DANCING WITH DEMONS by Penny Valentine


The Authorized Biography of Dusty Springfield
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An entertaining but clumsily written biography of the ’60s pop singer.

Though not perhaps the major cultural icon her authorized biographers make her out to be (British journalist Valentine was in her “inner circle” of friends; Wickham was her “long-time friend and manager”), Dusty Springfield enjoyed great success for a few years in both her native England and the US. Born Mary Catharine Bernadette O’Brien into an artistic and eccentric family (food fights at the dinner table were a regular event), she early on discovered a love of singing and got her first engagement via a want ad. Paired with her brother for a time, she took a new name from their group and quit The Springfields to pursue a solo career, striking it big with such tunes as “I Only Want To Be With You,” “Wishin’ and Hopin’,” and, in 1966, “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me,” by far her biggest hit. Even after her career declined, owing in large part to her wretched self-abuse, there were occasional respites such as her album “Dusty in Memphis”—a critical success but a commercial failure—and, many years later, her collaboration with the Pet Shop Boys. She was enjoying yet another comeback when she was cruelly cut down by cancer in 1999. Although Wickham and Valentine successfully portray the singer as a sensitive, intelligent, and witty artist and expertly evoke the pop scene of the British 1960s, they mire their story in endless rounds of amateur psychoanalysis. While the two present reasonably convincing evidence that Springfield was a lesbian, they also never, try as they might, show what effect her sexual orientation had on her work. Nor do they bolster their authority by egregious sentences like, “Everyone who met them, as is often the case, had a different response to the O’Briens.”

No great writing here, but since this is likely to be the only biography of Dusty Springfield, it will serve as the standard. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-28202-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2001