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Archive for October, 2008

Get ya get ya ya-yas!

Labelle is back!! Thirty-two years after they broke up as a trio, Patti LaBelle, Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash have recorded another album, Back to Now, and plan on touring. I haven’t heard any of the songs yet–have you? What do you think?

Any Laura Nyro fan worth her/his salt knows the role Labelle played in Laura’s oeuvre: They added those wild, wailing background vocals to Gonna Take A Miracle, lending real-deal Philly soul to Laura’s homage to her own teen spirit. The album still remains a favorite; in fact, Out magazine recently judged it #39 on its list of the 100 Gayest Albums of all time, just one ranking below the beloved Dusty in Memphis.

Everyone knows where Patti LaBelle went after the group busted up–top of the charts–but Nona also put out some stellar solo albums (can’t say I ever heard from Sarah in all these years). I’ve always loved Nona’s voice, and saw her perform a few times (she’s in amazing shape).

OK, here are more more roundabout connections between Labelle and Laura and Vicki Wickham (Nona’s longtime partner, and the woman who introduced Laura and Patti) and Dusty, plus my old friend Norma Tanega. Labelle’s first big hit, of course, was “Lady Marmalade,” which was written by Bob Crewe. Bob produced Norma’s one-hit wonder, “Walking My Cat Named Dog,” which was arranged by Herb Bernstein. Herb arranged Laura’s first album, More Than A New Discovery. Norma went to England to promote “Dog,” met Dusty, and ended up moving in with her. Dusty was managed, on and off, by Vicki. Vicki also managed Labelle…. and around it goes.

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A few posts back I briefly mentioned Billy Bragg doing “Save the Country” in a recent show–and now I’ve discovered a video of him performing his lovely version of Laura’s immortal call to action.

Although you can hardly understand Bragg’s Essex accent, the first six minutes or so of the tape, in which Bragg raps about the coming election, are worth a listen: The passionate Brit folk singer reminds us that we musn’t give into cynicism if President Obama doesn’t fulfill all of our wildest dreams. We must remember, instead, that if Barack does win, “We will live in a world of possibilities.”

So come on, people!

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Surry on down to Tampa Bay

If you’re near the Tampa Bay area in early November, check out Nyro fan Barry Silber’s play about Our Laura, And a World to Carry On. Co-written with Carole Coppinger and directed by Silber, it plays on November 7, 8 (at 8 p.m.) and 9th (3 p.m.) at the Carrollwood Players Theater, 4335 Gunn Highway, Tampa.

The show is a benefit for the community theater. And it’s only $10–a bargain!

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Elphaba is … Laura?

From an interview with Gregory Maguire, author of the 1995 novel Wicked, upon which the musical of the same name was based:

Q. What nonfictional character from history or modern culture would you like to re-imagine or reveal the secret history of?

A. My nonfictional heroines include Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson and Laura Nyro, who are all dead, sadly. In a way, Elphaba is based on all three of them.

UPDATE: More from Maguire on how he imagined Elphaba:

In her college years, I imagined her as [songwriter] Laura Nyro: long dark hair, beautiful voice and a lot of passion. Later on, I imagined her as young Virginia Woolf, who used to call her sister Vanessa “Nessa.” I was thinking of Edwardian young women not allowed into the same colleges as their boyfriends or brothers. In the second half of the story, when she goes to the castle and becomes a recluse, I thought of her as Emily Dickinson, who was so far ahead of her time, it took half a century to catch up to her. I liked that [Dickinson] had had the courage to withdraw from a community that was not healthy for her.

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Melissa and Jill

I thought I was oh-so-clever with my “C’mon and marry me, Jill” post about Proposition 8, and now I read that Melissa Etheridge had the same idea at a big fancy No on Prop. 8 fundraiser in L.A.! In other homage-to-Nyro news, I read that Billy Bragg performed “Save the Country” in a recent set. Guess Laura’s on a lot of people’s minds in these last few days before Nov. 4….

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Give me my freedom …


The first cover of a Laura Nyro composition–“And When I Die”–was recorded by Peter, Paul & Mary in 1966. The connection between the folk stars and the young composer was made through Laura’s first producer, Milt Okun–a lovely guy, by the way, who even showed up at my L.A. book signing back in 2002. Milt, at the time Laura met him, was working with three popular folk acts–the Brothers Four, Chad Mitchell Trio, and PPM. Decades later, after Laura’s death, he began to administer her song catalog through his Cherry Lane Music Publishing, but I don’t see her name now on their roster (anyone have an update on this?).

I just came across this great YouTube clip (above) of Peter, Paul and Mary singing “And When I Die” at the building site of the Sydney Opera House (!) in 1970. It’s so nostalgic of that era. Enjoy!

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Can you just imagine how excited Laura Nyro would have been at the thought of Barack Obama being president of the United States? I don’t want to count my president before the votes are cast (or counted!), but I can’t help but be cautiously excited.

Of course Laura, like all of us, was frustrated by the realities of U.S. politics (“Save the Country,” anyone?). Yet no one was a more righteous American than her–America being a promise, a dream, a shining hope. How many times she used the word America in her songs (“Christmas in My Soul,” “American Dove,” “American Dreamer” … have I forgotten any?).

And then there’s the terrific song she recorded during the dark days of the Reagan Administration, “The Right to Vote.” It’s snarky. It’s pretty hopeless. Yet it’s funny, and we laugh along with her disdain of The System.

Thank you sirs for the right to vote
Bet you didn’t know I had a voice in my throat
Now let’s see should I vote for “A” or “B”
“A” talks a lot
But not to me
“B” wants war
Kill or flunk
Forget the vote – I’ll just go out and get drunk

They say a woman’s place
Is to wait and serve
Under the veil
Submissive and dear
But I think my place
Is in a ship from space
To carry me
The hell out of here

Patriarchal great religions
Full of angels
Forgiving and fair
While they push the buttons and blow up the place
Might as well
Make room for a worthier race

They say a woman’s place
Is to wait and serve
Under the veil
Submissive and dear
But I think my place
Is in a ship from space
To carry me
The hell out of here

All the colors in a race riot
In the land of the free
All the women are on a diet
I’m hungry
Are you hungry
I’m hungry
So hungry
For peace and quiet

Thank you sirs for the right to vote
The microwave
And the old mink coat
Now let’s see should I vote for “A” or “B”
“A” talks a lot
But not to me
“B” wants war
Kill or flunk
Forget the vote – I’ll just go out and get drunk

They say a woman’s place

A woman’s place

I won’t forget the vote November 4, but I absolutely plan to go out and get drunk that night. I just hope it’s because I’m celebrating, not because I need to anesthesize myself for the next four years.

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