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The Divine Miss N

page 3 

Very atypically she is not seated at a piano. At Laura Nyro concerts attended by me—I never once saw her not seated before a piano. In a long black dress and Pebbles Flintstone hairdo she shimmies before a microphone stand. When she performs “Wedding Bell Blues” (her hit in California)—she shimmies, dips and springs, breast shakes, she finger snaps, she gesticulates. When she sings “Poverty Train” (from the not yet released Eli and the Thirteenth Confession) she almost bellows it. She makes a big sound.

She sings 4 songs—but only “Poverty Train” and “Wedding Bell Blues” (and not the whole of the “Wedding Bell Blues” performance but just the final segment of it) are part of the Pennebaker film.

I wrote—that she is beautiful in the Pennebaker film (above). In the footage she is zaftig (Marilyn Monroe was zaftig, Yiddish for “juicy”), buxom, gorgeous-haired. She looks “Middle Eastern” in the footage (perhaps)—the white blouse wearing Catholic high school attending Lebanese-American girl next door. In the film—she has the kind of beauty one sees very frequently in 19 yr. old girls. But she is beautiful not just by virtue of her tender age. She looks fragile (to me), despite the big sound she produces. She looks too young, almost absurdly young—she has remnants of baby fat.

It’s a highly original performance. I stated abovein 1997 (the year of her death) the second narrative, the competing narrative is coming into view: she beguiled and even “mesmerized” at Monterey. The Pennebaker footage (in the creation of which the camera panned to the audience and to audience response a few times) appears to corroborate it. Sontag was one of the first to say it—after Sontag many said it. The second narrative begins to establish itself 30 years after the event. It is at least contended—the terrible dud of a performance never took place.

Over the years criticism of Nyro for having flubbed it at the Monterey festival has been intemperate. A little stupid. Some of it demented sounding. From Thomas R. King’s The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells the New Hollywood (2000):

Nyro was by no means a star, but most people in the record world knew her as having been the laughingstock of the Monterey International Pop Festival, the summer concert that had ignited the careers of Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and Janis Joplin, among others. Even [Geffen colleague Steve] Binder had read about the egg Laura Nyro had laid at Monterey....

Her performance was nothing short of a disaster. Monterey Pop was a gathering of hard-core rock ’n’ rollers, and Nyro delivered what amounted to a slick Las Vegas routine. Having blown her last hundred dollars on costumes and choreography, she came out in a floor-length ball gown, with backup singers named Delores and Juliette in tow.

As the audience of teen potheads booed, Nyro bungled her way through a few songs, wrapping up the set with “Wedding Bell Blues.” The pickup band could not follow her complex, sophisticated arrangements. Her performance lasted sixteen minutes, and by its end Laura Nyro was a camp legend.

Crushed, she ran from the stage in tears.

Good writing. None of it accurate. Nyro was not, and not for a single moment, a laughingstock. One finds oneself asking: what would motivate this kind of animus (in the account given just above), this kind of ad hominem attack?

Deborah Sontag remarked on Nyro’s showing a “half-smile” at the conclusion of her set. Actually the footage shows her smiling just after she has sung “Poverty Train” (I believe the penultimate number in her set,
“Wedding Bell Blues” was the final number). But I would call it a full smile—a very definite smile. For a few moments in the film she looks happy and pleased with herself. “Crushed, she ran from the stage in tears”: not likely.

In respect of the disproportionate criticism what gives? It was no big thing
, her performance. It was 4 songs. Most in the audience I believe could have cared less. The audience was (mostly) stoned. Three-quarters of it would have paid little attention—is my guess.

Thomas King continues (in The Operator):

“What did you think?” she asked Mogull [backstage].

“I’ll tell you what I thought,” Mogull steamed. “When I was a kid my mother and father took me to the circus, and at one point three elephants came out and did dance steps. That’s what you reminded me of.”

Michele Kort in her book recounts the same exchange—virtually word for word.

Mogull sounds bananas. What on earth—in her or in her performance—did Mogull find elephantine? First time I read about Mogull’s comparing Nyro to an elephant (when reading Kort’s book, about 15 yrs. ago), my immediate thought: Nyro must have had big legs. When I was 6 and 7 and 8 and 9 yrs. old I would hear the adults discussing—discussing young women who held mid-level status in local marriage markets. “She has a pretty face—but she has big legs.” Heard often. Big legs were a curse—but not the spoiler you might expect. It was the sexual culture of a particular place and time... and a tiny fragment of that culture: if the face was pretty enough, she was still alive in the marriage market. (Big legs wouldn’t queer it for her entirely.) So when I read of Mogull’s irruption at Nyro (backstage, post-performance)—I remember very distinctly feeling terribly sorry for Nyro (and those massive legs).

Thought filters downward, a bit slowly sometimes. Then I remembered something: Nyro had beautiful legs. Better than Betty Grable’s. Nyro had very curvy legs. Curvy legs are beautiful legs, often. Grable’s legs were too thin and too insubstantial, particularly below the knee. (Betty Grable’s gorgeous legs were a myth. I guess in more ways than one.) I had seen it—Nyro showing some leg—in a small number of photos. The Music of Laura Nyro (sheet music for piano, published in 1971) has photos. (I had a copy. I lugged that book all over the place—when I was 18 and 19 and 20. I played piano and sang, not well. I played the hell out of my copy of it, it became doggy-eared and then grimy looking and then it turned to powder. Hard to get another copy. It’s been out of print for about 4 decades.) In The Music of Laura Nyro there’s a photo of Nyro—wearing a dress and fishnet stockings. The legs are great. So the question remains: what did Mogull see as elephantine?

Not her dance moves. Nyro’s moves on the stage at Monterey were girlish—very girlish. That’s not elephantine. (I know girlish. I grew up with sisters.) Her dance moves during the “Wedding Bell Blues” number could not have been cuter—not possible. So I think Nyro perhaps was subject to occasional frank abuse, as a very young performer. But hey—that would be the experience of every young performer, and every performer.


The good news about David Geffen is of course: he wasn’t all bad. He did a few good things for Nyro (in my view). Fervid Nyro followers have tended to see him as the bogeyman. As someone who cheated her. That may be simplistic.

Kort spoke of Geffen’s “titanic” ambition. To be fair—a man’s enormous ambition is a default position of his having made an enormous fortune. (That doesn’t mean the ambition wasn’t titanic.) Ambition is of course a sine qua non of big success. Big success has several
I believe. To Emerson ambition was princely. (To Shakespeare I believe it was not.)

Destinies (like galaxies) collide and merge. In middle 1967—in the northeastern United States—a prince of ambition wins his date with destiny. A prince of ambition converges on and comes face to face with—the Divine Miss N.
(Most fortuitously for him.)

In 1898
in New York New York Zalman Moses, immigrant from Germany, hung a sign: William Morris, Vaudeville Agent. The William Morris Agency was at its inception a “vaudeville agency.” It quickly became the premier organization of its kind—and it had a fantastic run, 111 years (until 2010).

