I just got finished watching the movie Beyond the Lights and let me say it was just amazing( review still to come). Truth be told I am a sucker for any movie that has songs by Nina Simone sprinkled throughout it( Thomas Crown Affair is my favorite movie). Blackbird was the feature song in this movie, and while the subtext wasn’t exactly sub, I have now become less concerned about the use of the song to highlight the main characters pain and struggle with doubt, and more fascinated as to why I can listen to Nina Simone and feel energized and not depressed.
Nina Simone is my all time favorite jazz singer. The hefty to her voice, the haunt to her words just speak to me on every level of my being. From Little Girl Blue to Sinnerman to Mood Indigo, there is a range that is truly unmatched in my opinion. I really could gush through this post about each song and it’s meaning to me, but again what currently is sticking out in my mind is still why she doesn’t make me want to slit my wrist like say Billie Holiday does to me. I really think it all has to do with a bit of shared circumstances and her voice.
Blackbird speaks to the question of why to try to succeed. She asks what makes you think you are so special; that your goals will work. She informs you there is no hope, no back up, no support for you; and truly this is a fool’s errand. Any sane person would realize this and just be satisfied with their current achievements and give up hopes for more. By anyone’s standards this is a depressing and defeatist song, but I just didn’t feel that. I actually saw the oppose, giving me this kind of, “that isn’t my story; I’m gonna show you,” vibe instead. I’ve heard a few say it is my Buddhist nature compelling me to see the light in the dark, turn lemons into lemonade so to speak and I don’t disagree. However I feel it’s doing more a disservice to the greatness that is Nina Simone to put it all on my nature.
In truth most sad songs don’t make me sad. They speak to the pain I might be feeling in that moment and allow me to release it by either just listening or belting each painful note out, with a re-imagining of the situation that put me in that state of mind. Sad songs are therapeutic for me, and by the end of a sad song session I feel a weight lifted and nothing but joy and optimism. Sometimes I can already be in great spirits and still through on some old school, man hating Mary J Blige, or currently Stacey Barthe( featured on the Beyond the Lights Soundtrack) and just appreciate them being so honest and real on the track. It could be just again, appreciation from one creative person to another, as it’s tough to be so vulnerable, and allow people into your mind.
It’s known that Nina Simone had issue with alcohol addiction, and struggled with bi polar disorder. By her songs and admissions, being a darker skinned black woman also played on her pains and general acceptance in society, which is a common issue in that still persists. I personally have had substance issues and suffered from mild situational depression that I continue to work on daily with the help of meditation and yes my occasional sad song jam sessions. I feel like if you are creative at all, some form of mental illness must be present. We are people who have our own worlds we creative in writings and film. As actors we are completely changing out personalities and bodies for the sake of art and realness. We go away from our base when crafting these things and to think some kind of disruption isn’t happening from time to time would be foolish. But all of that is what makes us great and something for people to look up to. We just succumb to our emotions and just let them do as they make, sometimes to our determent but always for the art and funny to feel like ourselves.
I hear in Blackbird an underlining hope because why else share something so personal if you aren’t really asking for or hoping for the opposite? Art is so much more than what is on face value and this song, along with many others, shared something else than what a casual listener might receive. This is no only the talent of a true artist, but specifically the talent of the incredible Nina Simone.