Monday, January 19, 2015

The Day I Met Billie Holiday: A Ramble on Loving Jazz and Being a Doomed Romantic

Billie Holiday - My Man by Bodhisattva1956 I was about ten or eleven years old and we had just moved to a new house in a new town which was normal for us. We were always moving and I was always the new shy mysterious (I liked to think "mysterious" but perhaps the world just saw a pudgy redhead) girl. Maybe I'd grown used to it. Maybe I even liked it. Maybe I will always be that little girl inside, keeping quiet, full of thoughts in a crowd of strangers. I was in the grocery store, thumbing through the cds at random and Billie Holiday caught my eye. I had never listened to her music outside of the soundtracks to movies but I liked the picture, the name. I put on the headphones and my life was never really the same ever again. Strange, such an unromantic electronics section in a suburban town; a part of town that smelled new, felt new, held no memories. New elementary school with new paint and good teachers and students whose parents could afford new clothes for back to school. Yet there I was, traveling back in time, feeling and seeing things that would make me know myself, help me find whoever it is I am to this day. I could hear the band, and her voice, so beautiful but heavy, so soft but real, so pained yet elegant. The way a voice sounds has always been my little version of God. The way it can be funny or sad or gorgeous. The way you can fall in love with a song or just fall in love with a person's speaking voice. To me it is more intimate than the way a person looks. There is something about a voice that cannot hide a soul. That day I listened to Billie Holiday, I came home with the cd and I listened to it over and over again, memorizing the lyrics and lip syncing, memorizing the tones of her voice, the inflection, the pacing. I had fallen in love with her without knowing anything else. Jazz and other wonderful artists of that era would follow but Billie Holiday had opened the door and invited me inside. Maybe it is silly. I often feel very silly. But I look at that day in my childhood as an example of fate just guiding me unknowingly to things I needed but also I see it as a sort of analogy for how I see the world around me. Jazz and the way Billie Holiday especially sings it, (to me) is about both the pain and beauty of living. I specifically remember loving every single song on that "greatest hits" album however my adoration dwindled at the very last song "My Man." I found the song depressing: an abusive spouse she can't help loving. But I listened to that album so many times that eventually I grew to love it too, and to this day it is one of my favorite recordings. Should we love the people and experiences that bring us pain? No. However it is innately human that we do love people we "shouldn't." Even before I'd known romantic love, I knew exactly what the song meant, and I felt her rapture and despair and how they could happen simultaneously. How hideously tragic. How pretty. To love someone is such a joy, but to be hurt by them and to know it will happen again is agony. Addiction, bad affairs. Troubled past. Troubled present. The timelessness of the themes, the way her voice rings with wisdom, joy, hope, sadness. More than all that it's the way that music can transport us. This day in my life was unremarkable, the setting mundane, yet with this new soundtrack to my life there was magic in the air. I see all my petty affairs of the heart as these beautiful poems or wretched sagas, and sometimes I can't help but wonder if it isn't because I love jazz....a little too much.


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