She is speedily back in New York New York, post–Monterey. And in New York in high summer 1967 William Morris agent David Geffen—fresh-faced lad of 23 (as it were)—energetic, brilliant and hostile—is charged with booking guests on The Steve Allen Show. He is asked to give a listen to More Than a New Discovery.

For the 23 yr. old lad the experience of More Than a New Discovery is revelatory. He makes his way to her, expeditiously.

Geffen tells Life magazine in 1969—he met her at his office
(per his friend Bones Howe “a tiny office at the end of a long William Morris hallway”).

Her manager brought her to my office, and there she appeared... long hair, black clothes, purple nail polish. She sat down in a chair and I was speechless. But we had a kind of vibration for one another.

The phraseology he uses is quasi-religious. If I am not mistaken he describes her as having a numinous presence (“and there she appeared”), at their first meeting.

It isn’t fakery. He’s blown away. By her distinctness, her aura. He has a feeling for her giftedness already. (He meets her with benefit of having listened to More Than a New Discovery.)

Geffen has also said in interviews—he met her on her 8th Avenue doorstep. Geffen said to Joe Smith, author and editor of Off the Record (1988):

[Mogull] put her down terribly, but I had to meet her. So [Mogull] took me over to her apartment on 8th Avenue. She lived at 888 8th Avenue in this one-room apartment filled with cats. It was a nightmare, but she and I became instant best friends.

To Michele Kort he remembered the apartment at 888 8th Avenue as “a dark crummy little apartment with a lot of cats.” I could easily be wrong but I believe that
 at that time she had one dog and one cat.

It is also not fakery—that there was immediate (probably not instantaneous) rapport between them.
Rapport—that great French word that (in English language usage) suggests great connection. Not that I think it was that great—the early bond between Geffen and Nyro. (I don’t think it was. In a year’s time it will have begun to founder.) It did begin well. She liked him, he was apeshit for her.

In very short order he begins to guide her decision making (altho’ “guide” may be euphemistic). He is at this time a fervent and utterly sincere believer in Nyro and her art. He will leave the William Morris Agency to manage Laura Nyro. However one judges or understands his net effect on her and her life’s trajectory, one can say happily—and with some confidence—that no one ever believed in Nyro (and her art, her giftedness) the way Geffen for a time believed in her.

David Crosby stated in a 1998 interview—that Geffen “really loved Laura Nyro” and that “[Nyro] was a window into something in [Geffen] that was not primarily about money.”

So Nyro awakens poetic feeling in David Geffen. At the same time—he sees her as meal ticket and entrée. (Not so terrible actually.) Laura Nyro is his entrée into a very rarefied world. (And make no mistake, it was not the other way around.)

Lee Housekeeper said to Michele Kort in 1999—that Geffen (in 1969) used his closeness to Nyro to persuade Crosby, Stills & Nash (just prior to the admission of Young) to sign a contract. “She was a very well respected artist,” said Housekeeper. “She was very important to David Geffen’s ability to get the respect of other artists.”

She legitimates him. His career on the day they meet is vestigial. Rather oppositely—beginning with the first moments of her first visit to a music publisher (with her mother in tow), Nyro is a kind of legend. Starting at that moment—she has immense prestige (tho’ as I’ve pointed to, it is a prestige
with paradoxical elements and confined to narrow milieux). It is not nice to say it and it may be in bad taste to say it: she lifts Geffen, she launches him. She starts his career. She makes him his first million (his first 2.25 million to be precise at the sale of her publishing company in 1970).

Geffen has his virtues obviously. The idea that he lifted her, he launched her—is a joke.

He may be not well suited to represent her. There are basic incompatibilities—lurking. There lives in Nyro a tendency toward self-effacement (not excluding fiscal or contractual self-effacement if there is such a thing). In Geffen—not. Actually in some regards he is well suited to represent her. One sees it often in couples—a kind of symbiosis—one partner tending toward self-effacement, the other toward overbearingness and noisemaking. And Geffen and Nyro are a quasi-couple. It would be an absurdity of course: a tendency toward self-effacement in an artist’s manager. But he’s not deeply cognizant of what she wants, or his sense of what she wants is scattered and incompetent (perhaps). The question becomes: could he have asked? From the Kort book:

“I wanted her to be the biggest star in the world,” he was once quoted as saying. “That was my dream for her. I don’t know whether that was her ambition, but it was my ambition.” In fact her friend Barbara Greenstein can’t recall Nyro ever talking about having huge career aspirations. “I don’t remember once having a conversation about ‘Oh I want to be a star’ or ‘I want to be famous’ or even ‘I want people to hear my music.’”
 [Emphasis in the (Kort) original.]

That Nyro never voiced “career aspirations” of this kind doesn’t mean of course—that they never crossed her mind.

Geffen has likeable aspect in spades (I understand). He is seen often enough—as rather a sweet guy
(deep down). He is not minus refinement, sensitivity, delicacy of feeling. He is protective of her (sometimes). And I think in a way—you kind of have to like a guy who says, “I wanted her to be the biggest star in the world.” But as I pointed to—incompatibilities are at the foundational level. Again and again Geffen seems quite naturally drawn to everything that (I believe) would make Nyro want to vomit.

Geffen and Nyro humanly opposite? We’re all so damned alike and we’re all so damned different. The concept of “human opposites” seems faulty to me—but it exists. So how different can 2 human beings be—2 human beings, contemporaries—born more or less in (in or on) the same wrinkle in spacetime? The idea of human opposites, of two sets of instincts and tendencies diametrically opposed
is that even possible?

Nyro, Geffen and Barbra [sic] Streisand in a room—and the mood in that room is suctorial. In a word. (It’s suctorial if it’s anything).
And perhaps it didnt happen. But Michele Kort reported on it. Tom King reported on it. At least 4 versions of the story have appeared in print (if the Internet counts): the story of a meeting in 1969 between Nyro and Streisand—Nyro being asked very expressly prior to the meeting to tell Streisand she had written “Wedding Bell Blues”expressly for Streisand. (Huh?) To use Milt Okun’s phrase: Nyro adamantly refuses. So Geffen tells Streisand. Nyro wore a long skirt to the meeting (a skirt down to the ground). Ms. Streisand wore nice slacks. That’s—if the meeting took place.

As Tom King reported—Nyro happened to be in Los Angeles for a bunch of sold-out concerts at the Troubadour (in West Hollywood). Nyro performed two sets of concerts at the Troubadour in 1969—in May 1969 and I believe in October 1969. The shows at the Troubadour were as far as I can gather a kind of zenith for her—and I understand they were dazzling (or close to it let
s say). And they are well-remembered.

In passing
I recall a superb posting (from ca. 2004) to the aforementioned Yahoo Groups Laura Nyro message board, by a “member” of the group. The member of the Internet group kindly remembered the Troubadour show he had attended 35 years prior. Factor in—he is a member of the tribe.

