Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Dusty post redux
(updated blog post from 3/2/2005)
Dusty Springfield died in 1999. She was born on this day in 1939. Were Dame Dusty (she was knighted by the Queen of England mere days before her passing) still among the living, she would be 74.
Fourteen years later, I retain sense memory of the news flashing across Dusty's fan sites on the internet, only moments after her passing. At the time, I happened to be spinning [at hundreds of rpms per second] a CD Springfield track, "Morning," ("The morning, so sad; the morning so beautiful. . .") when the unhappy but not unexpected news came.
The singer's fans are a loyal lot. Most of those Dusty sites and boards still bustle with posthumous news, i.e., rumors of a biopic, a rose named after her, etc. But of this legion, I am probably one of the relative few who ever saw her perform live, much less received a message from her on an answering machine. Let me explain:
In 1980 I was writing for the late, lamented L.A. Hearst newspaper, The Herald-Examiner. Mostly I was relegated to reviewing and interviewing events and people that others either didn't care to write about or else knew nothing. I joked about the job and called it "Schlock Patrol." But most of it was mercifully right down my alley, especially the chance to review a Springfield concert (8/22/80) at L.A.'s Greek Theater. It was a Friday evening event; the review appeared the following Monday. Here's what I wrote, along with some added 2005 comments by me in brackets. I'll get to the phone message, afterward.
"Long overdue for a stateside performance, the once-reigning [wish I hadn't used that "once"] queen of blue-eyed soul, Dusty Springfield, took to the stage Friday evening at the Greek Theater as opening act for dithyrambic singer/composer Peter Allen. She [Springfield, that is] has not performed in the United States in eight years, and never in L.A. [where did I get that?. . .not true] ; after the encores and flurry she generated, her decidedly low profile is more a mystery than ever. For Springfield, almost as seminal a '60s rock force as Aretha Franklin, was in fine form as she ripped and roared through an enthusiastically received 15-song set [I was so high on excitement at finally seeing Springfield "live," it's a wonder I was even able to count to 15].
It wasn't until the singer plunged into her grab bag of hits ("The Look of Love," "Son of a Preacher Man" etc.) that much of the less-than-capacity [could you puh-leese be a bit more specific?] audience comprehended the magnitude and pervasiveness of Springfield's to contribution to pop music over the past decade-and-a-half; but as if to dispel charges of antiquarianism the singer chose to open her presentation ["presentation"? Goddeses do not phone ahead, and they definitely DO NOT "present"] with a recent hit (not hers) "At Midnight" [well, whose then?, you dribbling, indistinct scribbler]. Though there were already many Springfield aficianados at the Greek, clearly a great many others were won over to her Ben Webster-ish scoop-de-doop vibrato [must hang on to my jazz creds at all cost].
Utilizing a 15-piece back-up crew, she sveltely strutted and karate-chopped her way through this one [meaning "Almost Midnight"?] in a manner totally unlike the way she might've during the good old days when she was the No. 1 female British pop/rocker [and that "good old days" style consisted of. . .?]
Dusty launched a consciousness-raising [did I really write that?] hit medley which included, among others, "Wishin' and Hopin'" and "You Don't Have to Say You Me." Also offered up [and Goddesses also do not "offer"] were a few items ["items". . .gakkkk] from the widely-acclaimed 1969 album, Dusty in Memphis---her last effort before an inexplicable mid-career recording sales slump began to plague her in a manner somewhat akin to soul man Al Green's fall from public favor. But Dusty is definitely of the moment, and so the real crowd pleaser was her last (but one) encore, a heavily-desaccharinized re-tooling of the top-billed Allen's "Quiet Please, There's a Lady on the Stage." If headliner Peter Allen is your cup of musical meat, he too woulda' knocked your socks off Friday; but his real contribution was the smashing "Welcome-back, Dusty" party thrown that night." ###
After the concert, there was a party, but if Springfield attended I didn't see her. And that was fairly much that until Tuesday morning when I arrived at the paper to learn that Springfield had phoned and wanted to speak with me. The person who took the message also captured the gist of what Springfield wanted to talk to me about: She wished to thank me for the kind words, etc. Never had THAT happen before. She left her number. I phoned her back, got a machine, and left my number. Then, a couple of days later I came home to find a message on my machine, which I saved and still have around here somewhere at Oblivion Towers. But that is the closest I came to talking with her. Just as well. ME: "Humadahumada. . ." if you catch my drift.
Since Springfield's brave, valiant, Margaret Sullavan-like passing in 1999, there have been several biographies about her. All of which, to one degree or another, paint a rather harrowing picture of Dusty's private life. And finally explain the "mystery" (see above review) of why she had maintained such a low profile throughout much of the '70s. Hard to believe, but when she performed that killer and obviously very expensive act at the Greek, in fact Springfield was living in Rape-at-High-Noon downtown Hollywood, only a couple of steps up from bag lady (not that there's anything wrong with that). During the last decade or so of her life, she did finally get her offstage act together as well; alas only to be gobsmacked with a diagnosis of terminal breast cancer five years before her death. (Seeeee! I told you there was no god.)
Fortunately, the act she performed at the Greek that night was captured for posterity. . . sort of. For it is virtually the same show she'd performed only a few months earlier before the Royal Family at a charity performance at London's Royal Albert Hall; same backup personnel, almost the same repertoire, identical arrangements. I think she might have even been wearing the same gowns. The video concert opens with Dusty's backup group singing---in essence, for the Queen---"The Bitch is Back." That's my Dusty!
I'm not sure if a video of the affair is commercially available at the present time [there is now in 2013], but I have never witnessed a more crazed, over-the-top audience. Think of a Springsteen concert, then double the fervor. Even the Queen was rattling her jewelry. Like I say, Springfield was flat broke at the time, but she died a quite wealthy woman, who left a significant sum in her will for taking care of her surviving and beloved cat, Nicholas. What a Dame!
Posted by Bill Reed at 8:22 AM