bluez women :BILLIE HOLIDAY
I want to talk about Billie for a minute. Often she is painted with the tragic story brush stroke…. as if she was a victim of violence and addictions and this was the sum total of her life.
Billie, I believe, was a master improvisor who loved life, and loved to experience every sensation. I think the hard times she endured in her early life molded a woman who took no mess from anyone, who had the confidence to make her own path, no matter what anybody thought of her choices. She got high, and kept getting high. She had a tendency towards ‘self-destruction’ but I think she was probably also bored with restrictions racism and sexism enforced in her daily life—Boring with a capital b— her addictions (including abusive lovers), where self-destructive, and sad, no doubt… but I think we must also remember that she was also one who thrived off of living on the edge (not to be romanticized just realized).
Billie was a street tough chick. She could and did beat down any man. She once rearranged a guys face with her cocktail glass, after he whispered some senseless racist remark about her song Strange Fruit.
Strange fruit became her signature song.
Her protest song.
She first performed Strange Fruit to mixed audiences, in a time when having a public of both ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ was practically unheard of…
Perhaps for both “white” and “black” in different ways this song was also somehow cathartic.
However, it also contributes to her post card image, of poor sad Billie Holiday, whose plight it was to suffer in such an unforgiving time where photos of lynchings where sold at local press agents.
I was asked to write a lyrical response to billie holidays strange friut, which is published to day in here and here I also took up the challenge to compose a sonic piece to go with the lyrics, a work in progress which you can catch here…