Thursday, November 29, 2007

Betty Davis: Self-Proclaimed Nasty Gal

I picked up a copy of Oxford American's music issue on the back of a friend's toilet and was immediately taken by the black and white cover featuring Thelonius Monk in what looks like a barn turned stake-out. Someone in the background points an automatic weapon at the front door while hand grenades and more guns lay on the table beside Monk as he looks like he's stayed up all night drinking the dark liquid next to him and blessing the dusty keys of a debris-covered piano. I decide its worth a read and the pages immediately open to a beautiful womanwho's wild eyes make me postpone Thelonious and his article. In between spots on Karen Dalton, Eldridge Holmes and even David Banner, Betty Davis demands attention with her massive afro, sexy red lips and wildly confident stare. I haven't even heard her music yet but I want to crawl into her kimono and soak up some cool.

I throw in the cd that comes with the publication and my mind is immediately flooded with, "This is way before its time" and "Why haven't I heard this yet?". I thought Betty Davis was some red headed, white chick in the movies my grandmother used to make me watch. I didn't know about this Betty Davis, the second wife and muse of Miles Davis, good friend and collaborator to Jimi Hendrix and an incredibly innovative artist in her own right. I'm sure my mother purposely kept this from me along with all other amazing and naughty things that emerged in the early 70's that she was undoubtedly into. The song, titled "Anti Love Song" is very primal and Betty is singing but its very cat-like and guttural. I can picture her writhing in the agony of lust vs. love vs. insanity and consumed with her own woman power.

No I don't want to love you / 'Cause I know how you are / Sure you say you're right on and you're righteous / But with me I know you'd be right off / Cause you know I could posess your body / You know I could make you crawl / And just as hard as I'd fall for you, boy / You know
you'd fall for me harder / That's why I don't want to love you.

This individual is obviously against her best interest and the chemistry between them is intense and unavoidable but there is too much water under the bridge for Betty, it appears. It isn't a new concept and I wouldn't say the lyrics are even profound (definitely for the time they were) but it is the way she is unapologetic about being a sexual, instinctual creature that makes her music immediately authentic. I would liken her to Nina Simone in this way. Betty's music
came out in the 70's with only a cult success and was re-released in May 2007 to now be critically acclaimed. Check out her Myspace music page to hear more songs from the self-entitled album.


Anonymous said...

It was a nice find, but my copy of the disc keeps crashing all my CD players. Betty wouldn't be having that.

Anonymous said...

Someone lent me a copy of Nasty Gal about 10 years ago and I've been addicted to her records since. They Say I'm Different is the top Betty LP for me...