Sunday, June 24, 2018

Ode to Dusty Springfield by David Trinidad


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.

 

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