Suddenly the lights dimmed, and a spotlight hit the stairs. You could see this sort of short slightly plump woman walking down the stairs in a lavender gown, followed by this skinny guy who seemed to be pushing her. Now, you have to have been to the Troubadour; it was a rowdy place. But the second she hit the floor, there was absolute silence. It’s trite to say, but you could have heard a pin drop. The spotlight sort of “led” her to the stage, and the man (who I later realized was David Geffen) continued to “guide” (gently push) her to the stage....

I have always remained astounded at the spell she cast over the audience. You didn’t hear a single sound other than applause the entire time she was on stage. No clinking glasses, no food, no coughing, nothing. Everyone was transfixed. As I said, I will never forget it....

She seemed very shy, never talking other than to once whisper thank you, which she did with her back to the audience. When she finally stood for her bows, she looked down at her feet, barely acknowledging the thunderous applause and the astounded audience.

According to Tom King Geffen arranged the meeting. Record producer Richard Perry was go-between. I suspect that the meeting was not difficult to arrange. My guess is
there was no way on earth—that Barbra [sic] Streisand would not have wanted to meet/take a gander at Laura Nyro in 1969.

Someone else who used to post to the Laura Nyro message board posted (about 10 yrs. ago): she happened to see Streisand at a Nyro concert—one of Nyro’s shows at the Fillmore East. Nyro performed at the Fillmore East (on the Lower East Side, originally a Yiddish language theater) in June 1970 and May 1971. I suppose she, the contributor to the forum, could have been in error, I suspect she was not. She said she happened to see Streisand in the foyer just after the concert had concluded. According to the contributor Streisand was in kind of a big hurry to get out (which one could understand perhaps). She thought Streisand was alone at the concert (I would doubt that one). In her post she did not say if Streisand looked happy, unhappy, cowed, unsettled, nonplussed, overawed, ecstatic, or rapturous. All she said was—Streisand was poker-faced and inscrutable—as she moved right along.

A kind of comic relief.

A car sets out. A car and driver and passengers (2) are launched. A car hurtles—through and across the City of Angels.
An appointment is to be kept. The sunlight beats down, it pours.

From The Operator:

On the way to the meeting, Geffen told Nyro to tell Streisand that she had written “Wedding Bell Blues” with her in mind. Nyro was horrified by Geffen’s suggestion that she lie.

At the meeting, when Nyro did not cough up the line, Geffen himself chimed in with it. Streisand was overwhelmed, but Nyro could not stand by such a falsity.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “but that’s not true.”

Geffen was embarrassed and furious, and he scolded Nyro in the car after the meeting. In his mind, he had suggested the lie only in order to try to win [Nyro] greater wealth and fame.

I just asked her to support me in this one thing,” Geffen complained to Ellen Sander. “It’s not a big lie. She should have understood that I was just trying to sell the song to America’s premier songstress.”

Streisand was overwhelmed?

Everyone’s heard it, I think: I ask so little of you, but when I do ask for something, no matter how small it is, you’re not able....

In one telling or version of the story (of the Nyro–Streisand summit), Nyro was rather miserable and “trembled” as the false claim was being made.

But it may be an apocryphal story. What may give it away. In the history of the United States—no one has ever spoken the phrase “America’s premier songstress.” They may have written it, they may have written it many times (as part of advertising copy). No one has ever spoken it.

What Geffen likes: likely to give Nyro the willies, the heebie jeebies, and the screaming mimi’s. Altho’—perhaps that’s exaggerative, and simplistic. They had to have had a few attitudes and stances in common. (And in respect of attitudes and stances, one tends to be in conflict with oneself.) The operations of the mind are never simple, to coin a phrase.

Geffen emigrates permanently to southern California—I don’t know exactly when—around the time he is becoming very rich. In California—in relatively short order he becomes an archetype of the Versailles has 800 rooms and that’s just the main palace tradition and ethos. Could one see Nyro ensnarled in any of it?

Geffen and Nyro
both nurslings of the Atlantic Seaboard, born at around the same time. Nyro emigrating to southern California: inconceivable.

A peacock on a fastidiously managed lawn. Merle Oberon in a bikini. The grounds of the Beverly Hills 
château of Jack and Ann Warner. Merle Oberon (not a Warner Bros. contract player) tramping about, traipsing about in the bikini (one of the very first bikinis) in 1939. Errol Flynn inside tending bar.

Actor Robert Wagner in a memoir of 1930s and 1940s Hollywood remembered Jack Warner’s place (completed 1937) as “the most opulent” of all the Hollywood 
châteaux. Jack L. Warner (of the fatuous grin) started out as the owner of a nickelodeon in New Castle Pennsylvania (he commuted to New Castle from Youngstown Ohio). But it’s not where you start it’s where you finish. And where Jack L. Warner finished: urns, fountains, guest houses (2 of them), reflecting pools, landscaped terraces, orchards, greenhouses, gorgeous paths cut through the forested areas—and so fantastic a private golf course. To boot: his own filling station & service station (staffed). Gas pumps and a garage for repairs. In fact it was the filling station (and not the golf course) for which the property was famous, in its heyday.

Jack Warner
s auto repair shop. On the premises. The mind moves quietly toward Barbra [sic] Streisands mall-in-the-basement. A street of shops in the cellar. (OK. Duckduckgo it.) 

Kind of exciting I think. I just love it. Ever the entertainment magnate’s (or great entertainer
s) version of living out Aristotle’s golden mean principle.

Also to boot, in the main house
... No shit: the tile floor on which Napoléon Bonaparte proposed to Mme. Harnois (Mme. de Beauharnais), his mixed race cutie from the isle of Martinique—about 2 months later the Empress Joséphine.

Geffen, archetype, purchases the Warner property in 1990 (this is years prior to the Malibu Beach
related rhubarb and publicité). He gets rid of a lot of stuff, I believe he hangs onto the Napoleonic floor. Status is mother’s milk: part of the Napoleonic complex. Geffen, Warner, Napoléon I Empereur des Français: it is compulsion—eyeing the things that will confer status the way a mongoose eyes a cobra. Geffen is the anti-Nyro. He may be—not ideally suited to represent her.


He moves quickly to annul her ties with Mogull (and Okun). Okun writes in his Cherry Lane memoir: She sued me. Michele Kort writes in her book: Nyro sued. The Wikipedia piece on Nyro: Nyro successfully sued, to void her management and recording contracts.

Garbo talks! Nyro sues! Actually—Geffen and Nyro sue. (Nyro is principally taking direction at this time.) Nyro had entered into management and publishing contracts with Mogull, Okun, and a guy named Paul Barry (Mogull’s partner) in July 1966.
She was 18. Some contracts are not voidable. These were not not voidable.

Geffen inaugurates a legal inquiry. In September 1967—on the basis of her status as a minor (
her status as a minor at the time contracts were signed), a New York State court “disaffirms” the contracts without demur. Okun said somewhere—he was traumatized by the lawsuit. Okun told Michele Kort in 1999—he found the lawsuit “very distasteful.” I’m a bit bowled over that Okun was bowled over. (One would have expected him to have taken it in good sport, to have almost seen it coming.)

