Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

"Crazy They Call Me" by Zadie Smith (February 27, 2017 in The New Yorker)

You can experience "Crazy They Call Me" here

Haunting Video of "Strange Fruit"          

"Billie Holiday, who gave voice to loneliness both personal and institutional, who lived and died inside it, a life short on love and brutalised by racism. Billie Holiday, who was called Blackie to her face and made to take the back door even in venues where she was herself the headline act, wounds that she attempted to medicate with the poisonous ameliorators of alcohol and heroin. Billie Holiday, who in the summer of 1959 collapsed in her room on West 87th Street while eating custard and oatmeal, and who was taken first to the Knickerbocker and then to the Metropolitan Hospital in Harlem, where she was left –as so many AIDS patients would be in the years that followed, particularly if they too had black or brown skin –on a gurney in a corridor, just another dope case."  From The Lonely City Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Lang

"Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!

Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop."  - Strange Fruit

Frank O'Connor famously proclaimed that the short stories of the masters of the form are about outsiders, those with no one to speak for them, marginalized persons. Of course like most all sweeping literary generalizations this cannot be "proved" but it is an illuminating remark.  In January I read a book I wish I could have read fifty years ago, The Lonely City  Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Lang.  Billie Holiday is one of the figures Lang talks about. Not all into the reading life will agree or relate but for others will see deep connections between an immersion in the reading life and being alone and loneliness.  Numerous book bloggers as well as authors have spoken about being an odd seeming child who retreated into a world of books.  The more they read, the more remote from others many became.  Some, maybe most, childhood readers slowly give it up but others keep going, building worlds for themselves, carrying less about the mundane world.  

"They Call Me Crazy" by Zadie Smith (which you can both read online and hear the author read the story for free on the webpage of The New Yorker is a wonderful story told in the person of Billie Holiday.  My main purpose in this post is to let my readers know of this story and to add it to my reading journal. To Lang Billie Holiday exemplifies loneliness in the big city.  She was African American in a time of legalized racism, a drug user, and occasional bisexual.  She never found a
world in which she could be at home.  "They Call Me Crazy" is sort of about her reaction to the people who came to hers her sing in nightclubs in New York City, mostly affluent Caucasians.  Her iconic song, about the Lynching of Black men in the American south was beyond the understanding of most of her audience.  We see her losing herself in opiate drugs, drugs of deep inwardness and retreat.  

The last lines of Smith's story transcend brilliance.  I loved it and so will you.  I read it first, then I listened to Smith's reading of it (16 minutes).  I also suggest after reading the story you listen to a recording by Holiday of "Strange Fruit" (on You Tube).

I have read and posted upon a few of Zadie Smith's short stories but have not yet ventured into her novels.  

Mel u


Mudpuddle said...

the truth re American social history is not pretty;"all men are created equal" has been more disregarded than honored... today's attitudes are not significantly different... tx for this post...

Mel u said...

Mudpuddle. America is now in danger of reverting to the values that destroyed Billie Holidsy. Thanks for your insights.