Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood

Someone once told me they heard a Nina Simone record playing from far away and thought it was me singing until they got closer.  I’ve also been told I sound like Burl Ives (who, incidentally, I saw perform at NC State when I was 12).  Perhaps I could have a second career as a dual Nina-Simone-from-a-distance/Burl Ives tribute artist.

I played the Christopher Street subway station yesterday here in NYC, and sang Nina’s signature “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” about 6 times.  By the end of the night I was sounding really good on it.

The night started slow, maybe because I was rusty, or maybe because I forgot to bring an extra “seed” dollar to put in my guitar case to encourage people to give (a busking basic I learned long ago playing in the Boston subways with Brian Funck).

But things got rolling and peaked with the appearance of an long-time fan and his mom, en route to see a Broadway show.  They asked for “Lion Song,” and then a hymn, and filmed me (or took my picture) on an iPad .  After that, a guy came up to me and said he would give me $5.00 to “sing something nice” for his girlfriend.  Out came “Lion Song” again.  The couple started dancing, swaying to the music and swaying to whatever was in the bottle they swigged liberally from.  Then the young woman sat down on the subway platform with her legs protruding into the area the train enters when it roars screeching into the station.  Several people sidled up to her and advised her that this was not a good idea.  Her boyfriend agreed, and they all started trying to convince and cajole her to move, which she did, finally.

Here’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” by Nina Simone, slow and smoky, recorded in 1964.  It was supposed by many to have a civil rights subtext.

The Animals’ version, recorded a year later, was manic in comparison, with a dual guitar/organ riff.  Here they are on Ed Sullivan (synch is off).  The girls are screaming Beatlemania-style.  Maybe it was something Ed brought out in them?

And lastly by Elvis Costello.  I like the way he delivers the word “sinful.”


So I’ve been living in New York. Brooklyn, specifically, where life is lived on the street, as opposed to Manhattan, where life is lived in tall buildings. People hang out on stoops and talk and whistle and holler and jump rope and drink beer wrapped in brown paper bags and listen to music with thumping bass. Now that it’s February most folks have retreated inside, but there are still a few die-hards who stand or sit outside and blast their music into the cold, and who can blame them? When you’re really digging something sometimes you don’t wanna keep it to yourself.

Every few minutes you can hear and feel a train from the JMZ line rumble by on its way to the Marcy stop. The JMZ line was formerly known as the JZ and was supposedly the namesake of rapper Jay-Z (although Wikipedia puts the kibosh on this theory and says nope, his name is a permutation of the word “Jazzy,” which is decidedly less cool, partly because, well, DJ Jazzy Jeff kinda already used that). The city was briefly talking about eliminating the “Z” line as part of its terrifyingly-named “doomsday cuts,” but reconsidered and the Z remains. En route to Manhattan, the JMZ goes over the Williamsburg bridge and offers a stunning view of the skyline.

My neighborhood is comprised mostly of Dominican and Puerto Rican families, with a few Hasidim and “Hipsters” sprinkled in. I fall into this much-maligned latter category even though I am not hip. I mean, just look at my shoes.

My housemate/landlord, Bearden, says I walk too slow and look around too much. “You gotta keep moving, man” he says, and whenever we walk anywhere together I have to trot to keep up even though my legs are twice as long as his. He’s a hell-raising, Barry Hannah-reading, Rolling Stones-and-Bob Dylan-listening, Razorbacks-football-loving Arkansan with the loudest voice I’ve ever heard. Bearden is a writer and the front man for a band called “Sheriff,” of which I’m an adjunct member (I play lead guitar and sing harmonies). I don’t like Bob Dylan nearly as much as he thinks I should, but we connect on a mutual love for Bob’s one-time disciple Neil Young and the great pulp writer Elmore Leonard. Bearden and his wife, Laura, are two of the most passionate, creative, and generous people I’ve ever met.

Here’s a picture Laura took in front of their apartment.