Friday, December 22, 2006

Laura Nyro - How can the young be unfamiliar?

I'm often surprised by how kids half my age, have heard all the same music I've heard, yet in only half the time. There's a taking for granted of a certain musical canon. Until now. Last summer a director was over who'd recently made a highly acclaimed doc on singer-songwriter Townes Van Zant. I mentioned one of my alltime favorites, Laura Nyro. She said, "who?" Who? I couldn't understand how a woman who'd devoted years to a film about a songwriter's kind of songwriter, wouldn't be familiar with the great Laura Nyro. I wrote it off to her being a Southerner.

It came up again last night with a grad student who'd gone to both prep school and college in the Northeast. No name recognition whatsoever. And later with a serious music fan/writer - a guy who prides himself on having heard everything. Vague recollection maybe. And to make matters worse, verified again today by two other young music lovers. How could this woman, who was so profoundly influential in the 60's, and who sounded so fucking great, be so unknown? She provided the soundtrack for my life for a long time. When she died too young from ovarian cancer, I tracked down the obit photo in Rolling Stone and bought an original print because she so utterly embodied what my adolescent angst felt & looked like. A truly unique blend of white soul.

Sometimes I listen to which will match any song or band with other music like it. When I plug in one of my perennial favorite bands, XTC, I'm delighted for hours with similar complex rhythms and harmonies. When I try Laura Nyro, it doesn't work, because there's no one else like her. It's not just the politics. It's not just the female voice. She was a total original.

Maybe the music doesn't carry. Maybe it was specifically of its time. But for this moment I'm going to try to turn some new people on to her.

Recommended CDs
Gonna Take a Miracle - w/ Labelle. - Talk about soul! My favorite track Nowhere to Run.
New York Tendaberry Totally heartbreaking. One of my favorite records of all time. "Sidewalk and pigeon. You look like a city but you feel like religion to me."
Stoned Soul Picnic - The Best of Laura Nyro

A YouTube taste


Joe Swanberg said...

Thanks for the tip. I haven't heard of her either, but that YouTube clip is great and I'm going to seek her stuff out.

Anita P. said...

Well, I'm older than you so of course I loved Laura Nyro - Eli and the 13th Confession. You're right about her elusiveness though - I have the tribute album that was made after she died and nothing sounds like she did.

Charles & Lauren said...

we listened to her on the way back from austin, good good. we need the albums that aren't covers!