Ode to Dusty Springfield
What makes a voice distinct? What special quality makes it indelible? Yours is plaintive, as any singer of torch songs must be, yet endowed with confidence, and fully in command. Deep and resonant, a bit husky if you like. A voice that rises— or skyrockets, rather—from a wellspring of pure emotion. Manically infatuated in “I Only Want to Be with You.” Desperate to keep your lover from leaving in “Stay Awhile.” Despondent in “I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself” and “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me.” All cried out in “All Cried Out.” But then amazingly on the rebound in “Brand New Me.” I hear your voice, Dusty, and I am instantly whisked back in time, not quite a teenager all over again, full of longing and confusion, listening to your latest hit on my red plastic transistor radio on a mid-sixties Los Angeles suburban summer afternoon. Twice in my life, I found myself in the same room as you. Can one fathom anything more miraculous? The first time was in 1983, late November, in the basement of a church in Los Feliz, around the corner from where I lived. Sober only a few weeks, I watched you approach the podium, but didn’t realize who you were until you identified yourself as “Dusty S.” For the next twenty minutes, you told us the story of your drinking. How early in your career, backstage before a performance, one of the Four Tops handed you your first drink, vodka. How smoothly it went down and loosened you up, lit you from within, gave you enough courage to go out on stage, into that blinding spot, and sing like no one else. The alcohol eventually stopped working— it always does, that brand of magic is transient— and here you were, two decades later, sober and clean and still singing, so to speak, before a live audience. In my youth, your words had come over the radio and stirred feelings of heartbreak and infatuation. Now they inspired me to keep coming back. The second time, 1987, four years sober, at a more upscale meeting at Cedars-Sinai in West Hollywood, I sat directly behind you. It was hard to breathe being in such close proximity. I didn’t hear a word the speaker said. During his drunkalog, I slowly, surreptitiously, moved the toe of my white high-top until it touched the back of your folding chair. Then said a little prayer. I hoped (should I be embarrassed admitting this?) that some of your stardust might travel down the metal leg of your chair, like a lightning rod, and be passed on to me. It’s after midnight again, Dusty, half a century since, on a suburban lawn or alone in my room, I suffered through hits by Paul Revere & the Raiders and Herman’s Hermits, just to experience two or three minutes of your sultry voice. I’m on YouTube again, watching the black-and-white video of you singing “I Only Want to Be with You.” Your 1964 appearance on some teen variety show. I’ve viewed it innumerable times, but it’s always exciting to see you dance out of the darkness into the round spotlight, exuberant as the song’s intro, arms outspread, in a chiffon cocktail dress and high heels, your platinum hair, sprayed perfectly in place, as bright and shiny as the moon. Midway through the song—the instrumental bridge—you turn and sashay around the edge of the spotlight, the ruffled hem of your chiffon dress twisting with your hips and intricate footwork. Circle circling circle: your full backlit hair orbiting the pool of white light in the center of the stage. I watch this again and again, like Bashō’s moon walking around the pond all night long.
Copyright © 2018 by David Trinidad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on June 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
About this Poem
“I’d always wanted to write about my brushes with Dusty Springfield, a pop star of goddess-like proportions from my childhood. I started the poem in a notebook in September 2016 and for some reason set it aside, but it stayed in my mind. Over a year later I went back and picked it up again. I’m glad I did.”
David Trinidad is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Swinging on a Star (Turtle Point Press, 2017), Notes on a Past Life (BlazeVOX [books], 2016) and Peyton Place: A Haiku Soap Opera (Turtle Point Press, 2013).
Date Published: 2018-06-13
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/ode-dusty-springfield