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WHO IS THIS BITCH ANYWAY? …or, THE MAGIC THAT IS MARLENA SHAW
…I don’t remember when I first heard Marlena Shaw’s voice, but I do remember the song. I was about 9 or 10 years old. My father took me to see the controversial Diane Keaton film, LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR — much to the dismay and anger of the cinema manager. I remember her making a scene saying something like, “How dare you take your child to see a movie like this! This is not a movie for children!” …of course, she was correct. However, aside from being horrified by the still upsetting ending — I don’t think it caused me any problems. Anyway, Marlena Shaw sang the theme song. The song was bad but the vocal was really interesting to me. Years later I heard her voice again — this time singing a great song called “You Taught Me How To Speak In Love” …A song which should have been too icky sweet, but thanks to her delivery is this stunning little piece of art. I remember tracking down the LP at the headshop. The LP was called “Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?” …the incredible cover shot says it all.

This first LP I purchased is gone, but the cover remains. It hangs in our living room. I love the audacity and personal strength of it. Just check out that face and intensity. Talk about “fierce” — this is a strong woman but somehow filled with a softness at certain times during a song. I also love the challenge Ms. Shaw lays down with the opening track. I don’t know much about Shaw, but the opening is funny but rather uncomfortable exchange between she and a potential “john” —- now, this is about 5 years before Donna Summer ever thought of ‘Bad Girls’ — but Marlena Shaw’s take is much more open and direct. …in less than a minute we know that she (or maybe this ‘character’) was once for sale, but she had her price and it would NOT be lowered. As the “john” tries to convince her to “be” with him for $20 she casually loses him — and their voices and street voices fade away into music. And, what music! Her voice is not as beautiful or touching to me as Babs or as heart-wrenching as Billie Holiday — but it has a strength and desire of hope that has always pulled me in. And, a sense of freeness and humor that really reaches me.

Anyway, Marlena Shaw is on my mind because as I was riding a crowded streetcar home I pressed the shuffle on my iPod and her voice came on. And, with that, came calm and a smile. She is still out there recording, performing and working it. It is my understanding that she enjoys a rather lucrative nightclub career in Japan. It doesn’t matter, tho. Her music brings me joy. This is one bitch who I respect and who rocks my world with her music. Check her out if you get a chance. I know she sometimes performs in New York. If you’re there — I’d advise you to get a ticket!

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December 7, 2006. Uncategorized.

4 Comments

  1. ing replied:

    I play that CD you burned for me at work sometimes. People always ask me who’s singing, though they don’t use the word “bitch” when they do. I love the conversation preceding the first track. Very tough!

    Shower, movie, bed.

  2. Kalvin replied:

    Oh my…that is the most perfect title for an album ever. I could only dream to one day be as sassy. From the brief samplings I’ve been listening to on i-tunes, she certainly is fierce. I’m especially loving woman in the ghetto. Cool beans…

  3. Brookelina replied:

    I can’t believe your father took you to see Looking for Mr. Goodbar. I read the book when I was way too young, and it freaked me out completely.

  4. matty replied:

    Ing! Yay! I forgot I made you a CD of it! Love spreading the word on Marlena Shaw. I noticed that there was a listing on line of the must under-appreciated jazz singers of our time and she was in the Top 10. …not sure who made the list, but I agree!

    Kalvin – Ain’t it cool! Yes, I wish I were that sassy. Alas, I am not at all sassy. That is a GREAT track. A lot of early stuff can be had on iTunes and on a CD compilation called “Different Bags” —- but I prefer the 70’s Marlena — when she seemed to actually find her voice and, I think, had a bit more control over the selection of songs. Her later work is cool, too. I love her live recordings and her banter with the auidences. She rocks. I don’t know too much about her, tho.

    Brooke! Yes, my father took me to see EVERYTHING with him from as far back as I can remember. I don’t know how many times people lectured him about the movies he would take me to see. I saw THE EXORCIST when it came out. I think I was about 4. As I had no religious training (and was VERY young) …I didn’t understand any of it. My mom liked to drop me off at the movies. It became a babysitter for her and I think my father just didn’t want to be alone. But, MR. GOODBAR. Yeah, and back then I liked to pretend that Diane Keaton and Woody Allen were my real parents. LOL! …so, it was all the more disturbing to see her raped and murdered on the big screen. …I was so confused —- and horrified. Oh well.

    …I don’t think my parents were really meant to be parents. Actually, I know that he wasn’t.

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