink pants, a white cotton shirt, checkered pink-and-white necktie, pink suspenders, a pink linen jacket and a low, wide pink cowboy hat with the left brim shaped into a vertical sweep. She wears only pink and white, on stage, at work, in the mall, at home, though when pressed, she'll admit to the occasional hard-to-avoid pastel highlight.
Actually, Pinque tells me, aside from cutesy children's-wear too small for her slim 30-year-old frame, so much pink is difficult to find. "But everything looks pink when I wear it," she says.
"I walk into a store and usually I just scan the room to see if there's any pink in it. And if there isn't, I leave." Pinque does a lot a dyeing, and if just she and her wardrobe were stranded on a desert island, she figures she could make three pink weeks of it before running out of clothes.
I hear all of this over a lunch-time interview at, duh, the Strawberry Patch.
It would be easy -- maybe too easy -- to dismiss Pinque as a color-coordinated joke. Her elaborate press kit comes through the mail in a flash of pink envelopes and folders, loopy pink handwriting on pink paper, and a phone number with a prefix I won't divulge here, though you can probably guess the word the last four digits spell. But face to face, she's not the grasping sort at all. Anyone who's ever tried to follow the one-time advice of David Byrne (one of Pinque's heroes) -- if you wear the same thing every day, people will always recognize you -- knows that the joke wears thin awfully fast. Pinque isn't joking. In fact, she doesn't even seem particularly self-conscious about what most people would call a desperate gimmick. You might say she wears it well. If this is camp, it's camp with a guilelessly straight face.
So what is the story with the pink?
"I don't know. I mean, it's not a gimmick. It's soothing, beautiful, it's gentle. It's everything I feel. It's splendid. That's what it is. Pink is splendid."
Eight rings, each set with pink ice "gems," adorn the fingers with which she holds a pink pen. In the other hand, Pinque clasps the pink "My Little Pony" lunch box that serves as her purse, containing pink address books, earrings, more pink pens and a key ring holding three different variations of plastic pink pigs. The pigs are a personal favorite, and Pinque tells me that her bedroom at home is filled with an extensive collection of stuffed porkers, and that pig is the only meat she excludes strictly from her diet.
So, is the pig thing related to the, um, color thing?
"I hadn't thought about that, but you know, I bet it is."
The word "obsessive" -- in its harmless and charming sense -- fits Pinque well, but it's not just the aggressively mild color scheme that drives her. If she's obsessive about the color, Pinque is even more dead-set on -- to use her phrase -- "making it." She sings, and she wants to be a star. She shows me a pink memento book she calls her "little star book," filled with photographs of Pinque smiling proudly beside her idols. The B-52s' Kate Pierson, Boy George, George Michael, Laurie Anderson, Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart, Bobby Brown, Patrick Swayze, Natalie Merchant, members of Erasure in drag, Howard Jones, Chris Isaak, Lene Lovitch, Katrina from Katrina and the Waves, and especially Bette Midler. Kate Bush is next on her photo-op wish list. Ask Pinque what it is about these people that sets her heart atremble, and she bubbles like a bath. They have that special something -- maybe it's star power or just star presence -- and Pinque wants it. She wants it bad. Pursuing it, she is nothing if not persistent.
She started wanting it when she was six years old, singing show tunes in talent contests with her four older sisters. Pink wasn't an all-consuming passion yet, but all five siblings -- calling themselves Little Doll -- wore their hair long enough to serve as conversation pieces. (Pinque's reaches past her waist now.) When Pinque (who absolutely refuses to tell me her real name) was twelve, the group switched from show tunes to a folk/country style, and then, around 1982, to more pop-inflected material. "I really don't like country. I'd never do that again. We didn't know anything about the record business then. I know a lot more about it now. Nobody told us we couldn't make it singing [cover songs]."
If the quintet of singing sisters with long brown hair never made it, they at least learned a lesson in perseverance from Mom, who once waited seven hours outside a studio door to hand-deliver a demo tape to The Tonight Show's Ed McMahon, who later sent a letter to the effect of no dice. On a month-long trip to Los Angeles, the family traipsed into the offices of industry mogul David Geffen, whose secretary, according to Pinque, summarily tossed the girls' press kit and demo tape of pop originals into the trash in front of their very eyes. Telling the story, Pinque doesn't sound so much like a dreamer whose hopes were crushed as she does an optimist who can't believe how naive she was in the early days.
"I didn't really believe that it was who you know. I thought it was talent. You know, we're talented, what's the problem? But a lot of it really is who you know."
Pinque knows a few more people now. Somewhere around the end of 1985, her obsession with that favorite color kicked into gear, and in 1989 she decided to pursue her receding dream solo, taking "Pinky" as her stage name. If she weren't sitting right there talking in front of you, completely earnest and almost giddy with excitement, you might think her motivations were lifted from a Hallmark card. "I just decided that if I didn't go after it, I was going to spend the rest of my life wondering "what if I'd tried?" So I decided to keep trying." Using money raised by working a string of record-store jobs and selling her 1967 Barracuda (you know what color it was), Pinky released a tape called Almost Picturesque in 1992. It received a bit of airplay on 104 KRBE and sold a few copies in local record stores. At one performance, Pinque says, she positioned pink-painted men wearing vines and crowns of roses on Roman columns to either side of her on the stage, to which she was carried by four weightlifters.
