This popped up on a playlist yesterday. It was “Four Women,” I think. It prompted me to listen start to finish. I used to hear this coming from the living room at our house and always wondered who that man was with the funny voice singing. “Break Down and Let it All Out” always kind of got to me in my bedroom down the hall. Flash forward from my memories as and 8-year-old to my 20/21-year-old self, very aware of Ms. Simone. She accompanied me via cassette as I traveled and busked through Europe with my copy of “The Autobiography of Malcom X.” That cassette was with me when I landed on the air-mattress in my dad’s living room in Inglewood.
Somewhere along the line I started singing “Black is the Color of my True Love’s Hair” in my shows. I don’t think I knew it was an Irish folk song when I first learned it. It felt like a pure celebration of black beauty. As a mixed kid in this White-ish folk/rock scene, it felt good to sing something #blackAF, unapologetically black. I’d even sometimes do the live version from Nina’s album, “Black Gold,” incorporating her guitarist, Emile Latimer’s take specifically addressing female beauty. His voice is so similar to hers that for many years, I thought Nina was taking a gender flipping approach, which struck me as another genius creative risk for 1969.
One night at Luna Park, this kid from NY was sound-checking before me and he started playing “Lilac Wine,” also from “Wild is the Wind.” Yep, Jeff Buckley. I felt a kindred spirit and he turned out to be an amazing artist and extremely generous with me as I was starting to do shows in NY.
This also makes me laugh, wondering what my dad might have said to his version of “Lilac Wine,” since he chastised me for playing Bowie’s version of “Wild is the Wind” over and over, saying, “Why did that white boy sing Nina’s song?!” Oh, Pops…
I love the idea that in a pre-internet world I was able to mishear, misunderstand, and incorporate these songs into my being, only to have them become even more meaningful as I grew up, listened more, and found others equally moved by this record.
I went down the rabbit hole last night and found I’m REALLY not alone, as Pitchfork named this as number five in the list of best albums of the 1960s, just below “A Love Supreme” and above “Abbey Road.”
Yeah, you don’t even have to mention the name of the artist for those album titles to recall their impact. But in a spiritual way, in an ambitious, poetic way, “Wild is the Wind” has probably inspired me in an equal way. And, though it feels a little weird to see it ranked so highly, because it felt like my private sanctuary, knowing that I’m not alone gives me hope.
And, letting the lonely, the misunderstood, the misfits, the oppressed know that we’re not alone was one of the greatest gifts Nina gave anyone who took the time to listen.
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