Don’t Forget the Songs-365: Mach Tres: Day 27
Thurs, Feb 21, 2013
“Who Knows Where The Time Goes”
“Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” is one of my most beloved Nina Simone recordings but how much do we know about this enchanting American vocalist? In the original era of 1960s political correctness when entertainers toned down their personal rhetoric to continue their careers as performing artists, Nina Simone could never be silenced. During her multifaceted and ever changing career, Nina Simone was manipulated by record labels, mistreated by handlers, husbands and managers and wholeheartedly misunderstood and disrespected in her homeland.
Throughout this tumultuous time and fueled by energetic fervor, Nina recorded some of the most memorable music of the 20th century. Prolific is an understatement; Nina Simone was a virtuoso on stage and in the recording studio. Between 1957 and 1973, Simone completed 27 albums for four different record labels. Unlike her personal heroine Billie Holliday, not only could Nina sing exquisitely, she, herself was a classically trained pianist. This made her a creative force as composer and lyricist. Because of this, Nina had a musician’s ear and knew how to craft classic originals and adapt famous standards of her day. Nina was and remains the soundtrack to an American history rarely unknown by the majority of modern music fans. It is a criminal shame that Nina Simone is rarely mentioned up there with Billie Holliday, Aretha Franklin, and Patsy Cline as queens of American music. To me she surpasses all of those incredible singers because Nina composed the majority of the music and lyrics to all her originals.
One of my favorite Nina Simone songs is her version of Sandy Denny’s “Who Knows Where The Time Goes.” I remember rediscovering Nina while watching The Dancer Upstairs in New Orleans. It’s the song after the opening credits that will continue to live on in my memories. In the car, the only light is coming from the car stereo, which is playing Nina Simone. The first thing you hear before any dialogue is uttered in the film is a lengthy monologue by Simone. After Nina finishes her speech and one of the men in the car turns to the other one and asks, “Why does she talk so much?” The quiet man looks at him and replies—”she’s getting ready to sing.” It’s hard not to relate to that one line of dialogue, the introduction by Nina and the song itself. Watching the movie again, it reflects where I am in my own life and how I connect with the characters in the film. In the movie, Nina’s song reflected how each of the characters are ready to sing, they are ready to tell their own story and that’s the power of Nina’s beautiful song; “The Time Goes” can be heard with sad ears but to me it’s a song of reflection. It’s a song about the choices we have made and where time has shown us the glories we have seen and the mistakes we have overcome. All of this is brought to life by Nina’s haunting yet beautiful vocal.
One of the biggest Simone fans is Cocteau Twins, Elizabeth Fraser, she describes her love of all songs Nina when she said, “Nina Simone…she’s, she’s just done so much. I’ve learnt so much about her through her material. She’s so vulnerable. And I can really relate to that. A lot of her songs are about being fallible. She’s a really dysfunctional person. And dysfunctional people are attracted to each other. I guess that’s why I am attracted to her. We both had a rough life. She’s familiar. I mostly listen to Nina Simone when I am feeling really raw. The more raw I feel, the more I relate to her. And when she sings, when she performs, she tends to get very caught up in what’s she’s singing about. When you listen to Nina Simone, she’s so vulnerable. And because you’re implicated in her plight, you automatically share it. I don’t really do that with people. And I want to do that.”
Who knows how she did it? Nina Simone was the voice of freedom. The original chanteuse channeled passionate reasoning and emotional fire to sing about growing up and living in a racially segregated United States of America. Nina stood on stage as a warrior queen with her sultry song whispering, moaning and roaring behind the piano. She held the keys to her independence during her concerts and thankfully we have a pristine canon that highlights the reasons that Nina Simone was one of the greatest Chanteuse’s in American music history. There’s a reason, Nick Cave said that Simone was the best artist he ever saw perform live. Like the best torch song vocalists, when Nina sang your song, she wrapped herself around the lyrical cloak and like a super hero singer would literally, magically, become that song before your very ears. “Who Knows Where The Time Goes,” so close your eyes and let Nina take you there.