Saturday, January 17, 2015

Laura Nyro Obsession

In my youth, I was never much of a groupie. Even when I was crushin' on David Bowie or Marvin Gaye, I didn't see the point of making posters or rushing to hotels for a glimpse or scheming to get into a show and sneak backstage. I was too shy, and the thought of collecting albums and studying lyrics and cover art embarrassed me. The closest I ever came to being a groupie was in my obsession over Laura Nyro when I was a junior high school girl in the suburbs of Chicago. And it was more of a private affair. My big sister had three or four of Laura Nyro's albums, and when I was alone in my bedroom, I would listen to Laura, memorize all of her lyrics, and learn to sing her songs note for note when nobody was home so I could really let those highs and lows fly.
 I emoted right in sync with Laura on "Wedding Bell Blues," "Brown Earth," "Stoned Soul Picnic," "Captain for Dark Mornings," "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp," "And When I Die," "He's a Runner," and on and on. Never mind that I hadn't even been properly kissed at that point, let alone been in a relationship or gone to Spanish Harlem. No matter. With Laura, I felt and experienced it all: broken-hearted loneliness, tom cat love, day-fancy dreams, the taste of sweet cocaine and Christmas in my soul.

New York Tendaberry

Only twelve years old, I knew Laura was all mine. There was one precious time years ago when I saw her perform at Ravinia Park, outside of Chicago, on a rainy night, when mud-sliding philistines rode the muck on their bellies as if they were at Woodstock instead of a performance by the greatest singer-songwriter the world has ever known. Oh yes, she was mine alone.

Then last Thursday night, I attended "New York Tendaberry: The Iconic Songs and Life of Laura Nyro," in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and I learned that I was far from the only girl with a passionate Laura Nyro obsession back in the 1970s.

Here was producer and host Louise Crawford, of Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn fame, who put the evening together, standing before the tightly packed crowd at The Old Stone House and revealing that when she was twelve, she listened all the time to "Eli and the Thirteenth Confession," enthralled with its deep magic. And her big sister and friends were so cool and in on the Laura Nyro experience that saying "Eli's Coming" was code for "I'm about to get my period."

Tripping Down the Side Streets

In my Midwestern suburban youth, Laura Nyro also was the start of my New York obsession. Laura was the prime example of New York womanhood to me, tripping down the side streets all smoky eyes, wild brown hair, hoop earrings, gypsy bangles, lipstick on her reefer waiting for a match.

There stood Louise on Thursday, one of how many thousands of Laura lovers, still crushin' on her almost twenty years after her death, reading the poetry of "New York Tendaberry," and now that I'm a grown woman and living in NYC myself, it felt like home: "Sidewalk and pigeon. You look like a city. But you feel like religion to me."

Thanks, Louise, for bringing back the iconic songs of Laura Nyro with brilliant interpretations by artists Erika Amato, Debbie Deane, Amy and Andy Burton, Jennifer Lewis Bennett, Tim Moore, Ina May Wool and Nancy O. Graham. (And a special shout-out to Don Cummings, whose "Poverty Train" was a knockout.) The evening ended with a stunning video by Mary Bosakowski and Kristin Lovejoy, shown at Laura Nyro's memorial service back in 1997 and including personal footage of Laura speaking to the camera about her life.

Since Thursday's performances, my entire vinyl collection of Laura's albums has been in heavy rotation on my stereo here in my Brooklyn apartment. I'm remembering what it feels like to lift a record needle and put it back on a track over and over again. Remember that? I'm gushing, I know.

I own my Laura Nyro love proudly. I guess I'm a groupie after all. So to end it on a special note for all you other insiders, maybe you've already obsessed over every single YouTube video starring Laura Nyro, including, of course, the Monterey Pop Festival performance where she blew everybody away with the sweetness of "Wedding Bell Blues" and the intensity of "Poverty Train," and mistakenly believed the crowd was booing her when in fact they were loving her and calling out their appreciation but she couldn't feel it because she was just such a special and tender artist with an unparalleled sensitivity, though if she only knew how much she meant for me, personally, during my own very sensitive growing-up years when she showed me what it is to be open to an honest and true creative experience, and how I wasn't alone, and in fact she gave so much to so many of us in pain or passion or trouble or sadness or joy, then she wouldn't have been so timid about giving herself to an audience because she would have felt deeply how her songs and lyrics and musicianship went out into the world and changed it in a very real way and we will always always know and remember and cherish her from a respectful distance so as not to drive her away but in love and awe.