1939-1999. Real name: Mary O'Brien; surname came from being a member of The Springfields (of "Silver Threads and Golden Needles" semi-fame). An unfairly semi-forgotten member of the pantheon of soul music divas (being British didn't help), coaxed back into the limelight in the 80s by the Pet Shop Boys' "What Have I Done to Deserve This?", she made the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 60s classics like "Son of a Preacher Man" (done on a pilgrimage to Memphis) and "Wishin' and Hopin'".

I have never been able to understand why Dusty Springfield is not a massive and enduring gay icon. In my thirty-something crowd, the announcement of her death from breast cancer on 2 March 1999 was met with a combination of faint recognition and less faint disinterest. I ask you, why? Her bleached beehive, panda eye makeup, diner waitress, trailer trash come-hither look on the cover of the must-have "Dusty In Memphis" album is in line with gay sensibilities à la John Waters, and the explicit deflowering storyline in her trademark "Son of a Preacher Man" (for those of you who arrived too late to catch the the Dusty wagon, it’s on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack) is one of the most overlooked potential drag standards. For drama queens, there is the appeal of her fifteen-year stint in the USA, troubled by drugs and drink when she moved to L.A. in 1972 (Valley of the Dolls, anyone?).

Born Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien in the cushy London neighbourhood of Hampstead, she was unable to shake her feelings of blandness entrenched by an English middle-class upbringing. She once told Britain’s Mail on Sunday that at sixteen, she looked in the mirror and said to herself, "Be miserable or become someone else." Armed with this attitude, Dusty Springfield was born and became second only to Janis Joplin among White Women With Soul. She spanned a career of hits starting with 1964’s "I only want to be with you", and was still crooning seductively in her 1987 duet with the Pet Shop Boys, "What have I done to deserve this." Dubbed Britain’s best pop singer by Rolling Stone, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and honoured with the Order of the British Empire in shortly before she expired. Perhaps it is her reluctance to talk about rumours of her bisexuality or her alleged relationship with Carole Pope which has caused some in the gay community to shun her. But for those of you who want to find out more, two books of interest came out in 2001: The Complete Dusty Springfield, and an authorized biography entitled Dancing With Demons.

Dusty Springfield
"Bismillah! We will not let you go"

A few hours have passed since I last pressed by eyebrow against a piece of wood, and I can see lights in the distance. Today I would like to talk to you about Dusty Springfield, because she is in the newspaper. There is a photograph of her, performing one of her songs on Top of the Pops, in black and white. She has catalysed my thoughts, and I would like to talk to you about her. I would like to share with you my subjective thoughts and impressions of Dusty Springfield. She is to me as a springboard to a diver. I am uninterested in springboards; it is the thrill of the dive that drives me. Join me as I dive into the turbulent waters of my mind.

But first, I would like to discuss with you the nature of history and also of facts. I am part of a generation that has grown up with the internet, and as a consequence of this I have no respect for the supposed permanence and objectivity of facts. History is built on shifting sands. There are fads and fashions in history just as there are fads in fashion. The past is continually rewritten, revised, and re-evaluated to fit the prevailing ideology of the present day. As of today it is still possible to know Dusty Springfield's date of birth, which is cited all over the internet as April the 16th, 1939. I believe that, as time goes by, this date will become increasingly uncertain. The natural process whereby history simplifies itself over time will eventually condense that date to simply 1939; and where does this piece of information come from? Presumably there is an official British government record of Dusty Springfield's birth, although it is not available online. Eventually no-one will care to find out when Dusty Springfield was born. A hundred years from now all the books about Dusty Springfield will be out of print, and everyone who met her will be dead. The only source of information about Dusty Springfield will be the internet, and the internet is a grinding chomping chewing mouth that guzzles facts and chews them up and regurgitates them as mush. A hundred years from now Dusty Springfield will be as relevant to modern society as Archie the Robot is relevant to our society. History panel-beats facts into new shapes and forms.

It is futile to write about facts, because facts die or become twisted and misremembered. A long time ago I believe that facts were superior to feelings and impressions, because I am a man and I naturally value facts, because facts are masculine. They are brutal and hard. Emotions are feminine, and men do not have emotions, other than anger and triumph. But I am not just a man, I am also a writer, and I believe that it is more wise to write about subjective feelings and impressions than it is to write about facts, because feelings and emotions remain the same forever. The love I feel is the same love that ancient Romans felt. I would rather read about feelings and impressions because I can empathise with them and feel them myself. I cannot tell if a fact about flying boats or aluminium or the Korean War is true because I was not there, but I can feel love and hate and fear, I know them to be true. It is therefore a shame that feelings and impressions rarely appear in history books. History books instead strive to present an objective description of past events, with some contemporary analysis and hindsight and context. History writers try very hard to use a transparent, objective voice. History books sometimes quote letters written by ordinary people, but they are either stiff and poorly-written (such as letters sent home by soldiers), or overcomplicated and insincere (such as letters written by ambassadors and statesmen).

