I know a few Billie Holiday songs. Not enough to say “X, Y and Z are hers” but if they are on the radio or such, I can say, “Sounds like her” and I am usually right. I recently learned a bit about her (well on song) and wanted to read more. When I saw that there was a graphic novel biography done by Paola Parisi, I thought I probably should find it. And yesterday, it was being placed in the “to be return to publisher” books. (Yes, sadly we do have to return some books). Therefore, I knew I had to have this book.
Blues for Lady Day: The Story of Billie Holiday is a haunting and beautiful story about a hauntingly lovely performer. There are the mature themes surrounding her life: raised by her 90-year-old grandmother, her parents young, her father a musician, her mother and her struggling to survive, Holiday’s arrests and, of course, her drug and alcohol use. Everything is handled tastefully, if not slightly (to be frank) dull. The only time I really felt for her was when she is telling a manger/partner how her hands were shaking (and she is ignoring his pleas) and the time she contacts another friend to say she has been arrested. Again.
I liked how things were not “fleshed out” with the illustrations. They were shadows and incomplete. This added to the dark/haunting aspects of the scene. They are unique illustrations to fit the story. They are black and white (I did wonder how color would have changed things, as I like the feel of the cover and it’s off-beat coloring).
I felt this book more than I read it. I experienced it more than read it in that “solid way” you read books. I made assumptions about Holiday that were not necessarily in the text. I interpreted what I was reading. I think she got fame so quickly and had “Yes ma’am” people around her. They may not have had her best interests at heart. Plus, Holiday did what she wanted. She demanded to be respected. You listened to her. You payed attention to her. Otherwise, the lady had words to say about that.
Both blacks and whites loved their Lady Day. Unless they hated her (and it looked like she was as easy to hate as to love. Or maybe it was as hard to love her, so it was easier to hate her). I think she was looking for her father’s love. I think she was looking for her mother’s love. I think she did not really love herself.
As the above shows, I cannot really tell you a lot about the book without giving a lot away. Therefore, to summarize it, this is a snapshot of Billie Holiday mostly told in her voice. Sometimes it is hard to understand as it gave me the feeling of a blues song so there are some interpretations needed and it is almost an abstract poem. I do not think you need to know who Billie Holiday was, but it might help understand some points. But it is a solid look at her life even as it hits on highlights and the feeling of who she was.