Time Isn't Holding Us
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Nina Simone - "Wild is the Wind"

No song better expresses the tragedy of love's transience than "Wild is the Wind". With a couple of metaphors, the song economically communicates the sensual and existential power held between lovers: "you touch me/I hear the sound of mandolins/you kiss me/with your kiss my life begins." And then, immediately afterward, with one imperative analogy, the necessary impermanence of love is recognized, at once railed against and accepted: "Like a leaf clings to a tree/Oh my darling, cling to me/For we're creatures of the wind/Wild is the wind."

The piano is the ecstasy of Simone's love. It alternates between warm jazz chords and lyrical blues scale leads, never sitting on the blue notes. The bass is the impending end. It insistently pulls the piano back after every phrase. Simone sits in the middle, in the midst of her affair, fully aware of its deciduousness, feeling everything all at once. [Buy]

Cat Power's version can be heard as a continuation of the same story. She sings the song like the leaf has already fallen from the tree, as if the subject is a matter from her distant past. The piano has no life, no hope. It alternates between C Major and A minor, ad nauseam. There is very little embellishment, almost no harmonic movement. When she sings of the sound of mandolins, she does so a cappella, accompanied only by a nearly decayed piano chord. The absence of mandolins has rarely been so striking. When she sings of the kiss with which her life begins, we are reminded of the feeling, after love, that life is somehow dulled, muted; we are reminded of the fear, or perhaps resignation, that without love's kiss, life cannot begin. [Buy]


Bowie's version isn't bad, but the sociopathic detachment he favoured during this period (Station to Station, Low, Heroes) is not ideal for tenderness of this sort. [Buy]

Posted by Jordan at July 26, 2006 2:55 PM

Oooh, I love wild as the wind. I have listened to this song too many times to count.

Posted by Ajit at July 26, 2006 3:40 PM

I must disagee with the comment about the Thin White Duke. He may well be in a place of sociopathic detatchment during this period, but his rendering here, in his version of Wild Is The Wind, seems entirely heartfelt, though sung or cried from a very sad, dark place. One is given the sense that only his lover can reach him there. His delivery of "Don't you know you're life itself" is doen in such a way as to paly on the sound of "your life...it's hell" like his own. Though their clinging to each other can only be ephemeral, the leaf clings while it is alive. Only with its death does the clinging cease. "You kiss me and my life begins": the kiss pulls him out of the darkness, into the sky, to fly, together, with the wind.

Posted by Joel Taylor at July 26, 2006 4:15 PM

Great post, but there's one omission: Jeff Buckley. He was a Simone fanatic, so no surprise that he would make an attempt.

Here ya go:

Posted by dusty at July 26, 2006 5:05 PM

In html this time.

Posted by dusty at July 26, 2006 5:07 PM

Is it wrong that I prefer Cat Power's version to Nina Simone's?


I didn't think so.

But it's so right to think the Bowie version is a bit meh.

Posted by richard at July 26, 2006 5:49 PM

Dusty - Thanks for the addition. The song was originally recorded by Johnny Mathis, but I've never heard his version (probably not so hot). Anyone know of any other versions?

Richard - Don't feel bad. Both versions are great. I think that Cat Power is a genius interpreter of song, and that her ability in that respect far exceeds her songwriting gifts (though she occasionally gets that just right, too).

Joel Taylor - Teeber, Teeber, Teeber, when will you learn not to question my judgement on matters of tenderness. Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy Bowie's version. You know I like a slow groove and an impossible falsetto more than the next guy. But compared directly with the other two versions, it pales in emotional impact. There is a distance here that doesn't exist in the other renditions. Bowie's is a wall as opposed to a window. And though I appreciate your point about the "You're life itself/Your life is hell" ambiguity (I hadn't noticed that, but yes, you're right), I think it's exactly that kind of intellectual playfulness and self-consciousness that alienates. Now, I don't necessarily mind intellectual playfulness, self-concsciousness, alienation or distancing in music - I just don't think those qualities play into the particular strengths of this composition or these lyrics. On its own, I do enjoy it, but judged against the other two versions, I have to join Richard in the "meh" chorus.

Posted by Jordan at July 26, 2006 6:37 PM

if you can, check out the live version that Cat Power sings. Chan Marshall adds a bunch of "you you you's" to the song that just makes it about ten times better

Posted by -- at July 26, 2006 8:43 PM

Jordan---you asked about other versions of this track. Anna-Lisa Kirby and Lu Campbell both recorded it in 1998, and George Michael did a rendition in 1999. Don't worry---none of those versions trump what you already posted. In short, the three I just mentioned pretty much suck.

Posted by Scholar at July 26, 2006 9:36 PM

There's a great version by Shirley Horn. She coupled "Wild..." with "Come a little closer" . On the strange/weird side (read "free mind side" here), you've got the Patty Waters version.

Posted by zb at July 27, 2006 4:42 AM

Thank you so much for posting this. I was overjoyed when I saw it. I originally fell in love with "Wild is the Wind" through the Bowie version (I love the detachment; it may be colder and crazier, but it's relevant, a part of modern love). As far as covers go, this song affords the artist versatility, intimacy, an opportunity for the ultimate expression of their soul (be it detached like Bowie's, or sad and quiet like Cat Power's, or tragic and meandering like Jeff Buckley's, or powerful and passionate like Nina Simone's).

Posted by soupy peggy at July 27, 2006 5:03 AM

I love this song, what a good post.

Posted by sophia at July 27, 2006 11:04 AM

Farbus: I won't argue with that. I'll just stubbornly maintain a diametrically opposed viewpoint. My lifesteez: arrogance.
PS Sean: Reconstrue this as a commentary on your review of the Tom Waits track.

Posted by Joel Taylor at July 27, 2006 1:33 PM

In this song David Bowie is sensitively singing to his lover with an existential plea to her "you touch me" "with your kiss my life begins" "Don't you know it's life itself" etc. etc.

From a psychological perspective the lover her plaintively sings this has lost his perceived and needed attachment to his lover. For without her it seems he can't exist.....such as "Wild is the Wind" explains in these lyrics so well.

The sense of abandonment that I find so poignant in this song really gives me a reminder of what it was like when I was once in that very position myself and experienced such a feeling of despair. I felt that I could not longer live with out my lover and therefore felt my existence at the time was intolerable.

But like most people I got on with it and did live to see another day. After crying many times to this very song!!!

I find "Wild with the Wind" really cathartic when I am in such a miserable situation....

But then again I love this song too as it is classic Bowie.....which he is for all time.......just too brilliant.

by Cazcat

Posted by Caroline Lowe at February 18, 2008 10:48 AM

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