Joe Pop

Dusty

When Dusty Springfield died I was impressed by the amount of press coverage there was. She got top of the bill obituaries, a “change to the published programme”  tv special and everything. It felt like a major event.

I am too young to have been a fan of Dusty when she was having her hits in the 60’s, and was originally only vaguely aware of her songs as they get played on the oldie radio stations I listen to. She wasn’t part of my life, and anyway, Madonna and Debbie Harry filled any blonde pop goddess niche I may have had.

However, during my coming out period, like many of us, I was reading more books about being gay than actually putting it into practice. I particularly enjoyed biographies of other ordinary non celebrity gay men to compare and contrast their experiences to mine. Often, in these books, there were many references to Dusty Springfield and the part she and her music played in the lives of men from the generation before me. So as part of  some sort of quest for my roots, I bought a battered copy of Dusty’s greatest hits for a pound to see what she was all about.

Compared to the raucous rock music I was accustomed to, her records were lush things that enveloped her odd thin yet emotive voice. I was surprised how many of the songs I was familiar with and how their place in popular culture had allowed them to seep into my unconscious. I liked the naked and fragile outpouring of emotion that I heard, as well as the sometimes feistiness and defiance. Its understandable how the queers of the past had used these songs to mirror their own mostly publicly repressed and unexpressed feelings.

But I’m sure the poofs of the past, like me, also revelled in the fun there was to be had in being Dusty Springfield. How she knew how to work a wig, and about the power of a well chosen dramatic hand gesture. How she swore some of the ugliest clothes in the world and was sometimes an impeccable beat fashion goddess. I’m sure for Dusty all the make up, wigs and sparkly drag were  worn in the same way drag queens do, part disguise, part dressing up fun and part armour against a hostile world. And its also good to remember, its not dusty who looked like a drag queen, its drag queens who look like Dusty.

In the same way that my friends and I will drunkenly imitate Bananarama at the drop of a hat at parties, Dusty was distinctive and original enough for anyone to do their own version. Just do a wild hand flourish while looking suitably dramatic, and everyone knows who you are supposed to be.

As well as the music and the Lady Penelope looks, I also got to like Dusty for her refusal to play to segregated audiences in South Africa. For being a mainstream entertainer who publicly acknowledged her gay fans when “it was not the thing to do”. For being someone who valued her privacy over some sort of omnipresent panel game show type of celebrity. I also salute Dusty for, well, if not coming out as a full on dyke, gave more hints and signs to her fans of her sexuality in a time when it would have made for professional and social suicide. Dusty refused to play by the rules and did things her way.

At the risk that I sound like a middle aged queen who runs a Blackpool guest house (and frankly, I think that is my destiny!), I wanted to say that Dusty Springfield is important to me, and I will be miming in to a mirror to “I close my eyes and count to ten” for a long time to come in tribute to her memory.