April 11th, 2006


I think I'm Going Back

Yesterday I watched our video recording of the South Bank Show programme about Dusty Springfield. Once, I would listen to Dusty’s records and feel happy; now, I listen with tears in my eyes but this is not mere nostalgia. The programme showed a number of changing images of Dusty over the years: she was a woman who needed disguises. Camille Paglia (whom I seldom agree with) was right to point out the contrast between the way Dusty looked and the way she sang. It was especially noticeable when she was belting out Nowhere to Run wearing a babyish sparkly dress. In an early interview – blonde hair, head down, huge eyes not looking at the camera, little-girl voice – she reminded one very much of Diana, Princess of Wales. Like Diana, she later took to self-harm. Two women adored by millions yet who never felt they were quite good enough.

The programme touched on the problems of being a girl singer in the sixties, with fleeting glimpses of Sandie Shaw, Lulu and Cilla Black. Compare these women with the great style icons of the time: Twiggy, Julie Christie, Marianne Faithful. They all look vulnerable, as do the model girls of the day with their white tights, turned in toes and crocheted baby bonnets. What was it all about? Even the names for girls were demeaning: dolly birds, chicks. Yet middle aged women appear today in documentaries and say that the sixties were liberating and that wearing mini skirts ‘we felt we could do anything!’ C**p. They wore these things to be fashionable, to look like everyone else, perhaps to look like Dusty. Girls’ comics of the time included features like ‘Dusty’s hair tips’ (“Get a wig!”, suggested cybersofa when I told him this). Women still did the same boring jobs for the same low wages; wearing mini skirts did not change their circumstances at all.

But all this is a digression from the real point: Dusty’s fantastic voice and all those great songs. At the time they were just part of the soundtrack of life: it takes the perspective of years for one to appreciate her great artistry. I can truly say that I admire Dusty more now than I did back then. A few years ago we went to see Dusty the Musical. It was dreadful. The South Bank Show, OTOH, was well worth watching.