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Dancing with Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield

Dancing with Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield

by Penny Valentine, Vicki Wickham
Dancing with Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield

Dancing with Demons: The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield

by Penny Valentine, Vicki Wickham

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Dusty Springfield led a tragic yet inspiring life, battling her way to the top of the charts and into the hearts of music fans world-wide. Her signature voice made songs such as "I Only Want to Be with You," "Son of a Preacher Man," and "You Don't Have to Say You Love Me," international hits. In Dancing with Demons, two of her closest friends, Valentine and Wickham, capture, with vivid memories and personal anecdotes, a Dusty most people never glimpsed in this no-holds-barred yet touching portrait of one of the world's true grand dames of popular music.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466878211
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/12/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: eBook
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 579,402
File size: 974 KB

About the Author

Penny Valentine (1943-2003) was the journalist closest to Dusty at the height of her fame and was taken into the singer's closed 'inner circle' of friends. She lived in North London and worked at the Guardian.

Vicki Wickham was Dusty's long-time friend and manager. She produced the pioneer British live TV music program Ready Steady Go!. She currently manages Marc Almond and Nona Hendryx. In 1999 she received the music industy's Woman of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award. She resides in New York, NY.

Penny Valentine (1943-2003) was the journalist closest to Dusty Springfield at the height of her fame and was taken into the singer's closed 'inner circle' of friends. She lived in North London and worked at the Guardian.

Vicki Wickham was Dusty's long-time friend and manager. She produced the pioneer British live TV music program Ready Steady Go!. She currently manages Marc Almond and Nona Hendryx. In 1999 she received the music industy's Woman of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award. She resides in New York, NY.

Read an Excerpt

Dancing with Demons

The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield

By Penny Valentine, Vicki Wickham

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2000 Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4668-7821-1


New York's emergency services took the 911 call somewhere between midnight and two in the morning. A woman had rung to say she'd had an accident, could they please send an ambulance quickly. The paramedics from Bellevue Hospital on the Lower East Side, who years later would be immortalised in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead, raced out of the back of Bellevue, their sirens whining, red lights flashing, to a brownstone on the Upper West Side.

Crossing town at this time of night was at least fast. Times Square was lit up and crowded as usual. Yellow cabs bumped over the potholes as ever, but the traffic flowed more freely than during the day and there was room for drivers to get out of the way. The ambulance turned hard right and within five minutes had swung into Amsterdam Avenue and across Columbus. Shrieking into 76th Street, west of Central Park, they screeched to a halt and raced up the stone steps to the door. Why these houses were always called 'walk-ups' made the paramedics smile joylessly – they always hit them on the run. Shit! None of the names on the bells at the front tallied with the one they'd been given. In desperation they pressed them all and after a few seconds the buzzer went and the front door unlocked. Lady, hey maam, maam? They ran up the stairs banging the stretcher into the walls because the space was so narrow. At the top, on the fourth floor, behind the opened apartment door, they found her in her pink tracksuit. Later they wondered how she had managed to open the thick wooden door at all with such badly cut arms. But right now they had a job to do and no time to wonder about anything. And they had seen it before. Often. The NYC paramedics bound her arms and gently carried her down on the stretcher into the back of the life-support unit to Bellevue. They noticed that, despite her tousled hair and the pain she was in, she was a pretty woman with a light, breathy, odd accent that they couldn't quite place.

On a scorching late August day in New York just before the year 2000, with humidity breathtakingly hitting the high nineties, Bellevue is a surprise. New York's oldest public hospital sits towards the end of Manhattan Island on First Avenue at 27th. The main teaching hospital for New York University School of Medicine, those young medics can work in over a hundred speciality clinics, they may even get to treat the President or, given her Senate campaign for the district, Hillary Clinton. But if Bellevue is famous for anything it's because it has the largest psychiatric department on the east coast. Yet far from being a grim institution it looks no different from those around it. In fact it's a happier-looking building than those frowning tower blocks around Central Park with their heavy lidded windows that only shine at night. Today the covered walkway is bustling with people, yet the cathedral-like domed main hall is quiet and cool with a polite woman at the information desk.

Turn left and you're in the main emergency admissions area. Here members of the NYPD stroll, nightsticks hanging threateningly at their sides and tags reading 'Correction Department'. There is an impressive list of services – community support, homeless programmes – but you're warned to keep alert: 'Silence Can Be Deadly' reads a notice on the wall; 'A co-worker who abuses alcohol may put your safety at risk.' With its high Latino intake from the surrounding neighbourhood everything is written out again in Spanish. Bellevue is for ever busy, responding to a city that is constantly fighting against poverty and violence. Human Resources assistant Peter Serrano, who saw his co-worker at the Teachers Insurance and Retirement Funds building shot in front of him, tells the New York Times: 'You have to look over your shoulder all the time. You're never safe, not even at work.'

