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The Divine Miss N

 page 4







1972. She leaves Manhattan. It was part of a narrative—that she had fled it. Michele Kort speaks of her “retreat from the music business.” I well remember that in the years 1972—1975 it was difficult to get any information about Nyro anywhere (if you were say a fan). To her fans (in these years) she had dropped off the edge of the world. There were some reports in the early 1970s—that Nyro had “married a carpenter” and moved to a “fishing village” in New England. I remember reading these statements in magazines during the years 1972—1975 as many as a dozen times. But these two crumbs were all one could find. One gathers that some of the things that Nyro had loved for a few years (were part of the very rarefied world she had inhabited) had become tedious to her—perhaps even a little sickening. The trajectory—proceeding from a fascination with particularly urban forms of decadence to a plaintive desire for a return to nature—is perhaps an evolution that everyone experiences, in some form. The funky madonna of New York soul it turns out craves the pastoral.







NCHI           

David Bianchini. Native of Gloucester Mass. Still kicking. Photo ca. 2012.    





But I beat around the bush. Even more basic (than her wishes for a pastoral environment): she falls in love. That’s the real upheaval. It is high summer 1971—and Nyro travels to Gloucester Mass to visit her Aunt Tess & Uncle Bill. And in Gloucester Mass she falls in love. As far as I can glean it’s the real thing. It happens quickly of course.
Love is involuntary. Greeks and Romans knew: it is a disease state. A lyric from a Prince song I believe. When love calls you got to go.


It’s actually her great aunt and great uncle living in Gloucester. Her mother’s aunt and uncle. William Meyerowitz and Theresa Bernstein Meyerowitz—artists in their own right, successful artists, painters, and sometimes art teachers. As Michele Kort reports David Bianchini and a friend are delivering something to the aunt and uncle—are out and about on a warm day, tooling around—Nyro is standing in the kitchen. They all get to talking. Bianchini offers to give Nyro a tour of the city. The car is a sports car. (A sports car seats two.) The friend drives and Nyro has to sit on Bianchini’s lap. Gloucester Mass is a gorgeous place in summer. She gets her tour.


I was in Gloucester Mass once, for a single afternoon in 1976. What a beautiful corner of the earth—in which to spend a few semi-idle hours.



Decades ago I saw some photos of David Bianchini. There was a photo of Bianchini in The Music of Laura Nyro (1971), the songbook (sheet music). To my eye he looked very tall, very thin, and very blond. The great Toscanini said, “Who ever heard of marrying a blond man?” (when his daughter Wally was on the cusp of doing just that).



Michele Kort suggests that Nyro’s infatuation with Bianchini is counterintuitive. (He seems not her type.) Decades ago he had my vote: in all America the guy (within a certain age bracket) least likely to end up with Laura Nyro. (I later abandoned that view.) He is butch, hypermasculine (per Nyro’s friends), a John Wayne or Robert Mitchum figure (per Lee Housekeeper: “He was a man’s man... sort of Robert Mitchum or John Wayne, but a hip version
). He is a Vietnam War veteran and Nyro of course has a repugnance for all war. But in my experience—there’s no one more antiwar than a Vietnam War veteran who’s antiwar. (Unless it’s an antiwar Iraq War veteran.) In respect of antiwar sentiment—in 1972 Bianchini and Nyro are in perfect alignment. I see no incompatibility yet.


Bianchini was a lerp (lurp). A Nyro-admiring friend of mine said to me about Bianchini—around the time Michele Kort’s book was published [2001]—“He was a lerp you know.” I didn’t know what a lerp was. I looked it up fast. In Vietnam he was a member of I believe many long-range reconnaissance patrols, the acronym LRRP. I had a teacher in high school who talked a lot about the concept of military reconnaissance, and military reconnaissance in the ancient Mediterranean world. It’s changed a bit since then.



Reconnaissance work has at least some overlap with espionage. A reconnaissance team goes deep into enemy or enemy-held territory. In Vietnam LRRPs were often six-man teams. LRRP personnel were and are highly trained. It is perilous work—to put it mildly. Michele Kort writes: “In the course of more than 60 missions, Bianchini was shot and bayoneted, and twice was the only member of his team to survive. He left Vietnam with over a dozen medals.” From the website That Show with Michael Rakosi: No Sports, No Politics [rakosi.wordpress.com]: “[Bianchini] was awarded 14 medals (including 3 Purple Hearts, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, 3 Bronze Stars, and the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry).” One is rendered speechless.


Per Michele Kort Bianchini has a counterculture sensibility. At some point she describes him as “war hero with a counterculture sensibility.” Would that come under the heading “best of both worlds” perhaps? Bianchini has said—at the time he was being sent to Vietnam he was “basically a hippie.” At any rate—war hero with a counterculture sensibility: the inverse of chickenhawk.




Nyro wants to get married without delay. He is hesitant. She returns to New York from Gloucester, she has plans to go to Japan. She has a few gigs in Japan. He follows her to New York. They hang out at her place and in the city. She asks him to accompany her to Japan, he declines. It is not her first visit to Japan (a place she loves). The concert engagements are her first in Japan.



Music hall singalongs. Tokyo. Kort speaks of “a lot of girls showing up who knew all the words to the songs.” Years ago I knew someone who was present at I believe 2 Laura Nyro shows in Japan—and he said the auditoriums were packed with teenagers who knew all the words. They learned them phonetically he said. (I don’t remember—if he said “teenagers” or “teenage girls.”) Music music moody food of us that trade in love—and music the universal language (obviously).



They are married by a registrar in Alexandria Virginia. In Japan she calls Bianchini and asks him to meet her in Europe. They meet in Ireland. Nyro is determined to find the right spot and the right moment—for a wedding. They travel in Europe. The right spot doesn’t reveal itself. But back in the United States—she does know the right spot. They fly to Alexandria, take a taxi to the courthouse, the taxi driver serves as witness.



They are married in October 1971—after their return from Europe, before she starts to tour with Labelle. It is around the time Gonna Take a Miracle is released. Touring with Labelle (the mini-tour that commences Christmas Eve 1971) she will sometimes say to audiences, “I just got married you know.” Audiences cheer.







She and Geffen divorce at this time. It is acrimonious. Each feels he’s been betrayed by the other.



It, the relationship, has been foundering for some time. In summer 1971 it starts to fly apart.


Nyro’s initial Columbia contract has expired—and while she is recording Gonna Take a Miracle (July 1971), Geffen, “artist manager” still, is negotiating her 2nd contract with Clive Davis and Columbia.



Michele Kort’s sum-up of contract deliberations pulls one pitilessly downward.





The talks took a unique twist. Rather than being primarily about Nyro as an artist, they focused more on Nyro the songwriter. Geffen wanted to sell [Nyro’s publishing catalogue] to Columbia, and Clive Davis wanted to buy it....

