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Sunday, October 18, 2009

Groovy Gal: Laura Nyro

I was a Laura Nyro fan without even knowing it. When I was a kid, I loved listening to "Wedding Bell Blues" by The 5th Dimension, and later as a young man, I discovered more of their groovy music like "Stoned Soul Picnic" and "Sweet Blindness" as well as Three Dog Night's "Eli's Coming" and Barbra Streisand's "Stoney End". It wasn't until I heard Nyro's lovely version of "It's Gonna Take a Miracle" in the 2004 film, A Home at the End of the World, that I did some research on the talented lady and finally learned that she had written all of those songs (except for "Miracle"). Of course, I immediately bought a retrospective album of her work, Time and Love: The Essential Masters, which features many of her most famous compositions. Laura Nyro was sadly taken from us much too soon in 1997 at the age of 49, but today--on what would've been her 62nd birthday--I'm celebrating and remembering her life and career.

Here are 10 Groovy Facts about Laura Nyro:

1) She was born Laura Nigro on October 18, 1947, in the Bronx, New York.

2) As a child, she taught herself piano and composed her first songs at the age of eight.

3) While in high school, Nyro sang with a group of friends in subway stations and on street corners. Among her favorite musicians were Nina Simone and Van Morrison and girl groups such as Martha and the Vandellas and the Shirelles.

4) As a teenager she experimented with using different names, and Nyro (which she pronounced "Nero") was the one she was using in 1966 when she auditioned for record company executive Artie Mogull, who became her first manager.

5) She sold her song, "And When I Die", to Peter, Paul and Mary for $5,000, and made her first extended professional appearance at age 18, singing at the legendary Hungry i coffee house in San Francisco.

6) In 1967, Nyro made her second major live appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival.

7) She considered becoming lead singer for Blood, Sweat & Tears in 1968, but she was dissuaded by her new manager, David Geffen.

8) Nyro had a brief romance with singer/songwriter Jackson Browne in 1970-71. The song "That Girl Could Sing", found on Browne's album Hold Out, is about her.

9) Uncomfortable with performing on television and with fame in general, a newly married Nyro announced her retirement from the music industry in 1971 at age 24. After her marriage to carpenter David Bianchini ended in 1974, she returned with a new album in 1976. In 1980, she began a relationship with painter Maria Desiderio, and they remained together for the rest of Nyro's life.

10) While eight months pregnant in 1978, Nyro played The Bottom Line in four sold-out performances. Tom Windbrandt of The Soho News wrote: "The show was almost understated in its simplicity. Ms. Nyro wore a red strapless dress and performed without any back-up musicians at all. What the performance lacked in texture, it made up for in intimacy. It was almost like having Laura in one's own living room. The baby figured into the between-song-patter: 'We’re both really happy to be here,' she announced." Nyro later gave birth to her only child, a son named Gil.

I leave you now with Nyro and her "Harmonies" performing at Point State Park in Pittsburgh on June 11, 1994. You can watch the entire concert on YouTube.


Eric Arvin said...

I love her music!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a fascinating read on this talented lady.

Anonymous said...

I have followed her career since she wrote for Fifth Dimension and BS&T and just find her work amazing, and when I listen to the albums she recorded, it brings to mind the works of simplicity, just guitar, drums, piano and excellent background vocalists all contributing their heart and soul! I enjoy her music repeatedly and went ga ga over the "Gonna Take A Miracle" with LaBelle doing the background vocals. Sheer genius and we were so lucky to have her around in our lifetime! Truly one of the greats and yet, keep in mind, totally simplistic in its approach to music, not the over production of today's music. I think she had influenced artists like Bette Midler and even other cabaret style acts. If you do not know her, look her up!

Dan said...

Her music has taken over my Ipod, my car, my living space, my whole body, my Chuck Taylors. This doesn't happen so much once you reach a certain age...her early passing and kooky outsider attitude make it all the more poignant...I miss someone I've never met, and feel her music in everything I see.

In the sea of information about a million things, there's actually not that much about her, not even a record-label sponsored website, just her funky homeade site made shortly before her death. Todd Rundgren said when he heard Laura Nyro he stopped "writing songs like The Who" and started trying to write like her!

What's wild is how exposed her soul is--like it's close to flying apart and reconstituting, for the sake of a song. Not much insulation on the wiring, burning hot for wisdom, like Patti Smith. Blowin' up pop forms, totally off the grid.

Thanks for marking her birthday.

Deep Dish said...

I'm glad you liked my Laura Nyro post, Dan. And I know how you feel about missing someone you've never met.

nyrogrl said...

Pure Genius. No one can touch Laura Nyro. Thanks for falling in love with her as I did when I was 12. I am now 55. OY.

Frank Shifreen said...

Laura Nyro was the greatest. Her music is transcendent. I went to Music & Art whie she was there. She was ahead of me.
I listen and listen. I wish there were more of her music and she was still here with us

acmy said...

downhere, in Brasil (with "s", as we wrote in Portuguese), I love her music!

Marc said...

It's so nice to hear from a reader in "Brasil"!!! Glad you liked the post, acmy.

Ralph Bruno said...

Marc, considering that this is a gay blog, it was disappointing not to see a mention of Désiree. Further puzzling was your emphatic reference to Gonna Take a Miracle. Désiree.was the lead in song to the Michael Mayer 2004 movie scene. Why is Désiree so important? GTAM maybe “lovely” but Désiree is unabashed, carnal, naked, and raw in its expression of ultimate love to another woman. She’s practically “coming” her beloved’s name for a minute and forty seconds. Rev-ola records thought enough of the song to give credence to the belief that Désiree was a paean to her soulmate, Maria Desiderio, who was 17 y/o at the time. Laura often sang of her love for a woman. Some of the many examples are her flame/crush song Timer. EMMIE was pops, first lesbian love song. In 1984 she sang. Roadnotes, her homage to her then life partner, yes the same Maria Desiderio. I just feel that an LGBTQ site would want to celebrate Laura’s bisexuality. Rabdrake
BTW Lauria's first meeting was 1967.
P.S. love the boy hotties!

Marc said...

Hey, Ralph, thanks for all the interesting info about Ms. Nyro. You obviously know A LOT more about her than I do. I'm sorry you were disappointed in my post - but I'm glad you love all the boy hotties!

Ralph Bruno said...

Marc, did not mean to convey that I was disappointed with your post. It was only the absence of Désiree. Your post is actually a treasure trove of info. The Denknee links are the bomb. The concert was June 11, 1994, a day after Maria's 40th birthday. Denknee captured a live record of Laura, being bisexual while embracing the radical, feminist lesbian subculture. Rabdrake
N.B. 53:28 - 53:35 audience/stage banter.

Marc said...

Sorry I misinterpreted your comment, Ralph. I'm happy to know that you do like the post. :)