Monday, April 8, 2013

"Laura Nyro Is Worth Remembering"

"I'm writing about Laura Nyro. What should I say?"

"Who?" This was not the answer I wanted or expected from my mother. After all, I had spent my single-digit years rifling through my parents' old vinyl and found Nyro's pen to be behind many a childhood favorite.

 Laura Nyro was born into a forward-thinking and musically gifted Bronx family. She went from singing on street corners to selling out Carnegie Hall on a weekend that she just happened to have three of her compositions recorded by other artists in the Billboard Top 10. To top it off, she turned down Blood, Sweat & Tears when they thought she had what it took to step into Al Kooper's shoes.

Wildly imaginative and conscious of her connection with the world around her, Nyro's arrangements, lyrics and phrasing were altogether unheard of and unique, yet universal and eternal. Mixing her much loved Doo Wop and jazz with the emerging pop sensibilities of the sixties, she drew listeners in with the sheer joy of sound while whispering ethereal truths into their subconscious.

So, for my mom to not immediately recognize her name, I knew that there was a criminal level of underappreciation afoot. Sure, Nyro was finally inducted, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year; but even then her endof-life work as an animal-rights advocate was ignored in her tribute. I guess she was always one step ahead of what the greater whole of society was comfortable with confronting.

To celebrate the life, talent, and beauty of the one-of-a-kind Laura Nyro on the anniversary of her death from ovarian cancer in 1997; I'm offering this list of pop-culture moments to help clarify the impact that her words and voice have had on arts of all kinds, even if we weren't so sure of the source.

5. "Desiree'/It's Gonna Take A Miracle," A Home at the End of the World

Michael Cunningham's critically acclaimed novel is the story of fractured souls finding comfort in open hearts. When recently orphaned Bobby Marrow is taken in by the straight-laced Glover family, he does not shy away from showing who he really is.

His willingness to live is contagious. When mother Alice, played in the adaptation by Sissy Spacek, is entranced by the lilting tones of "Desiree'" she eventually let's her guard down, sharing both a joint and an unforgettable moment with her son and his friend.

There are four more "pop culture moments" - plus video - at the link.

"The story of fractured souls finding comfort in open hearts" was Laura Nyro's major theme, in every song.  She wrote about the last, the least, and the lost - who are all redeemed through love.  Sound familiar?

I'm not sure "pop culture moments" really explains it all.  I'm going to do some thinking about this, but I do believe one major difference between then and now is that the last, the least, and the lost - that is to say, all the best and most interesting people (that is to say, all of us) - are no longer thought worth talking or singing about.

Nor does anybody seem much interested in "the sheer joy of sound" for its own sake, or in "whispering ethereal truths into the subconscious" - let alone combining these things.  Does anybody sing about God the way she did - as if everybody could get it, whether or not you'd "accepted Jesus as your personal savior"?

I'm still not sure who "the Captain" is, though; the character appears fairly often in the songs (i.e., he's "Captain St. Lucifer" and "Captain for Dark Mornings").   It all has something to do with love and loss and the strange wildness of sexuality, and with adulthood - the letting go of childish things.  Something to do, too, with the glory of living on the fringes of the world, and as islands in the shipping lanes. 

The sound really was joyous and exalted.  There is a group of people who were moved deeply by her music - see this Facebook Group for a great example! - and who will love Laura Nyro until the day we die, in gratitude.


jeffersongenya said...

You do 'get' her, totally....

bls said...

Thanks, Jefferson....