Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend by Karen Bartlett

Review published on May 7, 2017.

As a pubescent lad at school, I fell heavily in love with an older woman. As I grew into a man, I was right alongside this object of desire through her records and sadly infrequent appearances on the television. She could do no wrong as far as I was concerned, but time lapses and we grew apart of course.

I was quite happy and content with the memory, but it all changed when I read this book. Written by Karen Bartlett, an accomplished author, it exposed me to startling revelations about how the late Dusty Springfield lived her life. Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend certainly does what the title suggests.

Dusty Springfield, a star of the nineteen fifties within a trio of female singers, The Lana Sisters, then the famous Springfield’s, with her brother Tom and another guitarist. A lot of stories surrounding those far off days are in the book due to the sheer quantity of interviews the author has conducted with a great many of her intimates and acquaintances throughout her life.

She comes over as a very private person, almost too scared to open up to people, liable to tantrums that gave her the sobriquet ‘diva’. Her china breaking sessions when under pressure were legendary, self-harming in later life often led her to have bandaged arms and lame excuses. As time passed by and with her fame waxing and waning, these pressures and insecurities, mixed with her ‘divaish’ attitude, alcohol and drugs became almost normal behaviour. Money fluctuated, income fluctuated, her talent fluctuated, but her attitude became harder and harder to cope with for those around her orbit. Recording deals fell through, her controlling attitude and striving for perfection made it almost impossible, in ever morphing recording systems, to get it right.

Nowadays, a person’s sexuality is almost shrugged off, but for her, despite a few brief, failed male relationships, and pretence relationships, she spent her life never really coming to terms with her lesbianism. Some eyebrow raising names with whom she had relationships appear quite frequently throughout the book. Back then lesbianism was a crime, but as times changed, Dusty more or less stayed the same, concealing her passions well, especially from the media.

This is a brilliantly composed book, full of deep resonance with those who enjoyed her music when she was a star with her undiluted skills. Her voice was unique, her hit records unmistakable, but her life was a sad mess, increasingly worsening as time slipped her by. An exceptional read throughout, for anyone of an age that remembers her.

Reg Seward 5/2

Dusty: An Intimate Portrait of a Musical Legend by Karen Bartlett
Robson Press 9781849546416 hbk Jun 2014

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