At world festivals the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? Liz Garbus on the legendary Nina Simone. This winter, he opened the Sundance Film Festival, then he was presented at the Berlin Festival in the Panorama program, on June 26 they promise to put it on Netflix, and in Russia, we hope, it will be shown by the Beat Film Festival. The film follows the star of blues, soul and jazz from her first piano lessons in North Carolina at age three to her death in her sleep in 2003. 40 albums in sixteen years, and then almost twenty years of oblivion, the lost rights to their own songs and the daughter whom Simone deleted from her will - 100 minutes of chronicles and rare interviews tell what actually happened around and inside this grandiose woman all her life.
“I’m so tired, but you don’t understand what I mean,” a woman with brightly lined eyes will say at a concert during the famous festival in Montreux. 1976, she was taken to the stage arm in arm, the audience applauded. She is wearing a black dress and a simple short hairstyle, her eyes are watery, her lips are trembling, and her gaze is confused - this is how crushed people look around when they are looking for something to catch on to. She seemed to be waiting for the audience to tell her which note to play next. It seems that in another minute, her strength will run out - and she will simply collapse on the piano. Nina Simone begins to sing the song "Stars", stumbles, and then sees someone leaving and shouts into the microphone three times: "Sit!" - why in the hall there is a loud laugh of awkwardness, confusion and shame: either for a person who decided to get up and leave at the most inopportune moment, or for a superstar who yelled at the viewer, like shouting in a queue or at a train station.
Another concert dates from 1969 and begins with the song "Four Women" about four African-American women, their unenviable fate, fatigue and deeply hidden anger - the song was best understood in this place and at this time: in Harlem, a year after the assassination of Martin Luther King … Half an hour later, a nervous Nina Simone waves a sheet of poetry by David Nelson: “Are you ready to kill if need be? Are you ready to destroy white things and burn buildings if need be? Are you ready to build black things? " - the crowd happily agrees. In a few years, Nina Simone, who gave concerts almost every day, will not perform at all, and concerts in Harlem and Montreux will remain as absolute evidence of the extremes in which the legend of jazz and soul lived its life - nagging despair and ecstatic aggression. And not a single concert that Nina Simone gave several thousand in her life is like another, but in each there was too much sadness and often rage.
Railroad tracks separated her block from the prosperous world of white people
"What's the matter, Miss Simon?" - no one dared to ask the singer herself publicly when she disappeared and suddenly appeared in public, lost her voice, money and rights to her own songs. In her autobiography I Curse You, which was published in 1992, Nina Simone talks a lot and in detail about short falls in love, influential friends and spontaneous decisions, about political activists of the 60s and the battle for freedom for all, in which she joined without fear and doubts. But bipolar disorder - a diagnosis with which Simone lived most of her life without knowing about it and not treating him for many years - was not known until 2004. Then relatives and colleagues of the singer began to carefully talk in an interview about what was hidden behind the sparkling image on the stage, colossal talent, sonorous voice and the struggle for the weak. In the film, Liz Garbus makes it clear why her voice sounded "like gravel, then like coffee with cream."“She fought the demons around her and within herself” - this can be said about many talented people, but in the case of Simon, the demons around and inside are more than obvious and appear in all their ugliness.
Nina Simone's first demon is racism. Household and become a part of American culture, which did not crush only the very persistent. The same one, with separate washstands for people with a different skin color, with announcements "Blacks, Jews and dogs are not allowed", separate training and buses for whites, where an African American could not step under the threat of criminal liability. Born Eunice Waymon, she was the heart of a large family and community when she began playing gospel music in church and accompanying her mother during church services. She recalls how the train tracks separated her block of hard-working hard workers from the prosperous world of white people, where Eunice was sent to learn to play the piano, and how her mentor's white hands were so different from her own. How she felt alienated and unacceptable among the white children who studied with her. And how Eunice's parents were transplanted from the first row back during the concert when a white couple drew in the aisle. Eunice rose from her seat and, at the age of eleven, said that she would not play the song until the end until her parents were returned to their places - this is the episode that Nina Simone will remember as the beginning of her personal struggle for civil rights.
In Simon's autobiography, every now and then there are sad and angry comments about himself: for too dark skin, full lips and a wide nose - which alternate with statements about the right to their own non-standard beauty. Stereotypes from a hostile environment aroused anger, but it was ingrained in self-esteem, and Nina Simone did not want and could not forget the rudeness faced by Eunice Waymon from that other life in North Carolina and girls like her, not entering a prestigious college of music and the habit straighten your hair in fashion to look decent.