Indeed Columbia would be buying only Nyro’s publishing, while her services as a recording artist, for five more albums, would essentially be thrown in for free. That is, Columbia would pay her no advance royalties, which made the deal quite a shrewd one for David Geffen [emphasis in the Kort original]....

Nyro became in a sense a forgotten party amidst the wheeling and dealing between Geffen and Davis.





Some combination of their making out like bandits and her getting fucked in the ass? (Pardon me.) Nyro feels “like a pawn in [her] own world.” To use a word lawyers use a lot—she is incontrovertibly a pawn in her own world (a world that had been more or less entirely hers).



She would receive no advance royalties, no cash “advances” (front money) for 5 albums at a time in U.S. recorded music history when many recording artists were receiving let’s call it obscene sums (per the standard of the day) in advances? Geffen negotiates for himself essentially? In respect of Geffen’s composite position as her manager and half owner of her publishing company:
any chance of a conflict of interest? (There are multiple conflicts of interest—contained in his negotiating a record contract for her at this time.)





Even with millions of dollars coming to her, Nyro felt ripped off by Geffen. “She felt she had been sold out and lied to,” says [Richard] Chiaro [for a time Nyro’s “road manager”]. “She wasn’t ripped off in the conventional sense—everything was explained to her, options were explained.”





I realize—her getting fucked in the ass as it were does not accord well with “millions of dollars coming to her.”


Millions of dollars coming to her is exaggerative. At the sale of her catalogue she was paid approx. 2.25 million in CBS stock—it was held in escrow and doled out to her.



What is being ripped off in the conventional sense? Ripped off is ripped off.



And just for the record—since when does one’s having one’s abasement explained in full prior to the event diminish the element of injury? It could go both ways. It could be argued both ways. It could be argued: one’s knowing all about it in advance degrades one further. 






Clive Davis felt he was getting a bargain on Nyro’s publishing since he was taking little risk on her album sales while reasonably banking on the potential of her catalogue... David Geffen, though, considered that he was getting the best of the deal, because he believed that Nyro’s chart-topping days were already behind her. “She never wrote another successful song,” says Geffen with an “I beat Clive” chuckle. “By the time she had finished that third album for Columbia, I think she had exhausted... well, gone into major decline in the quality of her work” [emphasis in the Kort original].





“She never wrote another successful song” he said with a chuckle. Geffen and Davis sound like such bastards in the Kort account (of the making of the contract)—perhaps simplistic, the “reality” more variegated than that I believe.


In California—an aggrandized and emboldened David Geffen wishes to start his own record label. As Geffen is helping to write Nyro’s contract at Columbia (in mid 1971), the formation of his own company is well underway (the date of its founding sometimes given as 1970). Geffen is at this time—as busy as a one legged man in an ass-kicking contest—as busy as a first year medical resident. Earliest signatories to Asylum Records include Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey, Judee Sill (the brilliant and enigmatic Judee Sill). The album Judee Sill is I believe Asylum’s first release. (Read about Sill’s life for 5 minutes. You have your ass handed to you as it were.)


David Geffen is moving up and up and up—like the Lana Turner character in Imitation of Life (the staircase scene). A continent away, on the Atlantic seaboard—Laura Nyro and her old man (at this point) are living in a tiny house on the remote rocky coast of Massachusetts. (They’ve just moved in.) She’s hanging out with the fishwives, literally.






The saturnine business of the second contract with Columbia. Kort writes in one breath that Geffen just wants the sale of the music catalogue to go through (for obvious reasons).






When Nyro had been in Europe with David Bianchini on their pre-wedding trip, she was “hiding out” from both Geffen and Davis, according to Richard Chiaro. Nevertheless, Geffen implored Chiaro to find her and encourage her to sign the contract. Even if she wouldn’t join him at Asylum, he wanted the lucrative publishing sale to go through.





She writes in the next breath—Geffen told her (told Kort) that Nyro’s decision to stay with Columbia Records was a humiliation he never recovered from. (And it broke his heart. I find this barely credible or not credible.) Histrionism? Again—Lana Turner in Imitation of Life? Under the 2nd and even the 1st Columbia contracts Nyro actually couldn’t have very easily gone over to Asylum (or any other record company). Geffen seems erratic, and going against the common wisdom even of poor-ish judgment (I could easily be wrong).


Nyro has to be confused. Geffen is part author of the Columbia contract he insists she sign (and doesnt want her to sign). Chiaro does go to Europe to find her (in September 1971). At this time—Asylum Records is doing rather well, it is no longer nascent. It has a most distinguished roster of artists at this point. Judee Sill (with its several prominent “Asylum Records” logos) is in record stores in September 1971.


Chiaro meets up with Nyro in Bologna Italy. Bianchini is right there—and he and Chiaro urge her to sign. Chiaro goes back to Geffen with the signed Columbia contract in hand.



It would appear (to outsiders such as myself): Geffen must be pleased, he’s getting a big part of what he wanted. Guess not.
Kort quotes mutual friend (Geffen’s friend and Nyro’s friend) Ellen Sander on the subject of Geffen’s deep depression in the latter part of 1971.





I don’t know what it is she did to finally throw him off the train, but I know it broke his heart. He was miserable for weeks. I remember [business partner] Elliot Roberts had to go to New York and get David to go somewhere, because he was so depressed.





Geffen told Kort—the humiliation he felt spurred him to “throw [himself] into Asylum Records and turn it into what it became.”



Geffen’s broken heart seems undue perhaps—in part as there were many things that might have softened the blow (the putative blow), had he pondered them. For example she did not go blithely into the decision (to stay with Columbia), she “agonized” over it. I suspect he knew this.






Alan Merrill and his mother Helen both remember Nyro agonizing over what to do [in respect of a new contract] when she visited them in Tokyo during one of her trips there with [friend] Barbara Greenstein.





Michele Kort makes the point several times—there had sprung up in Nyro a sense of gratitude and a sense of loyalty toward Columbia Records. At Columbia Nyro had been “treated with great respect and given almost unlimited artistic freedom”—and there was a sense (on Nyro’s part) of being bound to Columbia, anchored to it. Kort quotes Stephen Paley (a pal of Nyro’s, not related to Maggie Paley): “For her to have left Columbia would have been a total breach of honor.”


Geffen might have pondered: if she would not move to Asylum in July 1971, she might, conceivably—down the road. All things being what they are. The Greek axiom: All is flux, nothing stays still. Certainly all is flux in the tawdry worlds of moneyed entertainment in which Geffen and even Nyro manoeuvre and in which alliances, partnerings, loyalties, etc etc are (legendarily) ephemeral.





And so it ends. Geffen said to Kort (in 1999): “[Her refusal to go to Asylum] was the end of our relationship.” Kort said many times in her book: Geffen felt betrayed. She also said—Geffen felt Nyro tried to “derail his career.” What he felt is what he felt I guess. Geffens claim that he was betrayed by Laura Nyro strikes me as absurd, possessed of an unhinged element, not rooted in real worlds, Trumpian.


