My weekend with Nina Simone; by Lisa Fay Beatty, as told to Paul Motian, Mia Zapata and Charging Elk (in heaven)

Or, “Save me, yeah!”

Hi. I’m Lisa. Some people know me as Lisa Fay. Or Lisa Fay Beatty. I have a band called El Fay. Or had a band. I was a rock guitarist and sound engineer. I was a founding member of the Mudwimin and also played with, toured with, and recorded with 7 Year Bitch. The Mudwimin were punk but also art. We were somewhere between The Riot Grrls and Katy Perry. Bambi was in Tragic Mulatto. Mia was in Frightwig. We were four ladies in our late twenties; we were smart, talented and good-looking, but we were all divorced so “our name was ‘mud'”. We were Mudwimin. We put out two records and would play Gilman Street and a lot of benefit events, things like that.

It shouldn’t surprise you that I loved Nina Simone. Most musicians have wide ears — eclectic tastes. Even the Mudwimin, besides our own material, had covers of like Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. A reviewer called my version of “Best if Yet To Come” ‘psychotic’. I was scary-good. No, we were scary-great. Fuck you, if you think we were merely scary- good. Can I say that here? Is this “all ages” or how does that work?

Anyhow, so when my old friend Mikey Thrasher of Mike Thrasher Productions in Portland called me about helping with his Nina Simone show, I said “hell-yeah”. I was Nina’s runner, I was in charge of the rider — of making her feel welcomed. I had no idea we would hit it off as well as we did. I was kinda in awe, at first. But when you think about, well duh. Her daughter’s name is Lisa. It was a complicated relationship. We were only together for 72 hours but it felt like we had some supernatural link. Like we were buds in another life. Or sisters. Sometimes it was like a mother-daughter thing. Other times we were fellow musicians, fellow travelers. Maybe we were in a band together in a past life. Do you believe in reincarnation? Do you believe in heaven? God, that’s ironic.

Paul Motian: We never met before, but your house-mates’ manager, I knew him well. He worked for my label in Munich. He was like a son. It was his first job. (note, and not to ruin the effect here but I have been advised to remind people here that this is an imagined conversation that takes place in heaven and does not necessarily reference anyone other than Paul Motian and does not reference any actual persons who knew him or hands friends in common with Lisa Fay Beatty; Paul Motian when he was alive did not actually, as far as I know, talk to Lisa about music or their mutual friends, or one particular person; but feel free to think of him if you knew or know him, just don’t mention to him that you read about him here. Thanks. MBW. No offense meant. This is art or letters or something like that. Namaste. And maybe this is only making it worse; I just saw “Casablanca” and “To Be Or Not To Be” and maybe my ancestors are noodging me).

Charging Elk: The people who read the book about my life also went to the events you promoted and teched for about Our People at the David Brower Center. We appreciated your work. Your spirit. (Note, and again, not to ruin the original flow or spirit of this, but I want to shout out to Wayne Horvitz who introduced me to the work of James Welch on “Heartsong of Charging Elk” and wrote a piece of music for it, although he didn’t directly call me on it or anything, I just noticed it on his website. I had been thinking it would be good to talk up this piece in Santa Fe, for Indian Market).

Mia Zapata: You helped catch that mother-fucker. And no he’s not here.

When will I get to see Nina? She’s here, right?

edit to add, January 12, 2012: my thanks to Bill Cuevas of KZSU for dedicating a song to Lisa last night; he played Mudwimin after Wild Flag (the Carrie Brownstein vehicle) and coincidentally Tragic Mullatto (Bambi’s band before Mudwimin). I also called Derk Richardson one night in the booth who back-dedicated a Nina Simone song to Lisa on KPFA. Feb. 4 is the event her friends are throwing here. There is also a video showing some of her friends building a marker and monument near the sight of the crash. I was thinking of putting some energy into the project Lisa and I had discussed working on, a Nina Simone tribute I am thinking of, and have a notebook labeled “Save Me, Yeah”.

The other weird thing is that when my mom, who is 81 and not who she was for the first 79 years, or the first 45 years or so that I knew her, took a look at the photo of Lisa I posted above and said she saw a gorilla’s face in the knit cap! See for mice elf!

I put some of this, plus Nina singing “Save Me” below in comments.

edit to add, February 20, 2012: Here is a link to Bottom of The Hill tribute to Lisa Fay Beatty.

About markweiss86

Mark Weiss, founder of Plastic Alto blog, is a concert promoter and artist manager in Palo Alto, as Earthwise Productions, with background as journalist, advertising copywriter, book store returns desk, college radio producer, city council and commissions candidate, high school basketball player, and blogger; he also sang in local choir, fronts an Allen Ginsberg tribute Beat Hotel Rm 32 Reads 'Howl' and owns a couple musical instruments he cannot play
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13 Responses to My weekend with Nina Simone; by Lisa Fay Beatty, as told to Paul Motian, Mia Zapata and Charging Elk (in heaven)

  1. markweiss says:

    Ok, I just talked to Dana Jae aka Dana Labreque and we traded notes about Lisa Fay Beatty’s passing. Dana considered Lisa “her daughter” as far as sound engineering goes, although they are about the same age, two years apart. I met Dana years ago — I knew her by another last name — for her work with Paul Durham, Austin Willacy, people like that. I also spoke to Mia Simmans today, and Hans Wendl. And I found the rudiments of the proposed “Nina Simone Project” — I had recommended to Lisa that she turn a long story she had told me — it had covered about 45 minutes — into a Spalding Gray type monologue, and I offered to co-produce it with her. She never did just turn on a recorder and give the shpiel again for the record — as far as I know. As far as anyone knows. But she eventually sent me what could be the opening, or an outline. And I just dug that out of my email folder. It starts with her proclaiming “Save Me” as a favorite song. (Although this video says its an Aretha song — all things are connected — Dao Strom says in her preface that someone suggested the song-cycle that includes “Save Me” as the model of what became her “Gentle Order….” book.

    • markweiss says:

      “Save Me” is written by Aretha Franklin, Carolyn Franklin, her sister who died of breast cancer at age 43, and Curtis Ousley, the sax player, also known as King Curtis, and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, who died young, stabbed while trying to break up a robbery. Also covered by Eric Clapton.

  2. markweiss says:

    pretty esoteric I admit but that’s where my mind went; Lisa did do some work for the Native community recently in Berkeley, at David Brower:

  3. markweiss says:

    Melissa K. Nelson mentions Lisa in this article about the Native-themed event at David Brower Center in Berkeley, where she served as event coordinator:

    Click to access BrowerOhlone.pdf

    • aisha ayers says:

      Lisa is my mentor my engineering mother as Dana is to her. We became friends in Portland, and here in Oakland. I played BOTH with her. Her spirit was deep I miss her. She gave me the chance of a lifetime to see Nina Simone with my sister. I’m about 15 years younger than her, but she was the rebel. I think about her most days.

      • markweiss86 says:

        Hi, Aisha. Thanks for commenting on my blog. Michelle Budziak shot a couple rolls of film at that BOTH show, so I will try to post one of the shots of you.

        Also, I would be curious to get your feedback on the idea that I had of producing a tribute show to Nina Simone based on the conversation Lisa Fay and I had were I suggested she do a tribute to Nina, telling the audience a monologue version of what she tells her friends about that weekend. I am saying we could still do a show with someone playing Lisa Fay and talking about what it was like to meet and be so influenced by Nina.

        Lisa wrote me about 200 words on this. I wish I had recorded our first talk; it was about 5,000 words.
        There are three spots on here that feature a picture of Lisa Fay that night.

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