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.
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 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.
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.