All contact between Nyro and Geffen comes to an end. (They spoke on the phone on two occasions in 1988.)


In his one conversation with Michele Kort (I believe it was one conversation) Geffen delivered a kind of parting shot. Wait for it. I believe it takes the cake.






I can’t help but believe that the loss of me in her life, in terms of her career, was extraordinarily significant,” says Geffen. “I think she never recovered from it.” In their brief [1988] conversation, he felt that Nyro seemed sad that he still hadn’t gotten over his feelings of anger and betrayal. But in his mind, she had never made amends to him that he considered meaningful. “And she didn’t have to,” he says. “Our lives were the answer to it all. She knew it, and I knew it.”





The final portion of it (just above): egregious nonsense, Calvinist nonsense. “Our lives were the answer to it all.” What he is saying: I became hugely successful, she fizzled. We both got what we deserved.


[Calvinist belief: Every success, the smallest success, follows moral uprightness; one gets what one deserves.]



Subsequent to their schism: Did Nyro have any idea she was supposed to “make amends” to Geffen? I wonder if Mrs. Nigro (absolutely discombobulated by Geffen) had any sense her daughter needed to make amends to Mr. Geffen—in a way he considered meaningful.




The world will of course be forgiving of his essentially Calvinist, or pseudo-Calvinist, beliefs. (It will valorize him for these beliefs.) Did Nyro lose out? Might she have gained or benefited, in multiple ways—had she remained in association with starmaker Geffen? I would say maybe. Next up for Nyro is the album Smile I believe. The album includes some brilliant songwriting—but many fans are disappointed.


To my ear it was not well produced and not well recorded. (It is still a great record.) Highly speculative of coursebut the album might have been better (might have been the album it should have been) had she had Geffen on her side (in 1975), in her corner, being rather unpleasant on her behalf, fighting for things she was disinclined to fight for. So yes I would say she lost something.


And yet I think it was time (for Nyro and Geffen to go their separate ways). I think they more or less stopped liking one another—were (suddenly) driving one another apeshit. Each was putting the other right in the bughouse. Geffen’s claim of a broken heart notwithstanding.


Kort mentions it—but I can remember reading of it around the time I first collided with Laura Nyro (January 1972). Geffen allegedly spills facts, figures, and sums of money related to the sale of her catalogue to persons who work for media companies—and Nyro feels betrayed. One sum of money in particular is printed and bruited about. To the humiliated Nyro it is a kind of airing of dirty laundry in public.







They like the floating vegetable and floating flower markets. One of several honeymoons. It is spring 1972—and the ardently peripatetic Mr & Mrs Bianchini are living on a houseboat—on Dal Lake at the base of the Himalayas in Kashmir India. When one is a visitor to Dal Lake one doesn’t stay in a hotel (is my understanding), one stays on a houseboat. Mr & Mrs Bianchini love their little place in Gloucester Mass (Nyro particularly loves it, at first), but they also love to leave it, love to be viewing the place in the rear view mirror (from time to time), and they have the money. (Nyro has the money.)


Always a busman’s holiday. She’s found a piano (on dry land). On a clement morning in the most beautiful part of India—she sits at the piano in a one room schoolhouse—in an austere space that happens to have a view of the Himalayas. She plays 2 chords, just 2 chords, over and over and over. Perhaps 50 times. (Kind of a nice tableau actually.) She futzes with tempo and rhythm ever so slightly, imperceptibly (well—imperceptibly to observers, if there had been observers, the adjustments being made not imperceptible to her of course), as she goes along. She slows it way down. In just the two chords (and the interesting rhythm) she hears something—for a split second—she almost misses it—she hears something musically interesting. A song is not born. A song fragment and song idea are born. She has something she will try to develop—in the Kashmiri hideaway.


Bianchini commenting
(by way of Michele Kort) on her creative fecundity and need to work:





“It was amazing—she always worked, no matter what. I could be driving down the road at 80 miles an hour trying to catch a plane for us, and I’d look over and see her writing. She carried this book with her always.”

David would take Laura each day to a one room schoolhouse that contained “the only piano in Kashmir,” along with a stove and Christmas tree. “I would fill the stove and get the room all warm for her.”







Back in the United States she’s made a request. She wants to live on a tugboat and she asks Bianchini to help her research it. She is todernst
dead serious. They both research it. They travel to Boston to look at a tugboat for sale he’s found and they board the vessel. (They are daunted by its hugeness.) Weeks go by, her motivation (to live on a tugboat) flags.


Kort ascribed it to their shared taste for “adventure.” In 1972 and 1973 there are several trips to Japan (I believe it’s three). One of the trips to Japan is pure honeymoon (there are no concerts). In particular she wants to show Bianchini the things she loves in Japan.



In the summer of 1973 Nyro and her old man live for 3 months in New Orleans.
New Orleans was the one place (in the continental United States) she had been curious about. She for years has wanted to spend some time there. (One can easily see the both of them there.) They rent an apartment with piano. Bianchini rents a workspace (used for a range of activities, including artwork, including carpentry) on the opposite side of town, to which he travels everyday by motor scooter.


Must be nice. All the free time, travel, money. Bianchini said to Michele Kort that in this period she “needed to recharge herself.” (Nyro had said that her early success felt like “living inside a hurricane.”) In New Orleans she is very nearly free of all public scrutiny. In New Orleansshe is almost as unseen as the impoverished and hypersensitive Blanche DuBois.


In the 1970s and 1980s and beyond it was written again and again, it appeared in virtually all printed copy on the subject of Laura Nyro: retirement at age 24. From no less than the Wikipedia piece on Nyro: “[Nyro] was reportedly uncomfortable with attempts to market her as a celebrity and she announced her retirement from the music business at the age of 24.” Well no. The thought of her making such an announcement is almost funny. Related to this: it was part of a narrative that she had begun to regard the music business as repellent (strictly speaking there’s no such business) and had fled it. But Kort’s book makes clear enough: she never retired. She never at any time really left New York (and certainly never fled it). During the years when she’s lets say almost as invisible as Blanche DuBois (1972—1975), she’s never very far from the city (and she’s never out of it for very long). She even performs a small number of times in this period.


So no retirement—but shes certainly taking a pause. There are different ways to calculate it—but she is to all intents and purposes away from her game for 4 years. Her falling in love and getting married would be a partial explanation for it (the 4 yr. pause). She was 2 yrs. into her long hiatus when her mother was given a bad diagnosis (at the start of 1974)—and that prolonged it.


She may have suffered burnout but it is
 more than a little puzzling to many of her fans that she leaves her game when she is on top of her game—when she is (perhaps arguably) on top of the world, in 1971.






