Tag Archives: Nina Simone

Strange Fruit (updated)

4 Jan

Video accompanying Billie Holiday’s Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees

Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Earlier this year crooner Jose James released a recording of Billy Holiday songs—which, of course,  includes the anthemic bolero, Strange Fruit (which everyone knows was written by a Jewish fellow*. One is tempted to opine that no one can sing the song like Lady Day (a meaningless tautology) Nina Simone and Jose James, among others, prove otherwise.

James has also recorded three live versions, one of which at the Alhambra in Paris and one in Argentina (which should tell you something about the universality of that canzone

In Argentina

In  a studio

Strange Fruit live in Paris 

A whole concert of Billie Holiday recorded live in Belgium

The Day Lady Died

It is 12:20 in New York a Friday
three days after Bastille day, yes
it is 1959 and I go get a shoeshine
because I will get off the 4:19 in Easthampton
at 7:15 and then go straight to dinner
and I don’t know the people who will feed me
I walk up the muggy street beginning to sun
and have a hamburger and a malted and buy
an ugly NEW WORLD WRITING to see what the poets
in Ghana are doing these days
                                                       I go on to the bank
and Miss Stillwagon (first name Linda I once heard)
doesn’t even look up my balance for once in her life
and in the GOLDEN GRIFFIN I get a little Verlaine
for Patsy with drawings by Bonnard although I do
think of Hesiod, trans. Richmond Lattimore or
Brendan Behan’s new play or Le Balcon or Les Nègres
of Genet, but I don’t, I stick with Verlaine
after practically going to sleep with quandariness
and for Mike I just stroll into the PARK LANE
Liquor Store and ask for a bottle of Strega and
then I go back where I came from to 6th Avenue
and the tobacconist in the Ziegfeld Theatre and
casually ask for a carton of Gauloises and a carton
of Picayunes, and a NEW YORK POST with her face on it
and I am sweating a lot by now and thinking of
leaning on the john door in the 5 SPOT
while she whispered a song along the keyboard
to Mal Waldron and everyone and I stopped breathing

*Lewis Allan, the stage name for Abel Meeropol

Story Songs # 1

15 Nov



The recent squall precipitated by the Swedes foisting the Nobel Prize for literature on Bob Dylan was cause for carping and chirping by that marginal subset of earthlings devoted to the Written Word—writers and the like. While I agree with the notion that songs are stories and thus qualify as literature as much as other hybrid genres, something about this happenstance irked me.

As far as I can tell there was no pressing reason to burden the septuagenarian crooner with such an award. And burden it is—consider Dylan’s delayed response which originally suggested he might not appear at the attendant ceremony .

In any case, no biggie…

If anyone doubts the view that songs are literature here is a random sampling of such:

Randy Newman is a clever guy and has written a multitude of fine songs —this one has always grabbed me

God’s Song



Originally making his mark with the “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” Gil Scott heron’s Military and the Monetary (Work for Peace) vocalizes an obvious nexus


Made famous by the inimitable Billie Holiday, this haunting song’s portrayal of the Southern United States sport of lynching multitudes of Black Folk is soulfully
sung by another incomparable chanteuse, Nina Simone

Strange Fruit

Lowell George, singer, songwriter guitarist led this LA musical aggregation until his untimely death at the age of 34. I doubt he was aver a long haul truck driver but this song does capture that challenges of that profession

Willin’ — Little Feat

William ‘Smokey’ Robinson was a integral part if the success of the Motown musical juggernaut. Not least for his unforgettable love songs sung with his sweet tear-evoking counter tenor voice.Kevin Mahogany ’s pared down iteration of a Smokey classic sung in a deep dusky voice is a nice touch

Tears of a Clown

Tracks of MNy Tears smokey robinson live

Saxophonist John Coltrane only recorded with one singer— non pareil Johnny Hartmann .That recording is outstanding collection of tunes from the mid century American songbook and more a half century later is still as fresh as the day not was recorded. Billy Strayhorn’s melancholic hymn( I still marvel that he wrote Lush Life when he was 19 years old) is heart rending

Lush Life

In a long and adventuresome career Bob Dylan ( a jewish kid from Minnesota ) has written countless timely and memorable songs. None are representative so here’s one from a recent (non-crooning) recording. I like the line, “I an’t dead yet, my bell still rings.”

Early Roman Kings

The great Leonard Cohen passed away last weekend—having just released another recording of news songs. Naturally the recent kefluffle on the Nobel Award for Literature saw Cohen’s partisans decrying Dylan’s selection. If you are of a mind, David Remnick in the New Yorker and Leon Wiesltier in the New York Times wrote useful pieces on the poet /songwriter/wanderingJew. As he observes in the song that follows ,

I fought against the bottle,
But I had to do it drunk
Took my diamond to the pawnshop
But that don’t make it junk.

That Don’t Make it Junk