"I'm writing about Laura Nyro. What should I say?"
"Who?" This was not the answer I wanted or expected from my mother. After all, I had spent my single-digit years rifling through my parents' old vinyl and found Nyro's pen to be behind many a childhood favorite.
Laura Nyro was born into a forward-thinking and musically gifted Bronx family. She went from singing on street corners to selling out Carnegie Hall on a weekend that she just happened to have three of her compositions recorded by other artists in the Billboard Top 10. To top it off, she turned down Blood, Sweat & Tears when they thought she had what it took to step into Al Kooper's shoes.
Wildly imaginative and conscious of her connection with the world around her, Nyro's arrangements, lyrics and phrasing were altogether unheard of and unique, yet universal and eternal. Mixing her much loved Doo Wop and jazz with the emerging pop sensibilities of the sixties, she drew listeners in with the sheer joy of sound while whispering ethereal truths into their subconscious.
So, for my mom to not immediately recognize her name, I knew that there was a criminal level of underappreciation afoot. Sure, Nyro was finally inducted, posthumously, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year; but even then her endof-life work as an animal-rights advocate was ignored in her tribute. I guess she was always one step ahead of what the greater whole of society was comfortable with confronting.
To celebrate the life, talent, and beauty of the one-of-a-kind Laura Nyro on the anniversary of her death from ovarian cancer in 1997; I'm offering this list of pop-culture moments to help clarify the impact that her words and voice have had on arts of all kinds, even if we weren't so sure of the source.
5. "Desiree'/It's Gonna Take A Miracle," A Home at the End of the World Michael Cunningham's critically acclaimed novel is the story of fractured souls finding comfort in open hearts. When recently orphaned Bobby Marrow is taken in by the straight-laced Glover family, he does not shy away from showing who he really is.
His willingness to live is contagious. When mother Alice, played in the adaptation by Sissy Spacek, is entranced by the lilting tones of "Desiree'" she eventually let's her guard down, sharing both a joint and an unforgettable moment with her son and his friend.
4. "Eli's Coming," Sports Night Before Aaron Sorkin got a handle on the ins and outs of the small screen, he learned the ropes on the critically acclaimed yet seldom watched Sports Night. This behind-the-scenes look at sports journalism boasted a fantastic up-and-coming cast and a comedic ringer in Robert Guillaume.
When Guillaume suffered a real-life stroke, Sorkin was confronted with the uncertainty of his recovery. In this episode, talking head Dan Rydell (Josh Charles) feels an ominous portent in the air, "Eli's Coming," a reference to Nyro's song that Three Dog Night made into a hit. Despite all his efforts to change his fortunes, those opening notes creep up as he receives Earth-shattering news. Please note: the clip is from an "equally poignant" and "not at all ridiculous" scene from the Lily Tomlin-hosted "Music Scene".
3. "And When I Die," Final Destination It doesn't really matter who Joe90 is, what matters is that this film grossed nearly $113 Billion worldwide. As all of those people were leaving the theaters they were listening to a cover of a cover of a song that Laura Nyro wrote and sold to Peter, Paul and Mary when she was only 16 years old. What were doing when you were 16? You were probably one of those moviegoers. Please enjoy, Blood, Sweat & Tears' performance of this song in lieu of sitting through the Final Destination credits.
2. "Poverty Train," Six Feet Under In the second season of this HBO heavy hitter, the romantic leads were headed to the altar, but not without serious reservations on the part of the untrusting and detached Brenda (Rachel Griffiths). As she draws deeper and deeper within herself, getting high; she drifts back to a traumatic incident from her childhood.
Nyro's voice laments Brenda's loss of innocence as her sexually free parents canoodle unabashedly with strangers, with little concern for their daughter's understanding of what she has witnessed.
1. "Wedding Bell Blues," Designing Women In the Season 3 episode "Come On and Marry Me Bill," Charlene's bachelorette party is the scene of the lip-synced performance of Nyro's most widely known song, made famous by sunshine R&B/popsters The 5th Dimension.
Julia, Suzanne, Mary Jo and Bernice dancing in their PJs is stored in my brain where my checking-account number should go. Just like the staff of Sugarbaker's, Nyro acknowledged that traditional femininity and feminism weren't always mutually exclusive, and shouldn't necessarily be separated for the sake of a statement.