NINA SIMONE / “The Other Woman”
What impels us, damn near forces us, to do wrong? I’m talking about those moments in our lives when we knowingly cross the line and do something we would never want anyone to do to us. After the teenage years, lust is not a good enough answer. Nor is it good enough to simply say we thought we could get away with it. I’m not talking minor infractions and miscellaneous misdemeanors. No. We are well past the city limits, indeed, we have crossed all (and any) borders to engage ourselves in something that generally turns out awful, or at least the results nowhere near compensate for the price we eventually pay, even if the bill never comes publicly due and remains simply our own private shame. Why? I don’t think there is a reasonable explanation for every thing we do. Notwithstanding how common the occurrence, in the context of personal relationships, cheating invariably hurts or harms us, diminishes us and yet… we do it. Time and time and time again we have seen how awful the mess turns out in the long run (sometimes don’t even be that long of a run) but we engage in ruinous activities believing in the moment when we are caught up that the laws of reciprocity, karma and gravity will all be suspended for us. I suppose the answer to the question of “why” is found in its inverse, i.e. at the time of the occurrence when the “why” question was most pressing, for whatever reason, we simply could not come up with a good answer to the immediate, even more important, most fundamental query: why not? When we can not tell ourselves why not, all bets are off. 1. Ann Peebles – “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home” (Brand New Classics) Most of us know this song. Most of us have felt this way at one time or another, felt like: to hell with being lonely, I’m going to…. This is not the original version but rather from an album of remakes. I’ll not argue that this one is better than the first, I’ll simply say I enjoy it a lot and prefer the slow burn of this “up to no good but damn I’ma do it anyway” version that is both more bluesy and more jazzy than the original, which had a strong Al Green vibe. 2. Candi Staton – “Another Man's Woman, Another Woman's Man” (Candi Staton) Candi sings like it’s Sunday in church after being with somebody she shouldn’t have on Saturday night. The song virtually begs for redemption, pleads for some God, or some somebody, to end the torment of an untenable relationship. This is what used to be called Southern Soul. The chorus of moaning women. The subtle guitar picking and the churchy piano chords, and of course, the horns in the corner urging on the perfidy. Two and a half minutes of perfect debauchery. 3. Me’Shell Ndegeocello – “If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)” (Plantation Lullabies) This kind of braggadocio is grounds for murder or at least a rationale for actions intent on severe bodily harm. Funky, freaky boasting about stealing and cheating without even an ounce of remorse. There is absolutely nothing redeemable about these lyrics even as the music blows the funk needle into the red on the audio meter. 4. Nancy Wilson – “You Can Have Him” (The Nancy Wilson Show) Sentiments from the fifties, from the precursor to what we now know as old skool. Nancy is on the case here singing in a youthful, clear voice un-marred by later tendencies to exaggerate and make clichés out of what was originally a personal and innovative update on Dinah Washington. Nancy Wilson has probably induced more adult male fantasies among men of economic substance than any vocalist of the last forty years or so. 5. Gladys Knight – “I Don’t Want To Do Wrong” (If I Were Your Woman) So much for class, we’re back to raw libido taking charge. In the lyrics Gladys claims it’s her heart telling her what to do but the way she sings, it’s obvious some other part of her anatomy is directing her actions. This is sort of the excuse one tells one’s self when you can’t stop doing wrong and are unwilling to fess up to the person being cheated on. 6. Joan Armatrading – “The Weakness In Me” (Live) Joan is the Shakespeare of pop songs that dissect adult relationships. But it’s not just the lyrics, it’s also the deep ache in her voice. You could hook up a lie detector to this recording and she would pass, that’s how much honesty is in this portrait of weakness. 7. Aretha Franklin – “Dark End Of The Street” (Respect: Very Best Of…) This is some of that crucial up-south Detroit soul music. Working class. Straight up, strong, full throttle, way pass knee-deep, all the way in, with the water line well over our heads. We’re not waving for help, we are knowingly drowning in a sea of love. 8. Shirley Brown – “Woman To Woman” (Woman To Woman) This is "the" classic of the genre (songs by or about the “other woman”). Ms. Brown can blow, no doubt, and when she raps, she speaks her mind in no uncertain terms. Even though social mores have changed and even though monogamy is no longer as critical as it once was, this song, and indeed the whole album, remains an emotionally charged articulation of female (although not necessarily consistently feminist) views on relationship issues. 9. Joan Armatrading – “Lost The Love” (What’s Inside) Joan redux. Why the repeat? Well, this is one of the few songs I’m aware of that gives the full 411 on the downside of cheating. This is the blues! In spades with a big joker trumping the ace and the little joker. Almost makes you feel sorry for the cheater. It’s a hell of a song. 10. Betty Carter – “30 Years” (Droppin' Things) This is a clear-eyed inspection of an impending divorce when reconciliation seems neigh impossible. What’s interesting to me is that Betty does not sound desperate nor broke-down rather this is some adult reckoning of a crisis. This one sounds as though they might, maybe, be able to stay together. It’s a cool jazz plea. Cool albeit swinging harder than a lynch rope. 11. Nina Simone – “The Other Woman” (Live At Drury Lane 1977 - bootleg) This is from when Nina decided to give up on living in America. Here the weariness is palpable. And unlike all of the other “Other Woman” songs, Ms. Simone invests this reading with a feminist perspective. It’s just Nina and piano. And the audience. And it’s brilliant. Simply brilliant. I don’t know what all makes us be who we be but I do know that our music perfectly expresses the diverse facets of our being: the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, i.e. the totality of our humanity. —Kalamu ya Salaam Why not? Yeah, that's the question, ain't it? Why not. Legacies have been tarnished, families have been destroyed and kingdoms have even fallen, all because some man or woman (though usually a man) couldn't come up with a good enough answer to that "why not?" question. God knows Bill Clinton wishes he could've come up with an answer to that question. Today, instead of being the punchline to numerous jokes, Clinton would probably be regarded as one of the most effective presidents in the history of the presidency. The problem is all of that damn temptation. It's like Nina Simone—a genius at play—says: at home there's nothing but work and grief and aggravation and work and tension and work and toys and dishes and shit scattered all over the place. But the other woman? She's got enchanting clothes and French perfume and fresh flowers. "And," Nina says, "When her old man comes to call on her / He'll find her waiting like a lonesome queen." I'm feeling that, which is precisely the problem. Or like Joan—another genius—says: "Why do you come here and pretend to be just passing by?" "Why do you call when you know I can't answer the phone?" And then, in other song, Joan says, after all kinds of apologizing and excuse-making, "I'll be good." But like she says in the first song: "I need you...and you." So, OK. Tell that "I'll be good" stuff to somebody who'll believe it. And then there are the soul queens: Aretha, Gladys, Candi and Ann. They all know they're wrong but they don't stop doing what they're doing. Sometimes, though, that "other woman" shit is dangerous. And I don't mean morally or emotionally. I mean mortally. (I'm thinking of Shirley Brown. When a woman calls your house talking like that, you're either concerned for your health or you're a fool.) Ask Jimi Hendrix. He had a Louisiana woman putting voodoo on him. Ask Al Green. He met up with a potful of hot grits. That couldn't have been pleasant. Hell, ask Sam Cooke. My man actually met his maker over some "other woman" drama. He wasn't the first, and he damn sure won't be the last. —Mtume ya Salaam When a house is a home! Son, you said a mouthful. And check this: when you said: "When a woman calls your house..." you said a double mouthful. Back in the day among Black nationalists we called our spouses (both male and female) our "house" because we said we lived one inside the other. So when another person called your "house," they weren't just calling your residence. The more things change... —Kalamu ya Salaam
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