BLUE , BITTER AND BROKE
|A series of
requests for interviews spurt forth from her noisy fax machine. Simone
is deeply irritated by these constant interruptions. 'Tell them they can
all fuck off!' she screams, accepting her seventh lit cigarette from Janet,
her official dresser.
One of the world's
greatest blues divas, Simone sits on a low, velour stool in front of a
chipped baby grand piano and kicks off her shoes. As she regains her composure
and strikes a pose, she tells me that her glamorous bronze silk trouser-suit
was purchased in London in the 70s. Her famously almond-shaped eyes are
glazed and bloodshot.
Simone was born plain old Eunice Waymon in 1933 to poverty-stricken parents in America's Deep South. Despite having stunned her Methodist family by giving a flawless rendition of a classic music score on the church organ at the age of two and a half, Simone was denied the chance to fulfill her musical potential. At the age of 18, the child virtuoso was refused admission to the prestigious Curtis institute to study classical piano - purely because of the colour of her skin. The young musician later changed her name to Nina (meaning little girl) Simone in an attempt to hide the fact that she was earning money by performing in a nightclub from her deeply religious parents.
Stardom has failed to spare Simone from spending an entire lifetime haunted by memories of her early poverty and lack of opportunity in her native America. By early adulthood she had already witnessed the racist lynchings of childhood friends and the gunning down of her early icons. 'I call it the United Snakes of America,' she says bitterly. 'Words cannot express just how much I despise that place. They [the American government] want to keep their black people in slavery forever.'
Simone was further alienated from America during the 60s after she was placed under surveillance by the FBI following her association with civil rights leader Martin Luther King. She finally fled the States permanently 10 years later amid rumous of tax disputes, and embarked on a nomadic tour of the world. After setting up home in London - and then in Liberia, and Ghana in West Africa - Simone purchased her villa in France five years ago.
These days she is observed by local police, who've kept a keen eye on her ever since she shot and wounded the teenage son of her next-door neighbour three years ago.
Simone fired a bullet at the boy after his laughter interrupted her piano practice. The $7000 fine and probation order she subsequently received appear to have done nothing to quell her aggression. 'I'm itching to use my gun again!' she shrieks, her face lighting up with enthusiasm. 'Next time I'll use it on him because of his incapability,' she says, gesturing towards Clifton, who smiles nervously. 'Ill do what I damned well like. I hate children. That child should have learned how to stay quiet when I'm playing my piano.'