Dealing with racism Nina Simone found the strength in front of everyone - in 1964 she composes "Mississippi Goddam" after the political assassination of activist Medgar Evers and the bombing of an Alabama church, which killed four African-American children. "A song for a show that doesn't exist yet" was played in front of the prosperous audience of Carnegie Hall, and then before the 40,000th procession for equal rights in the city of Selma - Nina Simone had the courage to say what was written on posters or shouted in the streets, mostly African-American men: "Don't live next to me, just give me my equality!"
Nina Simone spends the 60s with the best minds of the African American community: Malcolm X becomes her daughter's godfather, and playwright Lorraine Hansberry and writer James Baldwin spend evenings in the living room. Even with women, Nina Simon does not talk about any nonsense: "We never discussed men or clothes, only Marx, Lenin and the revolution - a real girlish conversation." In "Brown Baby" Nina Simone re-imagines a lullaby: sleep, my joy, sleep, you will live in a better world, where there is no such pain and evil, and you will go along the road of freedom. And in "22nd Сentury" it makes promises more poignant and incredible than in "Imagine" - about free gender reassignment of men and women and the liberation of animals from the rule of people.
The second demon for Nina Simon was her own husband: domestic violence does not spare not only nameless housewives, but also the high priestess of soul. The first marriage of Nina Simon - with a beatnik-barker on the street - ended swiftly, as it began - and was associated with the singer's uncertain steps in the big city. Eunice Waymon just arrived in the suburbs of New York and got a job as a pianist in a nightclub, changing her name - literally so that my mother would not recognize. Nina, the girl was called her then Hispanic boyfriend, and the Frenchwoman Simone Signoret shone in the news along with her husband Yves Montand.A ready-made pseudonym was formed in the first album "Little Sad Girl": even then Nina Simon understood that she succeeded in sad songs better than others. As you know, the blues is when a good person feels bad. In Atlantic City, a girl who dreamed of becoming a classical pianist suddenly discovered her own voice - in order for people to come to the institution, it was necessary not only to play, but also to sing. At first, Eunice Waymon was incredibly afraid to sing and covered other people's songs that stayed with her forever - the first hit “I Loves You, Porgy” or the same version of “I Put a Spell on You”.
Even before her second marriage, Eunice Waymon became the public's favorite singer Nina Simone in Greenwich Village, but it was her husband who owed her popular popularity, busy schedule and new income. The witty, loud and resolute Andrew Stroud worked as a detective in Harlem before meeting Nina Simon, but after an affair with the singer, he quit the police, married her and became her manager. As it turned out quite recently, Nina Simon's takeoff was not without stimulants, which she took to stay in shape and constantly give concerts, and without slaps from her husband, with which he “brought her to life” before the performance or stopped her during long quarrels. Nina's daughter Simon recalls how dad could slap her mother in the middle of a conversation in order to insist on his own - the same technique ten years later Nina Simon used in disputes with her grown daughter when she began to raise her on her own. What Liz's daughter, acting on Broadway under the pseudonym Simon, is now telling on camera, easily fits into the speculative headline of the yellow press: "drunk, depressive, frightening monster instead of a mother" - but it is difficult to doubt her confessions when she begins to fidget in her chair and swallow a lump in the throat in front of the operator.
Takeoff of Nina Simon
not without stimulants
and slaps from her husband
The divorce for the singer became not only a personal collapse, but also a career one - having initiated the separation, she was unable to conduct business, constantly perform and negotiate tours. Too many contacts were made on Andy Stroud, and Nina Simone's illness did not give her a chance to take the situation into her own hands. The singer's diaries are quoted in the documentary and show how shame, the desire to justify the offender, the need for care and long-term neurosis are struggling in the victim of violence. “Break down and let it all out” was the only way out for an expressive, complex and tortured artist.
