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BLUE , BITTER AND BROKE

 

She drinks a bottle of Baileys for breakfast, despises everyone around her and likes to shoot the neighbours' kid. Now she's got to restart her career. Blues diva Nina Simone speaks to Precious Williams. (transcribed from The Big Issue - Feb 99)

 

Nina Simone is furious that there is no alcohol left in the house. It's not even 11 o'clock in the morning, yet the 65-year-old jazz legend has already drunk a whole bottle of Baileys. Through a series of tragedies and betrayals, Simone has become both jaded and strapped for cash. She may well be able to retire in a couple of years - but only if she accepts every invitation going to perform her mesmerising renditions of classics such as 'My Baby Just Cares For Me' and 'I Put A Spell On You'. Simone moves slowly around her cluttered villa in the south of France, hurling insults at Clifton, the gay, black, American male nurse who is the latest in a string of personal managers. 'You have no idea of what I can drink, you damned fool. I once drank five bottles of champagne in one afternoon,' she bellows in the rough-edged voice that has sold millions of records. 'Gays like you ought to be lined and shot. You go against God.'

Years of racial discrimination and dissatisfaction in her emotional life have made Simone intolerant of those around her. 'I hate people,' she says. 'They've wasted my time and they're squandering my life.' Simone says she's angry because tension and worry about money have not allowed her to sleep for three nights in a row. When we speak, she's preparing for a recent London show, and she says she feels daunted at the prospect of gonig on stage again at an age when most women are enjoying their first years of retirement.

'I hate showbiz. I've devoted my whole life to being a star and yet I've got absolutely nothing to show for it,' she snarls. 'It's an ugly business. I've got no desire to be involved in it any more, with everyone out there re-releasing and ripping off my records. ' I just need the money. It's as simple as that. I get $50000 for a concert, and that money goes straight into my pocket. Noone can take it away from me. If I don't force myself to get up there and perfom live, I won't be able to keep this place up. I won't be able to carry on.'

To her adoring fans, Simone represents the last living icon of sophisticated and timeless American jazz tradition. Yet mismanagement of funds and an ill-advised choice of business managers throughout her 40-year career span have resulted in an incredible lack of financial reward. 'My Baby Just Cares For Me', Simone's most recent hit, sold more than a million copies world-wide and was used by Chanel in 1987 as part of an international television advertising campaign. Yet Simone was advised by confidantes to sign away her royalties from the record for a mere $2000.

Today, living in self imposed exile in a quite, middle-class village situated between Marseilles and Aix-en_Provence, Simone takes pleasure in shutting herself off from the world at large. She emerges from the confines of her gloomy home just three times a week to go for a swim at the local leisure centre.

 

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