Music: Laura Nyro

"I donít think you should categorize yourself as an artist. You should allow yourself to grow. Growth is the nature of the creative process. You have to accept it, respect it, and move on."
— From an interview with Bruce Pollock.

Laura Nyro was an American song composer. She wrote albums acclaimed by the critics whose songs were later covered by singers and bands like Barbra Streisand and the Fifth Dimension (the latter had a career almost propelled by her songs, reaching more success than Nyro ever did herself).

One of her first songs, "And When I Die", was sold to Peter, Paul & Mary, since she was under the management of Artie Mogull (she also recorded her debut More Than A New Discovery, which was practically ignored). Later she got rid of him when she sued him due to her being taken and protected by David Geffen. She performed at the Monterey Pop Festival, but the performance was strangely mixed in terms of reception; Nyro herself believed that she had been massively booed, but filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker, who documented the festival, found no such negative reaction in his footage of her performance.

She signed a contract with Columbia Records, receiving greater artistic control. She then released, in 1968, what is generally considered to be her greatest album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, centered around the themes of love, passion, romance, drugs and death. Also, an unusual thing happened to the lyrics sheet (itself still quite rare in 1968): copies of it were perfumed, and fans reported that it still has a pleasant aroma nowadays.

The following year, she released the album New York Tendaberry. It achieved greater success commercially (but not to the point of being lucrative) and critically. It is also a bit Darker and Edgier compared to the predecessor, but also more sensual.

Her fourth album, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat, was issued in 1970, concluding the "unofficial" trilogy that had started with "Eli". She retired from music business a year later (after releasing her most famous album, ironically a Cover Album titled Gonna Take a Miracle), while having a short-lived relationship with Jackson Browne and, later, marrying to a Vietnam War veteran and carpenter, David Bianchini.

Five years later, she returned with a new album, Smile, after ending her marriage and her mother dying from ovarian cancer at the age of 49. She then embarked on a tour and, two years later, released another album Nested. The latter was recorded while she was pregnant with her only child. In the early 1980s, she started a relationship with Maria Desiderio, a painter, which lasted for the rest of her life.

She returned in 1984 with Mother's Spiritual, and four years later, she embarked on a tour dedicated to the animal rights movement. Her final album of original material was Walk the Dog and Light the Light, released in 1993. She received new offers for film and soundtrack songs, but she refused all of them , with the exception of a song to an Academy Award-winning documentary called "Broken Rainbow" (which got the same title), about the unjust relocation of Navajo people.

She died on April 8, 1997, at 49, at the same age and with the same disease (ovarian cancer) that had claimed her mother.

Her legacy and influence is acknowledged by artists such as Todd Rundgren (who wrote a song about her, "Baby, Let's Swing", and assisted in the recording of Mother's Spiritual, being also great friends with each other), Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Elton John, and Steely Dan, among others. Vocalists Judy Kuhn and Audra McDonald and jazz pianist-arranger Billy Childs have recorded respective tributes covering Nyro's music, and at least one music theory scholar has conducted extensive analysis proving Nyro to be the link from the Great American Songbook compositional style to the 1960's.

Tropes in her work and life:

  • Big Applesauce: The songs on New York Tendaberry either take place in or are influenced by said city.
  • Bi the Way: Nyro was romantically involved with both men and women over the course of her lifetime, and her work reflects as much. Her heralded 1968 album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession notably includes both "Emmie" and "The Confession"; the former is a love song about a woman, while the latter is one about a man.
  • Breakup Song: "You Don't Love Me When I Cry".
  • Careful With That Axe: On her most "operatic" moments.
  • Cover Album: Gonna Take a Miracle.
  • Darker and Edgier: New York Tendaberry.
  • Epic Rocking: "Map to the Treasure" and "Christmas in My Soul".
  • Fading into the Next Song: "Upstairs by a Chinese Lamp" → "Map to the Treasure".
  • Genre-Busting: Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, which incorporates elements of Jazz, Soul, Broadway, Gospel and Rock.
  • Green Aesop: Some of the songs on Mother's Spiritual.
  • Lighter and Softer: the Cover Album. Mother's Spiritual is this Up to Eleven.
  • No Hit Wonder: While other artists had hits with her songs (see Covered Up on the YMMV page), her own highest-charting single (a Cover Version of "Up on the Roof", from Christmas and the Beads of Sweat) peaked at #92 pop and #30 AC.
  • Neologism: The word "surry" (spelled different from and not to be confused with "surrey"), sung in "Stoned Soul Picnic".
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Sweet Blindness".
  • One Woman Song: "Emmie".
  • Protest Song: Her song, "Broken Rainbow", for the documentary with the same name.
  • Self-Backing Vocalist: In some of her songs.
  • Something Blues: "Billy's Blues", "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Woman's Blues".
  • Train Song: "Been On A Train" and "Poverty Train".
  • Ur Example: Her song "Emmie" is considered Pop's first lesbian love song.
  • When I'm Gone Song: "And When I Die".
  • Word Salad Lyrics: A large percentage of Nyro's early output fits this trope. An example from "Captain Saint Lucifer":
    "He gives to me
    Buckles off shingles
    Off a cockleshell on norway basin
    Coke and tuna
    Boots and roses from russia
    Now I'll live and die and rise.