“You know, I always been a religious bitch, but if that dirty motherfucker believes in God, I’m thinkin’ it over.” These were some of Billie Holiday’s last words, after her estranged pimp/hustler/manager/dealer/husband and general all-round scumbag, Louis McKay, had read from the Bible by the foot of her hospital bed. She was playing possum at the time and said these words to a friend, after McKay had gone from the room. Today would be Billie Holiday’s 97th birthday, and I figured I should write about her, even though it’s supposed to be a Live Saturday, and I couldn’t find any full-length performances of hers.
Billie Holiday holds a special spot in my emotional musical museum. I can’t think in hierarchies when I think of her, there’s just no bridge, no comparison I can trace. Her style, her perfectly imperfect delivery, the warm, silky and yet somehow reptilian slither in her voice, laid back and constantly taunting the tempo, these are things which come across as naturally as breathing in her music, and yet somehow stay impossible to imitate for anyone else. I’ve yet to meet someone able to remain unmoved by her singing, by that elusive blend of dry, lucid detachment and complete abandon in her voice.
As I said, I couldn’t find any long live recordings, but I did find a wonderful BBC documentary on her life and music, full of stories and insights, and snippets of music, completely respectful and thoroughly humanizing. I hope you’ll take the time to enjoy it, but jut in case it’s a bit too much, I’ll add two live songs. See you soon!