Wednesday, November 8, 2017

For the Whole Round World to Hear

To paraphrase Miss Nina Simone, Virginia goddam. But in a good way.

I voted this morning behind a friend/neighbor/immigrant, who managed to crack me up and insinuate innuendo into the 90 seconds we sat next to each other waiting for voting booths to open up. At least we were voting for the same people.

At the Valentine for the first in their History/Controversy series, the ice breaker question asked of everyone in the room was who would win the gubernatorial race. A solid 90% of us predicted (or fervently hoped) Northam. Then we were polled about who had voted and 6% had not.

"All right, you 6%-ers are dismissed to go vote," our facilitator joked. And if he wasn't kidding, nobody was brave enough to leave and prove they'd shirked their civic duty.

Tonight's topic was voting and we were given historical context via the back stories of Sally Dooley (Virginia Association Opposed to Women's Suffrage) and Lila Meade Valentine (Equal Suffrage League of Virginia), but by far the most astounding fact we learned was that despite the Nineteenth Amendment (granting women the right to vote) being ratified in 1919, Virginia didn't get around to ratification until 1952.

That kind of crap could also be characterized as Virginia goddam, although not in a good way.

Tonight's experts - two UR law professors, one black, one white, one male, one female, hell, they were practically the Mod Squad - shared that as Virginians, we have a long history of gerrymandering going back to Patrick Henry, who tried to swing things so that James Monroe would beat out James Madison (he failed).

Looking at the current district maps was disturbing for how flagrantly they flaunted their only requirement: to be compact and contiguous. I think we can all agree that a district shaped like an amoeba with tumors hardly qualifies as compact.

It was a timely evening for a discussion of the importance of winning tonight's election because the re-districting maps will be drawn during the next administration and heaven knows, we could use some major amoeba trimming.

When I left there in the pouring rain, I only had to go two blocks to Vagabond for the music of a seminal pianist, singer, songwriter and activist. Down in the warm, dimly lit basement known as the Rabbit Hole, a crowd was already gathering for an event billed as "Sam Reed Sings Nina Simone."

Bellying up to the bar was no easy feat given the size of the crowd, but all it really gave me was a better view of a bartender so far in the weeds that he couldn't see out. The floor behind the bar was slick with moisture and I watched as he skidded on it repeatedly while people kept trying to get his attention to order.

Suddenly, from the end of the bar, somebody yelled, "Northam won!" and the room erupted in shrieks and applause. It was such a fantastic way to start the musical - and now celebratory - part of my evening. Spotting an abandoned bar stool, I dragged it over near a couch so I'd have a better (and seated) view.

That bit of luck was followed by the arrival of a guy I know and hadn't seen in ages (unless Facebook counts and it doesn't) and suddenly I had someone to chat with, too. I wanted to hear all about the Fire, Flour and Fork barbecue dinner he'd gone to - White Stone oysters at a BBQ, really? - and, since it was his first visit to the Rabbit Hole for music, he wanted to hear about bands I'd seen there.

Meanwhile, we saw other people giving up on the bartender and going upstairs to score drinks. One guy came down carrying two cans of PBR so he wouldn't have to go back up again. And people just kept coming in, filling up the place until there wasn't any room for more.

Sam Reed came out looking like a million bucks in wide, red bell bottoms and a long-sleeved black crop top and introduced her keyboard player Calvin. "We've been rehearsing these songs for weeks now, but it's not easy to come up here and suddenly become one amazing person."

After only a couple of songs, including a poignant "I Loves You, Porgy," during which some people continued to blather, Sam asked the sound guy to check on a buzz from the drum. "Any of you seen the documentary "What Happened, Miss Simone?" she inquired and a fair number of people indicated they had.

"Well, then you know she would have stopped a show with a snare drum buzzing like that. She'd also stop singing if people were talking because she wanted them to listen to her, like they did when she played classical music on piano." At that comment, many people shouted affirmations, telling her she should do just that and I agreed since near me were a couple of women catching up far too loudly while she sang.

It was just the reminder some people needed to be more respectful as she went forward with other Simone standards like "Don't Smoke in Bed" and "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl," nailing that male/female tone that Nina's voice had.

Sam reminded the audience of Nina's place in civil rights history, chiding us with, "I hope you all voted!" and going into a set of music from that period, including a killer rendition of "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood," which I have to admit I knew only by the Animals' version.

But it was the song Sam said Simone had written after being devastated by the death of the four little girls in the Birmingham church that got the crowd singing along. With no prodding from her, people spontaneously joined in for the refrain of "Do it slow" in "Mississippi Goddam," making for a powerful moment to witness.

I was quickly brought back to reality when Sam said she was doing "Old Jim Crow" next and the young girl behind me asked her companion, "Jim who?"

Old Jim Crow, I thought I had you beat
Now I see you walkin' and talkin' up and down my street
Old Jim Crow, don't you know it's all over now

Referring to those lines of the song, Sam said, "I feel like that's what's been going on for the past year. But we're going to persevere and work together to change that, right?"

Right, indeed. She ended her set with "I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free" and people clapping along in rhythm, like a gospel chorus. I couldn't have asked for a better way to close out election night.

Well, except to get home and see how many Republicans had been unseated in the House of Delegates. Oh, and what's this, a transgendered woman has beaten a dinosaur of a legislator, a man who bragged about being anti-LGBTQ? Karma really is a bitch.

Can't you see it? 
Can't you feel it? 
It's all in the air. 
Virginia, goddam!

And I mean that in the best possible way.

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