Immediately there is a problem. On the one hand, I would like to know what people felt about the past. I would like to know what Dusty Springfield meant to the people of 1960, or 1970. Specifically, I would like to know what Dusty Springfield meant to people who were not fans of pop music, to people who did not write for newspapers or magazines, people who did not write down their thoughts, because they did not consider them important. What did Dusty Springfield mean to people who were not interested in Dusty Springfield, a constituency that surely represents the majority of all people alive in the past? The problem with newspaper columns and record reviews is that they are written by interested parties. Professional celebrity writers have an opinion on every topic under the sun, but their opinions are skewed to please an audience, to project authority or intelligence, or to impress the writer's peer group. I am not interested in the processed thoughts of a tiny elite of newspaper columnists. The same is true of modern-day internet writers. They hide their cards. They wear a mask, and speak with an affected accent. They have obsessions that cloud their vision. They are insincere, and frightened of human contact; if they were not, they would not hide behind the internet.

And yet the vox pop interviews from old television news programmes illustrate why I will never be satisfied. When asked for his opinion on a topic, the average passer-by will stop and think, and try to seem clever and informed, and he will blather. It takes a brave man to admit to not having an opinion, or to share an obviously facile or trivial opinion, and there are very few brave men in the world today. We do not live in a passionate age. "''The present age is one of understanding, of reflection, devoid of passion, an age which flies into enthusiasm for a moment only to decline back into indolence.''" People will go to great lengths to be on television, people will lie and fabricate to be on television, to be preserved and projected on television. And yet it cannot be the case that everybody has an informed opinion on every topic. I do not have an informed opinion on every topic and I am an average person. Many things do not interest me at all, but I nonetheless function in society.

I shall share with you an example of what I mean. It will quickly become dated, and I will have to rewrite it in the future. Guantanamo bay. It is the name of an American army camp in Cuba. It is currently being used to house prisoners in an ongoing war against terror. It is a controversial place. But rarely a week goes by during which I think about Guantanamo bay. It is as important to me as the country of Chad, in the sense that I know it exists, but I do not think about it. Guantanamo bay does not interest me. There is no reason why it should. If a television camera crew was to stop me in the street and ask me for my opinion on Guantanamo bay I would reply that I do not have an opinion on Guantanamo bay; not that I have a negative opinion, or that I choose to have no opinion, but that it simply is not a part of my life, just as Chad is not a part of your life. And the television camera crew would move on to someone else. My unconcern would not be recorded by history, except as a novelty, or as a means of mocking me for being out of touch. For the record, I also did not have an opinion about O J Simpson. A few years from now I will replace the words "Guantanamo bay" with "Rhodesia" or "Jeremy Thorpe" or "the Schleswig-Holstein question" just to point out the transient nature of current affairs.

I believe that most people do not have an opinion on a given topic, and that the majority of those people who claim to have an opinion either do not have a particularly deep opinion, or they are generating an opinion for the benefit of the moment, because they do not want to appear ignorant, or uninformed, or boorish, or shallow, and this is also the case with most other topics that are of the moment. A few short months ago Robert Mugabe's actions in Zimbabwe were a hot topic amongst the opinionated, and now they are not. His persecution of white farmers infuriated conservatives. His destruction of shanty towns infuriated everyone else. Nowadays he is no longer a hot-button issue. One day he will die and be forgotten. Yahoo's collusion with the Chinese secret service is less a hot topic now than it was a few weeks ago. The rosy glow surrounding third world debt as a fashionable cause is wearing off. AIDS is no longer fashionable as a western disease; westerners who suffer from AIDS are no longer treated as if they are victims. AIDS is now only fashionable when it is combined with third world debt or famine. As you read these words in the future you will wonder who Robert Mugabe was, or what I mean when I talk about Yahoo, and China. As they used to say in England, today's newspapers are used to wrap tomorrow's fish and chips.

So this is my disclaimer. People of the future, I tell you now: I am not an interested party in the discourse of Dusty Springfield. She is not important to me or the contemporary society of today. I am not a fan of Dusty Springfield. I own none of her albums and I know very little about her. In fact I am uninterested in the music or life of Dusty Springfield. I believe that my lack of interest makes me uniquely qualified to comment on Dusty Springfield, because my opinion is not perverted by passion. I am neither enthused nor disgusted by her lesbianism, or lesbianism in general. To my knowledge I have spoken with three lesbian women in my life. I liked all three of them, not because they were lesbians, or even because they were women, but because they were pleasant people. I do not point this out because I want to impress you with my cosmopolitanism, or my tolerance of lesbian forms of life. I do not romanticise lesbianism, or homosexuality, or indeed women, or anything; neither do I choose otherwise. When I say that I have touched a snake, I mean this literally, for I have indeed touched a snake. It was warm, and soft.

