I Put a Spell on You by Nina Simone
I used to date a woman who was obsessed with vinyl pressing. She could rant for hours about how some records, depending on the location and year they were pressed, could become mimicries of the original recordings. It was something I would tease her about, tell her she was a snob, before blasting a track on my third-hand record player.
Now I realize, she may have had a point. I wanted to set a mood for reading I Put a Spell on You, Nina Simone’s autobiography from 1992. Three nights in a row, I created a ritual: I put on my Nina Simone: The Hits record, burned some sage, and turned on the least amount of light I needed for reading. By the third night, the recording seemed tinny, disembodied from any meaning. Logically, I knew the quality hadn’t changed, but subjectivity is everything. And after delving into the ecstatic trials and triumphs of Simone’s life, I wanted to be good to her, and the record had become a passionless disservice.
I cherish the intimacy Simone permits in I Put a Spell on You—her patience retelling memories, some fresh in her mind and others almost entirely forgotten. From the beginning, she contextualizes her experiences with a critical awareness of the contemporaneous social climates, both stateside and abroad. Omnipresent is the grip of whiteness, informing her life from the opening anecdote of her hometown built on the massacre of Native Americans and continuing without end.
Amidst her successes, Simone also delves into her own faults. She notes her failures as a mother, in the same breath as commenting on her need to relocate for her creative well-being. It’s this comfort in contradictions, the juxtapositions of pain and pleasure, where her story finds its voice. If I had my way, I’d want to hear more, more about her regrets, how her life, the one we can all so publically dissect, might have gone in other directions, how it didn’t go according to plan. As is, there is willingness and serenity in these pages, and it is a valuable practice to not ask for more from our idols. The work reads quickly, so I often found myself flipping back and starting over, only to realize I had missed a crucial line. Lines I’ve been turning over for days, scrawling in my journal, texting to friends. Lines someone may or may not live up to, but lines an author has to at least be willing to write:
“Telling yourself things are going to get better is one thing but making them so is something else.”—Ali Giordani