Monday, April 21, 2014

Laura Nyro, Inspirational Person of the Month

This month's inspirational person is the late singer and songwriter Laura Nyro. She saw herself as a musical artist and had an almost impossible time doing any musical compromise, bringing musical integrity to everything she accomplished in a career era which began in the 1960s. Her lyrics also expressed ideas and were not just one unrequited love song after another. For example, here are a portion of her lyrics from And When I Die: 

I'm not scared of dying and I don't really care
If it's peace you find in dying, well, then let the time be near
If it's peace you find in dying, when dying time is here
Just bundle up my coffin 'cause it's cold way down there
I hear that's it's cold way down there, yeah, crazy cold way down there

You can listen to her top songs here while studying the lyrics printed underneath each one.

She was also an early feminist and this seeped into her work as well. In her personal relationships she had trouble being with anyone but fellow artists and tended towards shyness.  She finished out her life living for 17 years with the late painter Maria Desidero. Although she finished out with a woman, she had started out with men and had a son, Gil-T, also a musician.  Her affinity with artists is shown in her song Louise's Church (sculptor Louise Nvelson) with these partial lyrics:

Sappho was a poet
Billie was a real musician
Frida drew the moon
I'm going by Louise's Church
She built in the city
Art of grace & style
That could make me smile
Talk to me
Goddess of life & music
Shine on me awhile

She had a very liberal, artistic and progressive childhood which impacted on the rest of her life, saying, "I was always interested in the social consciousness of certain songs. My mother and grandfather were progressive thinkers, so I felt at home in the peace movement and the women's movement, and that has influenced my music."

Born in the Bronx in 1947 of Russian, Jewish, Polish and Italian ancestry, she taught herself how to play the piano. Her father was a trumpet player who played in the Catskills. Educationally she got the best for a budding artist: Manhattan's High School of Music and Art plus the Sunday School at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Her aunt and uncle were both painters in New York City and had a pivotal role in her upbringing.

The streets of the city where she grew up also got her singing. She said, "I would go out singing, as a teenager, to a party or out on the street, because there were harmony groups there, and that was one of the joys of my youth."

She made a very good business decision at the start of her career which was to partner with David Geffen in Tuna Fish Music. She brought out her earliest music under Geffen.  They sold Tuna Fish very profitably.  He expected her to follow him to the next music venture but she signed instead with Columbia.  This was a bitter breakup for him but she wasn't good at this part of the business. She ultimately remained a lot artsier than he did anyway so it is unlikely they would have seen eye to eye in the next venture.

Although Nyro's own albums have a niche audience with faithful followers, such as myself, her work was and is more well known when it is or was performed by other singers. Three Dog Night, Linda Ronstadt, Frank Sinatra, Blood Sweat & Tears, Barbra Streisand, the Fifth Dimension and others sang her work and racked up huge sales with it. The way she performed her own work was a lot more complex and not as universally popular.  She also influenced many other songwriters. 

Elton John said, "The soul, the passion, just the out and out audacity of the way her rhythmic and melody changes came was like nothing I’ve heard before.”

Nyro's mother died of ovarian cancer at age 49. She also died of ovarian cancer at the exact same age in 1997. She discovered it on tour in 1995. Nyro worked on her last songs while she was undergoing cancer treatment. Angel In the Dark was one of her last songs and its lyrics were partially these:

Angel, hear my song because the night’s so long.
Come back to me, I don’t know how, I don’t know where.
I’ll be dreaming and on my feet again cause
I can’t laugh no more without and angel so if you’re there,
Come back to me, come back. Come back to me, come back. Answer my prayer.

Also on the Angel in the Dark Album, the song Triple Goddess Twilight with these lyrics partially:

Triple Goddess Twilight, slow down. Feel the land, violet everywhere, I'll meet you there.
Mother, you died young and left me. Your twilight colors, rose, ah, burgundy, coral mist.
What are the shades of loneliness?

There is a musical sampler of her work on YouTube which is 10 minutes long and contains clips from 19 of her songs. That video is here.

Nowadays you can also listen to Laura Nyro free on the Pandora internet radio station here or instead put the free Pandora tablet or phone app onto your Apple or Android mobile device.

You can also find all of her albums on Amazon here.

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