I didn’t know what to make of Pete Burns the first time I encountered him in the video for Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me ‘Round (Like a Record)”.
Boy George and Annie Lennox had already blurred the androgyny lines in the years leading up to Dead or Alive’s debut, but Burns took it a step further. His rough baritone stood in sharp contrast to Boy George’s soulful tenor. He shook his hips and wagged his finger like a woman, but the eye patch and black clothing made you think he could kick your ass in the alley.
If I had been better conditioned to internalize my homophobia, I would have been repulsed by Burns’ feminine wiles. Instead, I would mimic his moves in front of the radio.
He was confusing, and that confusion was fascinating. He was scary and inspiring, no doubt offensive to my Catholic family to whom he would have probably given zero fucks.
I thought about buying Youthquake when it came out, but I wanted to make sure it had at least two other hits before I sank my allowance on it. Dead or Alive would score a second hit in the US with “Brand New Lover” on the following album, Mad, Bad and Dangerous. By then, I had already cycled through urban radio before eventually settling on college rock.
But I made sure to at least own “You Spin Me ‘Round” on 7-inch.
Over the years, I would encounter Pete Burns and shake my head over the transformation in his appearance. In my mind, he was a skilled acrobat on the thin edge of masculine and feminine, but he obviously disagreed.
Despite all the loss in 2016, Burns is the closest to home the Reaper’s scythe had hit. Prince was my brother’s artist, and David Bowie was once-removed in his influence on my life. Burns, however, was one of the first signals that I would not lead the heteronormative life of a first generation Filipino son.
Looking back on it now, he was probably the first public figure to plant the idea in my mind that being queer was not only acceptable but a source of strength. Yeah, you could be a sissy but a sissy who could kick someone’s ass in the alley.