I am not trying to win friends, or power, when I share my impressions of Dusty Springfield with you. I do so purely on a whim. I shall now tell you some of the facts that I know about Dusty Springfield, and some of the things I feel when I think of her.

Dusty Springfield is a singer and a tawdry British camp icon. She is dead. She died a few years ago. She became famous in the early 1960s. She had a beehive hairdo, which is to say that her hair was moulded into a rigid, elongated dome. Her hair was ridiculous. She sang songs of sweet romantic misery and longing, and she recorded an album called Dusty in Memphis. The man who produced that album, a man called Arif Mardin, who also produced the Bee Gees' "Jive Talking", died recently. She sang "The Look of Love" which was written by Burt Bacharach. She also sang "I Don't Know What to do With Myself" which was about breaking up with a loved one, and "Son of a Preacher Man", which tastes of egg custard tart. By the late 1960s she had ceased to be popular. In the 1970s she was still not popular. In the 1980s she was also not popular, until the Pet Shop Boys wrote a song for her called "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" which was a chart hit, and the Pet Shop Boys also wrote an album for her, and it was mildly popular, although still not all that popular, and after that Dusty Springfield remained unpopular until she died, although she was famous. She is still not popular and this trend will continue. Writers will occasionally reappraise her work, other singers will sing her best-known songs, until her music is incomprehensible to future ears, just as the popular music hall music of the past is incomprehensible to our ears today.

Dusty Springfield existed during the pop era. During the blip of her latter-day fame she even existed during the acid house era. She appeared on Top of the Pops at least once. But she was not of the pop music era. Her music emphasised melody over percussion. The music of Dusty Springfield was in this respect a modernist art form, in contrast to pop music, which is of course postmodernist. As with Matt Monro, Dusty Springfield was a throwback to a previous age, an age of romantic ballads, from the past. She was also a woman, which was unusual in the 1960s.

I do not find Dusty Springfield sexually attractive, or indeed beautiful, or pretty, or even feminine. She does not quite look like a man in drag, but the thought is there. She looked middle-aged even when she was young. She was not a sex symbol, and that was perhaps part of her contemporary appeal at the time. She was approachably sophisticated, and slightly big-boned. She looked like a normal human being wearing an extravagant hairstyle and lots of makeup, and perhaps people felt that she was "one of us" like them. It is my impression that female pop stars of the 1960s did not use their looks and sexuality to the same extent as modern-day pop stars, perhaps because standards of television decency were much stricter in the past, and also because women were generally less attractive in the 1960s. I have only listened to one of Dusty Springfield's songs in depth - "The Look of Love" - and I was intrigued by it. It resembles "Every Breath You Take" by The Police, in the sense that it is superficially romantic, but so intense as to be sinister. The song takes the form of a series of pleading statements to a distant lover, perhaps imaginary. It is never clear if we are privy to actual events, or to the narrator's private fantasy. The song has a languorous air, and ends with repeated exhortations for the lover to never, ever go. It intimidates me, because I am frightened of being smothered by a woman, but at the same time I find the thought of this alluring, and so I orbit between the two poles like peas in a pod.

I associate Dusty Springfield with the past from before I was born. I also associate her with camp, because of her hair, and also because of the exaggerated romantic yearning in her songs. I associate Dusty Springfield with Diana Dors, and with the letter D, and with tawdriness, because Diana Dors was a British glamour icon, a contradiction in terms. Britain and glamour do not go together. When I say glamour, I mean so in the Tony Bennett sense, rather than in the "glamour photography" sense. Britain does not have a Tony Bennett, except perhaps for Tom Jones, who is really too earthy to be glamorous. Britain is twisted and wrong, calculated, [self-conscious[, and insincere. It is not possible to succumb to glamour without a heightened sense of the supernatural, without the willingness to let go and be dominated by the unknown. Britain's sense of the supernatural is banal.

Dusty Springfield is dead. I did not care for her when she was alive, I do not care for her now that she is dead. She died a few years ago. She had cancer, perhaps of the ovaries, and died before her time. I remember reading about this when it happened.

Burt Bacharach is still alive. The Cardigans became famous in the UK during the Britpop period. No-one expected them to last, but they did last. They become even more famous during the post-Britpop period. "Erase/Rewind" and in particular "My Favourite Game" were chart hits as late as 1998, and the latter song is occasionally played on the radio today. For a short while it seemed that The Cardigans would sputter into life and become a proper band with a lengthy career. But it was not to be.

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