My World (this last… month?)

So I swear I intended for my last entry of My World (Last Week); to start off something I would post at the conclusion of each week… and here we are, over a month later.  *slap on the wrist*  My bad. 

 Here we go, take two:

Watching, film:
Hypothesis of a Stolen Painting (1979, Ruiz)
The Draughtman’s Contract (1982, Greenaway)
La Collectionneuse (1967, Rohmer)
Nashville (1975, Altman) (umpteenth revision, theater this time)
The Royal Tenenbaums (2001, Anderson) (umpteenth revision)
Friends with Money (2006, Holofcener) (second viewing)

Watching, other:

Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” – San Diego Opera (best of the season)
Regina Spektor concert – House of Blues (I’m still smiling over it)

On Photography by Susan Sontag (still)
Emma by Jane Austen (still)
Prisms by Theodor Adorno
The Dreamers by Gilbert Adair (again)
Moments of Being by Virginia Woolf (again)
Sylvia Plath’s Journals (again)

Owen Pallett’s (or Final Fantasy, if you insist) He Poos Clouds (essential track: “Song, Song, Song”)
Regina Spektor’s Soviet Kitsch (essential track: “Us:)
Mavis Staples’s Only for the Lonely (essential track: “Until I Met You”)
Nina Simone’s The Soul of Nina Simone (essential track: errr, “Save Me” is my favorite)
Aretha Franklin’s The Age of Aretha (essential track: “Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby)”)

“Charles Sheeler: Across Media” – De Young Museum, San Francisco

 Or something like that. 



Man, I’ve got I’ve got to change my mindset about this blog, and make it less of a formal exercise. At the rate I’m going now it’s going to calcify into an abandoned monument of good intentions, or something just as useless.

So throwing out something I’ve been giving a lot of thought to lately: over the last month or so I’ve taken an unintentional sabbatical from writing film reviews (which is the nice way of putting it), and I’m having a hard time pulling myself out of it. But forcing myself to get that part of my brain going again, I’ve been finding a phrase constantly running through my head: “what’s my angle?”

And then this morning, on my way to work, another thought popped into my barely-functioning-on-caffeine brain: “is an angle really a good thing?” (Gotta love those early morning flashes of doubt.)

An angle, a theoretic framework was something that was burned into my head the last year of my undergraduate studies, the first time I was really submerged into literary theory. I really enjoyed theory (in a rather masochistic way, admittedly) and I really came to like the mental ride it could take you on. Writing papers with it could be quite fun, even amusing, as you could take A add it to B, and come out with C (and this whether you wanted to or not). The results were more or less preordained which was comforting, but it also gave enough room to breath some life and personality into whatever it was that was being written.

But I also liked that I was never forced to pin myself to any single theory (something which rather frightens me about graduate school), but was free to dabble in whatever it I was that struck my fancy, and I ended up writing papers using Reader-Response, Feminist, Queer Theory, whatever. But then there’s that tiny voice of contradiction which tells me by not aligning myself I’m doomed to just dabble in surfaces. And lack of depth is something that really frightens me (queue my oft-repeated Henry James quote).

Well, that’s what I’m thinking. I’m not sure where this was meant to go, and as such I’m rebelling against my instincts, which tell me that this has to end in an epiphany or an attempt at a crescendo. I guess that’s a step forward.

I’ve been having moments of intensely missing London lately. I can’t believe it’s coming up to a year now.

“that’s it… yeah!”

Nina Simone: the Last Day of a Several-Day Series Celebrating the Inimitable Artist

In the before-mentioned Fader Magazine presentation last summer many contributors attempted to explain what Nina has meant to them musically, artistically, politically, or as a personal acquaintance or friend. But the closing reflection, by Antony of Antony & the Johnsons, opted for something different, offering up a feverish attempt to articulate what it is about Nina Simone’s music that reaches such an indefinable place for so many people—particularly for him. I’ve decided to include the closing two paragraphs here:

“She was almost from another planet in terms of the power that she harnessed as a hardcore, hard-boiled black American woman. It’s so complicated being a woman in relation to men and then defending your people from the perspective of the underclass sex. And she is one of the brave few that stared all those demons in the eye and roared like thunder. And of course she was fragmented and cracking. You have to be, to be that brave. That’s why, to me, all of those little stories and gossips about her, none of those details of the pedestrian identity undermine the vision and the endpoint that she reached as an artist and as a visionary. That’s just the path there. You don’t get there by doing what your neighbors think is right. You don’t get there by coloring inside the lines.

