Ask A Sheroes Stan: Jeanette Lynes Finally Answers Super Important Dusty Springfield Q’s
There months ago, we were proud to launch our Sheroes Stan residency, a program that connects aca-fan knowledge and wisdom to the vastly growing motley crew of international and local artists that are regularly involved with Sheroes each month.
Click below for the full interview, in which Lynes illuminates on why la Dust’s a relevant Pride icon, her life as a “camp elegy” & more. (If you’re in Toronto tonight, you can catch Jeanette read at Sheroes #11 and ask her any Q’s we didn’t get answered!)
Sheroes #11: Dusty Springfield is particularly special because it coincides with world-wide Pride festivities. What makes Dusty such a relevant Pride icon?
I think there are various reasons why Dusty is such a relevant Pride icon. One is historical I think, in that she was rising as a star during a homophobic era - yes, what era so far is not homophobic? - but I’m referring to the cruelty of the press, how they treated not just Dusty but other celebrities who came out during the seventies. It must have been so difficult to be scapegoated and humiliated in that public manner, and yet Dusty prevailed as an artist in a bigoted society. She serves as an inspiration. And then of course she is the ultimate Diva who honed her own style and represents a glamour that’s irresistible to those with a love of performance and music.
It’s been said that Dusty saw the trademarks of her persona — the teased blonde wigs, the “panda eyes” — as forms of drag. (She even once confided that she saw herself as a “Puerto Rican drag queen”.) What do you think she got away with in being so over-the-top?
Interesting question? Nancy J. Young’s scholarship on Dusty is really superb. Nancy discusses how fans will see, in their icon, want suits them. I think the ‘straight world’ (whatever that means) perhaps didn’t see, or chose not to see, the drag element - an element which would be quite obvious to other fans. Perhaps it’s not so much Dusty ‘getting away with’ something, as the fan world filtering what it wanted. And maybe the main Dusty ‘era’ - the last sixties and the seventies - was kind of over the top anyway if you think of figures like Twiggy and then the rise of glam rock.
I like to think Dusty found me. I’d bought a ‘Greatest hits’ CD of hers around 2004 0r 2005 but really didn’t have time to listen to it. I took it, and an old CD player, to my office at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. I used to teach lots of night classes. One night, very tired, I returned to my office, closed the door, and put on the Dusty CD. I sat looking out into the Trans-Canada highway (the view from my office window) in the darkness of Nova Scotia and her voice just got to me. I remember thinking, ‘My God, she is a genius and I don’t know the first thing about her’. How is it we can hear a voice all our lives - I’d grown up with “Son of a Preacher Man” - and not know the first thing about the person behind the voice? I set out to find out more - and from the fascinating research came the poetry book. It was the most fun thing I’ve ever written.
In an interview with this amazing Dusty Springfield fansite, you talk about how the collection was a form of “camp elegy”. How’s camp different today versus the time in which Susan Sontag first wrote about it?
“Camp elegy.” I have no idea now what I meant - LOL. I even re-read Sontag’s essay and I still don’t know what I meant, though it did strike me how Dusty’s performances, as time went on, seemed to take on a sad edge. Maybe that’s what I meant by that, but I”m not sure now.
What exactly was that “sad edge”?
I think by “sad edge” I just meant the passing of time. Dusty had had a hard go in the ‘70’s, both from the press, due to homophobia, and also the musical world was changing - all-guy ‘big sound’ heavy metal was coming up as well as disco. She was living in L.A. and had had difficult relationships based on the biographies I’ve read. All that was bound to take its toll.
Sheroes #11 is particularly focused on Dusty’s forgotten relationship with Toronto. What was significant about her time spent here in the early 1980s?
Toronto. I loved the fact that Dusty spent some time in Toronto in the 1980s. I think it was during her relationship with Carole Pope. I LOVED thinking that she might have walked down the same street I did; I’d also lived in Toronto at the same time. That maybe I even passed her on the street! I was sad when I read what Carole Pope wrote about Dusty in her autobiography. It really jazzed me that I’d shared the same city with Dusty Springfield for awhile.
What saddened you about what Carole wrote about Dusty in her autobio?
Carole Pope slagged Dusty in her (Carole’s) autobiography. I don’t remember the exact quote and who knows what is true or not true but I remember thinking that it’s pretty hard to defend yourself when you’re dead. I was surprised at the acrimonious tone. One Diva to another, I guess.
The “Queen of White Soul” is a title that is often tossed used in reference to Dusty’s diva-ness. Isn’t “white soul” a complicated term?
Yes, “white soul” is a complicated term. But there has always been cross-over with respect to race and music. It’s interesting that one of the early radio producers in the U.S.A. who heard Dusty thought she was black. I think a lot about how much white musicians have drawn on music from black America - the Rolling Stones from the blues, for example. And now white Hip Hop artists. Though even the terms ‘white’ and ‘black’ are overly simplistic as anyone who as read the work of theorists such as Stuart Hall, knows.
British Soul would be a good moniker for Dusty, I think. Definitely ‘Soul’. Labels are tricky, especially in music, which often is ‘hybrid’ and crosses over and borrows from more than one tradition to make its own unique sound.