Lex Neon on Laura Nyro

When I was born at the tail end of the 60s, Laura’s music was already in bloom.

Interpretations of some of her yet-to-be classics were in my ears before I turned a year old: “And When I Die” by Blood, Sweat and Tears; “Eli’s Coming” by Three Dog Night; “Wedding Bell Blues,” “Stoned Soul Picnic,” “Save The Country,” and “Sweet Blindness” by the Fifth Dimension.  All were hits written by Laura.

Let me not forget Barbra Streisand’s version of Laura’s “Stoney End.”  Oh, yes.  My favorite Barbra moment of all time, written by Laura.

In those interpretations of Laura’s most popular songs, I can still see my mom and aunts changing records on the family stereo.  I can still see my uncles scribbling horn parts on tons of music paper.  I see the logo for Soul City Records (the 5D’s label), and that second album by BS&T on vinyl, 4-track, 8-track, and cassette.  I remember the cover for Three Dog Night’s Suitable For Framing, and the sound of Cory Wells tearing up the vocals on “Eli.”

My mom and aunts loved the soul-pop of the Fifth Dimension and Three Dog Night; my uncles lived for the horn-driven sounds and brass arrangements of bands like Blood, Sweat, and Tears.  The aforementioned songs written by Laura became a gigantic part of my family’s soundtrack, as well as sterling examples of what a talented singer – songwriter could accomplish by combining many diverse styles of music, and writing from the heart.

As I grew older, I learned the name of Laura Nyro by reading album covers and record labels.  At some point in 1981, I came across a picture of her in my first rock music encyclopedia.  I instantly fell in love with the cover of her 1971 album Gonna Take A Miracle.  I couldn’t take my eyes off of the picture, so I ripped it out of the book and taped it inside of my junior high school locker (1459).  The picture stayed up, along with the Stones and the Who, until I graduated in ’84.

When I read of Laura’s passing in early 1997, I was still smarting from the loss of my own mother to ovarian cancer, the same type of cancer that ended Laura’s life.  I had been listening to interpretations of Laura’s music through some of mom’s favorite artists during my depression.  I was compelled to purchase a 2-disc compilation called Stoned Soul Picnic – The Best of Laura Nyro so that I could finally hear the singer – songwriter behind some of my mom’s favorite music.

From the first song, I was in both heaven and tears.  The experience was so unique and emotionally heavy, that I still can’t find words that can accurately describe the intense feeling I got as the CD went from song to song.  When the CD hit a song called “Lu,” my mood went from shades of New York gray to vibrant uptown color.  There was something in that song that lifted me out of the feelings of loss to the first “high” I had felt since my mom’s death a year before.  Laura’s voice (or should I say voices) jump-started my heart.  I played “Lu” so many times that I almost forgot that there was a lot more of her material that I hadn’t heard yet.

And I did.

“Timer,” “Emmie,” “Louise’s Church,” “Broken Rainbow,” and other songs pulled me out of the dark place to which no one had access.  Song after song played and I was floored; to this day, I still don’t understand why she didn’t get her due as a recording artist in her own right.  She was just as powerful an artist as her contemporaries Carole King and Joni Mitchell, so why wasn’t she ever mentioned in the same breath?  The original versions of her songs made famous by other artists are great, but her own versions pierce the flesh and go straight to the listener’s bone.

Her sense of timing makes her music move like currents on a wild rhythmic river, taking the listener on a crazy ride filled with broken streetwise characters, her great story sense, and her heart.  I felt connected to her like I never felt connected to an artist since my infatuation with the Beatles years before.  I still feel that way.

On October 18, Laura would have been 61 years old.  I wish I could have had the chance to tell her about her picture hanging in my locker when I was 14.  I also wish I could have said, “Thank you, Laura.  Your songs helped me through my own black patch after the loss of my mother.  When I hear you, I see mom and I hear the sounds of my past and my present.  There is not a day that goes by without one of your songs drifting through the air of my home, and there isn’t a day I don’t think about you.  You made the biggest transition of my life so far a little easier.  Thank you, and I love you for it.  I wish you were here.

(Lex Neon is the musical mastermind behind the music of indie sunshine pop / rock band Poppermost.  For more info, go to http://www.poppermost.com/)

Currently listening :
Gonna Take a Miracle (Exp)
By Laura Nyro
Release date: By 2002-06-25

~ by Poppermost on November 9, 2008.

3 Responses to “Lex Neon on Laura Nyro”

  1. Hi Lex:

    I saw Laura perform this week, 38 years ago at the Fillmore East. A week doesn’t go by that I don’t think about that night.

  2. Wow what a blessing to have seen her!

  3. I was born in 1947, the same year as Laura. Your blog took me back to the late sixties et seq. to the era of drugs, sex & rock n’ roll. Laura lived the Bo Ho lifestyle (SOUL PICNIC – Michele Kort)
    According to Alanna Nash, Laura’s 1968 song “Emmie” was “Pop’s, first lesbian love song.” If Nash is right about “Emmie,” it would be likely that Désiree was Laura’s Sapphic reverie to Maria Desiderio. This is especially, true as Désiree and Desiderio both mean desire! What do think of Désiree?
    My connection to this ghostly couple began in May 2007. But your blog took me back to my own reverie of the Bronx, the harmonizing in subway stations, and the titter about the incomparable Laura Nyro. She was a child of Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building, as we all were in the 60’s in the Bronx. Thanks

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