Next up—he (Geffen) wants to move her to another record label. Geffen aptly believes—enough dicking around, it’s time to move her to the best record company that exists. At Verve/Folkways: More Than a New Discovery has made waves (small ones), not money. They’re not going to oppose her taking a hike. Geffen speaking to Michele Kort: “I thought that Columbia was the classiest record company there was, at the time.” He tries to place her there and is successful. He arranges an audition; she will audition for Clive Davis personally.
Davis knows who she is (he very much knows who she is). In New York—at the aforementioned Columbia offices on West 52nd, she auditions for Davis in a darkened room with piano. She performs the songs that will become Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. One wants to say of course—Davis is ecstatic, he offers her a contract on the spot. Tom King in The Operator: “Davis offered Nyro a contract on the spot.” In Clive: Inside the Record Business, his 1975 autobiography, Davis writes: “The strength of her writing was so obvious that I decided to sign her immediately.” But Michele Kort suggests—it wasn’t as fast (or as buoyant) as all that.

Geffen told Michele Kort—Clive Davis was unsure. He said to Kort—Davis had some reservations vis-à-vis Laura Nyro. Which sounds about right.
I suspect there was an element of groupthink in Davis’ hesitancy. Persons (music industry guys, lay audiences) are predisposed to sparkle with enthusiasm after the artist in question has had obvious successes and not before. Persons exalt and venerate already moving bandwagons. (Even when its looking not to be the case.) Davis said to Geffen (reportedly): “She’s got a commercial voice but she doesn’t write commercial songs.” Kind of an interesting comment. So many Nyro observers over the decades have said exactly the opposite (the songs were commercial, the voice was a problem).


  Nyro and bodyguard Beautybelle.  1969.

She signs a contract with Columbia Records in January 1968. But before the year 1967 is concluded—she’s living in a new place. She’s moved uptown—to 145 West 79th Street. I suspect that the move to a better apartment was encouraged by Geffen (“encouraged” may be euphemism). It is the apartment with terrace one got glimpses of in the New York Tendaberry packaging.

In 2012 and 2013 I was corresponding with Linda Carroll—Nyro’s buddy at this time (1968, 1969, 1970).
A good time to have known Nyro. Nyro’s Mozartian years. Poet May Sarton referred to a very creative period of work (of her own) as her “Mozartian period.” It is the period in Nyro’s life and career where one might have liked to have been the occasional fly on the wall. In her first email to me Linda Carroll said right off the bat—that “[she] knew [Laura] when she had that great apartment that’s shown on New York Tendaberry... And THAT BALCONY!

Carroll is from Indiana, lives presently in California, moved to Greenwich Village when she was 19 and got a job as a kind of administrative assistant to the manager of the (Greenwich Village–based) Lovin’ Spoonful. From an email:I invited her to come to my apartment and she ended up staying until about 5 AM. We hit it off easily and shared a love for the same music. This was the mid 60s.”
They hung out. They hung out in each others apartments. They made bead necklaces. They went to dinner in Chinatown (when starting out from Linda’s placealready downtown). They went shopping a lot in Chinatown.

Linda Carroll is Nyro’s tight buddy in the period Nyro is becoming successful. After the release of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession Nyros fame is expanding—modestly. It is not of the Frank Sinatra variety, but it is still fame. The reminiscences Carroll sent me have a common thread: Ms. Nyro dislikes her fame and is ever seeking to circumvent it. She has fun with it (perhaps) occasionally—but mostly she wishes to circumvent it and is rather adroit at doing so. Nyro does not allow her friend to do her small favors. A little stubbornly perhaps she doesn’t allow her friend to go into a store and buy her a pack of cigarettes. The un-diva insists on doing it herself, at all times. Carroll alleges that Nyro was attracted to her (in part) because “I wasn’t leaping at her because of who she was.” Frank Sinatra loved his fame. He said so—again and again. To Sinatra of course fame was an awesome thing. Sinatra used to reprimand celebrated persons a generation below him who (per the Sinatra worldview) didn’t love their fame properly. “The tragedy of fame is when no one shows up and you’re singing to the cleaning lady.” Nyro seems to have suffered a near constant discomfort at being in the holy spot.

Having some fun. Linda Carroll in her Greenwich Village digs plays Laura Nyro albums a lot. Walls are thin. Heard often, said often by apartment dwellers in New York: “Now who’s that you’ve been listening to?” (
How else did New Yorkers find out about Laura Nyro, in the early years? Not from airplay.) The guy who lives across the hall from Carroll asks Carroll: “Now who’s that you’ve been listening to?” She tells him, she invites him into her place and shows him the album covers. He is I believe smitten. It happened to a small number of us. In short order (practically overnight) he is: Nyrovian, Nyrotic, Nyromaniac, Laura Nyro fan manqué.

Carroll and the across the hall neighbor talk about Nyro when they pass in the hall. And one day at the Carroll apartment—as Nyro is visiting—there’s a knock at the door. Carroll knows who it is. And oh yes, she forgot to tell the across the hall neighbor she knew Laura Nyro. (She had told Laura Nyro about the neighbor.) Carroll lets Nyro know who is knocking. She asks her friend to get the door. Laura, this time, is willing to go along. She, Laura, gets the door. (Yeah the guy sort of freaked.)

I guess—the little games you play from time to time when you’re famous or a little bit famous. You have sources of amusement available to you others do not.

Almost like an artist’s patron Geffen
enables her to pursue her musefor a while. He enables a measure of artistic breathing space for her. Geffen, all hard Apollonian ego as it were, enables her flights of Dionysian artistry. He fights for her. Michele Kort: “Geffen used every weapon in the arsenal when it came to gaining position for himself and Nyro.” He will deploy these weapons when necessary to get her (at Columbia Records) the things to which, per himself, she as great artist has title. He and attorney Alan Bomser negotiate her multiyear contract with Columbia and they get it for her: “full artistic control” (as described by Michele Kort)—something record companies did not entrust to recording artists in 1968. Bomser said to Michele Kort: Geffen worked tirelessly. (At Columbia she will report to no one, she will not seek permission for a dissonant chord or idiosyncrasy of song structure.)

When she owing to a kind of perfectionism in the studio subdues the patience of varied personnel at Columbia Records (at all levels—including the highest), he is there to smooth things over.
When she has spent too much of the company’s money he is there to smooth things. When Davis tries to bump her from a block of recording time (and give her other recording time), Geffen is there to intercede and to overturn Davis’ action. An artist’s manager who knows how and when to ride roughshod—it can translate into perks and extras for the artist being managed.