Two years later, after more record-store and window-design work and a name change ("'Pinque' is more modern, less cutesy," she says), she's trying again, having scheduled a January 27 CD release date for hush... The drama. This time around, Pinque's sentimental, atmospheric, almost inspirational dance tracks are available on CD, produced and co-written by Ken Gerhard of the local industrial dance band Bamboo Crisis. Pinque's lush vocals (she writes the words) reflect the influence of the list she handed me (on pink stationery) of her favorite singers (Midler, Bush, Anderson, Grace Jones, Jane Siberry, Annie Lennox, Liza Minnelli). She's backed up by a bank of programmed keyboard tracks and percussion, alongside honest-to-God harp, cello, violin, flute, accordion, Hammond organ, trombone, trumpet, sax and guitar. Pinque calls her music "modern vocal," which is accurate enough, but as far as airplay goes, it leans decidedly toward the dance format.
God knows who decides what "makes it" on dance-oriented radio (or how, for that matter), but hush... may hold a winner. Ironically enough, it's a remake of a country tune that enjoyed massive popularity some years back: "Beautiful Body." Remember? "If I said you had a beautiful body would you hold it against me?" There's nothing that sounds like country in either the "auntie mame radio edit" (including sampled dialogue from the movie), the "pink noise mix" or the "pink noise radio edit," but in a remake-heavy dance-radio culture that lives and dies on topically clever juxtapositions, this little gem of double-edged (if hamfisted) sexual/political commentary just might get Pinque on the air. By her own reckoning, she figures she needs to get the song played 15 times, sell about 5,000 copies, and then the major labels will come to her. And for now, a release on a major label and the money that comes with it define the next stage of "making it." With label support, Pinque says, she could really go nuts with her next project. Maybe work with an orchestra, which she's always wanted to do. Or a boys' choir.
Pinque isn't joking about the boys' choir, either. She wants to do it, and you get the feeling that, one way or another, some time or another, she will. Over lunch, she's excited, maybe even thrilled, at the prospect of an article written about her. She knows from experience how difficult it is to get coverage, and 24 years of knocking on doors has taught her that coverage equals promotion. She's friendly and chatty and apologetic for her own irrepressible digressions, and she wears a happy smile throughout. Behind that, though, is a woman who's determinedly learning what it takes to go pro, and when it comes down to the nitty-gritty details of orchestrating stage help and photo shoots, designing CD covers and hiring musicians, you can tell that Pinque is not some pastel-obsessed flake bouncing off the clouds and waiting for a break that will never come. She doesn't take no for an answer, and she doesn't say yes if yes doesn't fit her peculiar vision of art and show biz. You don't produce a CD on a record-store clerk's salary without a heavy dose of dedication and an equal shot of smarts.
The sort of irrepressible enthusiasm that's gotten her to this point has gained Pinque a lot of friends along the way, including the list of collaborators and friends who contributed their handwritten testimonials (on pink stationery) to her press kit. Words like "determination," "focus," "dedicated" and "drive" appear almost as often as "talented," "positive" and "powerful," and you get the feeling that the only thing that might stop her in her trek toward the top, whether she ever actually "makes it" or not, is a pink bus falling from the sky.
But the odds of that are even less than those of "making it" in the recording industry -- even working, as Pinque is, sans manager or agent. She's got friends in radio, friends at Rich's nightclub -- where she has performed -- a following amongst the gay community (which is thanked in the album's liner notes for its "endless, undying support"), and a commercially healthy sense of self-promotion. (I almost felt bad telling her that our interview would not result in a cover story, but, as she said, it never hurts to ask.)
According to Pinque, making it isn't everything, and she's happy just being able to sing, and to put out product that she's proud of. Though she's not working now -- spending all her time promoting the hush... project -- she likes record-store work because it keeps her close to music and allows her to keep track of her favorite artists. "Ask me anyone, I can tell you what label they're on," she says, before rattling off a list. She does admit to being a bit obsessive, but not in a harmful way. "I am. I mean, I get addicted to things. I don't drink alcohol, but I'll drink six cokes a day."
But somehow you know she'd be happier having "made it," dominating airwaves and directing boys' choirs, writing music and designing CD covers, cloaking the globe in positive pink energy -- pop music's own Christo.
"I know I'm gonna make it. I mean, I have to think that, or it wouldn't happen."
And finally, I just had to ask: Don't you ever get sick of pink?
"No, never. I just love it."
But really, haven't you ever just shut the blinds and stayed at home in, say, a red dress?
"No," she replies. "I hate red."
Pinque celebrates the release of hush... The drama at Club Hedonism, 2401 San Jacinto, on Thursday, January 27. Call 759-9606 for info.
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