The arrival of “The Philips Years” – seven albums spanning the mid -1960s – gave me the perfect excuse to revisit some of Nina Simone’s most idiosyncratic recordings. The “Pastel Blues” set, for instance, seems to get overlooked nowadays, but it’s every bit as absorbing as the later RCA release “Nina Simone Sings The Blues”. The opening track, “Be My Husband”, is actually credited to Andrew Stroud, the Harlem detective who became Simone’s spouse, manager and all-round Svengali. It’s a strange feeling to listen to the lyrics and recall what Stroud was capable of in real life. “Simone made no secret that she was attracted to Stroud’s macho, aggressive style,” explained her most recent biographer Alan Light, who described what happened at a nightspot not long before the wedding:
Stroud seldom drank, but on this night he was downing white rum. They stayed late into the evening, until it was almost closing time. During the course of the evening, a fan came over to Simone and handed her a note, which she slipped in her pocket. This exchange – its meaning presumably amplified by the alcohol – upset Andy, and when the newly engaged couple left the club, he started pummeling her.
“He started raining blows on me,” she said. In the cab, he beat me all the way home, up the stairs, in the elevator, in my room. He put a gun to my head, made me take out all the letters that Edney [her childhood sweetheart] had written to me, and he examined them with my hands tied behind my head… Then he tied me up and raped me.”
In different accounts of the incident, the details Simone offered would vary in their severity – though the incident was clearly terrifying regardless of the specifics. “My husband beat me nineteen hours, or perhaps it was nine,” she said in another interview. “With a gun at my head after the beating was finished, and laughing, saying, “You thought I was gonna kill you, didn’t you?”
“I had a gun,” Stroud said. “I took the bullets out of the gun and I was telling her, “If you don’t do this, that, or the other, I’ll shoot you, whatever.”
He grabbed her again, leading her down in the elevator and through the building’s courtyard; a bellman on duty turned his head away. Simone saw some policemen, but Stroud said, “You think they’re gonna help you? As far as they’re concerned, we’re just two niggers on a Saturday night.” Stroud said later that he knew the cop who saw them and that (especially since Stroud outranked him) he wouldn’t help.
He took her, bleeding in the street, up to his apartment, and continued to beat her until his hands and knuckles were bloody. “After he was exhausted, he tied my legs and my hands to a bed and struck me , and raped me, and fell asleep,” she said.
Depressing, very depressing. (I reviewed Light’s book in The Times earlier this year.)