The path of the hero is hard earned, and her genius wasn’t in the trauma—it was in her ability to turn experience around and transform it into a sound that people can hang their souls on. She was the voice for so many disenfranchised people. I mean, I’m probably the farthest thing possible from the person she imagined she would reach.

In all my readings I have yet to come across something as lovingly—or movingly—written as this, if only because it feels like it is actually coming from the same insanely passionate, on-the-edge place as so much of Nina’s music. I mean god, “a sound that people can hang their souls on?” A heavy, on the surface overreaching statement, but upon reflection one that’s sobering in its accuracy. Because for me, and I think for many others, listening to the scathing wails of an “Ain’t Got No; I Got Life” or “House of the Rising Sun,” the naked emotional devastation of an “Everything Must Change” or even the wounded amusement of a “Trouble in Mind” is to experience that rare manifestation of direct emotional involvement and interaction with someone else through an artistic medium.

And that’s the appeal of Nina Simone to me—every time I decide to pop a CD into my care stereo or click a track on my iPod she always manages to catch me unaware, even when I think I know what’s coming this time. Somehow, someway, via that rough, gravelly voice and fingers flying down piano keys she’s creates this railroad line directly into my heart, and immediately sends this giant, unstoppable train to smash down anything in the way as it barrels down towards my soul. I can’t count how many times I’ve been left, sitting and wondering what the hell has just happened.

As Nina would cry at the end of a song or a concert—“that’s it!” This series might not have lived up to what I had hoped it would be, but hopefully through these rambling, malformed odes of a fanboy there’s some sense of what this artist means to me.

soundtracks of a soul

Nina Simone: Day Four in a Several-Day Series Celebrating the Inimitable Artist

So I figure today is a good time to list some of my favorite Nina tracks, if only to give some recommendations and perhaps a little glimpse into my musical tastes. The first set are songs—Nina for Novices—are those songs I’d consider more or less “Nina Simone Essentials,” though at the same time I tried to be sensitive to convey her extraordinary range as a musician. The second group runs more along the lines of personal favorites, and as a result, there are more live performances included (which is where I think Nina shines most brilliantly). The last category are simply more songs, because, well, I couldn’t resist listing more.

It should be noted that one of the reason’s why Nina’s music catelogue is so voluminous is because it is said that every time she performed a song she interpreted it completely differently, and as a result there are multiple versions available of nearly every song she performed. For example, in the first set My Baby Just Cares For Me is the original version that is considered Nina’s greatest success on the music charts; in the second, it’s a long, improvised live performance that I recorded from clip from YouTube. Same song, but they couldn’t be more different (or dazzling in their own individual ways).

I’d be more than glad to burn a copy of either of these sets and mail them to anybody that is interested (I’ll take care of postage–so don’t let that stop you). Just leave a comment or email me at And finally, I’m always open to more recommendations myself–so please share your favorites with me, as I’m always looking for more recommendations.

Nina for Novices

01) Ain’t Got No; I Got Life (The Nina Simone Story)
02) Trouble In Mind (Nina Simone: Anthology)
03) Feeling Good (Four Women: Nina Simone Philips Recordings)
04) I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit)
05) To Be Young, Gifted and Black (The Nina Simone Story)
06) Just in Time (Nina Simone: The Tomato Collection)
07) Love Me or Leave Me (Lady Blue: Volume One)
08) My Baby Just Cares for Me (Lady Blue: Volume One)
09) In the Morning (The Very Best of Nina Simone: Sugar in My Bowl)
10) Sunday in Savannah (The Nina Simone Story)
11) House of the Rising Sun (The Nina Simone Story)
12) Mississippi Goddam (Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit)
13) Ne Me Quitte Pas (Live) (The Nina Simone Story)
14) I Put a Spell on You (I Put a Spell on You)
15) He Ain’t Coming Home No More (Wild is the Wind/ High Priestess of Soul)
16) I Loves You, Porgy (After Hours)
17) Sinnerman (Nina Simone: Anthology)

