Saturday, February 17, 2007

I Put A Spell On You, by Nina Simone

In her autobiography, suitably titled I Put a Spell On You, Nina Simone comes across as a fire breathing character out of the Old Testament. Early on, she tells us how much fun she had as a young girl when it was time to slaughter a pig. She describes the poor creature being banged on the head, then roasted with all of its innards hanging out.

When she was living in Nigeria, Simone considered starting a romance with a seventy year old man. Later on, the government was overthrown and the man’s son was executed. Someone sent her a video of the actual execution. When Simone wants to reminisce about Liberia and her friends there, she plays the video!

On the subject of the civil rights struggle in America, she remains dubious of the virtues of non-violent resistance, ready to take up arms if she deems it necessary. Indeed, at one stage Nina tried to make a home made gun!

Then there’s her poor father. When he was dieing of cancer, and pleading to see his daughter, Simone refused to see him. The reason? Nina claims her father never told the family about all the money she used to send to help support the family, pretending that it was he who looked after the family financially. Whatever the reason, it seems unbelievably harsh to deny a dieing man such a simple wish.

Alas, once he’d passed away, Nina saw a witchdoctor who advised her on what steps to take if she wished to have his spirit with her all the time. She followed the advice and happily she was re-united with her father’s spirit. Once this happens she describes him as the greatest of men.

Nick Cave, the Australian singer-songwriter, described Nina Simone as being in a kind of warfare with the piano when she played it. Indeed, you get the impression that she has a highly ambivalent attitude towards her music. It’s like the music makes incredible demands of Nina, with her having to deal with it. Prince once said that having so many songs pop into his head actually hurt sometimes.

Fans will enjoy the sections that talk about Nina’s early ambitions to be a concert pianist, and how she developed her club act, or how it was rather developed somewhat for her. At first she only used to play the piano, until one club owner told she would have to sing as well.

That style that she developed would eventually find its way onto her first vinyl record, Little Girl Blue. You can really hear on that release her ambition to be a concert pianist.

I guess the autobiographies of musician’s are a strange genre. Read by fans rather than readers of books. Fans of Nina Simone won’t be disappointed by this autobiography, even though some of it may seem farfetched.

No comments: