Inspiration Through Music: Nina Simone

Everyone needs a favorite musician who can get their energy going no matter what time of day. This person’s songs are always like a live wire, buzzing with electricity and excitement. You just can’t sit still when you hear one of those songs and hear their voice belting out. Well, folks, this is Nina Simone for me. One of the most amazing vocalists I have ever heard, Simone has a unique style to her music and her voice is so signature, some songs will never have the same feeling to them if sung by someone else.

When I’m sitting in my car, or a coffee shop, or at home on my computer and a Nina Simone song is on, I just can’t contain my happiness. It literally puts me in a better mood to listen to her music. And when I’m writing? Talk about some instant inspiration. My hands fly across the keyboard as new scenes, characters, and situations course through my head. I’m not sure what it is about her music that brings me out of a funk. Perhaps, it’s that she always sounds so alive, and always pours all of her heart and emotion into a song when she sings. Today, I’ll be sharing 9 of her tracks with you and why they are so jivin’ and inspirin’!

Feeling Good: This song has been done many many times and each time, the musical artist brings something different to the table with it. I’ve heard and enjoyed Michael Buble’s and Muse’s versions. But Nina’s version has me sitting down in a club during the Roaring Twenties, a myriad of various colorful characters inhabiting the place. The room is accented with deep red and black and a thin mist of cigarette smoke hangs over everything. You can tell that each character has a secret that they guard with their life and each has a hand they want to play but dare not reveal to anyone else, just like in a game of poker. No matter what happens at the end of the night, you know that one of these people is going to come out on top.

Sinnerman: This song runs for 10 minutes. But, it’s one of the best 10 minutes of my life whenever I hear it. I see this working very well for a montage scene. The character that is highlighted in the scene is a very slick and smooth character who’s luck has just run out. As he/she is headed toward the climax of the novel, events start to go wrong and their expectations of everything turning out alright slowly plummet. This is kind of a 180 for the scene this song was used for in The Thomas Crown Affair, but that’s because the lyrics hint at the character plummeting toward a dark side. And none of their upstanding well meaning friends will continue to vouch for him/her anymore. Justice in kind of a backward way is being served on the character.

I Put A Spell On You: This is an intense song of betrayal. A woman who has been tossed aside by a man for another woman vows revenge. She feels like the woman has stolen the man and now she plots another way to get him back. I see this being a story told during the 1950’s, with Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall-esque characters. The story is a film noir type but very stylized and is told from the woman’s p.o.v.

Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood: Obviously, we’re dealing with a character who doesn’t know the hurt their actions cause. She has engineered events so that everything will play out the way she wants it to. After everything happens, she sits at a bar on a Saturday night alone, sipping a martini and thinking about everything that’s happened. And despite the satisfaction, she’s slowly crushed by guilt. She tries to justify her actions as being for the better good and hopes that no one will judge her on what she’s done. Despite this, somewhere deep inside, she knows the bad karma from her actions will come back on her somehow.

You’ll Never Walk Alone: For a long time, I never knew that Nina Simone was a classical pianist. Then, I heard this song, which is filled with just as much emotion as her voice when she sings. This song reminds me of the end of a character’s charade. He’s duped people into thinking he’s something greater than he is and through everything that has happened, he is finally able to tell people the truth despite the damage it causes. No one trusts him now and he’s had to resign his job. He will have to live with the lies he’s told people. Despite it all, there is still one person who will stay by him; his loving and faithful wife. There is a lick of happiness despite the sad ending of the story.

House of the Rising Sun: I have a western story that I’m writing. It’s actually a short story from The Monstrum Chronicles, but when I write the saloon scene, this song is the one I hear. Despite the fact that the “house” is located in New Orleans, I have always seen this as being more of an Old West song. Nina’s voice has the same amount of energy that we hear in “Sinnerman” and it shows us a place with alcohol more plentiful than water, a bevy of colorfully clothed and made up ladies, and tables with stacks of poker chips and cards, dice tumbling down a green stretch of fabric,  cheers of excitement and groans of loss.

I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl: This is a character who has recently lost everything. They’ve been walking the streets in the rain when they decide to head into the local drugstore. They sit down at the counter and order a tall whisky and soda. As they sit, they hear the faint sound of crying nearby. He looks over his shoulder and sees a woman sitting in the booth just behind him drying her eyes with a napkin. And she’s the prettiest thing he’s ever seen. Under the table sits a suitcase and he can see the stub of a train ticket peeking out from under her cup of coffee. After a couple of moments, he stands up and goes over to her. He offers her a handkerchief. She looks up at him. And in each other, they recognize that everything may just be alright after all.

Cotton-Eyed Joe: This is a vastly different version from the one I first heard… which was a techno dance version. I love this one because it’s much more soft, sad, and lonely. I see this playing over a bus speaker as a lone character flees his hometown with one suitcase. As he falls asleep on the bus, he knows he’s getting somewhere far away from everything he’s ever known. He’s going off on his first grand adventure. The bus will drive all night and pass through many different states over the next few days. He’s awaiting sleep, wishing to fall into a night of dreams where he will only see blue hills and starlit skies. And in the morning, he’ll awake to a place completely new.

See Line Woman: I’ve joked in an earlier post that this is “Matilda’s Theme”. For those of you who don’t know Matilda, she’s my demonic grater who has burdened me on a couple of cooking adventures. But I also see this song working for a con-artist woman. She makes a habit of stealing people’s identities, emptying their bank accounts, chatting up men at the bar with the intention of swiping their wallets. She’s done this for years now and has become quite adept at it. Until one day, she meets her match in a man who won’t stop following her. No matter where she goes, he follows. She doesn’t know what his aim is, but he poses a threat to her way of life. And she must find some way to stop him.

Next week on Inspiration Through Music, I’ll be focusing on one of my favorite artists, Trent Reznor. Reznor is mostly known for his work with the band Nine Inch Nails, so most of the songs will be from them. However, he’s also responsible for composing a few movie scores with the brilliant Atticus Ross, so I’ll be choosing a few of those songs as well. Stay tuned!



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