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Laura Nyro would have been 62 today, had she not passed at the way-too-young age of 49.

Can we even begin to imagine the music she would have made in the intervening years?

I imagine she would have tackled even more of the torch classics. I fantasize that she would have hooked up with some majorly creative producers (Daniel Lanois would be my dream pairing), although i also know how stubborn Laura was to do it her own way. I’m sure she would still be singing beautifully, writing gorgeous melodies, sharing her crone wisdom!!

What do you think?

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Put Laura in the Hall!

Look out Cleveland, Laura's coming through....

Look out Cleveland, Laura's coming through....

First the Berlin Wall fell …. then a black man was elected President of the United States … and now this: Laura Nyro is a finalist for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

People have asked me how we can help promote her election, and I have no idea other than to track down the 500 writers who vote on this. But I assume that information is very proprietary. Ask all your friends, though:  Maybe someone knows a voter!

I visited the Hall in Cleveland 7 years ago when I was on my Laura Nyro book tour. I had already stopped in St. Louis (thank you Jodie Serkes and the duo Jasmine) and Chicago (thank you Jane Conron); then I hitched a ride with Laura’s cousin Dan Nigro to Philadelphia (thank you Linda Johnson). We stopped in Cleveland on the way, and what I remember most about that day at the edge of Lake Erie was how many bugs swarmed over Danny’s car. ( I think they were mayflies.) If Laura gets in, obviously we’re going to have to make the pilgrimage again.

And if she wins, I’ll  move heaven and earth to be at the induction (any guess  who will induct her? I’ll put a bet on Elton John; my theory is that his paean to Nyro on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show really woke up the Hall to its shocking oversight of such a trailblazing artist). I was lucky enough to have a friend in high places in New York who got me a ticket to the induction ceremony the year Dusty Springfield was recognized, and it was an awesome evening: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Paul McCartney….

Aren’t my fellow Laura fans just thrilled? And when you tell any voters you can find to mark Nyro on their ballot, suggest they vote for Darlene Love as well!

(Bonus question: What song am I referencing in my caption on the photo above?)


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An end to violence

 you say you want an end to violence

feel safe in the universe

             —Laura Nyro, “The brighter song”



They killed George Tiller today.

In the lobby of his church.

I say “they,” although it was an individual white man who fired the gun.

They are the insane foes of a woman’s right to choose if and when she’ll give birth. They are the people who scream “murderer!” at women driving into the parking lots of clinics that perform abortions. They are the people who fetishize fetuses—the “unborn”—but no longer recognize the life and soul in a full-grown, breathing, compassionate human being. They are hypocrites.   

“When hate speech meets insanity, this is the result,” wrote Melinda Henneberger of the blog “Politics Daily.” Indeed, as my filmmaker friend Arthur Dong pointed out in his powerful documentary Licensed to Kill—about men who had murdered gay men—those killers had been “licensed,” so to speak, by the hatemongers, who can then plead innocence. “We didn’t pull the trigger,” they can say. Yes, but they loaded the guns.

I met George Tiller a few years ago in the offices of the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine, where I’m an editor. You know how you can quickly recognize a loving person? A person of incredible bravery? A person with a mission, a calling? Those are the qualities I immediately saw in Dr. Tiller. I was deeply moved by his story. How he’d carried on the work his father, also a doctor, had done underground in Wichita, Kansas, before Roe v. Wade. How he stepped in to help terrified, very young girls get late-term abortions, perhaps because they’d been too frightened to admit their pregnancies earlier. Perhaps because they’d been raped, or incested by a family member. One of the most famous anti-abortion groups is known as Operation Rescue, but George Tiller was the true rescuer.

His killer was certainly a true believer. A “godly” man, he probably considered himself, because who but a god could have told him it was all right to take a life? In a church, no less: a sanctuary where George Tiller regularly went for prayer and solace, and certainly for strength. For too many years to count, George Tiller has been a lone, brave man in the U.S. heartland, willing to offer his services to girls and women even though he has been constantly picketed, harassed, prosecuted, shot, and now, in a heartbreaking conclusion, killed.

