I’m having second thoughts about these pieces on female jazz singers. I remember in college I was quite taken by a book of poems by Eugene McNamara. The name of the book eludes me. The poems were about Hollywood actresses. There was something compelling about them. Something between the myth of these women and the actual facts about their lives. It seemed to go to the core of who they were. But how would I know? I had no personal relationship with those actresses. Nor did the poet…. I thought I might be doing the same thing with these jazz singers. Not that these are final. They still feel like marble. You can see some of the images but they haven’t yet been drawn out. Not fully. So I am digging for some kind of truth. But not necessarily about these singers. Do the facts themselves reveal who these women are? Do facts ever? It seems to me you have to allow the imagination to walk through their lives. And hope you stumble onto some clue. I’m meandering here. Usually when I am happy with a piece of writing or a visual work, it’s because I have arrived at something that is beautiful. But by attaching the names of real historical beings to the pieces I feel a sense of guilt. Either that I have invaded their privacy. Or that I am involved in something akin to gossip. And yet. I find these women engaging.
This bit is about Nina Simone
Don’t Let Me Be Understood
August xx, 2008 by Maynard G. Krebs
b. Eunice Kathleen Waymon. Trained to be classical pianist. Elegant fingers. Stopped to listen to that horn play. Made money in clubs playing jazz. Changed her name. Shouldn’t be playing that devil music. First name, Nina. Little girl. Nickname from a boyfriend. Last name, Simone, from the French actress Simone Signoret. Large hard eyes. Filled with softness and pain. Nine didn’t care much about her career. Too much anger. About racism. About women. About stupidity and vulgarity. One performance, her parents were forced to move to the back of the hall. To make way for white people. Nina sat silently. Patiently. Would not move. Until her parents were moved back to their seats. Mississippi Goddam. Only solution was violent revolution. No one is happy in this country except at the end of a gun. Left U.S.A. In disgust. Government was after her. Through the IRS. Stayed in Barbados. Affair with the Prime Minister. Moved on to Liberia. Later to Switzerland. Fell for a man with four eyes. He had such smooth ways. His voice. His hands. Holding her close. Nina got beaten. Robbed. Abandoned. How could I have been such a fool! Kneeling over a toilet. Too many pills. I’d take him back. If he called. Settled in France. Wounded a kid with a gun for disturbing her concentration. The black wolves of night. Driving her car madly through the narrow streets. Diagnosed with bipolar. Medicated. Career revived. Great love affair. Like a volcano at the end of her days. Why couldn’t we do this all over again?