Out front at Bellevue there's a carnival atmosphere. Hot dog and soda and doughnut stalls, fruit wagons and Angelo's coffee stand, line the avenue outside the gates. People crowd round the garish umbrellas getting a little relief from the heat; some sit on the low wall clutching bags of free clothes and staring dazedly ahead. In the small public garden to one side of the entrance a miniature Italianate fountain splashes gently and there is some welcome shade under the trees. An overweight, pale young woman is talking to three women who have just emerged with their free clothing supplies and are happily going through the contents of their bags, holding things up against each other and dispensing with items they don't feel can be made fashionable even with a small alteration here or there. 'I'm on the programme,' she says. 'Y'know they sit you in a chair with your feet up for so long your legs swell up. Look.' She pulls up her jeans to display her puffy ankles. On her T-shirt it says 'Fix My Head'.

The night in 1985 is the second time Dusty has been on Bellevue's psychiatric wing, the second time she's been booked in under the name Mary O'Brien and just one more time when she's sectioned herself to save her own life. In California her emergency visits to Cedar Sinai and LA County hospitals are so frequent that she says (and she's only half joking) that she knows the first names of all the paramedics who come out to get her.

All her life Dusty had had trouble sleeping. Four hours was her usual tally and from early on friends were used to her calling at one or two in the morning just to talk, even when she was in a relationship. From midnight to two were, everyone knew, her worst times, the times she couldn't bear the loneliness of the dark. When things got bad, as they often did during her fifteen years in America, the worst times became more panic-stricken. Now she would call, not just to talk until the hours went by, but to try and save herself from the unnamed terrors that seemed to overwhelm her. In Los Angeles, says Faye Harris who lived with Dusty for six years, even in the morning Dusty would be depressed. 'She'd wake up and say there was a small dark cloud over her head. Even when things weren't bad she said it. She used to say she never had a moment of joy unless she was on stage. It was the only time she felt confident and happy.' That Dusty could, every morning, constantly tell her partner how unhappy she was says a lot about the depths of the psychological pain she seemed almost permanently to be in. There was nothing Faye could do to make it better and Dusty seemed unable to hold it in to herself. It was so overwhelming it exhausted her. She had to fight to shake it off every day of her life. 'My mother always said I had a very low energy level,' Dusty would recall. 'That I would tire very easily.' Yet nobody who met her out in the world would have guessed: to them Dusty was a bright star, full of life and seductive charm.

Usually at night someone was with her or at the end of the line, but those times when they weren't or when Dusty couldn't get her usual comfort from the sound of a human voice, she would cut herself until she could ring 911 and be taken to safety. And, for her, a psychiatric ward offered a comfort most people found hard to understand.

'If it had been me,' says Vicki who went to visit her at Bellevue, 'after a few hours I'd have rung someone and asked them to "get me out of here", but she never did.' Dusty always loved hotels, it was one of the most consistent things about her. No matter what domestic dramas (the cats couldn't be left, she had flu ...) held her up from working, the mere mention of being put up in a hotel changed her whole frame of mind. Perhaps it was because a hotel offered her the ultimate freedom: no housework, no responsibility, someone to look after her every need, and she could come and go as she pleased without being answerable to anyone. Who wouldn't love a luxury suite with a marble bathroom that someone else cleaned? And despite its lack of luxury amenities Bellevue became like a hotel to her – somewhere that someone else would take care of her.

In New York that year Dusty, still on the surface smiling and joking, was desperately broke. In town for a one-off single recording, she had borrowed money to try to make some demo records to hawk round. She had booked into a hotel but it was far from luxurious. The building, on 72nd Street, was a 'suite hotel', a series of small dingy bedsits, each with a little kitchenette off at the side. It was overrun with cockroaches and after a week Vicki, by now her manager, decided she had to get Dusty out. Vicki's friend Jeff Cason was leaving for a month in Europe and his apartment at the top of an enviable brownstone on the smart West Side would be empty. Could Dusty move in?

A few days later, with her suitcases and her inevitable purple sparkling shopping bags, Dusty was ensconced away from the 'roaches. But she was still on her own and the nights loomed. She would call her new managers, Vicki and Jenny Cohen, endlessly throughout the day and night on some minor pretext. Cohen would eventually crack under the pressure of it and the endless demands it made on her life, leaving Vicki to cope alone. If there was work in the offing they would tell her about it and be told she'd 'think about it'. Inevitably there would be reasons she couldn't do it, even though by now she was desperately short of money. 'I wouldn't have minded,' says Vicki, 'if she'd just said, "I don't want to," but instead there would be a million excuses: "You don't understand. I don't feel good, I think I'm coming down with flu, I'm too tired." However much you tried to understand, it got terribly frustrating.'

It was as though Dusty was in the grip of a terrible lethargy, a kind of endless depression that nobody knew how to save her from. Earlier, on the night she had dialled the emergency services, she had once again rung Jenny Cohen and Vicki. For a while Dusty only got the answerphone. In growing panic she had rung Cohen again, even though she had spoken to her at least twenty times that day. Jenny had talked to her: she and Vicki had decided that Dusty had to seek help to get off the pills she was taking, pills that made her even more anxious and unreasonable and were undermining everything she was trying to do. They suggested a detox centre, which they'd pay for themselves to get her off the drugs and straightened out. In the night Dusty, high on barbiturates, cut her arms up.

The next day Vicki made the trip downtown to Bellevue. Through the main entrance and up in the lift to the psychiatric ward she was 'locked in and out': a door was unlocked which let her into a small anteroom. Here she waited until that door was locked behind her and the other door unlocked in front of her. Although Dusty had her own room to sleep in, during the day she was in the communal area, shuffling around in a hospital gown just like everyone else. To Vicki the sight of Dusty on heavy medication was terrible. It bloated her face and made her function more slowly. When Jenny Cohen turned up the first person she met introduced himself as Colonel Gaddafi which, given Jenny was Jewish, threw her slightly. But Dusty seemed relatively calm however much it upset Jenny to see her on the ward and have to stand behind a yellow line on the floor. Like prison visits, bodily contact on the psychiatric ward was forbidden since it could mean that visitors could pass on drugs brought in from outside.

'She always said the same thing when I asked her if she wanted to come out,' says Vicki. 'That she was manic depressive, that they couldn't get the medication right. But I always got the feeling she didn't really want to leave. For Dust these places really did become like hotels to her.'

Even a psychiatric ward has its advantages: here people are 'looking after you', you have no responsibilities, and someone else cleans and cooks. You can see how Dusty, who seemed to want to be safely held without the emotional commitment that went with relationships, almost found the wards a haven from what she experienced as the harshness of real life and the terrible hours after midnight. It says a lot about Dusty's grim sense of humour that when her friend Helene Sellery collected her from Bellevue and took her back to her ranch in the California hills to recuperate, amongst the items that Dusty produced from her suitcase was the straitjacket she had to wear the first week on the ward at Bellevue.

Yet her life hadn't always been like this. What had happened to one of the greatest women singers in the world, a singer who had enjoyed sixteen hit singles and who had produced Dusty in Memphis – an album that was such a classic that, in 1997, thirty years after its release, Rolling Stone magazine acclaimed it as part of its essential record collection? Its sound, of 'elegant orchestral soul', one that 'still challenges the listener today'. What had happened to Dusty Springfield, the 1960s icon and erstwhile musicologist; a singer exalted by popular music's leading songwriters Burt Bacharach and Carole King, by the black American singers she herself so admired, and revered by musicians as versatile and productive as Annie Lennox, Elvis Costello, Neil Tennant and Elton John?


In the early 1960s London was the place to be and to be Dusty Springfield was to be divine. London had transformed itself from a struggling repressed city of post-war Britain, with its ration books and free sticky-sweet orange juice, into a faintly hedonistic teenage heaven. For both the audiences and the stars they made, it seemed anything and everything was possible – even staying a teenager for ever.

And in the course of five years Dusty had transformed herself: from an overweight, curly-haired ex-convent girl into an attractive blonde with a famously 'whacky' personality and, more importantly, the most stunningly soulful voice ever to emerge from British music.

On the back of the post-war nationalisation of British industry came the growth of technology. The British started to be offered the kind of consumer products enjoyed by their better-off American counterparts: televisions, fridges, record-players. More jobs were created, so many that teenagers now had a much wider choice of occupations. More and more left school – not now to work because they had to and mainly in poorly paid jobs – but to go straight into the marketplace where new trades were being created and they could earn high wages. Usually living at home with their families, these post-war 'baby boomers' had record levels of disposable income: advertisers started to aim directly at what they now labelled a 'youth market' with records, magazines and fashion.

In London particularly it was easy to increase your spending power by constantly moving into ever-higher-paid work, and the atmosphere was such that if you had a clever idea or talent and you could run with it you could become rich and, probably, famous no matter whether you came from the working-class areas of Deptford or Hackney, had 'emigrated' to the capital from the slums of Glasgow, or your parents owned most of an island in the Caribbean. You could be a film star like Terry Stamp, you could be a fashion photographer like David Bailey, you could be a small gay Scotsman and make a fortune as a clothes designer, you could be a Sandie Shaw or later a Twiggy, or you could simply hang out with your mates in a pop group.

London became a class and cultural mélange and from it emerged the Mods with their Lambrettas and Vespas, their sharp little suits, the girls with bobbed back-combed hair, tight little jumpers and immaculate make-up. The Mods and, in particular, the Soho area of London had a symbiotic relationship with each other. Sometimes they went down to the Flamingo club to be amongst the black American servicemen on furlough from their airbases and to hear jazz from Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames, or to the cramped dark Marquee which would put on the first of the Mod bands, the Who. But it was the Scene club in Wardour Street, which on Friday nights drew Mods from as far away as Essex and Hertford and where the Who went when they were the High Numbers, that was the one place where you could hear unreleased soul and R&B singles from America (as well as get your mandrax and speed for the weekend). During the day Carnaby Street, once no more than a side passage parallel to Regent Street, with its boutiques and media blitz, was now the centre of the Mod universe until, with the establishment of 'Swinging London', it became simply a tourist heaven.


Excerpted from Dancing with Demons by Penny Valentine, Vicki Wickham. Copyright © 2000 Penny Valentine and Vicki Wickham. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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