I’ve never needed an abortion myself, but God bless my legal right to the integrity of my own body. Just imagine being told that you cannot have that right. That the State can tell you that you must have a child, even though you don’t want to carry a pregnancy to term. That the State can invade your bedroom, your body, your soul. How fine a line is it between the determination that women must have children and a dystopian world in which women are forced to have children for the State’s purposes. Science fiction writers often speculate on that scenario; given the virulent, violent, murderous actions of anti-abortion fanatics, it’s easy to see why that horrifying vision gets played out in novels, let alone women’s worst nightmares.

I’ve cried all morning about this man I met just once, but of whom my magazine has written many, many times. He was a hero to women. He was a hero in a society that distorts religion—distorts the notion of God—to turn love into hate and murder. You can kill George Tiller, because even a great and brave man cannot stop a bullet from draining out his life. But you can’t stop another dedicated, fearless soul from stepping up to continue his work, offering women hope in a patriarchal society that wants to keep us, still, forever, in our place.

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Photograph by Stephen Paley

Laura by Stephen Paley

Here’s a piece in London’s Guardian in which a reader recommends ten great songs about nature–including Laura’s “Mother’s Spiritual.

Rob Fitzpatrick writes:

Laura Nyro sees nature as the ultimate mother, a giver, provider, a force above the squabbles of religion or commerce …

The album Mother’s Spiritual is, of course, Laura’s ultimate ecofeminist statement. I mean, who else was writing songs about trees in the early 1980s? (Who’s writing songs about trees now, for that matter?). But do y’all think that the song “Mother’s Spiritual” was about Mother Nature herself?? Here are the lyrics if you don’t know or remember them:

On a street corner where the kids boogie all night
or where the winds sing and the stars shine like
holiday lights, come a band of angels, salvation
in their might and as for peace on earth…

Feel this love, my brothers and sisters, feel the
season turn, she is the mother of time. Wonders
that take you, rivers that give, that’s where
mother’s spiritual lives

Talk of a ruby, love, lover’s share. Find your
love, lose your love here and there. So you go
home, do your own thing, the ocean sings to me
that love is always alive and part of thee.

Feel this love, my brothers and sisters, feel the
season turn, she is the mother of time. Light and
darkness come to her kiss cause that’s where
mother’s spiritual lives.

Come to the lights my sisters and take what you
need. Doesn’t matter, my brothers, your Sunday
creed cause each one’s a lover to this winter
night star, a pilgrim, a pioneer, that’s who you

Feel this love, my brothers and sisters, feel the
season turn, she is the mother of time. It’s not
war, it’s life she gives and that’s where mother’s
spiritual lives.

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Farewell, Aunt Kaye

Aunt Kaye and Laura, 1987. Courtesy of Danny Nigro

Aunt Kaye and Laura, 1987. Courtesy of Danny Nigro

Laura Nyro’s paternal aunt, Kaye Nigro Pope, died the other day at age 91. Laura’s dad Lou, now a remarkable 93, is the last of his three siblings still with us.

I had a lovely interview with Kaye when I was working on my Nyro biography . The best story she told me was about a very close encounter she had with infant Laura. Kaye’s son Joel, her brother Mike’s daughter Willette and Laura were all born within a month of each other, and one afternoon Kaye found herself watching over three crying babies. 

“So I breast-fed Joel,” she told me, “and then I breast-fed Willette, and then I breast-fed Laura.”

As I wrote in my book, “Considering they all nursed from the same well, so to speak, it’s perhaps not surprinsing that Laura’s generation of first cousins includes an inordinate number of musicians.”

Thanks to Laura’s cousin (and my dear friend) Danny Nigro for the wonderful picture of Laura and Kaye at a family gathering in 1987.

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Be My Little Baby

Estelle Bennett of the Ronettes passed on the other day–she was Ronnie Spector’s (nee Veronica Bennett) sister. We still have Ronnie with us, and Mary Weiss of the Shangri-Las, but every loss from that great era of the girl groups just makes it feel like it’s drifting further away.

