David Bowie, Nina Simone : Wild Is The Wind

 

The wind bloweth where it listeth.

Where it listeth.

And we, we are nought but chaff in the wind.

Chaff in the wind.

When the wind is northerly ‘tis very cold.

And, when we are in Love reason is buffeted like wind-blown smoke.

Our lives are but feathers helplessly teased and tormented by the winds of Love.

All the winds sigh for sweet things dying, dying.

The wind from all points of the compass; north, east, south or west gathers and remembers our voices, the whispers of our hearts, and broadcasts them in the calls of the birds and the threshing of the leaves and fields.

The wind feeds the fires of Love and in the end is there to extinguish the flames too.

The east wind brought the locusts.

Two riders were approaching.

The wind began to Howl.

Howl.

Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Say you do.

My love is like the wind and wild is the wind.

Wild is the wind.

Wild is the wind.

Wild Is the WInd was written by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington (previously featured here as composers of High Noon) for a 1957 romantic melodrama of the same name starring Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani.

Johnny Mathis gave the song a poised and polished performance gliding atop sweeping strings.

Yet, there is no sense in his reading of the desperation implicit in the lines :

’With your kiss my life begins .. you’re spring to me .. All things to  me …

Don’t you know you’re life itself’.

No, the song would have to wait until an artist of genius took possession of the song and through the alchemy of her art transformed a leaf trembling breeze into a heart shattering hurricane.

It’s the same song in tne way that someone returning home after the trauma of war is the same person who departed.

Nina Simone in 1959 at NYC Town Hall in her vocal and piano playing evokes layer after layer of bruised and battered feeling.

The euphoria of the sound of mandolins and the shocking abandonment and abasement of the wild wind of the obsessed Lover are made present in every breath and every note so that the listening audience must have felt emotionally wrung out as the last note subsided into exhausted silence.

Don’t you know you’re life itself!

Better to die than to live without this Love.

The leaf clinging to the tree.

We are like creatures, creatures, in the wind.

Cling to me. Cling to me. Cling to me.

Wild is the Wind.

Wild is the Wind.

Nina Simone would return over and over again to Wild Is the Wind.

In the tour de force version below, issued in 1966, the wind she evokes is a tornado that sweeps us into a tumult of a Love that is nothing less than Life and Death to the Lover.

An eternally entwined trinity.

Life and Love and Death.

Don’t you Know you’re Life Itself!

Creatures, creatures of the Wind.

The sound of Mandolins.

With your kiss my Life Begins.

Don’t you know you’re Life Itself.

Cling to me.

Life and Love and Death.

Wild is the Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

David Bowie in free fall after the Ziggy Stardust years found in the artistic persona of Nina Simone an anchor and a ladder.

Especially in her performance of Wild is The Wind which must have attracted him as the quintesssntial demonstration of how a true artist could summon and surrender to a tsunami of emotion yet remain in control through craft and discipline so that it is the audience and not the artist who is overwhelmed.

Bowie recorded the song for his bravura 1976 album, ‘Station to Station’.

Being the very smart guy he was he knew not to attempt to sing the song to piano accompaniment for that could only cast him into Nina’s Olympian shadow.

Instead, with extraordinary care, he arranged a version that had oceanic sway as intertwined guitars (Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick) and percussion (Dennis Davis) urged his vocal to reach, reach, reach until we are bereft – leaves clinging to the tree , helpless.

For we are creatures, creatures, sweet things dying.

With your kiss My Life Begins.

Don’t you know you’re Live Itself.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild is The Wind.

 

Tne wind bloweth where it Listeth.

Where it listeth.

And we are nought but chaff in the wind.

Chaff in the wind.

When David Bowie performed at Glastonbury in tne year 2000 he had been through many storms, many of his own making, and had survived them to emerge as a magus in complete command of his art.

The sound of Mandolins

Love me, love me, love me, love me.

Life Itself.

Cteatures In The Wind.

Creatures.

Life and Love and Death.

An eternally entwined trinity.

We are all helpless before the Wind.

Leaves clinging to the trees.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild Is The Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

Wild Is the Wind.

Thanks due to The King James Bible. Truman Capote, Christina Rossetti and William Shakespeare for inspiration.

