NPJ Book Review: I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone


I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography of Nina Simone (1992) Periodically a life has jazz written into its genetic code before the artist emerges years later. The rhythms are not discernible except to the artist. They are at times steeped in human suffering.

As an amateur listener of jazz on FM radio I never connected the rhythms with the person or his or her background until later seeing them in person on stage or in a bar or on television. There were exceptions. On the radio I would just like to close my eyes and listen to the sensual and sensuous rhythms. It was filled with sexuality and spirituality. Both very human and instinctual with words only in part expressing the depth of emotion.

There were moments that I would listen to a Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck or in this case , Nina Simone. What’s fascinating is I never connected her face with the voice, the person with the music that I saw decades ago not recognizing who she was at the time until later when I was told by a friend who said he noticed I was there in the crowd and she was nearby. I didn’t learn this until several years ago. Little did I know.

Be that as it may, my musical interests varied as I liked baroque and jazz. Both had ambiguous elements for me. And ambiguity is essential for an interesting life, which is probably why I was drawn to Simone’s music even though I would not always identify the name or face with the music though the music and rhythms affected me.

In her autobiography Simone writes from painful, tragic and spiritual experiences. Her rhythms are the coarseness of life’s rhythms for which she articulates so very well. Her story is raw as was the 1960s – as one decade of examples of rawness exposed. Simone felt the depth of an inner struggle and the suffering comes through in her music. Whether it was jazz, blues, folk this artist’s passion is expressive and yet hidden, painful yet uplifting, tragic and angry yet compassionate. She was a seeker – her music expresses the desires surrounding loves lost.

One plays the game with the cards one is dealt. That’s all that can be asked of anyone with compassion and love being deciding factors. As noted, Simone was a seeker her entire life. This work is an insightful struggle for human dignity for a person and her place in life.