Nyro of course was deeply influenced by the girl groups of the late 50s/early 60s, although the Ronettes were probably not at the top of her pantheon. I’d guess the Shirelles held down that spot, considering that Laura later covered their hits “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.” And don’t forget the one-hit wonder Jaynetts of the awesome “Sally Go ‘Round the Roses,” and certainly not Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles or the Shangri-Las. I always detected a good dose of lead singer Weiss’s yearning in Laura’s voice. Check out “Right Now and Not Later” and see if you don’t agree.

In my Nyro bio, I quoted media critic Susan J. Douglas about how the girl groups, unlike their female predecessors, “were not singing about doggies in windows or old Cape Cod” [anyone remember Patti Page?] but rather giving voice to real teen concerns about identity. I wrote that the music “certainly gave voice to an angst-filled, hungry-for-experience girl like Laura.”

There are lots of collections of girl-group music (besides albums devoted to a single group), but I’m especially fond of this one, One Kiss Can Lead to Another, which contains some amazing oddities (“Peanut Duck,” anyone?) and great lesser-known songs. 

I went a little crazy with the links here, but you might enjoy a nice musical adventure through girl-group land–the land of innocence, now sadly lost–if you follow them.

UPDATE: Great piece in The New York Times today about Estelle. Life wasn’t all “walking in the rain and wishing on a star up above,” sadly…

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The house in Danbury, Connecticut, where Laura Nyro lived and died is up for sale: Here’s the info.

In the photos on the realty site, you can see both the “big house” and the cottage over the pond. The property is really quite lovely, and it’s easy to imagine Laura walking around amidst her beloved “trees of the ages.”

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Save the Country. Now.


Have you seen the latest issue of Ms. magazine? I’m pretty proud of our cover (I’m senior editor of the magazine, if you didn’t know)–we take Prez Barack at his literal word that he’s a feminist, and we also let him know that we’re holding him to it!

I try to imagine Laura Nyro in one of our “This Is What a Feminist Looks Like” T-shirts–well, it’s hard to imagine Laura in any sort of T-shirt, but I can picture one filled with trees. Her feminism always seemed connected directly to the earth, and to the goddesses. I think it’s good for all of us to step back from the concrete and turmoil of politics sometimes and go back to the loamy soil of ecofeminism. Love Mother Earth. Appreciate the interconnectedness of each of us, along with all the flora and fauna. Trust the tides, the deep deep wisdom of the planet. Tread lightly. Practice “enoughism.”

But don’t forget to make your voice heard against injustice and for the equality and empowerment and care of all. That’s my Laura thought for the day.

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Light the night


I really enjoy this post from Billy Cheer’s “This is Fag City” blog about the greatness of New York Tendaberry. Here are my favorite lines:

It doesn’t even invite you in, it seems polarizing, like someone cuts off the lights, some of you will be able to navigate and some [of] you will not. … It’s just so difficult, it’s the sound of someone figuring out how they feel, and then changing their mind.

I love that image of Laura creating a darkness that the listener can either navigate or not. I have terrible night vision myself, but for me Laura’s music always lights the night.

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Vintervind (Winter Wind)

Who knew that someone had the guts to cover Laura’s “Beads of Sweat”? And a Swede, no less!

Turns out that Moniqa Sunnerberg recorded both that song and another challenging Nyro composition,  “Gibsom Street”, on her 1972 album Sunnerligen. But she translated “Beads of Sweat” into “Winter Wind”. Guess that was taken from the opening line of the song, “Cold jade wind/not an angel in the sky.” 

This was the most rockin’ song that Laura ever recorded, thanks to Duane Allmann’s searing guitar solo (which some Swede didn’t do a half-bad job reproducing) and Young Rascal Dino Danelli’s pounding drums (his bandmate, Felix Cavaliere, produced the track). It really does capture a feeling of New York on a cold, hard-raining day, with Laura comparing the wild weather to her own raging soul.

Laura’s lyrics also reference another song about wind, “Mariah,” which Helena Lind (see previous post) told me that she and her sister used to harmonize on with Laura.  Here’s the overdramatized Harve Presnell version from the film Paint Your Wagon (the original recording was by the Kingston Trio).

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