Nina Simone, The Animals : Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

All of us want to be loved.

All of us want to be known for who we really are.

All of us want to be understood.

We want to stretch out our hand to someone who says, with feeling, ‘I know, I know, I know exactly what you mean’.

Yet, so  often, we feel, far from being truly understood, we are instead misunderstood.

Living day to day can be so hard.

We make mistakes.

We let ourselves down.

No one alive can always be an angel.

Sometimes it seems all we have to do is worry, worry, worry.

We regret those foolish words so carelessly spoken.

Oh, but at heart, in our soul, to get through another day, to live companionably, we must believe our intentions are good.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

 

Nina Simone.

An artist of the first degree.

A musician, singer and performer sharing the stature of Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday and Aretha Franklin.

Not that you can compare her artistry to anyone else.

There has never been anyone like Nina Simone.

A naturally gifted pianist and a singer who made every song she ever sang her own.

She grew up in in pre War South Carolina where strict limits were imposed on the ambitions of young black girls – however talented.

Her originality, her sensitivity and her intuition which were integral to her greatness as an artist made her acutely, painfully, aware of the savage injustice she was heir to as a proud Black Woman and artist in the land of her birth.

So, when Nina Simone sang there was always wounded pain informing the beauty she created.

She brought fierce attention to a song melding the personal and the political with irresistible force.

‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ is in her reading a plea for personal and political justice and respect from a casualty of wilful misunderstanding – including her misunderstanding of herself.

Listening, you feel suspended in time, swaying in tempo, as Nina Simone with her poised piano and bruised vocal excavates layer after layer of meaning and emotion.

Listening, you hear a blues, you hear a spiritual, you hear echoes of No More Auction Block, you hear echoes of All My Trials, you hear a cry from the heart.

Listening to the way she bites into and stretches the words misunderstood, good and joy for maximum effect.

There is a gravity in her performance of this song which I find emotionally overwhelming.

Nina Simone cuts deep and listening to her is both immensely rewarding and profoundly disturbing for there can be no ignoring the dark truths about humanity and society she so often revealed.

Nina Simone paid a high price in personal terms for the truths she told.

We are all in her debt for the courage and fortitude with which she pursued her vocation and for the many treasures she bequeathed through her records.

I estimate that there are over 400 versions of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ in the catalogue.

I have listened to twenty or so before writing this Post.

I found merit in the versions by Joe Cocker, Julie Tippets & Brian Auger, Mary J Blige and especially in that of Meshell Ndegeocello.

But, it seemed to me there was only one version that I could, in all conscience, present in the same Post as that of Nina Simone.

The Animals.

The pride of Newcastle.

They were specialists in sourcing songs from the blues tradition and turbo charging them through the lacerating power of Eric Burdon’s vocals and intensity of the arrangements led by Alan Price’s entrancing Organ and Hilton Valentine’s down these mean streets Noir Guitar.

I have read that Bob Dylan jumped out of his car and shouted with amazed delight when he first heard The Animals take on, ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ which they had found on his debut LP.

I would not venture to guess what Nina Simone made of their version of, ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’ yet we can say that it is an intensely driven, masculine, version that can never be forgotten once heard.

Certainly, Bruce Springsteen, a major Animals devotee, must have had this version in his head as he wrote, ‘Badlands’.

While no one could attempt to match the Nina Simone original The Animals version, a classic in its own right, became the essential template for almost all versions that followed.

We will always be in search of understanding.

We will always be edgy, have regrets and be filled with worry.

While wanting desperately to be understood we will misunderstand others and ourselves.

That’s what it is to be human rather than an angel.

Ah  but, if we could, if we just would pay proper attention to each other and the world around us we might in our journey come to understand that every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.

We might come to live in the land of spices.

We might hear church bells beyond the stars.

We might find something understood.

Sing it Nina.

Notes :

Nina Simone’s original version can be found on her 1964 Album, ‘Broadway, Blues, Ballads’.

The Animals version was released in January 1965 – it was a substantial world wide hit.

The writers of the song were Bennie Benjamin, Horace Ott (who arranged and conducted the Nina Simone version) and Sol Marcus.