Trying To Get To You

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bootleg Thursday: Nina Simone - December, 1977

I posted far too few "Bootleg Friday" pieces this year. So I'm going to try to make up for it this month. Enjoy.

It took me a long time to like Nina Simone. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her voice. I did. A lot. But I found her music sanctimonious, arrogant, and even humorless. She sounded so “above it all” to me. It was obviously soul music, but it was soul with an edge that made me uncomfortable, in possession of none of the “everybody join in, everyone's invited” spirit of Otis, Aretha or James.

But then I read about her life, and I got her anger. I read about how at her first piano recital at age ten, her parents were made to move out of their seats and to the back of the hall. (Simone wouldn’t play until her parents were moved back to their original seats.) I read about her emotional troubles (she was bi-polar for roughly forty years), her estrangement from the United States, and her fury at what happened to the Civil Rights Movement. It was in that context that I got her music – music that demands it be gotten on its own terms, and no one else’s. She created unreasonable music.

The following selections are from a legendary show in December, 1977. In exile from the U.S., Simone plays for a worshipful crowd, but does not give them any of her most popular songs (“Young, Gifted and Black,” “To Love Somebody,” “Mississippi Goddam”). It’s music filled with fire that still burns - with anger, resentment – and yes, laughter and love as well. And it's a fire that sounds dangerous to me, even thirty years later. But I think that Nina Simone would have liked that - because she was never interested in the established order of anything.

Download: "Balm In Gilead" 12/77
Download: "Balm In Gilead (reprise)" 12/77
Download: "Rich Girl" 12/77
Download: "Little Girl Blue" 12/77
Download: "The Other Woman" 12/77
Download: "Turning Point" 12/77
Download: "Pirate Jenny" 12/77
Download: "Pirate Jenny (reprise)" 12/77


Unknown said...


Ben --

If you had initially found Ms. Simone's music to be "arrogant," then what might that make some of the writing -- or (some of) your p.o.v. -- on your blog: to either a first-part-or-full time reader?


I kid, I kid!

To end on a Brit-Pop, Bros. Gallagherian note: I hope, I think, I know.


-- R

Ben Lazar said...


You know me too well!

Nene Gilles said...

It took me a while to get into Nina Simone. One of her darkest songs is her rendition of "Strange Fruit" by Billie Holiday. It's practically chilling.

My favorite though is Simone's definitive 10-minute plus version of "Sinnerman" on her 1965 album "Pastel Blues". An earlier version of the song exists, recorded live at The Village Gate, but was never used on the 1962 Colpix album "Nina at the Village Gate".

The song has been sampled by Kanye West for the Talib Kweli song "Get By", by Timbaland for the song "Oh Timbaland", and by Felix da Housecat for Verve Record's "Verve Remixed" series and more recently in a TV Commercial for HTC Phones.

Even after all this time her music remains in perpetuity, crossing genre boundaries and having a profound effect on young artists.