The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

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MAY 2022 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: Music

2. Los Angeles, 1969

Born in New Orleans to a Baptist minister and his wife, this woman has been singing professionally since the age of 14. Now living in L.A. and well into a pregnancy, she gets a call one night from a producer friend who is desperately in need of a backup singer for a recording session with some visiting English musicians. At first, she refuses—it’s almost midnight, she’s pregnant, and already in bed—but at last she agrees and a car is dispatched to pick her up. Arriving at the studio wearing silk pajamas and a mink coat, with curlers in her hair, she is taken aback by the grimness of the lyric they ask her to sing until the musicians explain to her the content of the song. A consummate professional, and also anxious to get back to bed, she sets out to get the job done as efficiently as possible. After the first take, the band’s flamboyant singer asks if she wants to do another one. “Sure, I’ll do another,” she replies, while silently telling herself, “I’m going to blow them out of this room.” Judging by the hoots and yells one can hear on the recording from the other people in the studio, this is exactly what she did, her piercing, cracking voice seeming to absorb all the political violence of the era and hurl it back at the world. Almost immediately, the record becomes one of the most iconic songs of its historical moment, but she finds it too painful to listen to for many years: after returning home from the session she suffers a miscarriage and loses her unborn child.

(Merry Clayton, the Rolling Stones)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2022

All Issues