How David Bowie helped Nina Simone get back on her game
During the height of their fame, Nina Simone and David Bowie had struck up a strong friendship over a prolonged period of time, one which would even result in the Englishman covering Simone’s glorious ‘Wild Is Wild’ to appear on his Station To Station album in 1976. However, the impact on a personal rather than a professional level would offer Simone the rope she needed to get herself back to shore.
Bowie played a key role in resurrecting Simone’s career, one which was going through a minor slump in 1974 when the two first met. Their accidental meeting came about just a week after Simone took her daughter to watch the Starman perform at Madison Square Garden and, when she attended New York members club, so did Bowie. When Simone walked past his table to leave the venue, he invited her to sit down—they then exchanged phone numbers and stayed in touch.
While the two creations only had a very brief conversation, Bowie was aware of her ongoing struggles and, after the exchanging of numbers, he then called her that night at exactly 3:00am. “He said, ‘The first thing I want you to know is that you’re not crazy—don’t let anybody tell you you’re crazy, because where you’re coming from, there are very few of us out there,’ ” Simone would later recall.
Every single night for the next 30 days Bowie would call Simone every evening and the two would spend hours talking to one another through the night. Then Bowie finally paid her a visit, to which Simone recalled: “He looked just like Charlie Chaplin, a clown suit, a big black hat. He told me that he was not a gifted singer and he knew it.”
“He said, ‘What’s wrong with you is you were gifted—you have to play. Your genius overshadows the money, and you don’t know what to do to get your money, whereas I wasn’t a genius, but I planned, I wanted to be a rock-and-roll singer and I just got the right formula,’ ” Simone continued.
“He’s got more sense than anybody I’ve ever known,” she also said. “It’s not human—David ain’t from here.”
Simone had an ongoing struggle with her mental health and was diagnosed with bipolar in the late 1980s when she began privately seeking treatment for her condition. Attitudes towards mental health were very different from today and this made many people not be able to understand Simone. Instead of writing her off as ‘crazy’, Bowie treated her like a human who was just misunderstood — which meant the absolute world to her.
It was a special moment in 1976 when Bowie would record a version of her hit ‘Wild Is The Wind’ on Station to Station which was recorded shortly after they had become close friends. It was the only track on the record no written by Bowie, the singer admitted Simone’s version had “really affected me… I recorded it as a homage to Nina.”