Friday Jukebox: Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”
There’s too much to say. I’m gonna have to bullet point this:
-This is Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman.” It is the greatest song ever recorded.
-I know, I know – “Aren’t you the relativist around here?” Let me rephrase then: I think Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” is the greatest song ever recorded.
-I think we’re all familiar with the artists who record what seem like long songs. I remember one of the true tricks of junior high school dances was making sure that I was dancing with the girl of my dreams during either The Eagles “Hotel California” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” That meant between six and eight minutes of touching a living, human girl. Times were easier then. What was I saying again? Oh right, long songs. So those were long songs. This clocks in at over ten minutes. And I’d dare say that not a single second is wasted.
-Being that I’m the father of two children, it is rare that me and my headphones can spend ten uninterrupted minutes together. If my attention is not being immediately sought, then I’m wondering what the little bastards are up to. I’ve thus perfected listening to music with one headphone on and one off. I’ve somehow learned to enjoy a single audio channel. Never have children. This song though? It commands both headphones. If those ten minutes are the ones that my daughter decides to put my son into the dryer, so be it. I did my best with those two anyway.
-It commands two headphones because the song is so immersive.* There’s so much to enjoy. The thumping bassline? Those little guitar spots? The drummer’s work on the high-hat? The manic piano? The handclaps?
-And that’s before you consider Nina Simone’s attempt to separate space and time with her voice? Her desperation is audible, as is what sounds like genuine strain in her voice. This isn’t a singer going through the numbers; this a singer giving a song everything she’s got. For ten minutes. Ten minutes!
-It’s a shame that this song is most often recognized from its placement in the films like The Thomas Crown Affair and from a truly horrifying remix by Felix Da Housecat, which I assumed he turned only after saying, “Here, I completely ruined this for you.” Timbaland‘s used it too, badly. The less said about this, the better. Nina Simone owns this song in a way that I can’t imagine anybody else doing.
-I’m bad with lyrics. The ones I can remember I can barely understanding. That acknowledged, this song is about a profoundly screwed human being, a person with nowhere to turn, begging the Lord for forgiveness that the Lord seems disinterested in giving, right? I think I just nailed it.
*I’m doing my best not sound like a Pitchfork Douchebag. Whether or not I’m successful is entirely up to you.