Book Review: Phases and Stages
Reviewed by Stephen MacMillan Moser, Fri., Sept. 28, 2001
Dancing With Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfieldby Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham
St. Martin's Press, 320 pp., $24.95
"She wanted to be straight, she wanted to be a good Catholic, and she wanted to be black," a friend said of the greatest soul singer ever produced by Britain. She was none of those. As tragic as Garland or Joplin, Dusty Springfield skyrocketed up the charts in the Sixties with a voice that wrapped the listener in the dark brown velvet of night, laden with heartache and desire. She serenaded countless lovers locked in lethal embraces with such tearjerkers as "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," "If You Go Away," and "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten." Her Dusty In Memphis album, featuring "Son of a Preacher Man," regularly places on critics' lists of essential recordings. Yet, for a woman who should have had it all, her accomplishments were bitterly underscored by crippling self-doubt, drug-and-alcohol addiction, and multiple suicide attempts. Written by pioneering music journalist Penny Valentine and Springfield's longtime friend and manager Vicki Wickham, Dancing With Demons lays bare the previously untold story of the private torments of a working-class Irish girl named Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, who burst onto the Swinging London scene as a hostess on the famous Ready, Steady, Go! television show. With platinum tresses in elaborate coiffures and eyes ringed with black, and shimmering gowns, she imbued a sophistication to the stage that was lacking in most of her peers. These, however, were devices designed to distance the performer from the unspeakable terrors that haunted her, and yet could not protect her from the relentless roller-coaster ride that was her career. After doing seemingly everything possible to sabotage herself, and perhaps even failing at that, Springfield, who created decades of magic behind a microphone, succumbed to cancer in 1999.