Ruth Etting had Moe the Gimp. Moe Snyder. Ruth Etting was a big name in the early and mid 1930s. (She performed in Portland Maine in 1933
the concert advertised heavily in greater Portland in the weeks prior to the event. Great big ads in the Portland Press Herald. Some of my relatives still talking about that great night” and its excitements—in the year 2002. Only yesterday.) Moe Snyder was a gangster, not an artist’s manager. Actually he often functioned as artist’s manager—and he certainly knew how to promote his girlfriend’s career. Girlfriend then wife. Fran Lebowitz: there’s no business not like show business.

Snyder was played by Jimmy Cagney in the 1955 Etting bio film. He, Snyder, was a show biz kind of guy. At the age of 25 or 26 he was Al Jolson’s bodyguard. Snyder was kind of a tough guy among tough guys. It was said—anyone he was introduced to started sleeping with a gun. From a piece on Etting appearing in the Chicago Tribune in 1955: “Gimp acquired a reputation for shrewd dealing for Miss Etting’s services.” That may be euphemism. His tactic as he strove to get the very best for his lady fair was to scare everyone half to death—band leaders, club owners, impresarii, theatrical producers, radio and movie people. One couldn’t say—and then one day he started to scare Etting. He had always scared Etting.

For his lady fair—Geffen gets a whole bunch of good things (see above). Via another set of tactics. As Ive alluded tohe contributes to the realization of New York Tendaberry, perhaps first and foremost. He does not contribute imaginatively to the project. It is of course entirely Nyro’s brainchild. She said to Maggie Paley (part of the 1970 Life magazine interview): “People were always frightened to let me try things. With this album, at the beginning nobody knew what I was doing. Nobody. I knew what I was doing.” The making of New York Tendaberry was taxing and difficult. She was not rushed. She was granted extra time, resources, monies—partly via the agency of David Geffen. I have at times thought—the fact that he was entirely in her corner (and she knew it) gave her the vote of confidence she needed to pull the whole thing off.

Geffen does have it turns out a talent, a real talent—a rare gift perhaps—for alienating members of the Nigro clan. “Five minutes with [whomever] will put you right in the bughouse,” my father used to say. Again and again—across a period of approx. 4 years—Geffen puts Lou and Gilda right in the bughouse (Louis Nigro personal communication 10 October 2000).
He absolutely unnerves them.

In 1967 and 1968 Nyro is still a minor. In this period Geffen sends Gilda Nigro a contract in the mail—and a request for her signature. Gilda the secretary and bookkeeper. (Over time there may have been more than one. Three was at least one.) The contract, not greatly weighted toward her daughter’s advantage, gives her veritable conniptions. It puts her on the ceiling (Louis Nigro personal communication 10 October 2000).

Geffen possesses a flaw the Nigros cannot fail to notice: on everything he wants 50 percent.

tableau lacking in prettiness. From the Kort book:

Nyro and her bookkeeper mother Gilda—who vehemently distrusted Geffen and questioned everything he did—also didn’t like the fact that fully half the proceeds of her contract went to her manager. Her composer/journalist friend Carman Moore remembers that just the name Geffen would raise [Gilda’s] hackles.
“Laura felt he had made his fortune on her back,” he says.

Laura felt that way? Take that sentiment and multiply it by 10: the way Lou Nigro felt. Multiply it by 50: the way Gilda Nigro felt.

A commendable turn of phrase on Michele Kort’s part: vehemently distrusted. It is creative and inventive. It has an oxymoron-ish aspect. It is not an oxymoron. It is close to being one.

Geffen didn’t get 50 percent of everything she earned—just 50 percent of all contractual earnings. That’s per Michele Kort. Lou Nigro told me he begged his daughter to “give herself 51 percent” (in the contractual agreements). To no avail.

In 1975 a piece about David Geffen made the cover of Esquire magazine. It was a long article about Geffen. A photo of a daringly-eyelashed Cher Bono was the magazine’s cover. The piece was entitled “Who Is Man Enough for This Woman?” (Esquire magazine, in its faultless marketing wisdom, had used a photo of Cher Bono to sell a story about David Geffen.) At any rate there were a few paragraphs about Nyro somewhere toward the center of this long essay. In February 1975 my phone started to ring off the hook. Each of my callers gave me a tip along the lines of: if I were hungry for information about Nyro, I might want to go out and purchase the brand new Esquire. I was hungry for said information, and so were others. Nyro seemed to have disappeared from the face of the earth in late 1971—not reappearing (insofar as her fans could glean) until the very end of 1975. In New York, suddenly, non
Esquire readers were sashaying to newsstands in droves to buy their copies of the magazine. Well—some sashayed. Some dashed, some made a beeline. I can remember putting my sneakers on in a hurry—and making my way to the magazine store across several city blocks at full run. I made quite a sight—I was told later.

1975 was many zeitgeists (zeitgeisten?) ago. The article does not translate well to the modern era. It may have been kind of a nice read in 1975. In 2018—the article is repellent.

It provides a little window onto the (mid 1970s) daily lives of its principals (Geffen, Cher Bono). Sybaritism and greed to the point of autism—rendered in vaguely celebratory tones. Again—that might have flown in 1975. In 2018 the piece is hard to read.

Actually there was little about Nyro in it. There was this gem. Altho’—sounding rather like a tall tale:

Never was [Geffen] so close to the whole artistic process [as with Nyro]. There he’d be with Laura Nyro on the balcony of her apartment on Central Park South and she would look at him and say, “You know, New York is a tender berry,” only because of her New York accent it would come out “tenda berry,” and that would be the title of an album, New York Tendaberry. And right in front of David, Laura would drift in to her piano and write. She wrote 3 songs that night.

Is that 3 songs back to back—with Geffen watching? I believe so. Loveliest of tableaux. Against a glittering nighttime Manhattan backdrop—Geffen and Nyro are having a gorgeous moment out on the terrace—New York is a tendah berry—and she “drifts” in to the apartment: she wafts in. She sits at her piano and brimming with inspiration composes several songs back to back—presumably songs that will appear subsequently on New York Tendaberry. Geffen taking it all in.

In the extract given just above—the text switches suddenly from the conditional mood (“she would drift in to her piano and write”), suggesting that the kind of lead up to musical composition it depicts happened repeatedly, to the simple past tense (“she wrote 3 songs”), suggesting a one shot deal. The switch to the simple past makes no sense actually. And: Nyro never lived on Central Park South. She did for a while live on Central Park West, but if the extract recounts the birth of the word tendaberry (and it appears to), Nyro and Geffen would have to have been out on the terrace of the apartment at 145 West 79th.

Writer John Seabrook characterized the sale of Nyro’s catalogue as “the first big score of [Geffen’s] career.” Others, other writers, have said the same thing.

Did Nyro get rooked? Does it matter (at this point)? Did Geffen swindle her? My own sense is: Come on. What are the chances he did not? Given the world we all live in what are the chances he did not? Did Michele Kort think Geffen swindled Nyro? Well yes. But only a little bit.

Laura Nyro had helped launch Geffen’s career, although the money from the sale of [Nyro’s publishing company] did not finance Asylum Records, as some have continued to believe. Rather Asylum was financed by Atlantic Records, and Geffen says he didn’t even sell his CBS stock until many years later.

