Technology has not traditionally been a friend of mine, always. Technology is something I will harness to better navigate this world, but it was never as natural as breathing like it is for some of my other peers. I engage with it out of necessity, not out of any type of natural desire to download or upload. However, recently, culture has made it so that I feel like I need more than the technology that is available for me today. I needed something more fantastical. I needed what the physicists of tomorrow would be working on. Perhaps, I needed what the shamans of yesterday had been exploring with elixirs and meditation for forever. I needed a type of machine that would let me speak to the dead.
Without boring you with details of sage, meditation, quantum theory, and metal; I got exactly what I desired with a bit of help from the ancient ones and the futurists. You might ask why such a digital workload for such an analogue boy and the answer is simple. My urgency was birthed from the disgust after viewing the trailer for the new film, “Nina” starring Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone. The gravity of my disgust was too intense for tweets, think pieces, or excuses made by actors of color willing to benefit from colorism to perpetuate their stardom. I wanted to speak to Nina Simone. Granted, this exploration was quite selfish. I wanted to know what Nina Simone thought of this project based on her life, but more than anything, I wanted to feel better. Dare I say it, with this level of disgust I felt rattling in my ribcage, I knew only Ms. Simone herself could ever give me the power of feeling good again.
Ms. Nina Simone meets me in a salon of sorts in purgatory. The walls are black velvet and riddled with different sized gold frames with photos of black artists that have waited in this salon to make their final decisions where to go. Ms. Simone arrives in a black gown that appears to be a combination of black silk and velvet that makes it so that she almost blends in with the room, but not quite. Her eyes are shaped with black eyeliner that looks sculpted by Cleopatra herself and her head is wrapped in gold fabric. I greet Ms. Simone with an anxious handshake, thank her for her time, and we both sit. The chairs appear to be black thrones and separating us is a table with tea, cigarettes, and a tape recorder. A gold chandelier riddled with black diamonds light the room. Nina Simone is here. I am here. And like the title of her 1966 album hints at, we were ready to let it all out.
MJ: You’re allowed to smoke beyond the grave?
NS: Allowed? Darling, I haven’t heard that word in years and I’m not interested in exploring it today with such a young soul like you.
MJ: How have you been? Are you well?
NS: My favourite thing about not having a body is I never get tired. I think I was always tired. I think that being black and woman and angry and dedicated made me forever weary. No matter how long I would slumber, I would always be tired. Now, without the body I am always full and awake. I guess, honey, I am well. But most importantly to me, I am rested.
MJ: I know why we are here, but before we dig in, what are your thoughts on black artists and the activists of today?
NS: I like that there are so many ways to smash white things. I don’t like that people feel the need to tell everyone to choose one. Give some people paper to write laws. Give others baseball bats to smash windows. I look down and see infinite ways to smash things and start revolution. Choose which one is best for you and get on with it! Get on with freedom!
MJ: The documentary, “What Happened, Ms. Simone?” have you seen it? What were your thoughts?
NS: I was happiest that it made me make sense to my daughter. I was tired her whole life and sometimes she was raised by her mother, and sometimes she was raised by exhaustion, heartbreak, and fear. Knowing she saw my story and helped put it together let me know that forgiveness and understanding happened. I don’t like that they interviewed my ex-husband. He was a bastard.
MJ: There’s another film about your life starring Zoe Saldana called “Nina”? Have you heard of it?
NS: Yes, James Baldwin attempted to tell me about this first, but I wanted nothing to do with it. I thought he was distracted from writing. Beyond the grave, you can write and send your writings off as ideas and they plop themselves into one you humans’ heads and we get to see our ideas come to fruition on Earth. I thought he was being rather lazy and distracting himself. Then, my dear Miriam Makeba looked panicked and told me again and I listened because of how shocked she appeared. If she weren’t already dead, I’d swear she had died again.
MJ: What are your thoughts of this film, Ms. Simone?
NS: They’re trying to erase me but they don’t know secrets. They kill one and a thousand more pop up. That’s how righteousness works. They want to give a girl with lighter skin and thinner lips and nose the credit for what I did for black people. They want to make Lena Horne the face of Harriet Tubman, so to speak, to make black greatness make sense to whiteness. I wanted black people to be curious about their flesh and ancestry. They made this film in hopes that black people would stop being curious about their ancestry and flesh, and white people would see me as a dead poor black bitch that was made and broken by a man.
MJ: How can we stop being erased? How do we stop things like this from happening?
NS: We must remember that blackness is the sum of all things. Where there is everything, there is blackness. So, darling, you must live with as little fear as possible of being erased because it is impossible. It is just a fearful thought that evil people would like to put in your head. But look at your blood. Your blood was enslaved. Your blood was beat. Your blood was shot. Your blood was separated, raped, and lynched, and sold. Your blood was starved, but here you are. Being erased is a lie. Keep creating the truth and living with as little fear as possible. .
MJ: The world has always loved you, but a new generation has fallen in love with you that might not have been as familiar with your work. How does this make you feel?
NS: Oh, yes, it makes me feel like the vital vessel filled with vitality that I was on Earth again. It reminds me every single day and tear was necessary, love. It reminds me of those memories.
MJ: Miss Simone, I loved the video clip that has gone viral, or gets a lot of attention on computers, about your definition of freedom? Would you mind defining a few more words for us? What is love? What is blackness? What is art?
NS: Love is everywhere. Blackness is the sum of all. Art is whatever creates conversation. I guess, darling, good art is whatever creates conversation worth having. –Ms. Simone chuckles.-
MJ: An interview with you before you performed in France has always haunted me. You explained your desire of wanting to be the world’s first black classical pianist. You explained how you were not very happy. Ms. Simone, before we depart, how do you feel? Are you happy, now?
NS: [Ms. Simone pauses for a moment, takes a drag of her cigarette, and drinks her tea.] I feel good and foolish. That’s what life makes you feel like at the end, I’ve noticed. It makes you feel good because life was good. It makes you feel foolish because no matter how long you spend living, you never quite understand life. What I wish I understood, darling, was that I was not destined to be the world’s first black classical pianist. This is true. [But after my death] I realized I was destined for something greater. Nina Simone is classical music. I am classical music and higher learning for the people I cherish the most and still believe are the most beautiful. This reality is greater than my fantasy.
Follow Myles on @astoldbymyles and find out more about his book ‘Large Fears‘, available now.
Images courtesy of waxpoetic and Essence