Archive for the ‘Billie Holiday’ Category

Three songs follow this posting:

  • Billie Holiday: My Man
  • Suzanne Vega: Luka
  • Kelis: Milkshake

They were done at three different times in three different styles of music. Two of the singers are black, one is white, But all three lived in Uptown Manhattan in New York, Manhattan north of 110th Street, and it shows.

They sing about the world as it is, as they see it with their own two eyes. Even when it is ugly and unfair – in fact, especially when it is ugly and unfair. And they sing about what they see even when it does not make any sense. They do not try to pretty it up by throwing out facts because they are unpleasant or make no sense.

In “My Man” Billie Holiday sings “He isn’t true; he beats me too” but then sings “My man, I love him so” and “when he takes me in his arms the world is bright, all right”. She has thought of leaving him but then says, “What’s the difference if I say I’ll go away when I know I’ll come back on my knees someday.”

It is like living in Uptown itself: living in a world with a big crack going right down the middle that makes no sense but you live with it somehow. The world is profoundly imperfect but you must carry on all the same.

You see the same thing in “Luka” some 40 years later. It is about a boy who is being beaten. He tries to lie about it to his neighbour but the song does not play along with him. He too is trying to live with a big crack in his life and somehow make sense of it. “You just don’t argue anymore”.

In “Milkshake”, instead of beating women and children, men are driven by lust. The women with the best bodies get their man. Again, it looks at the world as it is in all its unfairness. It has no patience for politically correct ideas of beauty that many want to believe in.

Why this love of the ugly truth? Why songs about the unfairness of life? Because in Uptown the truth is ugly and life is profoundly unfair. Yet you have to make sense of it somehow.

All this is very different from how mainstream America sees life and the world.

In mainstream America people think they can get through life clean, that if they have enough money, enough police protection, that if they build their gates high enough and strong enough, they will get through life with as little suffering as possible.

But that is the life of escape, that is the life of an overgrown child. And, in America, it is a life built on lies. It is not the life for anyone with a true heart.

Sooner or later you will suffer, then what? And when the bad times come where will you run? And when all your lies have been knocked flat, where will you hide?

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It cost me a lot
But there’s one thing
that I’ve got
It’s my man
It’s my man

Cold or wet
Tired, you bet
All of this I’ll soon forget
With my man

He’s not much on looks
He’s no hero out of books
But I love him
Yes, I love him

Two or three girls
Has he
That he likes as well as me
But I love him

I don’t know why I should
He isn’t true
He beats me, too
What can I do?

Oh, my man, I love him so
He’ll never know
All my life is just despair
But I don’t care
When he takes me in his arms
The world is bright
All right

What’s the
difference if I
I’ll go away
When I know I’ll come back
On my knees someday

For whatever my man is
I’m his forevermore

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