I think there are several fantasies going on simultaneously, in the extract given just above. (That would be fantasies on the part of Michele Kort.)

He didn’t even sell the CBS stock until many years later. Stock not counted as asset until the owner cashes out??

The money from the sale of Nyro’s catalogue did not finance Asylum Records. So monies (or shares of Columbia Records) from the sale of her catalogue were never used as outlay in the “financing” of Asylum Records. Were they never used as guarantee or collateral asset
as part of that process?

As a matter of general principle the separation (discreteness) of assets under single ownership (personal, sometimes organizational) is partly academic. Their separation exists principally in the imagination of him who has title. In the imaginations of everyone else—including innermost circle and next of kin—the assets are principally coalescent. For example generally speaking it is highly problematic for the lone individual to attempt to shelter or shield an asset from debt, other financial obligation, challenge by lawsuit, or liability—suggesting that for everyone but the owner, discrete assets under single ownership comprise a (partly mysterious) unity. And so it becomes difficult (but probably not impossible) for someone to say, “I took from that pile, I didn’t touch this pile.”

Her hiatus from performing (after the Monterey Festival) is actually short-lived. Geffen had said of the time of his early association with Nyro: “I wanted to keep her incommunicado for a while. I knew that if she performed before there was an audience for her, she would be hurt.”
But during the time of her association with Geffen she is never incommunicado. She takes it easy for a bit in 1968 perhaps. In 1969—in all of 1969—she rides a whirlwind. 

In January 1969 she appears on prime time television
the performance thats introduced by a bearded Bobby Darin. (Dad and Mum are watching on color television at the next door neighbors place.) In February 1969 she begins an informal tour of colleges in the northeastern United States. It’s the whiter than white tour. Included are Tufts, Wesleyan, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania. She is recording New York Tendaberry in the first 8 months of 1969. Kort mentions that—while she was recording Tendaberry she “hit the road on weekends.” (Sounds grueling.)

Across the hills and dales of New England—inside ivy-covered halls—a very ethereal Laura Nyro swaddled in white gowns is levitating across auditorium stages (during exits and entrances). White flowers atop the piano.
She is again—a small sensation.

Laura Nyro
kind of a big deal on college campuses at this time. Much loved by bluestockings in the state of Massachusetts (in 1969). In March 1970 she is the biggest entertainment draw on campuses—per Billboard magazine. Michele Kort has written:

Billboard’s March 28, 1970 list of top campus attractions listed Nyro No. 1, with Janis Joplin No. 2. Also that year, UCLA students voted Nyro the most popular female singer in rock, again outscoring Joplin (who had won the previous year).

Geffen said she was “spellbinding” in concert. Yes. I second that emotion. She would sing at full voice. I believe some singers will sometimes sing in concert at half voice—I understand to preserve their voices. She knew how not to hold back (in live performance). In 1976 I witnessed at close range: “full voice” coupled with (simultaneous) speeding piano. A performance of “Save the Country.” Spellbinding it was. Meaning of course to bind as if by a spell. Persons screamed chaotically when it was concluded.

In late May 1969 she takes a little break from her work on Tendaberry and travels west—to play a few gigs at the abovementioned Troubadour, West Hollywood. A busman’s holiday.
At the opening show the house is heaving with music writers, rock music writers, record company execs, other music industry guys. Michele Kort: “Nyro’s opening came off as a major event.” It is a far cry I think from her opening at the hungry i in San Francisco exactly 2 yrs. and 4 months prior.

The write-ups published by Los Angeleno media companies are
acclaims. Rock music writer Pete Johnson writing for the Los Angeles Times: “Her writing, her singing, and her piano playing radiate originality, and make her an indescribably powerful performer.” Whoa. Laura Nyro Triumphans.

She’s back in New York in June 1969 and going to work every day (almost every day). She is still getting to work via horse-drawn cabriolet. (The cab ride is mostly through Central Park. Columbia Records thinks it’s cheaper than limousine service.) The making of New York Tendaberry is in the homestretch. She is finished with her tracks sometime around July 31. There is of course still work to be done. The album is released 3rd week of September 1969. Its release per Michele Kort is another “major event.”

Whirlwinds slow a bit then revive. In October 1969 she’s back in California—performing. In November are the two Carnegie Hall concerts that “sold out in an hour.”

And right up there with “Take a Letter Maria.
Address it to my wife. The week of November 29, 1969. She’s got three in the Top 10that bit of music history some have called “incredible.”

That would be Billboard magazine’s Top 10—reflecting (perhaps convolutedly) record sales and radio airplay all over the country—and Top 10 lists from all over the country. The Billboard Top 10 are part of the magazine’s Hot 100.

The three (all cover versions): “And When I Die,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “Eli’s Comin.”

Billboard magazine published its Top 100 for the first time in November 1955. In August 1958 it became the Hot 100.

To be perfectly clear: her three in the Top 10 in November 1969 are three in the Top 10 at once, as in simultaneously. I have had zero interest in record charts since I was 13—but this I thought I had to mention. Her “achievement” in November 1969 puts her in Lennon/McCartney territory.


Laura Nyro and “concert promoter” Bill Graham in Berkeley California. January 1970.

So Laura Nyro was underrecognized and underrated—it is almost consensus. But it’s hard to square that perhaps with the idea of Nyromania, the phenomenon of Nyromania (which did exist for a while). Michele Kort said of this period (1968, 1969), “Nyro had indeed begun to develop an awed cadre of ‘freaks.’”
Kort cited “critics” who faulted Nyro for overzealousness in audience members. “Don Heckman [reviewing the 1969 Carnegie Hall performances] in the Village Voice praised her ‘bloody good songs’ but derided her vocal style and her worshipful following.” I can remember tempestuousness and real screaming—among Nyro concertgoers. In my conversations with Lou Nigro (I met with him only once, but there were several telephone conversations) he used the word “Nyromania” once and the phrase “Laura Nyro freak” 2 or 3 times. He said he didn’t like Laura Nyro freaks (I guess in the period when they actually existed), they made him nervous. He said his daughter felt the same.

Mr. Nigro told me—he once accompanied his daughter to a concert venue. A night on which she was under protection by professional bodyguard. Mr. Nigro said it had been his observation—whenever she was given bodyguards, she really needed them. Michele Kort quotes “road manager” Richard Chiaro, who sometimes worked for Nyro: “Her fans would gobble her up if you let them.”

A propos this subject Michele Kort said, “Her managers always tried to stay close to Nyro for fear that some fans would be too invasive.”

Mr. Nigro said—as he and his daughter arrived at the concert venue site, he saw large numbers of Laura Nyro fans milling about in areas adjacent to house exits and entrances. He said, “They all wanted a piece of her.” Well yes. And perhaps in more ways than one. (He said something like
he was aware the expression is cliché.)