  LGE
 
In concert 1971.






Lou Nigro told me—when Miles Davis opened for his daughter at the Fillmore East in June 1970, “they all came to see Laura.” (I believe it. 
For a brief moment around 1970 in the United States and particularly in greater New York Nyro was massively popular.) Davis believed Nyro was the opening act (allegedly). It’s not even 100 percent clear—who was opening for whom. From Kort’s book: “The four day engagement, from June 17 through June 20, featured Nyro as the headliner and the Miles Davis Quintet as ‘Special Guest’.” “Everyone came to see Laura,” said Nigro, “and during Davis’ set they were all sitting around outside,” in the warm weather. Miles Davis is your opening act. That’s top of the world.





7TH

1971.






Friends of mine who attended some of her concerts in New York in this period said to me (a couple of decades later): in 1970/1971 she was preeminent, soaring. The friends (all 2 of them, older than I, about the same age as Nyro) used to say for example: You don’t know what it was like. Her appearances generated real excitement, audiences adored her, she was respected by other musicians, she had real influence, young women wanted to be her, her creative powers were highest level, she was in exceptionally fine voice (for most of 1971 she is 23), she was on top of the world.







So a partial explanation of her with only slight exception dropping from sight: she left to get married—a little like a 23 yr. old woman who left the typing pool to get married in 1950.


Also a partial explanation. She walked away from big success in part because she was afraid of missing out on—not what is good and beautiful—but what is real. It is speculative and reductive—but there is a small piece of the common wisdom that goes something like: temporal success in the last analysis is just so much flotsam and jetsam (ten times more so for a woman).... and where’s the real stuff in life to cling to? Words of Betty Comden and Adolph Green: “Fame if you win it / Comes and goes in a minute / Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?” Common wisdom (even if it’s a dash moronic) is by definition endemic. The wisdom here is faulty. The thinking essentially binarist. Persons can and do cling to a wide range of things across lifetimes. Persons who cling determinedly to real stuff can (also) be left high and dry and alone.
 

“What do women want?” The 70 yr. old Sigmund Freud in a letter to psychoanalyst (and Princess) Marie Bonaparte. The question that stumped him despite his “30 years of inquiry into the feminine soul.”


In July 1982 in southern Maine I would drive all over the place, alongside rivers and shorelines, and play the radio. The “soft rock” format was to 1982 what Top 40 was to 1970, what Top 10 was to 1962. (In each—very popular songs were played every half hour.) And there was a pop song of the moment (in July ’82)—played incessantly on soft rock stations in the area—sung by a woman and I believe aimed at female listenership. As of this writing I cannot find or identify the song or the artist (a one hit wonder perhaps) using search engines, but I remember much of it. I assume it was played a lot by soft rock jocks everywhere but it’s possible it was especially popular in “my” area and not in others—altho’ I doubt it. It was a song about girls (or women) wanting—permanent situations, permanent guys, and babes in arms. It was about girls wanting to settle down actually (the exact opposite content-wise of September ’83’s semi-idiotic pop song of the moment about girls just wanting to have fun).

 

And in July 1982. My friend from high school and I are walking in the Old Port, Portland Maine. We dip into a bar on Fore Street. Inside the bar: long wooden tables, a thinning crowd (it is late), soft rock being pumped throughout the room. At one of the long tables: a crowd of young women—bubbly, feisty (turning to rowdy), inebriated white twenty-somethings. A bunch of coworkers perhaps. (The reader may intuit what’s coming.)



Coming over the P.A. system—some pretty good songs. I don’t know if it is tape or radio broadcast. Included in the mix of songs is the happiness is a guy and a baby epic.


The recording has sung and spoken segments. The singer and monologuist expounds on what really matters—you know, what really matters. Everything else is ditchwater. (Words that follow may not be exact.)





                              it’s the guy who waits for you at home                                                                  it’s that little baby in your arms                                   

 



Reminds me slightly of Nyro’s “he’s the man who sends me home.” The playing of the recording provokes something like glee at the all woman table. The song plays more than once in the course of about an hour. The table radiates energy when the song plays (literally—as sound waves are energy). It’s the one spot in the joint that has real energy.


Feminists not dogmatic. At the moment “that little baby in your arms” is spoken (the words are spoken, not sung), a member of the all woman group stands, puts a fist into the air, and says with raised voice “YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT.”


Others in the group nod, make fists, declaim “you’re damn right”—but remain seated. The sound energy radiates in every direction—such that there is no one in the bar who has not thought for just a second of asking the proprietor to ask his customers to lower the volume. A woman with a slightly bombed expression who is part of the group but has remained rather quiet says to her nearest companion—referring to the songs basic point and trying hard to sound didactic, professorial (and not half plastered): “It’s sooo true.” The companion nods energetically. Again: “It’s soooooooooooo true.” They both nod with solemnity.




So Nyro walked away from career in a way that seems to point to poor timing (on her part)—at a moment in time when she had the world on a string. I have said: she wanted the real stuff. Show business (and its appurtenances) feels like synthetic existence I expect perhaps 80 percent of the time when you’re in the middle of it. Some form of the 80/20 law may be operative.
It is my experience that persons have anxieties, perhaps subliminal anxieties: if they don’t focus on real stuff (“family”) at fairly early stages of adulthood, they will be left holding the bag. (They are told that in their formative periods by their elders. Parents saying to kids: “get married or you’ll be lonely in your old age” and so on. So there are elements of conditioning afoot.) It is an ethic (possibly a dumb one): family stuff is real, everything else including career is subordinate (even bogus)—and this may or may not have had bearing on Nyro’s decision to walk. I don’t think it was entirely irrelevant.


Gustave Flaubert said—the artist has no business getting married. In 1973 Nyro’s friends and Bianchini’s friends are noticing: they’re fighting a lot. Bianchini and Nyro go their separate ways entirely (virtually entirely) in April or May 1974 and interestingly she wants to go back to “career” immediately. For Nyro
in respect of career it is then suddenly full speed ahead.


There may have been defiance in it (what Kort called her “retreat from the music business”). There was perhaps a kind of “fuck everyone” in it—somewhere. It is a major theme of the Kort bio: in respect of career Nyro always does what she wants. (One thinks of her sessions with the pedagogical Milt Okun.)





For years I thought that Nyro had emigrated to her paradisiacal spot in southern Connecticut in 1979 or 1980. It was 1973. Kort alludes to the circumstance of Nyro
s less than 100 percent identification with the Gloucester Mass experience. I believe she and Bianchini were renters in Gloucester, and in 1973 Nyro wants her own (fairly permanent) place. She wants a place in the country—she yearns for a duck pond and a babbling brook in which she’ll be able to wash her hair.


