The purpose of Valentine’s Day never made much sense to me, but it’s on our national calendar for some reason — futile, I think — and that gives the day some sort of powerful validity. But love is nonetheles a concept that flows through many people’s minds on a daily basis. I exercise my own love by frequently listening to jazz, specifically Billie Holiday. It’s safe to say that Billie Holiday is and maybe always will be my valentine.
What many don’t know about Holiday though, is that her tender, romantic voice did not match her reality. Holiday grappled with severe relationships, drugs and abuse.
Before she became one of the most famous female jazz artists, Holiday moved to New York where she worked as a prostitute. Soon enough, she was discovered at night clubs and speakeasies in the 1930s.
Holiday dated often, mostly musicians, but she married James Monroe in the early ’40s. This marriage led to her heavy involvement with drugs and alcohol.
What breaks my heart is that most won’t notice Holiday’s struggles, but only her voice. At least maybe not until they hear her Lady in Satin album, on which nearly every song is gloomy with sluggish melodies. Her smooth, but powerful voice strikes harmonic chords that don’t feel all that sad, regardless of her struggles.
That dichotomy is unhappily fascinating. For a woman who sang much about romance and men –– my favorites include “These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You),” “I’ll Be Seeing You” and “My Man” –– much of her music also includes songs about solitude and crushing romance.
Her music encompasses the raw aspects of this thing so called “love.” Even in the power of her voice, lyrics and song titles, Billie Holiday is a taste for anybody: the lonely one, the couples in love, the ones suffering from a bad break up, the one’s enjoying their single life.
She understands the truth of it –– that love is really fucking hard and messy. But almost everyone craves it in some way.
Love is compiled of ridiculous facets, where one moment you’re in the “All of Me” stage, meeting someone and wanting them to love you for all you are; the next, your heart is broken, relating to “I’m a Fool to Want You.” Along the way, you might meet that special someone, where your lovey-dovey heart is feeling something like “I’ll Get By (As Long As I Have You).” You find yourself in this cycle of romantic positions, the ones represented by Holiday.
I do not know which is more intense: my unconditional love for her voice and her impact, or the tremendous heartbreak I feel for her and her battles.
If Billie Holiday were here, alive and well, I’d hear her stories, the good and the bad ones. In this fantasy, I’d make her a romantic, candlelit dinner, and we’d listen to jazz and discuss our favorites.
Mostly, I would thank her for being there for me, in all of my moments. The moments of romance, the moments of heartbreak, the moments of high stress or Friday-night relaxation. I would thank her for always being my therapy and my muse.
And Billie, even though you’re not here any longer, I’ll be looking at the moon this Valentine’s Day, but I’ll be seeing you.