Something Wonderful

I don’t usually have much appetite for the kind of string-laden sentimental ballads that Rodgers and Hammerstein used to pound out for Hollywood. This one is from The King and I, the apex – or nadir, if you prefer – of big budget, socially tone-deaf, bombastic Hollywood exotica. The original clip form the 1956 film is everything that made big Hollywood musicals go out of fashion: mawkish emotion, terrible acting, unwavering devotion to social roles, and of course, racist as fuck. Oh, so so so so racist. What a terrible fucking song, you might say, why are we listening to it? Well, when Nina Simone gets her hands on it, it becomes an entirely new entity. Simone was one of the best interpretive singers of all time, besides being a songwriter with a lot to say in her own right, and when she wasn’t using her music as a weapon in the battle for civil rights, she could take the corniest kernel of half-forgotten Hollywood dreck and turn it into a heartbreaking torch song. Yes, old Rodgers and Hammerstein were telling us, in no uncertain terms, that we should stand by our mans, stand by and support and love and take care of our mans, because, although our mans may be shitballs, as mans most often than not are, they may – they may, they may, they might sometimes say or do something nice, and isn’t that what love is all about, after all. Gross. Those are the same words Nina Simone sings, but when she sings them, it makes you think about the transience of love and how fragile and precious the good moments are, and how the special times are so few and far apart and have to be stolen from the world. Finding something wonderful in someone – anyone – is so rare, it’s a journey and a hero’s quest and almost certainly doomed to failure, and when you find something wonderful to love, you hold on to it, not because a white lady dressed as a Thai courtesan told you to, but because it’s a flicker of light in an otherwise bleak world.

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