There are songs in the oeuvre of Nina Simone with the power to paralyze. It’s prudent to use some caution, plan ahead, before you listen. Just press play like this was some airy ‘entertainment’ and they can render you useless for the day. The rapturous redemption of My Sweet Lord could evoke the Ecstasy of Saint Theresa in the most diehard of agnostics. There’s that part on the studio version of What More Can I Say? when in the throes of a devastating falsetto she messes up a line, but thank heavens kept the take. And then the battle cry at the denouement of Four Women, a brutal invocation in song of four hundred years through the lives of four Black women — “My name is… Peaches.” The very incongruity of it, the unlikeliness that those four words could possess such power, only amplify its thunder. The song ends. And just try to go about your day after that one. “My name is Peaches,” like a lightning bolt through your spine, and you’re left to pick up the pieces. How to tend to the minutiae of a day after that one? But when the lights go out tonight, especially tonight, we’ll listen. Happy 80th birthday, High Priestess.
Oh, Nina. Today is your birthday. You would have been 80 years old. Your music has soothed me and shattered me and put me back together again on many nights. Your voice has spoken for me when I could not find my own. And you are still so very radiant, so beautiful, so incredibly lovely to me. Timeless.
Here’s to you, darling Nina. The world misses you, and I miss you, so.