I’ve driven across and over Danbury Connecticut a few times. It has nice hills, nice trees and a gorgeous aspect in the fall. (Fall was Nyro’s favorite season.) Danbury is the hometown of great American composer Charles Ives. Ives (b. 1874) wrote symphonic works and many songs. In 1978 I was listening to a record I liked—Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Sings Charles Ives Songs. And approx. half the songs made me think of Nyro. There were idiosyncrasies of form and nice surprises and hooks in the Ives songs. Kort and others have observed—there were similarities in the lives and personalities and interests of the 2 composers.


Nyro’s tight buddy Felix Cavaliere lives in Danbury and she has paid visits to his villa (for lack of a better word) many times. She knows the area. Cavaliere tells her of property that’s for sale on Zinn Road—for sale by Swami Satchidananda and the Integral Yoga Institute (the property had been a commune). Cavaliere introduces Nyro to Satchidananda (sort of an idol of Cavaliere’s). Kort tells the story—of Nyro’s first meeting with Satchidananda: Nyro walked into a room, there he was, without a word being spoken she burst into tears. (From that and that alone I would infer: the guy had presence.)



She is still married to Bianchini when she buys the property—altho’ it’s a part time relationship in fall 1973. They are living apart, living together, living apart, living together. It goes on for a while. Bianchini remembered the place on Zinn Road to Michele Kort: it was there he taught his wife to drive a car and ride a bike.



Included on the property are 2 houses (a main house and a guest house), a brook, a brooklet, a pond, a small waterfall. The main house is not large and not opulent, the guest house or cottage is tiny. When the property was owned by Integral Yoga, Satchidananda lived in the cottage, his students and other followers in the main house. The cottage grounds were connected to the grounds of the main house via a small wooden bridge.
For the greater part of the remainder of her life Nyro will live in the cottage (like Mrs. Roosevelt living in Val-Kill at Hyde Park). Also part of the property: an exorbitance of trees that is profoundly to the liking of Nyro—tree hugger and self-proclaimed tree worshipper. (Nyro was literally a tree hugger.)


She has a room that is mostly glass from which to view these trees. She had the glass put in. Mr. Nigro told me—he tried to dissuade her. He forewarned his daughter—
it would be a bitch (not Mr. Nigro’s expression) to heat the room in winter. What else is a father going to say? Would he be father if he didn’t say it? (I believe the glass was installed in the main house.)


Nyro and Bianchini separate in 1974. They divorce in 1976. In mid 1974 Nyro is beginning to assemble ideas and personnel for the next album (to be released February 1976). The songs are for the most part written. (She was performing “I Am the Blues” for example in concert in 1970.) She has extras—completed songs, very good songs (there are demo versions) she will choose somewhat mysteriously perhaps not to put on the record. She and arranger Charlie Calello are reunited for the project. And in mid 1974 Gilda Nigro is just beginning to receive anticancer treatments.





In 1975 when anticancer therapies prove to be unavailing Gilda and Lou Nigro travel to Mexico to obtain the scandalous, the prohibited, the inherently shameful laetrile. Quackwatch.org has affirmed: laetrile is “of no value” in the treatment of cancers. Per Quackwatch clinical trials have shown laetrile (as anticancer agent) to be not better than placebo
and never better than placebo. But “of no value” may not be wholly correct—owing (principally) to the placebo effect. Andrew Weil has written brilliantly on the subject of the placebo effect. What did he say, essentially? That it is potent. The good new is it may not be reckless for a patient advocate to try to muster the placebo effect on behalf of the patient, via the agency of alternative therapy, when prior nonalternative treatments have failed to yield positive outcomes. Mr. Nigro and I spoke almost not at all of illness—and yet I came away with the impression he had small positive belief in most medical therapies (at least in relation to some illnesses) and perhaps small positive belief (more or less the same small belief) in the placebo effect.


In conversation with Lou Nigro it was I who brought up the subject of Gilda Nigro’s death. I knew (in October 2000) she died in 1975. I asked Mr. Nigro: in what month? His immediate response: “August.” I was curious to know just how old Laura Nyro was when her mother died (I have a small curiosity as to ages of persons at the deaths of their mothers).



The alternative therapy (if laetrile even rises to that level—I think it does) is as unavailing as the nonalternative. Gilda Mirsky Nigro dies of ovarian cancer 13 August 1975. She is 49. Laura Nyro is 27.



Perhaps there is no need to say it—Laura Nyro will die of ovarian cancer at age 49.


Kort writes that Nyro is “devastated” by her mother’s death. I don’t know how devastated. It is an overused word, therefore neutered. Mr. Nigro said his daughter “ached for her mother for a long time afterward. Nyro is roughly at the midpoint of making an album when her mother dies. She takes 2 weeks off and more or less goes back to work. She said in an interview in 1977, “I could’ve smashed windows but I went back to work.”


The loss of Gilda is for not a small number of people a crisis if not a catastrophe. For Nyro it is a catastrophe. From a Greek word meaning tipped over, fallen to the gound. The loss of a parent is its own species of hell (often) and Nyro is on the young side.


The relationship between mother and daughter
was good. One gets a glimpse of this in Nyro’s lyrics. The relationship between the adult Nyro and her mother is more difficult to assess. The relationship between a grammar school age Nyro and her mother was, according to Louis Nigro, verging on the mutually adoring. Mr. Nigro recalled a mother and daughter who were constantly together, constantly doing things together, and a happy little girl (despite Nyro’s statements to the contrary) who wanted to be with her mother each waking moment. Gilda Nigro was a solid, stable type with aspect of Donna Stone/Donna Reedor Margaret Anderson (from Father Knows Best) perhaps. She was an intelligent, able and admired woman who loved the song “Emmie” and did not love David Geffen.





“There’s gonna be a new Laura Nyro album” is a statement that sped past me a few times—right around the time 1975 was fast becoming 1976. There had been an ad in Rolling Stone I believe. In greater New York—there were announcements of upcoming concerts (to be given at places like Carnegie Hall, and the Capitol Theatre in Passaic New Jersey) at this time I recall. The announcements were to her followersalmost shocking. She had been whisking about under the radar for some time. The announcements were entirely unexpected. She performs throughout most of 1976.


Smile is released in February 1976. I remember well—persons queuing up on the sidewalk to purchase the album—at around 8 PM just outside the Free Being record shop, on the west side of 2nd Avenue around the corner from St. Mark’s Place in the “East Village” (actually the Lower East Side)—on an absolutely frigid and crystal clear Friday evening, in early February 1976. The record had just arrived in the store.


Under standard conditions Laura Nyro fans did not queue up to purchase her records, inside or just outside record stores. There had been a mishap. The Free Being had been telling patrons—“the new Laura Nyro album” would be in the store on such and such a day. But on that day there was no record. The Free Being then advised—it would be in the store on another day, a Friday. (It was that Friday.) Still no record. There was a further correction: the estimated time of arrival had changed, the record would be available for purchasing in the early evening. In the afternoon patrons were advised to return in the evening. And return in the evening everyone did. I returned to the store just as boxes were being unloaded from a truck parked on 2nd.


