POET OF THE PEOPLE PAM AYRES VISITS SYDNEY NEXT MONTH, JUST IN TIME FOR TIM BENZIE TO FULFIL A LIFELONG DREAM -“ TO MAKE HER A GAY ICON.
Everyone thinks I’m crazy. It takes a certain something to make a celebrity into a gay icon and the general consensus around the office is that Pam Ayres doesn’t make the list. Kylie, Lady Diana, Judy and Cher certainly, but not the author and performer of poems such as I Fell For A Black And White Minstrel and Thoughts Of A Late Night Knitter.
But I think Pam Ayres should be part of that list. I grew up with Ayres and despite the fact that her verse is more Joyce Grenfell than Dorothy Porter, I remember feeling as an eight-year-old that she was hilarious. And back in the 70s she was certainly camp, but in a Nana Mouskouri way -“ understated yet boldly weird.
On the phone with Ayres in Perth, I decide to ask something of a secret quiz, to test her suitability before hitting her head-on with the question of gay icon suitability.
Here are my seven reasons why Pam Ayres should be a gay icon:
1. She hates doing the same material over and over, and likes to deal with current issues and trends in her work (like Madonna).
The one thing I hate is the idea of traipsing around with the same old show. I try never ever to do that. However, there are certain pieces, such as I Wish I’d Looked After Me Teeth which is an evergreen and which people always like to hear. So there are certain ones that I always keep in. But there aren’t many of those and I try to vary it.
2. She’s edgy, but not too edgy (again, like Madonna).
Sometimes people take offence at strange things really. I’ve got a poem called The Ballad Of Bill Spinks’ Bedstead -¦ It’s a complete flight of the imagination about a guy who buys a bed -“ although it does have a rubber blow-up woman in it. I know somebody wrote in and said it was disgusting -¦ but you can’t cater for everybody’s taste.
3. She’s unpretentious about her art and not afraid to embrace her pop status (like Kylie).
I don’t feel qualified to be called a poet. I’m not saying that what I do is any easier, I just think it’s very different, because my goal is to try and make my audience laugh. My goal is to make my audience think, -˜I know what she’s talking about. I’ve been there, I’ve done that,’ and give them a good laugh.
4. She can’t sing. (Insert any gay icon here.)
I wouldn’t ask people to pay good money to hear it, Tim.
5. She’s not entirely without a sense of politics, and can be sensitive to issues of cultural difference (like Lady Di).
There is one [poem] that I wouldn’t now use, and that’s my poem about Ayers Rock. Because when I first came to Australia 25 years ago, the attitude towards Ayers Rock was very different to the attitude that prevails today. It was easily accessible and people used to swarm up Ayers Rock and you could camp right at the very base of it. It was not revered in the way that it is today. So I wouldn’t do my poem because I feel that things have moved on and people’s feelings towards it have changed.
6. She goes to the gym. (Well, she tried.)
My husband and I joined a gym, and like a lot of people do, we had a few weeks full of ideals, fired up with this idea to get fit and stay fit and ripple with these finely-tuned muscles and like many people we fell by the wayside. And I wrote Will I Have To Be Sexy At Sixty? as a kind of lament at being a dismal failure at the gym.
7. People (men and women) have impersonated her.
I think there are scores of people, particularly when I first started what I do now, who got dressed up as Pam Ayres and did impersonations. There were thousands of them, because I had a very distinctive hairstyle, like Cleopatra you know, very straight and shiny -¦ and I have got a very distinctive accent and I performed a great deal of verse. So it was the most obvious thing for people to impersonate -¦ I’m not sure that I would say they were in drag, they’d get into a kind of Laura Ashley dress with a high collar and a long skirt.
This last point I thought was particularly astute: Ms Ayres didn’t consider it to be drag because the dress would have to be Laura Ashley. Nice.
And so I said to Ayres that given our readership, I would try and make her into a gay icon and would that be all right?
Yes, thank you very much, she laughed.
You see? Gay culture, kids -“ it’s all about stretching boundaries.
Pam Ayres will be performing at the York Theatre, Seymour Centre, Cleveland Street, Chippendale, on Friday 7 March at 8pm. Tickets are $59 and can be booked on 9351 7940.