Tantrums were followed by alcohol addiction and flight from United Snakes of America (as the singer herself called her homeland) to African Liberia, European Switzerland and France. Andy Stroud did not answer for his actions either then or many years later - his appearance in "What Happened, Miss Simone?" bypasses the uncomfortable question of violence and explains the difficult and hysterical nature of the singer. Can you record 40 albums in 16 years without stimulants, threats from your husband-manager, and alcohol? Were these 40 albums needed at such a price - both the singer's friends and she herself are lost in her diaries in the answers: “Yes … Probably … Maybe it couldn't have been otherwise … Why would I?.. I hate him … I despise myself … I myself cannot live without violence …"
The constant illness of Nina Simone, which she suffered from about 25 years old - her main demon - is an indirect reason for her incredible obsession with music and the direct source of many dramas in the singer's life. Passive-aggressive behavior with loved ones, the desire to live on the edge, fight for justice to the extreme, "shake the audience so that it breaks up into small pieces" - these are aspects of manic-depressive psychosis, which remains not fully understood and incurable even now, not to mention about medicine thirty years ago. Tormenting yourself and others, looking blindly and burning brighter is the only way out that remains sick when they do not receive outside help and rely only on themselves.
She is found in Paris in a drooping state, playing the piano in a shabby bar
Nina's close friend and constant guitarist Simon Al Sheckman finds her in a desolate state in Paris, playing the piano in a shabby bar to feed herself: no one in France knew who this tired woman at the piano was. She almost forgot herself who she was, and lives in debt like in silks - for the first time in her life, the singer is sent for compulsory treatment, which must be constantly supported and renewed. The Montreux Festival described above is her struggle to stay on a stage that is almost impossible to win. Nina Simone once again disappeared from the radar in the early 80s. She shoots the neighbor's guy in the leg, who prevents her from concentrating, - so "Sit!" from a concert in Montreux turns into “Stop! Hands up!". She walks naked with a knife around the hotel and unsuccessfully sets fire to the house, after which - an acquittal and new therapy sessions.
The next time Nina Simone will emerge from oblivion is when Ridley Scott shoots a Chanel # 5 ad featuring Carole Bouquet in a red suit on a track among the canyons. The old-fashioned and light "My Baby Just Cares for Me" will be chosen by the jingle, and Nina Simone will sell all the tickets to the Olympia in a week in 1991, and this time all Parisians will know who is performing in front of them. But the treatment for bipolar disorder left a noticeable mark: during the therapy, Nina Simone played more and more slowly, sang harder and harder, and concentrated on the audience more and more. By the beginning of the 90s, breast cancer was added to bipolar disorder - Nina Simone dies in her sleep at the age of 70 in the south of France, when chemotherapy is added to therapy for TIR.
The autobiography "I curse you" is being republished, and relatives are beginning to be frank about the singer's illness and all the trials she went through. In the movie What Happened, Miss Simone? It is striking how difficult it is to select words and find explanations for uncomfortable situations, vices and tragedies: cruelty, segregation, manic-depressive psychosis, panic attacks, alcoholism - all this is so difficult to say out loud without breaking personal promises, vows and carefully kept secrets. Relatives bloom when they talk about music and talent, and get lost when it is necessary to talk about something inherent, but sick, taboo, swallowed.
In 2008, Barack Obama will name Nina Simone's song "Sinnerman" as one of his ten favorite songs, and David Lynch will finish "Empire Inland" with it. Then Lil Wayne and Kanye West will freely refer to Nina Simone in their hits, Beyoncé and Adele will mention her as role models, and Lana Del Rey will get a tattoo with her name. The upcoming biopic about Nina Simone, which is to be played by Zoe Saldana, who is not at all like her, will cause a scandal and a lawsuit against the director - and the voice of The New Yorker is best heard in this hundred voices. From her story about the singer's life, it becomes clear why Nina Simone cannot be played by a slender, conventionally beautiful actress from a completely different universe.
It is clear that more viewers will come to Zoe Saldana than to Jennifer Hudson. It is clear that a smiling girl in a trapeze dress who sings "My dear thinks only of me" is easier and more pleasant to accept than a tear-stained wife beating in hysterics or a radical activist with a "Black Panther" hairstyle. But an honest conversation about Nina Simone is needed in order to see the tragedy behind the inspiring story of the star, which often goes one step with a gifted person invisible to others. Every time Nina Simon holds her breath, pulls vowels and shouts to the audience, you remember that the nerve in this voice brought her owner to death. And this death has witnesses, reasons and a merciless chronicle of letters, albums, lyrics and live recordings.
Photos: Getty Images / Fotobank (1), Sundance Institute