When I arrived there was a line snaking out of the store and extending a short way down Second Ave. Factor in: the Free Being record shop was teeny tiny. I remember seeing large-ish cardboard boxes of records (LPs) on the floor being opened by record clerks with X-Acto knives. A record clerk was reaching into one of the boxes and handing copies to persons in the line. I could not help but notice one guy—around the same age as me (I was very young in 1976)—he had long dark hair and wore glasses—he had forgive me a nerdy aspect—and he reached for the record being handed him I kid you not (he was making odd sounds) like a junkie reaching for a glassine envelope laden with white powder. I thought: a bigger Laura Nyro fan than me. He grabbed the record and ran. He ran all the way home (presumably). As did I.


I thought the songs were strong. I thought production and the arrangements (despite participation by Calello and a handful of great jazz supporting players) were fairly weak. Some of the arrangements were OK, some of them were dull I thought. To me it sounded as if there had been penny pinching—tho’ the supporting players would have cost Columbia Records plenty and tho’ it was recorded (in the summer of ’75) at “the church,” Columbia Records’ esteemed recording studio on East 30th Street. I was benumbed by, mesmerized by “Children of the Junks.” I loved “The Cat Song.” “The Cat Song” is “just a little ditty” (per virtually everyone who’s ever listened). But it’s a full-fledged song. It’s a great song. It’s just a little ditty because of its subject matter. If every note were precisely the same—but she had made it about prostitutes with hearts of gold living in northern California in 1922, it would be named one of the finest songs ever written. (Well not quite perhaps.)


One criticism of the record was
it was too short. Janet Maslin saying it was more “a postcard” than an album.... Just 32 minutes of music. I believe it was 2010: I discovered and listened to (at YouTube) three songs she had recorded in 1974—all three introduced to the world in 2010 via YouTube. All three were included in the 2013 reissue of Smile (as “bonus tracks”). The best of the three is “Coffee Morning.” But they are all great (“Get Me My Cap” is almost as strong as “Coffee Morning.”) “Coffee Morning” is sublimeor close to it. It wrestled me to the ground when I first heard it. How did it not get put on the 1976 record? I asked. If you are a Laura Nyro fan and you’ve missed it, listen now. Listen this minute. (And it’s just a demo recording.) Perhaps at Columbia they thought it was too derivative of her earlier stuff? (I’m trying to hazard a guess as to why it wasnt included.) One hears chords and chord progressions and a range of idiosyncrasies one hears elsewhere in Nyros recorded music catalogue. But all composers have their earmarks. All composers have motifs (or motives), phrases, themes, devices they use again and again. I see it as strength (on the part of the composer) and not weakness. It is a crime that “Coffee Morning” (even just the demo recording from 1974) was not put on Smile.





Charlie Calello brought together a few great musicians—guys with real careers, solo careers, name recognition—including saxophone player Joe Farrell, including Michael and Randy Brecker (the Brecker Brothers
a household name in 1976). Calello, overhastily perhaps, suggested to Michele Kort (he more than suggested actually): the guys were slumming when they played with Nyro.




Guys at that level don’t always have tolerance for musicians who don’t play as well as they do, but I think they respected Laura for what she did and as a result were a little more tolerant.





So the guys tolerated her. Yes and no. “Tolerance” appears twice in Calello’s statement. There were things she couldn’t do at the piano, obviously. In general jazz musicians (successful jazz musicians) esteem themselves in respect of musicianship
as a cut above all other musicians. One hears the phrase “classically trained jazz musician” often enough. So they know all your stuff (they’ve studied it) as well as their own. Jazz musicians will tell you they know more about harmony than anyone else. That is probably true.


I mentioned above: Nyro was inventive at the piano, a true original. Invention counts. Her chords were flummoxing to the musicians who played with her. They could not make hide nor hair of them (sometimes)
, they couldn’t decipher the chord roots. They said so. And no one syncopated at the piano just the way Nyro did. Calello also said to Michele Kort (the statement that follows not squaring easily with his other statement, given just above): “Laura would come up with these alternate, substitute chords. She was very instrumental in changing, harmonically, the structure of music.” Laura Nyro changed the structure of music? I didnt know that. Sounds like exceedingly high praise. So she was Claudio Monteverdi?


From Kort’s book: “Like Calello, [Jimmie] Haskell marveled at Nyro’s unusual chords. ‘She came up with these chord progressions that were really wonderful,’ he says. ‘She played piano fantastically—great arranger’s piano.’” Arranger’s piano. My pianist friend/guru had said (above): “Her approach to the piano sounds ‘orchestral’ to me in that she is aware of stacking certain things, harmonically speaking, and she is completely unafraid to employ its full range and think of things like an arranger would.”



Nyro was providing the players at the East 30th Street sessions with gainful employment, work that they liked (some of the players said to Michele Kort, “I loved the music”), and a furtherance of (their own) name recognition. The statement that the players were quite willing to put up with Nyro’s second rate (or third rate) piano playing—one must move toward with healthy skepticism. There may have been a 
soupçon of male supremacy (male musician supremacy) in it. She was not Art Tatum. She lacked the “technical brilliance” of the great jazz pianists. She was still a superb pianist, arguably a great one.





At the start of 1976 Ms. Nyro is hiring. Putting together a touring band. (I hear the job interviews were gentle affairs.) It is her first extended tour. The tour lasts 8 months, to the end of August 1976. Her “season of lights.”
For the season of lights she wishes to replicate some of the jazz-inflected sounds of Smile. She hires several (3 or 4 or 5) of the 30th Street sessions musicians for the tour.


In January 1976 I got word that the most recent issue of Ms. (magazine) contained a piece on Laura Nyro. (Laura Nyro articles were rare commodities.) I went to a public library and lunged at the magazine when I spied it. It was then I learned of her Jewish and Italian
background. (I had wondered.) Lots of people opined that Nyro was “Spanish” (Hispanic) in days gone by I recall. Some opined she was Spanish—others were certain of it. I had people telling me Nyro was Puerto Rican. As there was a black thing there was a Spanish thing about Laura Nyro.


The Ms. piece also disclosed—Nyro planned to form an all woman band. I got a few nervous phone calls at around this time I remember
each of my callers wishing to say a few words about the incipient all woman band. Each expressing alarm.... The all woman band was going to be injurious to her sound. One friend close to panic mode. “It’s going to wreck the sound!” In 1976 Nyro wrote a letter to the editor of Ms. complaining of the piece’s inaccuracies. Turned out—she never said she was forming an all woman band.





