Sunday, July 24, 2011

Amy Winehouse = Nina Simone Reborn?

Veering off the road a bit from the topic of gnosis I'd like to pay tribute to two wonderful singers.

Beyond listening to the song "Rehab" and watching the crazed news blurbs about her drunken and drug induced states of mental instability, I honestly have not followed much of Amy Winehouse's career. However when I learned of her death today I took a few hours to look back over her life and work. I came to the stunned realization that Nina Simone had been reborn! ....and then we lost her again. It happens like that, though. Musicians flit in and out of this world in the blink of an eye and most of the time are only appreciated after the gravestone has been set in the ground for a good decade or so.

LinkNow Amy's career was nowhere near as prolific as Nina's, however her look, deep vocal tone, flare for the bold and dramatic.... it's all there. Even right down to the abuse of her patrons, unfortunately. If only she could have stayed away from the drugs and booze Amy might have had a fighting chance.

Wiki: Writer Josh Tyrangiel praised Winehouse for her confidence, opining, “What she is is mouthy, funny, sultry, and quite possibly crazy."

Yep. Sounds a lot like my beloved Nina!

Financial success does not make a person happy. But I don't think that financial success would have made either woman happy because their desires so drastically clashed with the reality of what they were being offered and had access to.

I look at Nina's life and it is one royal disaster after the other. Her biography reads like the worst sort of fate that the three bitch Fates could have possible concocted out of sheer spite. Combine undiagnosed(for at least 20 years)schizophrenia with a pair of golden lungs and a con-artist for a record label manager and.... you've got a recipe for disaster! Fortunately for her fans Nina did not succumb to despair, she just strapped on her boots and kicked in doors that much harder.

What makes my heart hurt the most when reading about Nina's history in the music industry is how little she is appreciated for her contribution. Ask most any jazz fan who their top five favorite singers are and they'll give you the same old generic list. Ask them who Nina Simone is and you're lucky if one of them says, "Oh, that crazy lady who died hiding out in France?" erm.. yes. That one. And the same lady who is known as the High Priestess of Soul.

And the worst part is that she HATED being linked to the jazz genre!! She wanted to be known for her talents on the piano, not her voice. I fell in love with her from the very first time I heard a strangely neuter voice singing "Wild is the Wind," a sad ballad in the movie Point of No Return. To hear "Sinnerman" in the Thomas Crown Affair always makes me want to stomp my feet and clap in time. Nina is
everywhere now! But she is still not covered anywhere near as much as she deserves. In any jazz or soul compilation album you're pretty much out of luck to see anything at all of Nina. She was burned by the music labels and she burned more than a few bridges with them with her bad behavior. I think that her absence from compilation albums is in direct relation to these labels still being irritated with her past fall(s) from grace.

"Four Women" will make you cry and "Pirate Jenny" will have you grinning and cheering for Jenny as she 'scrubbing these floors while you're gawking. Maybe if you tip me and it makes you feel swell in this crummy old town in this crummy old hotel.. but you couldn't ever guess to who you're talking. No, you couldn't ever guess...' Jenny gets her revenge in the end. I think Nina did, too.

Nevermind that "Pirate Jenny" was written in 1931 for a GERMAN opera! - Nina managed to bring this extravagant tune to life once again and gave it relevance in the 1960-1970 era of intense civil strife. It is to this day one of my top five favorite songs.

If Nina's "Mississippi Goddamn" was boycotted back in 1964 and Amy's "Rehab" (and various other adult themed songs)was met with uneasy acceptance then I think our society has at least matured enough to embrace singers and song writers to show us what we makes us squirm to see in the mirror. We may not like it but we are forced to at least acknowledge it; to confront our sense of unease and analyze it further.

If you read this blog post and do nothing else today, please listen to Nina's live recording of "Mississippi Goddamn." This 'show tune... but a show hasn't been written for it... yet' is still so very relevant today. Nina tells us to Wake Up! Act! ... and it isn't such bad advice.

Rest in peace, Nina and Amy.