In his latest entry for The Red Hand Files, Cave celebrates Nina Simone and her live recording of “My Sweet Lord.” Originally written and performed by George Harrison, the track was part of Simone’s 1972 live LP, Emergency Ward!, which showed her opposition to the Vietnam War.
“Nina Simone’s interpretation of George Harrison’s gentle cosmic entreaty ends up, in her hands, as a howl of spiritual abandonment and accusation,” he wrote before doing an analysis of the song.
Starting with the cheers for Simone at the beginning of the recording, Cave carefully points out the nuances and layers.
“This rendition is a gospel thrill ride, with mantras, wild syncopated handclaps and weird background whoops, courtesy of the Bethany Baptist Church Junior Choir of South Jamaica, New York,” he wrote. “The Hare Krishna chant has been removed and more ‘Hallelujahs’ have been added as Nina reaches back to her Methodist roots and proclaims.”
Cave calls Simone “a living grievance machine” because of how her race and gender were barriers to getting her the respect that she deserved at the time, especially since she initially wanted to be a classical pianist.
“In this extraordinarily bold statement, Nina Simone stands defiant in the face of spiritual oblivion, and a world (and God) that so readily allows war and senseless carnage to occur,” he wrote. “It is a protest song par excellence that serves as a form of transport, a vehicle that takes us on a complex and nuanced journey into transcendent rage. The song itself becomes a forge of fury, where Nina Simone stands conflicted and defiant and, in the final lines, pulls the heavens crashing down around our ears.”
He ends the post with the realization that Simone’s strength, talent and music may be what the world needs right now.
Read Nick Cave’s latest essay in The Red Hand Files here.