Nina for the Converted

01) Ain’t Got No; I Got Life (The Nina Simone Story)
02) I Wish I knew How It Would Feel to Be Free (Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit)
03) Trouble In Mind (Nina Simone: Anthology)
04) Children Go Where I Send You (The Amazing Nina Simone
05) Sunday in Savannah (The Nina Simone Story)
06) House of the Rising Sun (The Nina Simone Story)
07) My Baby Just Cares for Me (Recorded off YouTube)
08) Just in Time (Nina Simone: The Tomato Collection)
09) I Shall Be Released (The Essential Nina Simone)
10) I’m Going Back Home (Wild is the Wind/ High Priestess of Soul)
11) Tomorrow is My Turn (I Put a Spell on You)
12) Save Me (The Soul of Nina Simone)
13) Blacklash Blues (Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit)
14) Either Way I Lose (Wild is the Wind/ High Priestess of Soul)
15) Please Read Me (The Nina Simone Story)
16) Just Like a Woman (Nina Simone: Anthology)
17) Everything Must Change (Baltimore)
18) Mississippi Goddam (Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit)

Other Favorites

Everyone’s Gone to the Moon (Nina Simone: Anthology)
Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter (Nina Simone: Anthology)
The Glory of Love (Nina Simone: Anthology)
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (The Soul of Nina Simone)
Lilac Wine (Wild is the Wind/ High Priestess of Soul)
Love Me or Leave Me (Let it All Out)
My Baby Just Cares for Me (The Soul of Nina Simone)
Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out (Nina Simone: Anthology)
Sea Line Woman (Nina Simone: Anthology)
Turn! Turn! Turn! (Forever Young, Gifted and Black: Songs of Freedom and Spirit)

And now it’s your turn…

“love me or leave me and let me be lonely…”

Nina Simone: Day Three in a Several-Day Series Celebrating the Inimitable Artist

One of the most defining characteristics of Nina Simone is her utterly indefinable quality, and the countless contradictions and paradoxes that play such an integral role in both her identities as a musician and as a human being. I was particularly struck by this as I read my way through a series of essays and pieces amassed in Fader Magazine last summer, a compilation with remembrances and reflections offered up by a number of individuals, ranging from those who knew her personally (her daughter and her ex husband, friend and fellow musician Al Schackman) as well as a number of artists (including Jill Scott, Talib Kweli and Richard Linklater among many others) who feel their own work has been touched and inspired in some way by Nina and her music.

What fascinated me was the realization that all of these memories and tributes failed to function as a means of clarification, instead only seeming to emphasize how enigmatic she was for her whole life, and remains to this very day. Many contributors (rightly) celebrated her dedication to the Civil Rights Movement, but her ex husband seemed to indicate that Nina had deep reservations about her political involvement; some focus on the tremendous strength of her character and artistic dedication, others dwell on her obvious vulnerability. Everybody seems to possess some particular, private interpretation of Nina—to some she’s Nina the revolutionary, to others she’s Nina the tortured artist, to some she’s the angry expatriate and to others still a unifier of an almost religious sort. The thing is, all of these views are correct ones—she certainly embodies all of these emotions, ideologies and experiences, but at the same time manages to never quite be pegged by them. I love what my friend Kevin Lee had to say about this during an email exchange:

”…she really was something else. I don’t know if I’d ever want to know her in real life—seems like a mess—but in those live performances you can feel the fragments of her personality come together, feeling whole, united in the goal of expressing and emoting and exorcising all those demons in as eloquent was as can be.”

I’m not sure what to say beyond that. Somehow all of these pieces of Nina hang together, all interconnected somehow, almost miraculously combining and arranging into a mosaic that created an utterly unique person and artist.