There’s an interview I watched with John Hammond who was a catalyst for the world tuning into the greatness of Billie Holiday and he describes the first time he attended a show seeing her when she was seventeen years old and him twenty-two, the people transfixed and he realized she is a horn player and how obvious it was to anyone immersed in that music at that time in that way. I asked the young Starbucks worker if she knew who was singing not thinking she did, it’s Billie Holiday she said, and I said yeah I know but I didn’t think you would. Why not? Because it’s seventy or eighty years old, because it isn’t Billie Eilish. I love her she said, her voice is from another world, have a nice day. I couldn’t get through the trailer for a new film about Billie Holiday. It just seemed immediately acting out a story in a way that removed being about the genius of her which is what primarily interests me. Mary Margaret O’Hara reminds me of Billie Holiday, like that she is an actual legend in our midst, someone containing genius that is so obvious and so bright that her sound and presence illuminate the inadequacies of everything else not operating at her temperature. On the occasions we are in the same space at the same time, I pinch myself to be sharing the same oxygen. The trailer seemed about the police wanting to bust her for drug use and racist motives which are indisputable and being a hero to the African American community for singing Strange Fruit, that seemed the primary story being told which is understandable but personally I wish it was about the genius of Billie Holiday and her relationship to being not a singer but a horn player who overcomes needing a horn. That’s harder to understand but closer to the shock of her virtuosity not to mention the voodoo between her and Lester Young or the complexity of loving heroin, the parameters of which are still ricocheting around me after William Burroughs’s recently visited my library.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *