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  To be drunk, angry and broke

From Saturday May 15th National Post (Canada)

Saturday, May 15,
Precious Williams
National Post

To be drunk, angry and broke

Nina Simone is furious that there is no alcohol left in the house. It's not even 11 o'clock in the morning, yet the 66-year-old jazz legend has already drunk a whole bottle of Baileys.

Through a series of tragedies and betrayals, Simone has lost her health, her fortune, and, according to recent rumour, her singing
voice. Yet thousands of fans are still coming to hear
her mesmerizing
renditions of such haunting classics as My Baby Just
Cares for Me
and I Put a Spell on You.

Simone moves unsteadily around her squalid, cluttered
villa in the
south of France, hurling insults at Clifton, the gay,
black, American
male nurse who acts as the latest in a string of
personal managers.

"You have no idea of what I can drink, you damned
fool! I once
drank five bottles of champagne in one afternoon!" she
bellows in
the rough-edged voice that has sold millions of
records. "Gays like
you ought to be lined up and shot. You go against

Years of racial discrimination and dissatisfaction in
her emotional life
have turned Simone into the most intolerant of bigots.
"I hate
people," she says simply. "They've wasted my time and
they are
squandering my life."

Simone says that she is angry because tension and
worry about
money have not allowed her to sleep for three nights
in a row. She
feels daunted at the prospect of being wheeled out on
to the stage at
an age when most women are enjoying their first years
of retirement.

"I hate showbiz. I've devoted my whole life to being a
star and yet
I've got absolutely nothing to show for it," she
explains. "It's an ugly
business. I've got no desire to be involved in it
anymore, with
everyone out there re-releasing and ripping off my
records -- I just
need the money. It's as simple as that. I get £20,000
$48,000] cash for a concert like the Royal Albert Hall
and that
money goes straight into my pocket. No one can take it
away from
me. If I don't force myself to get out there and
perform live, I won't
be able to keep this place up. I won't be able to
carry on."

To her adoring fans, Simone represents the last living
icon of the
sophisticated and timeless American jazz tradition.
mismanagement of funds and ill-advised choices of
managers throughout her 40-year career have resulted
in an
incredible lack of financial reward.

My Baby Just Cares for Me, Simone's last hit, sold
more than a
million copies worldwide and was used by Chanel in
1987 as part
of an international television advertising campaign
for its No. 5
perfume -- yet Simone was advised by confidantes to
sign away her
royalties from the record for a mere $2,000 (US) --
about $3,000.

Today, living in self-imposed exile in a quiet,
middle-class village
situated between Marseille and Aix-en-Provence, Simone
pleasure in shutting herself off from the world at
large. She emerges
from the confines of her unkempt home just three times
a week to
swim at the local leisure centre.

The world's most infamous living diva sits on a low
velour stool in
front of a chipped baby piano and kicks off her shoes.
Striking a
pose, she tells me that her glamorous bronze silk
trouser-suit was
purchased in London in the '70s. Her famously
almond-shaped eyes
are glazed and bloodshot. Her swollen face and hands
testament to a lifetime of hard drinking.

Simone was born plain old Eunice Waymon in 1933 to
poverty-stricken parents in the Deep South. Despite
having stunned
her Methodist parents by playing a flawless classical
music score on
the church organ at the age of two-and-a-half, Simone
was denied
the chance to fulfill her musical potential.

Neighbours in North Carolina were shocked and
horrified when, at
the age of 18, child-prodigy Simone was refused
admission to the
prestigious Curtis Institute of Music to study
classical piano --
purely because of the colour of her skin.

The young singer later changed her name to Nina
("little girl")
Simone in an attempt to conceal from her deeply
religious parents
the fact that she was earning money by performing in a

Stardom has failed to spare Simone from spending an
entire lifetime
haunted by memories of her early poverty and lack of
opportunity in
America. By early adulthood, she had already witnessed
the racist
lynchings of childhood friends and the gunning down of
her early

"I call it the United Snakes of America," Simone says
running a calloused hand through her upswept,
intricately braided
hair. "Words cannot express just how much I despise
that place.
They [the American government] want to keep their
black people in
slavery forever."

Simone was further alienated from America during the
1960s after
she was placed under surveillance by the FBI following
association with civil rights leader Martin Luther
King. She finally
fled the United States permanently 10 years later, and
embarked on
a nomadic tour of the world. After setting up home in
London, and
then in Liberia and Ghana in West Africa, Simone
purchased her
villa in France five years ago.

She is keenly observed by local French police today,
who have
kept their eye on her ever since she shot and wounded
the teenage
son of her next-door neighbour three years ago. Simone
fired a
bullet at the boy after his laughter interrupted her
piano practice.
The $7,000 fine and probation order she subsequently
appear to have done nothing to quell her aggression.

"I'm itching to use my gun again!" Simone shrieks, her
face lighting
up with enthusiasm. "Next time I'll use it on him
because of his
incapability," she says, gesturing toward Clifton, who
nervously. "I'll do what I damned well like. I hate
children. That
child should have learned how to stay quiet when I'm
playing my

Simone, who has in her time danced naked in an African
and urinated freely in a London taxi, represents to
many the ultimate
in liberated womanhood, yet in reality she remains
tied by the
shackles of a ghetto childhood.

The singer's first husband, New York detective Andrew
with whom she bore her only child, Lisa Celeste, set
an unhappy
pattern of relationships that was to plague Simone's
life. In 1970, he
became her first-ever business manager, but they
divorced and she was left a bankrupt and deeply jaded
mother. "He was such a ruthless creep," she reminisces

A string of unsatisfactory love unions followed,
resulting in four
miscarriages and a bitterness that filters through to
her songs. On
one occasion, a lover (who turned out to be con man)
her that he would sponsor her. Instead he kicked her
unconsciousness in a London hotel room, before
ransacking her
belongings and running off with her cash and luggage.
"My problem
is that I am too innocent. I trust what people close
to me say. I've
got to trust someone, haven't I? I make excuses for

Currently single ("I find now that even men who are
good in bed are
not worth the trouble"), talent and fame have failed
to save Simone
from the ignorance and fear that go hand-in-hand with
inauspicious beginnings. Surrounded by an inefficient
ever-changing entourage of sycophantic staff, the star
suffers from a
lack of business knowledge and a shortage of sound

Clifton says that Simone can earn sufficient money to
retire from
show business in 2000 by saying yes to invitations to
perform live
worldwide, by appearing on television to endorse
items, and by launching her own perfume, tentatively
called Simone.

Yet an offer of a handsomely paid concert in India
that comes
through on the fax machine is immediately declined by
an indignant
Simone: "I won't perform in India. There are too many
poor people
there. I can't bear to see people scratching for
crumbs like that -- it
reminds me too much of my start in life. I'm not
interested in beggars
running down the street after me. I was born poor and
I don't need
to see a lot more than I've already seen. I don't
intend to be poor
again for as long as I live."

"You won't, Ms. Simone, you won't," assures Clifton.

Estranged from her 36-year-old daughter, Lisa, to whom
she has
not spoken in 10 years, the lonely jazz icon insists
on her "pitiful
staff" -- comprising current manager Clifton, dresser
Janet, and
bodyguard and chauffeur Xavier, who is currently on
holiday --
residing with her in her far-from-comfortable
four-bedroom home.

"It's like living in the house of horrors," confides
London-born Janet,
who is paid £300 -- about $700 -- per week for
grooming, and cooking for Simone. "I'm only allowed to
leave the
house when I walk her dog, Dadu. Everything is looking
unkempt at
the moment because she forced me to sack the cleaner
to save

"Her and Clifton drink all night and all day. Her
voice is gone. She
just croaks along in time with the piano music. She
still plays the
piano like a dream, though. It's the only time she
looks truly happy."

It's time to say goodbyes. As Simone shuffles up the
winding staircase toward the unmade bed in her
bedroom, she turns
and says: "Please tell my public that there aren't
many of us geniuses
still living. Hardly any of us left at all. It's down
to Bob Dylan, Stevie
Wonder. And Frank Sinatra.

"Except Frank's already dead," she adds, almost as an



'You have no idea of what I can drink, you damned
fool! I once
drank five bottles of champagne in one afternoon!'
hurled at her gay, black, American male nurse,


'I'm itching to use my gun again! Next time I'll use
it on him [Clifton]
because of his incapability'


'I find now that even men who are good in bed are not
worth the


'I hate showbiz. I've devoted my whole life to being a
star and yet
I've got absolutely nothing to show for it'


'Gays like you [Clifton] ought to be lined up and
shot. You go
against God'


'I call it the United Snakes of America. Words cannot
express just
how much I despise that place'


'I hate people. They've wasted my time and they are
my life

Comments to Mauro Boscarol