i don’t known how old i was or exactly what year it was when i first saw the 1972 movie lady sings the blues with dianna ross (who incidentally gave the performance of a lifetime) I do know I was well into my mastery of alcoholism because at least 8/10 times i watched the movie i was fully fortified with an arsenal of booze. (crying is always so much easier when you are blotto)
the draw of the movie, for me, was the music. i love the music of billie holiday, sarah vaughn, and diana washington. i used to lay on the floor of my apartment with a stereo speaker at each ear and a liter of whatever singing all about my troubles. little did i know.
now what happened when i saw the movie; THAT is absolutely clear in my mind. the what being that i stopped breathing..literally. not once, but twice, I literally found myself holding my breath during a certain scene.
the first time I held my breath was the scene where a strung out billie holiday (ross) attempts to apply lipstick with a very shaky hand. it’s clear she is trying so hard to keep her shit together and to “look” like she is ok, at any cost. its a moment of pleading with the universe and perhaps a silent bargain “if you will just get me through this…” of course, no matter how hard she tries, everything is askew; her crooked lipstick a ironic twist to drive home the point: ms. holiday has a problem.
and who can forget the scene in the bathroom where a desperate billie, no longer worried about how she looks, struggles to get a needle in her arm so that she can stop shaking, stop the voices that are screaming inside her head , relieve the pain . ms. holiday has more than a problem. ms. holiday is a junkie.
so why? why me? why did i hold my breath? yes the story is tragic and yes ms. ross delivered an outstanding performance. but this was something much deeper. it was instinctual. it was automatic. and it was uncomfortable.
looking back I know what happened to me that day. unknowingly and instinctually it happened. as i watched billie’s world disappear into a sea of drugs, what i saw was a glimpse into my future.