Monday, June 06, 2005

the singer not the song

Along with Senator Bartlett and a fair smattering of other Australians I watched the Nick Cave doco on the ABC TV On The Southbank Show the other night. I had a few relatives over and one of them was reminiscing of the "good old days" at the Seaview Ballroom when it seemed to be a competition between Blixa, Nick, and the band vs the punters to see who could be the most wasted at the beginning of the night.

The program had enough live performances from different eras and Cave gave the camera a reasonable amount of warmth and was respectful in his acknowledgement of
Johnny Cash and Nina Simone. It was worth seeing the whole program just for the show stopper, a performance by Dr Nina Simone, probably from the Berkeley Live session, in 1977.

It was a riveting performance with Nina thumping the piano into shape and delivering an engrossing song which took me a while to recognise. After a while the song registered. It's two songs. It was Ain't Got No / I Got Life. From the
musical HAIR. Now apart from the Fifth Dimension doing Age of Aquarius /Let The Sunshine In, there is nothing to recommend the songs from Hair. In fact I don't think there is any acting, narrative, dancing, the book or anything else to recommend from Hair.

Dr Simone takes this bland tune with bland lyrics and manages to make it into a jazz influenced rhythm and blues gospel song of resistance, pride and independence. What an amazing feat.

It is also available as a live version on her Black Gold album recorded at Philarmonic Hall, New York City, October 26, 1969.

Mostly the song is more important than the singer. It is almost impossible not to see that
September Song is a great song no matter who is singing it. The same with Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah . I often use the song to judge the singer, especially a singer I am not familiar with. For jazz it's often My Funny Valentine, for Cajun / Zydeco it's Jole Blon.

Nina Simone singing Aint Got No / I Got Life shows that sometimes the singer is much, much more important than the song.

Late Breaking News Update:
In a hard hitting op ed piece
boynton defends HAIR, The Musical.