On Saturday March 28 1868 in the deepening twilight a distinguished-looking older man swathed in scarves and thick overcoat but hatless, and carrying a valise, stepped out of the hubbub of the crowded avenue and into the foyer and then 1st floor anteroom of the Preble House Hotel, downtown Portland Maine. (Distinguished-looking may be understatement.) The several 1st floor sitting rooms of the hotel were highly populated—yet he moved about virtually unnoticed. (A small number of persons in the hotel were staring.) He was to stay three nights at Preble House. Hard to get around it: he was not your typical hotel guest at your typical hotel establishment in Portland Maine (in 1870 or thereabout). Mr. Charles Dickens of England. Carrying the valise and in not quite bitter cold he had walked all the way—from the train station and to the hotel.

The year was 1868—the episode, all of it, curiously modern.

He did come with an entourage, a small one. Most of the members of that entourage rode to the hotel. Dickens wanted to walk.

Had the Mayor or the Governor or a police escort been present in some capacity at his arrival in the city? Apparently there was nothing.

Mr. Dickens was on tour. He was to read at the City Hall on Monday March 30. It was not a good weekend. He didn’t feel well. In fact he was ill. He hated the extreme cold of the weekend. He didn’t like the food served by the hotel.

But a few things went well on that weekend. At the City Hall he read principally from A Christmas Carol and The Pickwick Papers. Audience response was big, sometimes uproarious. Dickens adored it, he was brought to tears at one point.

On Tuesday March 31 1868 he again traveled on foot on the streets of Portland Maine carrying a valise. At 7:30 AM, March 31, Mr. Dickens, scrubbed and severely combed, stepped out of Preble House and onto a bustling Congress Street. On his way back to Boston. Another day of frosty air and brilliant sunlight. Again the members of his party rode (to the train station). Again he preferred to walk. He was to catch a train that was to depart Portland at 8:40 AM.

On Congress Street he approached what for 130 years has been “Longfellow Square,” where he would turn left and go down State Street to the train station, located in that era approx. where State Street meets the Atlantic Ocean. (It wasn’t Longfellow Square in 1868. Longfellow, Dickens’ buddy, wasn’t dead yet.) But some things don’t change. Just prior to reaching State Street he collided with you might say—a group of girls, high school students, on their way to classes at Portland High School. They recognized him easily. (High school age persons tend to be good at that kind of thing.) They sprang into action. They set upon him—it was ambush. (He would be ambushed again—on the train back to Boston.) One girl reached into her haversack and pulled out a pair of scissors and without pausing a moment began to cut small squares from Mr. Dickens’ scarf.

The leader of the pack (with scissors) worked focusedly and diligently—excising and removing her squares. She worked in silence. The scarf was black and gray. Owing to the morning’s coldness, Dickens had worn the scarf as he might have a shawl—over his shoulders, atop the topcoat, held in place with pins. An extraordinary image: virago in bustle and high button shoes wielding scissors.

Arguably the biggest star in the world took off the scarf and proceeded
not serenely at this point but serenely enough, composedly, to State Street—a beautiful street (much more beautiful then) and a beautiful route to the station of the Portland Saco & Portsmouth Railroad.

Fans stood behind a cordon. As Lou Nigro and his daughter and the bodyguard walked from the car and to the theaterit was per Mr. Nigro a sargasso sea of arms. (Sargasso sea is my term for it.) As one walked one could see nothing but arms I believe he said. Mr. Nigro said something very close to: “One arm would go up and swiftly another arm would come down.” Meaning: one arm (belonging to a concertgoer) would be extended in her direction and swiftly another arm (belonging to the bodyguard) would come down—knocking the first arm off its trajectory and preventing all direct contact. The bodyguard per Mr. Nigro had to be on his toes that night. (And he was.)

The preceding discussions (centering on excessive behaviors on the part of fans) do not square easily or square well with the idea that she was underrecognized I realize. They also do not square well with the concept of Nyro as forgotten failure (partial failure)
how she is sometimes understood and imagined.

In Life magazine January 30 1970 she is “The Funky Madonna of New York Soul.”
Actually I vaguely remember reading the piece in 1970—almost 2 years prior to my introduction to Laura Nyro (and about a year before I started to buy records). Writer Maggie Paley spends a few days with Nyro—when Nyro is somewhere in the middle of recording New York Tendaberry. They meet at Columbia Records Studio B. The piece serves up what is tired Laura Nyro cliché even in 1969. “Then she appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival, which made stars out of a number of performers—and a joke out of Laura Nyro.” “She was hooted off the stage.” But Paley also says interesting things. Transport yourself back to 1970 if you can—even remain ensconced in the present moment—and “The Funky Madonna of New York Soul” is kind of an exciting piece. Per the article—the girl is happening. Times 50, or times 100.

Per the article she is: wearer of antique clothing, brilliant composer, an object of admiration by Stephen Sondheim, Leonard Bernstein and Miles Davis, brilliant lyricist, the hippest woman on Earth perhaps, a hitmaker for other artists—and someone in whose music “people” hear suggestions of Robert Schumann and Igor Stravinsky.

We see Nyro in a boutique in Los Angeles getting ready for shows at the Troubadour (and buying rhinestone clips for platform shoes). Paley is with her.

Confronted with this strange girl in a long dress with flounces down the skirt and roses all over it, and a shawl, and a Gucci bag, watching her try all kinds of rhinestone clips on silver strap shoes, the saleslady made faces and finally said tartly to the air, “She can wear them when she goes into her dance.” The remark neither bothered nor amused Laura.

First time I read the piece—I remember pondering—where the saleslady spoke into the air: did she, Maggie Paley, wish to say the saleslady spoke tartly (acridly), or spoke tartishly (like a tart—that would be Paley calling the saleslady a tart)?

Of course Nyro didn’t go into dances. (I believe that was Madonna Ciccone’s recommendation—that Nyro add dance.)

Geffen wanted her to be “the biggest star in the world” and thought it was going to happen. He was not alone in this line of thinking. Tom King wrote in The Operator: Nyro’s talents astonished Geffen—and “[h]e was sure he had found the next Barbra [sic] Streisand.” There was among some Laura Nyro followers a sense of: here is a girl poised on the threshold of an unprecedented stardom.
There was something in the air that said it. Some followers were predicting an absolutely gigantic career—that she would perhaps compete with Streisand (preeminent in 1969/1970) & confiscate her status as “the greatest star.”

Charlie Calello said at the time of release of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession
, according to Michele Kort—the album was going to be “huge.” (Not even close.) A friend of mine who remembers the release of New York Tendaberry said that he and others believed at that time—the album was going “to do it for her.” (It didn’t. Not even close.)

Some of her fans in 1969 and 1970 and 1971 thought that Nyro’s star would climb as high as a star can climb. It of course never happened.

