Monday, August 2, 2010

stencil #024 - nina simone

(High Street, Northcote)

Nina Simone’s "Wild is the Wind" is dangerous to my health. I try not to play it too often because whenever I hear it, I’m afraid I’m not going to make it to the end of the song. 

What could be so terrifying about someone singing about love and longing? 

The title itself is warning enough and with lyrics that belie her anguished delivery of the songit’s anything but a sentimental crowd pleaser. Its minimal piano and tentative vocal introduction hint at restraint. But as the song continues, it becomes clear that passion will overwhelm. With an almost operatic force, it builds to a chilling, dramatic crescendo.
It’s astonishing.

And like much of her music, it manages to reach what Kafka describes as the frozen sea within us.  

On a (sort of) related note, I’ve been reading John Armstrong’s book on the life of Goethe. His discussion of Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther suggested interesting parallels between the story and the lyrics of "Wild is the Wind":
[Werther’s] experience (of unrequited love leading to his suicide) seems to suggest something terrible about life. He regards love as sacredas the most important emotion. However, there is no guarantee that love, however ardent, will be returned: that the world will meet it and reward it . . .
Give me more
than one caress
Satisfy this
Like a leaf clings
to a tree
Oh my darling,
cling to me
Werther’s life is collapsing, and it is his passion that is the cause of this. He prefers death to life without [Lotte]. 
Love me love me love me
Say you do
Don't you know you're
life itself

I sometimesokay, I confessI often descend into admiration for these kinds of extreme states, especially in films and music, enjoying the guilty pleasure now and then of watching melodramas and listening to sentimental ballads. But I also admire the way Goethe and Nina Simone transform these states in their writing and music into great art, evoking sympathy while avoiding sentimentality.

Armstrong maintains that even though Goethe’s writing evinces a strong sympathy for the extremes of despair and confusion, he does not glorify or ennoble these states:
The extraordinary finesse with which Goethe has revealed Werther’s passion for Lotte makes us sympathise deeply with himinfact identify with him . . .
[But] Goethe didn’t see Werther’s tragedy turning on thwarted love. It hinges on the condition of mind in which Werther faces what is after all a very normal experienceloving but not being loved as much in return . . . There is a fatal problem with the way he thinks and feels and this converts a series of rather ordinary difficulties into a personal catastrophe . . .
With genuine Romantics [Goethe] shared an interest in despair, passion and wildness; he didn’t share their admiration for these extreme states.
And as for "Wild is the Wind", it’s clear there is no self-indulgence in the torment being expressed.

One can only truly appreciate great works of art at a terrible personal cost.

(High Street, Northcote)

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