At the behest of Felix Cavaliere she hires a new manager at this time. He is Sid Bernstein (no relation I believe to arranger Herb Bernstein), former manager of the Rascals, and “the guy who brought the Beatles to Shea Stadium.”
He had met her once in 1967. (I think he jumps at the chance to represent her.) In general he was apeshit for herhe loved her. Michele Kort gives us this quote (of Bernstein’s):





I liked her so much, she was such a good girl... The musicians loved her. She was not like a leader, she was an inspiration.




                     
Reminds me of some of the things Herb Bernstein (who wrote arrangements for More Than a New Discovery 10 yrs. prior) said to Kort on the subject of Laura Nyro. Both guys (both Bernsteins) were adulatory in their statements to Kort—years after the fact in both cases. There had been prickliness and argument (sometimes) in the relationships, in both cases—when the relationships were ongoing.


Sid Bernstein did say he was buffaloed by Nyro’s “rules,” which he summed up as: “no television appearances, no interviews, no hustle.”
Sounds a little like a slogan. No interviews and no hustle: not Sid Bernstein’s way and not his instinct. I believe he said he put up with it (her conditions, her requirements) because in his words “she was such a superb artist.” Both Johnny Carson and David Letterman tried many times to get her on their programs, reportedly. Letterman (a Laura Nyro fan) in particular. Reportedly she almost said yes once.


Show attitude and you were out. The tours were very egalitarian affairs. Flute and saxophone player Jean Fineberg (who was part of the Season of Lights jazz ensemble if you will) said to Michele Kort: “Laura wouldn’t put up with someone who was a pain. She picked personnel based on ability and personality.” There obtained among band members an ethos: persons with attitude, with combative streaks (even mild ones let’s say), with chips on their shoulders would be told—they need not apply.










  HER

The Season of Lights band has 9 players. She will never again travel with a band of this size. There are 4 women players (Nyro and 3 others). They play in spots (sometimes small spots) all over the continental United States—a few are in Canada. In the western states the women players travel in a green GMC (General Motors Company) Palm Beach van. In the west the men fly city to city (per Michele Kort).


The women travel the scenic routes. The van comes with a driver—a guy who’s eager to please and to show his passengers gorgeous mountainscapes (which he does, whenever they will let him). Nyro nicknamed the van the Green Hornet. “She was enamored of the van,” said Fineberg.



There is occasional singing aboard the van. Sometimes it’s sort of a sexy piece, a sexy rendition. Sometimes Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go. The driver is asked to sing along. Turns out—the driver likes to sing.



Reviews of the Season of Lights tour are of course mixed. Many reviewers are saying it’s not the same Nyro (purported to have vanished sometime in 1971). Nyro is subdued, they are writing in 1976. “No longer willing to set herself on fire.” Kort writes aptly: “[The new Nyro] was deemed bland and considered to have lost her wizardry.” And yet—the tour also draws raves. The abovementioned Robert Hilburn (something of a champion of Nyro over the years) writing in the Los Angeles Times in 1976: “In an age in pop of increasing theatrics and reliance on electronic effects, Nyro is one of the few artists who can captivate an audience with simply the glory and majesty of her own voice and music.” The glory and majesty of her voice and music. If I am not mistaken that goes well beyond rave.



In the summer of 1977 there is a live album, Season of Lights, the recordings taken from the 1976 concerts. I used to wander into one of the Doubleday Book Shops on 5th Avenue on a regular basis (in 1977), look at merchandise and make small talk with the record clerks. I had bonded with one of the record clerks over Laura Nyro and Todd Rundgren. In summer 1977 I had asked her several times about “the new Laura Nyro album, the live album,” and she had responded several times: coming soon. I remember going into the store on a Friday evening (on the hottest day of the year, in July 1977)—and as I entered I saw my friend at the other end of the store, smiling, holding the record above her head and waving it. She did exactly the same approx. 6 months later when my visit to the store coincided with the arrival at the store of Rundgren’s Hermit of Mink Hollow (which I had asked her about a few times). I remember taking the train home to Brooklyn on that punishingly hot and humid night, happy that I would have something to listen to over the weekend.







Kort said early on in her book that Nyro was only slightly less successful than Joni Mitchell in bedding down handsome bastard rock musicians. On the album Nested (released June 1978) Nyro sings to her “gypsy man,” her “cold cold lover” with his “snake cold back,” his “Indian hair.” In the 1980s and well beyond I assumed Nyro’s gypsy man was her “Indian prince” (how a few of Nyro’s friends referred to Mr. Singh—the man who fathered her child). However Patty Di Lauria (Nyro’s best friend for a while) told Michele Kort that Nyro’s gypsy man, the man who is well represented in the verses of Nested, was a handsome devil named Greg Bennett—per Di Lauria one of the loves of Nyro’s life.



Greg Bennett was: fisherman, carpenter, musician, guitar maker. Ohio born but living for a time in Gloucester Mass, Bennett was a friend of David Bianchini. Bennett was also a friend of Di Lauria (up in Gloucester Mass). It was Bennett who introduced Di Lauria to Laura Nyro. Patty Di Lauria (speaking to Michele Kort) on the subject of her friend Greg Bennett:






He was very handsome. He had dark brown eyes, nice cheekbones, I think he was part Native American.... Greg was a huge, passionate love in [Nyro’s] life, and justifiably so.




  And
:




He was a very major love. He broke her heart.





On the Nested album Nyro also sings to the “father of my unborn star.” One inferred that that almost had to be a reference to her Indian prince (her quasi Indian prince), as he did have a child with her. But Di Lauria says that here too the reference is to Greg Bennett. (Nyro wanted to have a child with Bennett, she came close to having a child with Bennett, she planned on it for a while. It just didn’t happen.) When Nyro sings of “Indian hair” (in the song “My Innocence”: “I look for the man with the Indian hair”), again one assumed it had to be a reference to her Indian lover. But (Kort points out) the Indian hair may have belonged to Bennett—as he was part Amerindian (and wore his shiny black hair in a ponytail). As to which of 2 men was the inspiration for a few lines of poetry that turn up on Nested, Kort wavers a bit actually.


Bennett is the central person in Nyro’s life throughout the Season of Lights tour (1976). When the tour is concluded Nyro travels to Japan with Patty Di Lauria—for rest and a change of scenery. (Nyro needs to get away from Greg Bennett.) In Japan Nyro wants to talk about Bennett—her association with him is foundering. Reportedly, and according to Michele Kort (Kort says it in her book [2002] and in the liner notes to the reissue of Nested [2009]), Bennett is very uncomfortable with the discrepancy in their respective statuses: she a star and legend and moderately wealthy (for the most part), he a poor carpenter/musician. It is something he cannot let go of. (Of course one never knows. With every breakup—there are the ostensible reasons and the real reasons. Sometimes they overlap a bit.)


When Nyro returns to the United States from Japan, the relationship with Bennett is ended.






  MOD          

The album is of course not just about boyfriend trouble. There are multiple references to impending motherhood.



