“What’s past is precedent” is frequently heard in voiceovers for PBS-sponsored documentaries, but even here in the FADER funbowl, we like to dabble in gravitas every now and again. In that vein, we’ve been waiting to put together a story on someone whose legacy is as potent and pioneering today-for a new generation of musicians and listeners-as it was back in the day: Nina Simone. An artist whose music transcended form and label, Simone’s songs were polite and snarling and angry and brilliant-music that was as easily at home uptown on the East Side as it was marching on the frontlines of the movement. Her work was both a balm and a call to arms, and Simone was praised and damned because of it. Maybe it’s our inability to reconcile this fractured legacy-the torment and triumph ever at odds with one another-that makes her so magnetic a figure today. Or perhaps it’s the lasting legacy of an artist who deftly put the protest to music, found a melody in chaos, sang when silence was to be expected-that has such resonance for musicians right now. Simone was and is an inspiration for intellectuals, artists, hedonists, activists, separatists, feminists-but she is also, impossibly, a classic. We should hope, then, that the past is indeed a precedent.
You’ll see that Ms Simone carries our issue dedicated to the visual image: the annual photography special, wherein we showcase some of the most weird, stunning and powerful work out there, from both new and emerging photographers. Joe Szabo’s Jones Beach story traces 30-odd years of a New York summertime institution, while Robin Schwartz documents the life and times of her indubitable daughter Amelia, alone on the animal planet. Stephen Dupont’s Raskols story shows the terrifying, haunting faces of one of the world’s most dangerous cities, while Charlotte Player documents the lost generations of the Sarajevo battlegrounds, and Beth Fladung captures the newly-minted American underclass as they search to find a place to call their own. It’s a heavy, touching, sad sort of issue-a lot like the cover star herself. We hope you enjoy it.