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Not Feeling So Good With Nina Simone

We’ve all got a memorable car journey. There are the funny stories, the poignant ones, and more often than not, the damn right embarrassing ones. In the first of our Memory Lane series, Leo recalls his humiliating trip to Shropshire at an age when looking cool meant everything to him.

My best friend and I were driving to a mutual friend’s 21st birthday party in Shropshire. We were coming from London so it was a fair old distance in Neil’s beloved burgundy Fiat Punto and we only had a few CDs to keep us entertained. Two hours in and we had listened to The Clash, The Libertines, Joy Division and The Smiths. There was only one CD left: The Very Best of Nina Simone.

“What’s this doing here?,” I scoffed, not old enough to understand the genius of Ms. Simone.

Neil looked a little sheepish. “Not sure, maybe my mum’s been driving my car again without telling me.”

We still had a few hours to go.

“I turned to see a bunch of boy racers in a souped up Peugeot 205 staring at us”

‘Likely story’, I said, pushing the CD into the car stereo.

‘I’m Feeling Good’ struck up first; her rich, Jazz contralto soundtracking the sunny English countryside.

“Muse did a cover of this, great tune,” I said, tapping away on my stone-washed denims.

After five songs we both conceded how good she was. And then came the one we both subconsciously knew by heart, ‘Ain’t Got No — I Got Life’. After going through everything she didn’t have, we got to the optimistic second half of the song and found ourselves singing our hearts out.

With windows down and music blaring out, we sang in pure abandon as we pulled up to the traffic lights. As we shouted out, ‘I’ve got the life’ I turned to see a bunch of boy racers in a souped up Peugeot 205 staring back at us. Neil hadn’t noticed and was still singing away as I simultaneously turned down the volume and turned up the window. His voice faded, however, as he turned his head in slow motion to the four lads jeering back at us.

“Sadly Neil bottled it and we stalled.”

We looked dead ahead as the lights went green, trying to ignore the screeching laughter coming from the Peugeot. They stayed at our side, pointing and heckling, as we pulled up to another set of traffic lights.

In an effort to restore a little dignity, I wound down the window again and turned up the music as the light went green. Sadly Neil bottled it and we stalled.

We were faced with a double humiliation: the boys in the back of the Peugeot, laughing their heads off as their car sped away and the sound of the cars behind us honking aggressively while Neil fumbled with the keys in an effort to start the car again. It was a few years before I could listen to Simone again without cringing and even though I have come to love her music, I still get a little unpleasant twinge when I hear Ain’t Got No — I Got Life.

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