I’ve hinted at it a few times but I haven’t stated it. It may even be arguable. Nyro did more for Geffen than the other way around. Nyro’s creative powers were at their zenith when Geffen turned up on her Hell’s Kitchen doorstep. At midsummer 1967 despite the putative failure at Monterey Nyro was (already) une arrivée. When she met Geffen she didn’t just have More Than a New Discovery under her belt—she had been working for 6 months with Milt Okun on what became Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. Verve Records had even given it a product number (it was to have been titled Soul Picnic). She had done all of it on her own. Michele Kort reports Geffen as having said (to Kort): “And let’s not kid ourselves, to be Laura Nyro and have a guy like me devoting himself to you is quite a thing.” Egregious nonsense? Word salad? I’m not even sure of what he’s saying there actually. If he’s saying what I think he’s saying: Richard Wagner (who said vaguely similar things from time to time) never said anything as grandiose or as shameless.


It is a minority view. If he hadn’t met Nyro when he did, there would have been no David Geffen. Either everything is random or nothing is. Assuming the former—virtually all things pivot on random events. Geffen of course is a multitalented guy. But talent (think: Mozart) feeds on the happy presentation of opportunity (and the timing has to be right). Talent is common. My friend Fran has said again and again: talent is more common than untalent (distinctly a minority view). I had said Nyro legitimated Geffen. More important
she legitimated Geffen at precisely the right moment. It is my belief at any rate: in the absence of Nyro there would have been no Geffen.

In the first 5 months of 1970 she is hard at work—making Christmas and the Beads of Sweat. Producer/arrangers are Rascal Felix Cavaliere and Arif Mardin. Michele Kort writes that Cavaliere and Mardin strove to surround her with musicians “they knew she would admire.” Alice Coltrane (not daughter but widow of John Coltrane) plays jazz harp on the record: prior to the making of the record Nyro had virtually worshipped them both.

Among the supporting players are the Muscle Shoals boys (session musicians based in the city of Muscle Shoals, Alabama). Duane Allman is part of the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, in 1970. The all white studio musicians are possibly best known for their work with Aretha Franklin in 1967. Allman plays electric guitar on the Nyro record, most notably on “Beads of Sweat”
wherein Allman and Nyro rock. (Allman will die a little over a year later in a motorcycle accident.)

U.S. reviews of Christmas and the Beads of Sweat tended toward savagery. From Rolling Stone: “I hate Laura Nyro and her blackboard-and-fingernails voice.” 
Repudiation of the female (per psychoanalysis)? U.K. reviews tended toward the admiring and sometimes the rapturous. Do I detect a pattern?

Also in the first several months of 1970 she moves again. She has multiple streams of income at this point.
(She’s rich.) She moves to “The Beresford,” Central Park West, between 81st and 82nd. Swank my father would say. It is three blocks from the prior apartment. It is her final move—that is it’s her final move while she’s still a resident of Manhattan. She has trouble getting in (per Michele Kort). Members of the co-op board are not smitten. But she does get in.

The night of February 6 1971. Kind of an important gig. She gives a solo concert at the Royal Festival Hall, London England. Her début in that land of poetry and song—land that was so welcoming and hospitable to her.

Just three months later she returns to London for a performance to be recorded and televised by the BBC.

Richard Williams, Englishman, music writer, and Laura Nyro supporter and champion across the last 50 years, writing in 2014 about both appearances:

Laura Nyro had missed her intended flight from New York to London, forcing her to take a plane that arrived at six o’clock in the morning. Now here she was, barely 12 hours later, warming up before recording a performance before an invited audience in a small auditorium at the BBC’s Television Centre, for a series called In Concert.

This was in May 1971, three months after she had made her British début at the Royal Festival Hall, giving a solo concert in which the first set was performed by her then boyfriend, Jackson Browne, who was also appearing in the U.K. for the first time. It had been a wonderful recital: she started with “Stoney End,” included “Timer,” “Been on a Train,” “Emmie,” “Map to the Treasure,” and “Christmas in My Soul,” read a poem called “Coal Truck,” and finished with a lovely medley of “He’s Sure the Boy I Love” and “Spanish Harlem.” Such range, such composure, such deep connection with her audience seemed exceptional in one who was still only 23 years old.

Jackson Browne (virtually unknown in 1971) was her boyfriend for approx. 5 minutes. Michele Kort refers at least twice to Nyro’s run of “handsome rock musician boyfriends.” A fragment of personal memoir: I happened to bump into a copy of Kort’s book (Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro) in an Upper West Side bookstore in 2002. Encircling it was a kind of cardboard ribbon; on the “ribbon” was printed a kind of publisher’s advertisement: persons very eager to read of Nyro’s relationship with Jackson Browne could “go directly to page [whatever].”
Comical? Pitiful? Advertising/marketing excellence?

She records her album of oldies in Philadelphia in July 1971.
Gonna Take a Miracle is the Nyro record that’s for everybody. Philadelphia is the hometown of Gamble & Huff (Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff—producer/arrangers on the record) and Patti LaBelle (providing vocal support on the record). Nona Hendryx and Sara Dash (also providing vocal support) are from places just outside of Philadelphia. Michele Kort said something like—Nyro at last gets to be a Shirelle.

Gamble and Huff are co-inventors as it were of the Philadelphia sound AKA Philadelphia soul. Kenny Gamble pointed out to Michele Kort that despite his involvement with the project Nyro was always in rather complete control (of the finished recordings). Nyro chose the material, Nyro “structured” the recordings around her piano.
Nyro did most of the arranging. Gamble also weighed in: “The hardness of the Blue Belles [“Labelle” in 1971] and the softness of Laura Nyro—that’s a great combination.... It was a great great collaboration.”

An overused oxymoron at this point—but Gonna Take a Miracle is another teeny tiny sensation.

It was recorded in under a month. (A fair amount of it was recorded in a single day.) Persons who didn’t like Laura Nyro liked this record—I can remember. Response to it was more positive than—than what Nyro and all supporting players were expecting. Melissa Manchester listened and fainted. Reportedly. Manchester is also reported to have said: “I could not believe the perfection of that vision.”

Nyro goes on tour with Labelle. Beginning December 1971. Call it a mini-tour. It kicks off with another sold out Carnegie Hall performance. Given Christmas Eve 1971. Laura Nyro with special guest Labelle.

Because of verbiage (including my own) about the underappreciation of Laura Nyro, underrecognition of her, and bias against her it becomes easy to forget or to miss entirely—that she was briefly—well in the world of U.S. moneyed mass entertainments—a white hot property and a sensation.

Laura Nyro really had only 15 minutes of fame. But what 15 minutes. Her season of bodyguards and limousines. (Her season of frequent travel to White Castle hamburger joints in New Jersey via limousine.) Her season of attendance at
soirées and other gatherings on Central Park West as a decided A-lister. Her brief season of keeping company with other A-listers.

Not that she necessarily wanted these things. But it is her experience for a season in time.

And suddenly she seems to want out—of a life and milieux that many of us would consider as extremely desirable. Her life takes a 90 degree turn in 1972. Or so it seems to fans and other outsiders.


The Divine Miss N

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