What seems highly improbable to me. But perhaps is not.. Jan and Janice Nigro (brother and sister in law), traveling in India sometime in the first half of 1977, aware or vaguely aware that Laura is hurting over lost love, meet a guy they like a lot (in India) and play matchmaker. And it even works. Matchmaking (all forms of it) has always struck me as rather specious activity. There’s always a shady component (in my view). And this is matchmaking at a remove of 8,000 miles. It sounds just a bit like mail order bride.



Jan and Janice Nigro take note: he is a kind man, a philosopher—and nicely virile. In no time he’s at the Danbury compound. Yes it moves quickly.



Earth Mother and Druid priestess comes face to face with Vedic soothsayer and philosopher.


Harindra Singh is the son of a raja (or such is the claim), and the son of a man with umpteen wives and scores of children (such is the claim). Michele Kort (who interviewed a number of persons who spent time with Singh at the Danbury estate) describes him as “tall dark and handsome.”


In the Hollywood film The Rains Came (1939) Tyrone Power (in turban and pancake makeup) plays an Indian raja. He is also a medical doctor (in the film) who is not lacking or not entirely lacking in nobility of character and mind. In the film American actresses playing Englishwomen living in India swoon a lot and call him “a pale copper Adonis.” There’s the expression “ladies love outlaws.” Just the opposite—is the more likely. Let a guy evidence even a minuscule amount of nobility of character—like a woman exposing just a tiny bit of ankle in the year 1900—the result is explosion. In the film Anglo women are taking off panties and throwing them at the doctor as it were. They’re ready to throw themselves off bridges for the sagacious Indian.





There is immediate chemistry between them. He arrives in Connecticut and
“not long after” (per Michele Kort) she is pregnant.


Third week of January 1978 and it is exceedingly cold (colder than usual) all over the northeast. She enters the room that is mostly glass on a morning on which the sun is blinding, she places her hand on a sheet of glass to feel its warmth. She doesn’t know absolutely that she is pregnant (it is the 6th week of fetal development) but she intuits it. She enjoys the warmth of the sun (which transmits ever so nicely through and across the glass). She thinks of her mother. As she stands in sunlight and thinks of her mother—at these very moments fetal pharyngeal arches, pharyngeal pouches and other structures (paired structures, on either side of the fetal midline) are straining toward the midline, then meeting at the midline and fusing. She leans against a patch of wall, she rests, she closes her eyes—and it is as she is resting thus that the face of Gil Bianchini (as she will name him) begins to manifest on the screen of time.


She is pregnant all the while she is rehearsing and recording Nested. I suspect that a few frequent visitors to her place in the woods in Danbury, persons in her inner circle, were trying not to notice: she was living with Singh, and was pregnant by himbut the songs she was working on and recording were songs that centered on Greg Bennett. At any rate for a songwriter there has to be a lag time—between inspiration and execution, or between inspiration and finished product.


She tours while pregnant. It is a mini tour. Michele Kort writes “[Nyro decides] to tour that summer while visibly pregnant”—something absolutely unheard of at that time (per Kort). I said (above) that I saw her perform at the Bottom Line in New York when she looked 10 months pregnant. (I recall that I wondered, in 1978, if it was a strange thing—a performer performing while visibly pregnant.)



It is her first engagement at the Bottom Line. (The Bottom Line will become a kind of performance home for her.) It was the night (July 1978) the applause was so tumultuous (persons standing on tables at the encores) I still don’t have adjectives for it, 40 years later. When she walked out onto the stage: it was absolutely an uproar. I had said (above)—she walked across the stage in maternity evening gown and high heeled sandals. The gown was solid red I remember. It wasn’t fire engine red. It may have been rose colored. It looked as if a piece of let
s say rose colored cloth had been wrapped around her and tied (I remember thinking). Her arms and shoulders were entirely bare (it was New York in July). The lower half of the dress was fluent, flowing. Having said all this: the shade of red whatever it was was beautiful, she in her gravid state was beautiful.


On that night it was just Laura Nyro and piano. When she was seated at the piano, a massive, ancient looking grand piano, I was literally inches from her. I don’t remember getting to the Bottom Line a few hours early (where as I mentioned seating was first come first serve), actually I remember not getting there early, but somehow I got that seat. She was at a higher level than I. But the stage at the Bottom Line was not very elevated. I could easily have stood and embraced her.






After she is entirely seated (and it looks like we are all ready to go), two tallish thinnish youngish women sporting long hair, blue jeans and tank tops appear out of the blue and walk to where she is. They stand at either side of her piano bench and ask if they might help her in any way. (
One didn’t usually see this type of thing at the Bottom Line.) Because of Nyro’s gravid state they (and the management) want to do what they can to make her comfortable. They, the 2 women, then bend at the waist and start to arrange and position the gown. (They don’t want any mishaps.) Both women scooch down and together position a section (a flap, a panel) of the dress. The scene is atavistic. Yes Nyro is the un-diva. Yes she does not like a fuss. But it doesn’t matter. For about 4 minutes it is Spain in the sixteenth century. The ladies in waiting attend their queen.


I was afraid the gown was going to fall off. Again—it looked like it had been wrapped around and tied. Like a towel. Kort mentions that there were concertgoers who said they were afraid that Nyro was so pregnant she would not be able to reach the keys. I did not have that fear. My only fear was that the dress would fall off. I said to my friend—sure as you were born and sure as shootin that dress is going to fall off. It did not.



She was in excellent voice (which I think may have had something to do with her antenatal state). At the time of this writing—I am listening to the jazz station (WBGO)—and I hear disc jockey Michael Bourne say (not 20 minutes ago), “There’s something about certain voices—from the first time you hear them.” The first time I heard Laura Nyro’s voice I was hit on the head by a 2 
X 4. I am at a loss to explain it. I comprehend it in part perhaps but for me it will ever have mysterious components. I theorize that my having been bowled over, my paralysis, at first contact with her voice may have had something to do with my early childhood experience—which female person(s) sang to me as an infant and so on. (Such theorizing is very Freudian obviously.) I wish to avoid preciosity if I at all can, but it is quite true: I heard her voice (when I was 17) and I was changed. On the night in July 1978—sometimes, in the course of an hour and a half, the singing was ravishing. No one, no singer can sustain “ravishing” across 90 minutes. When she sang certain notes, certain phrases she jumped up seemingly effortlessly by an octave. (She was showing off.)


Her friendship with Singh lasts 7 months. When it is close to the time for her to give birth Singh is back in India. She makes plans to go to a “birth center” in Reading Pennsylvania. Her sister in law will accompany her and be the driver. Danbury to Reading: driving time 5 hours. Kort divulges that Nyro’s water breaks just as she and her sister in law are starting out—and she is in “light labor” during the 5 hours. Her healthy son is ushered into the world “in a veil of divine love” on August 23, 1978.













 
TNH    


   The Divine Miss N  

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