Sunday, September 12, 2021


Kat: Posthumous releases can be tricky.  You love an artist, they die and you're just too close to listen to anything new.  I was that way with MTV UNPLUGGED IN NEW YORK, the Nirvana live album that came out months after Kurt Cobain had died.  It's how I am about Prince's WELCOME 2 AMERICA which was released back in July.  I can't listen to it yet, it's still too close, still too soon.

July saw the release of a new album by another musician who had passed away, TREES OF THE AGES: LAURA NYRO LIVE IN JAPAN.

Sappho was a poet
Billie was a real musician
Frida drew the moon
I’m goin’ by Louise’s Church
She built in the city
Art of grace and style
That could make me smile
Talk to me
Goddess of life and music
Shine on me awhile

That's from "Louise's Church," the second track on the album.  Laura Nyro was an artist and she celebrated other artists.  So it's really offensive that a 10%er manager type is getting to define her -- a suit who wouldn't know art if he woke up next to it.  What am I talking about?  Let me start over: Did you know it is really easy to break a TV?  A high definition one?  Or that C.I. could be a pitcher?  NETFLIX has one of their crap-ass AMERICAN MASTERS 'documentaries' from PBS  and it's on David Geffen.  And he and his friend were lying about Laura.  I was watching a week or two ago and some ugly, ape looking man (Sandy Gallin?*) starts saying Laura destroyed her career by not leaving COLUMBIA RECORDS to be on David's label ASYLUM.  And Davis was lying about Laura and how she stabbed him in the back by not leaving.  It was during that moment that C.I., walking into the room did a slow head turn (like Roger on AMERICAN DAD when he learns that Hayley has taped over one of his BONES  episodes) and threw the hardcover book she had at the TV (her TV) and exclaimed an unprintable.  Flat screen TVs are not as sturdy as those big old clunky things we once watched programs on.  C.I. was furious.  I've seen her mad -- like when she read GRLS LIKE US and, come to think of it, also hurled that book -- but we were on a plane at the time.  To be clear, before you start diving for cover if you see her walking by holding books, those are the only two times I've ever seen her throw anything.

So David set up ASYLUM and 'forgets' to tell the camera that he was so upset not because he wanted Laura on his label but because he was using her name -- without her permission -- to lure others to his not yet started label.  She was already mad at him for (a) making a deal all about money (the selling of her publishing) and (b) for taking half of the sale -- her manager sure got rich off her, didn't he?  And that he'd told her, regarding that, "Laura, it's just business."  But when she told him she was staying with Clive Davis and COLUMBIA and told him, "David, it's just business," he didn't seem to get that she was quoting his words back to him.

David was a liar his whole life and he'll die a liar.  Back to his ugly friend in the bad wig, Laura didn't destroy her career by not moving over to David's label..  For one thing, by the time ASYLUM released their first album (Judee Sill's self-titled debut), Laura had already retired.  That was 1972, and she retired after 1971's GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE when she got married and left New York City for rural living (sort of living out Carole King's "Sweet Seasons"). Following the end of her marriage and the death of her mother, she returned to recording -- five years after she stopped. 

Had she been on David's label during that period, would she have sold albums?  He didn't do too well with women.  Judee Sill?  He destroyed her recording career and he destroyed her.  Carly Simon?  Carly's wasn't an ASYLUM artist.  She was the biggest seller ELEKTRA had.  Then WARNER BROS' merged ELEKTRA and ASYLUM and Carly got little to no promotion.  HOTCAKES sold because of Carly's fanbase and because NO SECRETS had been such a huge album.  But by not promoting HOTCAKES or the ones that followed, Carly's sales were slipping.  It would be after David left ELEKTRA-ASYLUM that Carly would finally get another significant hit (singles: "Nobody Does It Better" and "You Belong To Me," album: BOYS IN THE TREES).  David did nothing to help Carly.  He failed Linda Hargrove (none of her albums would chart until she moved to CAPITOL and it was there that she had her top forty hit), he couldn't get airplay for Essra Mohawk or Karen Alexander.  But we're supposed to believe he would have been good for Laura?

When not ruining Carly's career, David managed to harm Linda Ronstadt's career.  That's why, while he was at ASYLUM and then ELEKTRA-ASYLUM, Linda's biggest selling album was HEART LIKE A WHEEL -- released on CAPITOL.  Coming out between two ASYLUM releases (DON'T CRY NOW and PRISONER IN DISGUISE), CAPITOL did what David couldn't -- gave Linda a multi-platinum release.  But Laura 'destroyed' her career by not going to David's label?  Did he help Joni Mitchell's career?  She'd already released the ground breaking BLUE on REPRISE and she was already a legend.  Her COURT AND SPARK got little interest from him because he was so busy wooing Bob Dylan at the time.  He also lies about "A Free Man In Paris" and how much he loves the song.  Now maybe he does today but in real time he hated it and hated it because he thought people would realize he was gay from it.   So Joni's a 'no real harm' score but you could argue that with a better label head, COURT AND SPARK and MILES OF AISLES would have sold better.

