A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Memory Lane #1

It's easy to get nostalgic when you're 37. I remember a more innocent time, when the Jam going straight in at Number One on the singles chart was almost a national event; when the strike force of Cottee and McAvennie were tearing up Division One for the Hammers, and when you couldn't get the ad jingle for Kia-Ora orange squash out of your head for days on end.

We're coming up on four years since the 33 1/3 series started, so I'll be running an occasional series of short extracts from some of the early books, for any of you who've come to the series more recently. Perhaps this will help to establish whether the series has been going downhill, uphill, or has been cunningly skirting the countours of contemporary music criticism in order to exert the least possible amount of energy.

First up is Dusty in Memphis by Warren Zanes - a book that seems to be loved by some (including Jerry Wexler, who has bought dozens of copies over the years) and hated by others (it received one or two bizarrely vitriolic reviews). Here's a short extract from Chapter 2 of the book.


There is no avoiding psychobiography when writing about Dusty Springfield. She was troubled, out of place in her world. The authorized Dusty Springfield biography portrays Dusty's life as one long, often sad if occasionally and curiously joyous, car crash of a life, a redemptive turn coming late in the game but almost too late. If one is to believe the biography - and why not? - Dusty was a good but deeply conflicted soul, more often settling for diversions from her torments rather than solutions to them. The vulnerability we hear in her voice, it seems, is not some fluke but the sound that pain makes when it comes out of a certain body. If both simplistic and romantic, this art-born-of-pain interpretation of the Dusty Springfield story remains the most viable version. Why banish such a reading simply because the story has been told too many times of too many people? In Dusty's case, it fits. It's hard to avoid the reasonable enough idea that singing was perhaps Dusty's one valve to let off a little of the pressure building inside. Well, singing and - as the biography seems to insist - throwing food.

Given all of this, her tangled, chaotic life story and her alienation from a public that at different times embraced her and forgot her, one can well imagine that the notion of an elsewhere, a more real other place, a place where something vaguely related to freedom could be experienced would prove a potent concept to Dusty. If children are forever off in some land of their own making, those adults who believe they have left some crucial part of themselves in childhood - and Dusty was unequivocal in thinking this - will often return to those landscapes of childhood for a lost object, will often become involved in transport as a way of life. And, indeed, it seems that the South, that imagined region of authenticity sitting just beyond that field, was one of the elsewheres to which Dusty often returned. She found something in the music and the magic of the South that gave her, if only in the imagination, a more sastisfying home. The music she loved was merely the sound, the raw expression of a sense of freedom, that came out of that home. The South was her elsewhere. And Dusty in Memphis, whether consciously produced as such or not, is her tribute to just that place.



Anonymous said...

the dusty book is a great one...four years on and wishing 33 1/3 many happy returns...i have a feeling the best and biggest is yet to come...

Marc Caputo said...

I've been banging through a bunch of these - just finished "Exile" and "Let It Be" (Replacements version). This brings my total to 5 - with 12 more to go. Meloy's is the best, with Pernice's "Meat is Murder" right behind - when the casting call goes out next year, I feel my pitch is gonna go along these lines.

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