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Save the Country. Now.

mswinter09metallic_small

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.

Light the night

lauranyro

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.

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).

The Preludes

Helena (left) and Phyllis Stokes

Helena (left) and Phyllis Stokes

One more remembrance, and this one takes us back to Laura’s high school days.

If you’ve read my book about Laura  you might remember the Stokes twins, Helene ( Helena) and Phyllis, who sang harmonies with Laura in the marble-walled bathroom at the High School of Music and Art. As 10th graders, Laura and the twins formed a trio that they named the Preludes–which they pronounced “prell-yudes” rather than “pray-ludes” because they thought the latter sounded “too square.” They would cut classes together and perform impromptu bathroom concerts of such songs as “I Met Him on a Sunday,” “Wind,” “Heat Wave,” and “They Call the Wind Mariah.”

“What voices!” one of their other classmates raved to me.

They even had a tryout with Roulette Records, at which they sang “Yonder Come the Preludes”–which Laura had composed with her own lyrics and the melody of “Midnight Special.” But the girls were ill-prepared for a musical career, asking each other during the audition, “Uh, what should we sing?” Morris Levy, the notorious president of the label, told them, “Girls, go home and practice, and come back when you’re ready.” 

After a couple of people I interviewed for the book told me about the Stokes twins, I became determined to find them. I even visited the High School of Music and Art (in its new Lincoln Center digs) and looked through an old yearbook to see their pictures. But I couldn’t locate Helena Stokes Lind until after the hardback came out (so there’s a little more info about them in the paperback version). We’ve remained in occasional touch since then (she still performs!), and I sadly learned that her sister passed away this year. (The picture above, which Helena just sent me, shows her and her sister shortly after the time they pal’d around with Laura.)

Hence this tribute. Phyllis, I hope you’re harmonizing with Laura again, in some wonderful marble-walled bathroom in the sky. Yonder come the Preludes!

I am the blues

Happy New Year, Tribe!

I don’t want to seem like a full-time obit writer, but we have lost some great ones lately. After Eartha, there was jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and roots-rocker Delaney Bramlett, who, along with former wife Bonnie Bramlett, was a contemporary of Laura’s in the ranks of late-60s performers. I also learned that, before my blogging days began, guitarist Joe Beck passed on at age 62 (see/hear him play a very tasty “Summertime” above).

Beck played on the song “I am the blues” on Laura’s Smile album. I hear both an acoustic and electric guitar on that fabulous arrangement, but, frankly, I don’t know which is Beck and which is John Tropea, who plays on every cut and would later tour with Nyro. Anyone have an idea who’s who? Although there are a few standout guitar licks during the song, the track really belongs,  instrumentally, to Randy Brecker on trumpet, the great Richard Davis on bass and Laura on piano.

Another Nyro connection with Beck: He died in Danbury, Conn., as did Laura.

“Listen to the music of the night wind…”

I want to be Evil

I googled Eartha Kitt, who died the other day at 81, AND Laura Nyro and, frankly, didn’t come up with any significant links. So I’ll have to suggest two of my own:

1) Both were iconoclasts, refusing to stick to the well-trod path carved for women performers.

2) Both had a great sense of humor. Check out the song above to see/hear just one example of Ms. Kitt’s. As for Laura, her funny side didn’t usually show on stage, at least in her early days of performing when you could hear a pin drop if she paused mid-song but nary a laugh at anything said or sung. By the late 1980s, however, she had written and frequently performed an entirely humorous song, “Japanese Restaurant”–how about that! It never ceased to draw laughter, especially when she told the waiter that she’d given up smoking, so now she wanted a big bowl … of chocolate ice cream.

Stephen Paley

photo credit: Stephen Paley

 

Come young braves

come young children

come to the book of love with me

Respect your brothers and your sisters

come to the book of love

I know it ain’t easy

but we’re gonna look for a better day

come young braves

come young children

 

I love my country

as it dies

in war and pain

before my eyes

I walk the streets

where disrespect has been

The sings of politics

the politics of sin

the heartlessness that darkens my soul

                                                   on Christmas

 

Red and silver

on the leaves

fallen white snow

runs softly through the trees

madonnas weep

for wars of hell

They blow out the candles

and haunt Noel

the missing love that rings through the world

                                                   on Christmas

 

black panther brothers

bound in jail

chicago seven

and the justice scale

Homeless Indian

of manhattan isle

all God’s sons have gone to trial

and all God’s love is out of style

                                                  on Christmas

 

Now the time has come to fight

laws in the book of love burn bright

people you must win

for thee America

her dignity

for all the high court world to see

                                                  on Christmas

 

Christmas in my soul

                      Christmas in my soul

            Christmas in my soul

                                                

                                                  Joy to the world