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I Only Want to Be With Her: Dusty Springfield (1939-1999)

Thu 20 Jan 2005 In: True Stories

Dusty Springfield Singer Dusty Springfield (1939-1999) loved other women. She fought alcohol, drugs, religious repression and cancer and was reclaiming her musical career when she confronted bone cancer. Mary O'Brien was born in London shortly before the beginning of the Second World War. Her father loved music, and Mary shared her dad's enthusiasm for jazz, as well as her mother's Catholicism. One would lead her to considerable accomplishments over the course of the sixties, while the other would scar her life. After early singing involvements with family ensembles and 'girl groups,' Dusty met her first woman in 1963. Her discovery of her lesbianism led to internal conflicts with her Irish Catholic religious upbringing, which she never constructively resolved. In 1964, her career took off with her first hit single, "I Only Want to Be With You." Dusty renamed herself, adopted a beehive blonde haircut and applied generous eyeliner. She loved jazz, Gospel and Motown and was partially responsible for introducing them to white UK youth audiences. The lesbian community can be proud of her because she was a pioneer. When she toured South Africa in 1964, she put her foot down and refused to accept apartheid's segregation of her audiences, just after the Sharpeville massacre in 1962. In the mid-sixties, she entered her first long-term relationship with Norma Tanega, a Mexican-American artist and activist against the Vietnam War. During their two-year relationship, she ventured out to the Sombrero pub in Kensington, or East End London pubs. She bonded with Danny La Rue, a fellow Irish Catholic migrant and drag artiste of the period. Inevitably for a lesbian celebrity, she also socialised with Billy Jean King and other then-closeted women's pro tennis dykons in the mid-seventies. In Sydney, she came across the obnoxious geriatric conservative talkback radio hack, John Laws, who whined about being bumped off her schedule due to her other commitments. Career and relationship conflicts led to the demise of her relationship with Norma. At the same time, Dusty acknowledged she was primarily interested in women, but nothing further was noted about this 'open secret.' In 1972, Dusty moved to Los Angeles, but harder rock was in vogue and she drank too much, which didn't help with her bipolar disorder, diagnosed in the seventies. Throughout her career, lesbians and gay men alike loved Dusty for her cosmopolitanism, appearance and politics, and provided her with entertainment venues when times got hard in the early eighties. After another unsuccessful spell in Toronto, she entered a violent relationship with Tedda, an alcoholic butch whom she met at an AA meeting. In later years, she campaigned for the rights of survivors of domestic violence given her own experience, although she never referred to the fact that it was a dysfunctional abusive lesbian relationship. In the mid-eighties, she returned to Britain, where she met the Pet Shop Boys. In 1987, they recorded "What Have I Done to Deserve This," which revived her career. She also provided vocal backing for Scandal, a film about the sixties Profumo UK political sex scandal, appropriate for such a sixties icon. Cruelly, just when it seemed that her life had blossomed once more, she found a lump on her breast after a Nashville recording session in 1994. It was breast cancer, which later metastasized to bone cancer, which she fought, keeping up with information about her condition from the latest medical journals. In 1996, she made her final public appearances, recorded her final album and discovered that she was terminally ill. At the end of February 1999, she passed away, mourned by her African-American, music industry and lesbian/gay 'families,' but leaving a brilliant musical legacy. Recommended: Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham: Dancing With Demons: The Authorised Biography of Dusty Springfield" London: Hodder and Stoughton: 2000. Dusty: The Very Best of Dusty Springfield: London: Mercury: 1998: 538 345 -2 (One CD, 77 mins)     Craig Young - 20th January 2005

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Thursday, 20th January 2005 - 12:00pm

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