Dusty Springfield – Success with a Price
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British born singer and record producer, Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien, was better known by her stage name, Dusty Springfield. At the peak of her decades-long career, she was known as one of the most successful British, female performers of her time. Springfield’s many hits and accomplishments were internationally recognized and have been celebrated with countless awards. She was said to have had a “mezzo-soprano” voice with a spectacular range. In addition to her unique sound, her music was both soulful and upbeat.
Dusty Springfield was born into a dysfunctional British, Catholic family. Her home life as a child was less than ideal. Her mother was an alcoholic who spent her days sitting in movie theaters; her father was a bit eccentric, to say the least. There was no such thing as family nurturing in Springfield’s childhood home. Her father demeaned her by calling her “stupid and ugly,” which only fueled her insecurities. This daily torment left her feeling sorely inadequate and soon led to self-mutilation.
Springfield was tormented and loathed herself, on a daily basis because she wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. She had been inwardly struggling with who she was and her sexual orientation. She knew going to her parents was not an option. To further complicate matters, she attended school at a convent under the supervision of strict, legalistic nuns. She couldn’t seek counseling at school because homosexuality was sinful. There were different schools of thought on the subject, including electroshock therapy as well as praying the “affliction” away. Dusty Springfield truly believed that she had been cursed.
One day, that girl originally named, Mary, pulled herself up by the bootstraps and decided that she was going to make it! Dusty Springfield had emerged. Springfield became well known for her musical and vocal abilities and was seemingly the “total package.” She captivated audiences with her beautiful, blond, bouffant hair, blue eyes and flamboyant sense of style and fashion. Her performances were well known for depicting the epitome of what was considered the “swinging sixties.” As beautiful as she was, Springfield despised everything about herself including her physical appearance.
About the time Dusty Springfield was beginning to realize her success, her life was simultaneously coming unraveled. She sought comfort by losing herself in the stories of Doris Day and Billie Holiday because she was able to identify with them. She was still struggling with her sexual identity and used pills and alcohol in an effort to lessen her inhibitions; making it easier to experiment with lesbian relationships. The effects of intoxication, obviously, being only temporary. As with any celebrity, the media picked up on it, which only muddied the waters.
Liquid courage only goes so far in a deep-seeded personal struggle. Dusty Springfield was in such agony that she began to display bizarre and eccentric behavior, not unlike what she had seen as a child but possibly more pronounced. She reportedly ordered boxes of dishes to be delivered just so she could smash then against the wall. She had also been known to “toilet paper” houses, throw furniture, throw food in restaurants and often play mean and distasteful pranks on others. At one point she went so far that she landed herself in New York’s Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital; having been diagnosed with a nervous breakdown. That, however, was not her only trip to Bellevue. She had become well known for her crazy behavior and naturally, her reputation eventually suffered for it.
In the 1960’s, among other issues, women were fighting for sexual equality. Springfield had desperately hoped that at some point lesbians would be included in the liberation movement. At that moment in time, homosexuality was still taboo and especially so for women. She had spent her entire life hating herself and running away from who she was. Sadly, Dusty Springfield spent years in a self-imposed prison. I wonder if she ever really appreciated her contribution to the music community.
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