That, by the way, is all the women David worked with. He wasn't known for signing many women.  Well, there's one more woman he worked with: Cher.  He dated Cher after she and Sonny Bono broke up.  He wanted to manage her.  Hmm.  How did that go?  Cher owned the early 70s.  Solo, she had 8 top 50 hits, three of which went to number one.  David starts 'managing' her and Cher, star of a hit TV show, on a winning streak with radio and the sales charts and David's big contribution?  Knocking Cher off the charts.  A hit maker again starting in 1971, she goes from eight charting hits between '71 and '74 to the WARNER BROS' deal David set up for her and right off the charts.  Not at the bottom of the charts, off the charts.  "Geronimo's Cadillac" fails to chart at all.  The album itself becomes her second lowest charting album up to that time.  It's a great album (STARS) but WARNER BROS and David Geffen didn't know how to sell it.  

So let's stop pretending that Laura was wrong to have not gone to David's label -- uh, excuse me, that she destroyed her career by not going to David's label.

Laura had a funny relationship with fame.  She wanted fans -- and she got them -- but she didn't want the massive exposure.  That's why when Clive Davis, for example, would tell her if she took out a high note there or brought in a chorus here, they could make whichever single a hit release, she said no.  She also said no to many other efforts that would have raised her profile.  For example, after she returned from her retirement, she regularly said no to David Letterman and Paul Shaffer who wanted her to appear on Dave's late night program.  She also said no to Sissy Spacek  and Kevin Kline when they attempted to get her to write music for their film VIOLETS ARE BLUE.  SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE wanted her to be their musical guest in 1993 and she said no.

Art was always more important to her than success and she wanted the music to be the way she envisioned it.  This was only more true after she retired.  When she returned, she wasn't the same Laura.  She'd mellowed and that was obvious in her music tempos and her themes.  NYC-Young Nyro was frantic and always writing about running like in "Once It Was Alright (Farmer Joe):"

Farmer boy, get your gun, run, run, run
Farmer boy, get your gun, run, run, run, run, run, run
Farmer boy, get your gun, run, run, run
Farmer boy, get your gun and run, run, run
Like a son of a gun from love
Running from the mind reader, run baby, run

Or in "He's A Runner" or in . . .  And the devil was always off in the not-so-far distance like in "Gibsom Street:"

Don't go to Gibsom cross the river
The devil is hungry, the devil is sweet
If you are soft then you will shiver

Or "Save The Country:"

Come on, people! Come on, children!
COme on down to the glory river.

Gonna wash you up, and wash you down,
gonna lay the devil down, gonna lay that devil down.

Or "Poverty Train:"

Oh baby, I saw the devil and he's smiling at me
I heard my bones cry devil why's it got to be
Devil played with my brother, devil drove my mother
Now the tears in the gutter are floodin' the sea
Why was I born


Or "Luckie:"

Well, there's an avenue of Devil who believe in stone
You can meet the captain at the dead-end zone
What Devil doesn't know is that Devil can't stay
Doesn't know he's seen his day

Oh, Luckie's taking over and his clover shows
Devil can't get out of hand
'Cause Luckie's taking over
And what Luckie says goes

The themes and moods and tempos were different when Laura returned.  She sounded like someone at peace in her inner world.  She could still highlight the problems imposed on us -- "Lite A Flame (The Animal Rights Song)" and "The Right To Vote" -- but it was outside of us and she seemed to be saying that if we worked from inside out, we could take the work we'd done on ourselves and expand it to make the world safer and better.  

And that's really evident in the new album, the live album TREES OF THE AGES: LAURA NYRO LIVE IN JAPAN.  The album has 21 tracks -- 16 of which were recorded during her February 22, 1994 concert at Kintetsu Hall in Japan.  

She covers "Dedicated To The One I Love" (a hit for both the Shirelles and the Mamas and the Papas), "Walk On By" (Dionne Warwick), Smokey Robinson's "Ooh Baby Baby," "Oh Yeah, Maybe Baby (The Heebie Jeebies)" (The Crystals), "Wind" (The Diablos) and "Let It Be Me" (the Everly Brothers).  Those six tracks show the attention and care Laura and Labelle demonstrated on 1971's GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE collaboration.  But she's moving at the different rhythm I noted earlier.  She's getting under the songs and pulling you in and pushing you out -- like the tide.

