The Lonely Life of Nina Simone

I step carefully into the deep water and lie down. There’s just the right amount of bubble bath, the lights are off and a red candle flickers in the steamy haze, lighting up the walls. The hot water embraces every bit of me, I’m hugged, my eyes close and I start to relax. I’m listening to I Wish I Knew How it Would Feel to be Free by Nina Simone and I decide that this is my lockdown song — a song for everyone and everything in these times of confinement and in the pandemic of loneliness that is raging all around us.

I recently watched What Happened, Miss Simone on Netflix and discovered how very lonely Nina Simone was throughout her life. It’s a fascinating documentary — I didn’t know that she trained as a classical pianist as a child, or that she was a civil rights activist when racial tensions in 1960s America were reaching boiling point. She was a hugely talented, hard-working and successful jazz singer and songwriter, but after a while the radio stations boycotted her and stopped playing her records because of her political activism and revolution songs.

Eventually the money ran out, she became depressed and disillusioned and fled her violent and controlling husband-manager to start a new life in Africa and then Europe. There, her story went from troubled to tragic, and loneliness followed her all the way. But oh, that voice! Those eyes, that smile, what power and charisma she had. I can’t stop thinking about her. I’m now working my way through her brilliant back catalogue of songs to see which ones I like best.

I get too hot, so I let the water drain out and I cool down in the empty bathtub. And I start making a list in my head of all the things I want to do when lockdown eases — to kick loneliness out of my life — a list of all the places I want to go, the people I want to see, the connections I want to make. It’s a pretty long list, but I can be patient. In the meantime, I’ll just keep listening to my lockdown song and taking as many soothing hot baths as possible.