Monday, May 11, 2009

Series of Dreams #3 - Nina Simone

Outside in the freightyards,
the trains rattle and moan
It’s just Hank Williams talking,
to Nina Simone…(From the song Nina Simone)

San Cristobal de las Casas. Deep in the Mexican Yucatan. I’m wandering through the colonial backstreets and dark Indian allleys, when I hear Nina Simone’s voice filtering out of the window of a used bookstore. Vinyl. And old tube-driven record player. She was singing Dylan’s „Just Like a Woman.“ A transforming moment. I finally HEAR Nina’s true voice. A folksinger; that’s all she ever claimed to be. Reminded me of Morracco when I heard Dylan’s „Love is Just a Four Letter Word,“ with the lines about storefront windows and Gypsy Cafes. Those moments when you hear through to the poetics of the song. Down into the bedrock, where the iron water seeps through the veins and soaks into the words. Cante hondo. Nina Simone.
A few days ago we were walking along a canal in Amsterdam and saw a barge with a crane and steam shovel dredging out mud and trash from the canal. Out of the dark waters emerged broken and twisted bicycles, tree limbs, plastic bags and chocolate colored silt. So like the archeology of a song; dissecting a Nina Simone song, where the core is blood, mud, and twisted bicyles dripping with the silt of trainwrecked relationships. She was an angry woman, but contrary to journalistic belief, it didn’t all have to do with her blackness or her womanliness….it was a fathomless spiritual anger that strangled and confused her, and allowed her to inject the riveting, jagged noir nuances into the music. Blues in real time. Take it or leave it. She sang everything from pop to blues, country to folk, jazz to blues... and soul and French dance hall songs. She sang whatever she damn well pleased with a spit-in-your eye attitude that masked a very warm hearted, damaged human. Her anger was no different than Van Morrison’s. The eternal search for the reason people destroy each other. As the painter Francis Bacon said: „relationships are all about two people pulling each other apart.“ Nina sang the soundtrack and I heard it and danced to it as I walked through my lonely alley afternoons in the Mexican Yucatan. Years ago.
(Song number three in a series of twelve from the next record « Blood and Candlesmoke » )


editor said...

What, are you working on a masterpiece here or something?

The proof's in the songs (I have confidence, of course — the track record is good)but the back stories lead me to think something special is afoot.

I already know Guadalupe and San Carlos Crosses... saw them performed once live and they haunt me still, so...

Jan Kristoffer Dale said...

Oh man.... you've really struck gold with these new songs Tom. I watched you perform this one in Oslo, and it was stunning. The new album can't get here fast enough!

Tonight I watched the "Mano A Mano" DVD for the first time, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Watching and listening to you and Ian talk about the craft of songwriting was really inspiring.

Neil Crabtree said...

What a terrific series of posts. I'm here working with playing my Tom Russell station. Just finished "Van Ronk" and then Joe Ely and Guy Clark and now The Iguanas. Means TR's up next. And now my email delivers this terrific post. I've been promoting the big collection at my blog Believable Lies but have to find a way to turn people on to this rare event: an artist talking about the work in progress. Keep at it, Big Guy. You're knocking 'em dead in my neighborhood. YEp. It's "Bus Station" coming on pandora now. Good night, wherever you are.

Lang Mack said...

G'day Mr. Russell, you have a strong following down here in Australia, in fact we have had to pay rather a lot to import your music, there is a Lady who ( I don't know personally) rather likes your work, so ponders the question, are you going to drop in.
And if you do, tell us when.. Cheers Lang.

Saddle Tramp said...

She put a spell on me . . . yes, she did.
I recall someone retelling of one of her concerts in which after several encores, Nina returned to the stage, and pleading with her audience, asked them to please leave. She exclaimed that she " Had no more to give. " Only an artist that can offer such great joy or pain can be that exhaustive with their talent and soul. Righteous indignation personified. Mississipi Goddamn ! !

Tom , we are only 1/4 of the way through the dreams and I am already sold . . .

Also soaking up Dylan's latest ( including Roy Silver & Friends ) and am now listening to " Townes " by Steve Earle that I just picked fresh this evening at the B&N in
Fayetteville, Arkansas. Both are ragged, jangled , real and worth it. Delayed gratification waiting on your " Blood and
Candles. " All are a backdrop of true direction to all the
pervasive falseness blowing in the devil's wind . . .
Dylan feels a change comin' on . . . He has been there before. If anyone would know, it would be you Tom . . .

Miles and miles . . .
of more miles and miles

-saddle tramp
Via: Fayetteville, AR en route from Cowboy's Tank Wash
in Sulphur Springs, TX and on up through Ozark Mountain thunderstorms with hills all Irish green and wet with riverlets wandering . . .

Saddle Tramp said...

That would be :

" rivulets wandering . . . "
To get the perspective right. Sorry. Working dark to dark. I am damned tired !

dynawebb said...

Nina singing...there is a balm in Gilead; and that really is something that will make the wounded whole.

Fabulous song, Tom (of course)

BMH said...

She did "House of the Rising Sun" and you should too.

Damn, so did Ronk.

We talk a lot about Nina at The Sun Will Explode:

Great blog you've got here.

Thanks, Brad

Unknown said...

Listen to Nina Simone music on wnyc radio. Enjoy her great music composition.