For the remainder of the tracks, she's singing her own songs.  "Emmie" (in a medley), "Save The Country" (she brings a few lines from "Stoned Soul Picnic" into "Save The Country"), "And When I Die" and "Wedding Bell Blues" represent that early part of Laura's career.  But she's not trying to recreate the sixties recordings, she's finding new elements to emphasize.  I really love what she does on the piano throughout but especially on "And When I Die."  

I am thrilled that she's included "The Japanese Restaurant Song."  That song first popped up on her 1989 album LAURA: LIVE AT THE BOTTOM END.  I had that album on cassette when it first came out (Laura gave a rare interview timed with its release -- to MUSICIAN magazine).  When I finally got online at the latter half of the 90s and discovered E-BAY, it was the first album I bought on CD -- and the CD has always had the track listing wrong.  This was a non-COLUMBIA release, Laura's first and her only one during her lifetime.  It really ticked me off that STONED SOLU PICNIC: THE BEST OF LAURA NYRO didn't include it but maybe that's because it wasn't a COLUMBIA recording?

This is a wonderful song.  She's changed it up, the spoken part in the song, for this performance because, among other  reasons, it was now five years since she'd had a cigarette.  

We went to a Japanese restaurant, the dogs, the kids and me

Lose my cares in a cup of plum wine and salads from the sea

We tripped into the calm little room with the sliding paper walls
Mom was wearing her rose kimono, she was waiting for the fall
Just another night, a day in the life
Just another foreign film in black and white
When you mess with them, you're out of the realm of Zen
When they put on their party hats
The cook cracked, yeah, yeah, yeah
The cook, he told me, "Children not exactly well behaved."
I said, "Well, you can't have it all" and really, who cares
When the magic plum wine is dancing on the paper walls?
Then your lover shows up, puts a sweet hello on your lips
And you're transported to the mist on the mountain
'Til everyone runs in for the kiss
Don't you know it's just another night, a day in the life?
Just another foreign film in black and white
When you mess with them, you're out of the realm of Zen
When they put on their party hats
The cook cracked, yeah, yeah, yeah
As the wine descended, my citizenship surrendered
And I became a geisha, I moved through the mystery
Dark and content with an uppity feminist bent
Mr. Cook, don't you save my life, don't you save my love
I am quite contented, yes, sir
The elders say, kids are grown and gone someday
So, let's enjoy the adventure
I'm sorry but it's just another night, a day in the life

That's from the live recording and fans may notice some differences (such as "uppity" replaces "radical").  It's a beautiful song.  And one of many that she shared with the world when she returned from retirement to make 1976's SMILE, 1978's NESTED, 1984's MOTHER'S SPIRITUAL, 1989's LAURA: LIVE FROM THE BOTTOM LINE and 1993's WALK THE DOG AND LIGHT THE LIGHT.  Those albums marked the second stage of her career.  The first stage of her career were marked by five albums as well: 1967's MORE THAN A NEW DISCOVERY (also known as THE FIRST SONGS), 1968's ELI AND THE THIRTEENTH CONFESSION, 1969's NEW YORK TENDABERRY, 1970's CHRISTMAS AND THE BEADS OF SWEAT and 1971's GONNA TAKE A MIRACLE (again, recorded with Labelle).  Those first five are considered classics and should be.

However, when she returned, her music was often dismissed.  Some missed the fiery qualities of the earlier recordings and that's fine, we sometimes resist change -- in our own lives, in the works of our favorites.  But a lot of the dismissal was based on her gender.  All five of the later works are solid and two are outright classics: MOTHER'S SPIRITUAL and LAURA: LIVE AT THE BOTTOM LINE.  The male critics were happy to applaud John Lennon's music exploring fatherhood but they were less interested in applauding Laura's works exploring motherhood and womanhood.

"Japanese Restaurant," "Woman of the World," "Louise's Church," "Lite A Flame," "Walk The Dog & Light The Light (Song Of The Road)," "The Descent of Luna Rose," "Wild World" "Trees of the Ages" "Broken Rainbow," "My Innocence," "Sophia" and "Art Of Love" are great songs.  Maybe this remastered album can help some people discover them?  And discover how Laura's vocals were stronger and surer than they were in the sixties.  She shades and bends the notes with finesse.  She spoke of hearing music as colors and that really comes across in the vocals here.

I don't know if I could have appreciated this album in 1998, a year after she died.  But enough time has passed for me with Laura that I can and I love this album. I think most Laura Nyro fans will and, if you're new to Laura, this really is a great place to start.


Footnote: Sandy Gallin* --   yes, it was.  When C.I. proofed this for me, she said it was Gallin and that he was dead "and no one really shed a tear, especially not the many men he sexually harassed."