The Nina Diaries
('Seems I've Never Tired Lovin' You,' a 2003 video diary about Nina Simone)
From the script: I've been playing 'Pirate Jenny' lately. It's so frightening. It's about a woman who works as a maid, but dreams of the day her black ship will come sailing in and she will be on top again, killing everyone who had stood in her way. At the close of the song, nina half whispers half screams the warning, "That'll learn ya!" I sit in my room, with my record player. I just bought a CD transfer of 3 of Nina's European political albums. She talks between the tracks, and I can't help but feeling like she's right here. I should be embarrassed at the way I carry on, singing at the top of my lungs, "To Be Young Gifted and Black." A little white guy belting out the National Anthem of the Civil Rights Movement. Even Nina said "This is not a song for white people, though it does not put you down in any way, it just simply ignores you." Mmm... but it doesn't.
Over the holidays, I received the 3-cd boxset, "To Be Free: The Nina Simone Story" from D's parents, a very sweet gift. I was most keen on this collection for its DVD compendium. There are few film documents of Nina at her peak which (depending on who you ask) was roughly 70-75. Thing's were sloping away from the Jazz or standard interpretations and shifting to a kind of wild politicality. Things were messy, but in a really good way. I watched the doc contained in the set on Christmas day in that afternoon fireside lull. It was made for television in 1972 (though I can't really imagine it on any kind of middle American set at the time) and, as Nina tends to, it inspired me with a kind of rapt fervor. Possessed me. I tapped out these words in a 5-minute surge:
What I didn't understand about Simone (or maybe I understood it, but I didn't know how to think it) her great accomplishment was this feeling, this quelling emotion that even she knew she was at a loss for words to describe. She paints a crystal clear picture of a kind of ecstatic... not interconnectivity, perhaps, but a kind of surging passion, a lost-in-the-throesness that her music inspires in listeners. She talks it too in interviews, but she doesn't know how to talk about it, because you can't. She just sobs, throws her hand non her head and balks as interviewers use words like free. Have you ever read her memoirs? They're kind of painful. she doesn't really do her music any justice, but it's amazing because it's a document of this thing that's just burning in her and all she's trying to do is either get it out or share it. She accounts on her writing of Mississippi Goddamn that she found herself filled with an instant rage, a drive that drove her into the garage, working until she'd assembled a zip gun. She wanted to kill people. Either she decided or her now-opportunistic ex-husband, Andy Stroud, told her to not kill people, rather put that energy into song and that's what she always did. In this teevee documentary from the 60s, she says she has known freedom a few times on stage and you buy it. She has that way, she just skirts the ineffable through combining religious fervor with a kind of selfishness - a kind of self assurance, like, the issue isn't Christ but if you imagine another passion insane immense enough to infect, spread. Like someone with a really good laugh but for longer and they generate something more profound in you, some kind of out, some kind of alternative option, a sturm and drang. That's her politics. She was shocked when all the black panthers had her records, and naturally - as someone with records to sell - she really thought long and hard about that group of people. Passionate people. In the sixties (and early seventies) you had politics, but really, politics isn't the realm of passion any longer, its the sad sick realm of (alleged) reason. There's no reason in Nina and it's better for it. It's burning ire, it's live wire. It's angry but not whiny. Sometimes she can't even speak onstage. that's the kind of shit it is. and that she was and that was her contribution. you can rope it onto a number of formless sensations, but still, she's the patti smith before Patti, she doesn't even need the poetry. She's wearing High Priestess headdresses and it's not for spirituality's sake, it's for power influence ire/ She was the original or not the original but she flowed through in a way that few manage.