Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Billie Holiday--"Billie's Blues"

Another Country, Book III, Chap. 1: "In the background, he heard Billie Holiday singing Billie's Blues." I presume that unlike in War and Peace where the character "Napoleon" is actually the great general himself in the flesh, the "Billie Holiday" referred to here is only a recording.

I am not going to pretend to being the world's greatest Billie Holiday fan going back to my days in swaddling clothes, though believe me there have been plenty of occasions when I have fervently wished I were. Like a lot of this type of material, I sense that this song is something more good than bad, and maybe in the right atmosphere its greatness would become crystallized to my perception, which I am always hoping for; but ultimately the whole genre of "the blues" just doesn't seem to be my thing. If some condition of too extreme whiteness or something of the sort is the cause of this, I have enough assurance in my general sensibility to be at peace with that. I have certainly not rejected this type of music out of hand--indeed it rather saddens me that I don't seem to be able to love it the way others do--and I have been exposed to the recorded music of Billie Holiday enough over the last twenty years or so to have come to the acceptance that for whatever reason it just doesn't resonate with me.

When I was a schoolboy, Billie Holiday records, of which of course I had none, were often utilized in successful seductions of bourgeois white girls, whose attraction to and--identification?--with the art and wretched life of this singer is one of those phenomena that has never ceased to astound me. The poster with a photograph of Billie Holiday staring down at the floor looking exhausted and desperately gripping a three quarters empty glass of whiskey was well circulated among a certain type of young woman in the 90s, which type however as far as I can make out was not actually especially ruined or jaded or even all that alcoholic, but evidently harbored secret longings to be, or at least give off the appearance of being, all those things. I wonder if this is the case anymore, or if not what old records the studs are breaking out, not so much to 'seal the deal' of course, but to give it that extra dazzle so that the girls won't be able to resist telling all their friends about it with a sense of lingering excitement afterwards.

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