The silhouetted picture on the back cover of the vinyl record album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession became Laura Nyro’s memento mori of her eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio .
N.B. The above image is also available on GOOGLE .
“Timer” is actually Laura Nyro’s thirteenth confession from the album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. It has been alleged that “Timer” is about a cat and/or the passage of time. There is even an erronious claim that Laura, at her live concert Season of Lights, alluded to “Timer as being about a cat.” After she performed “The cat-song,” Laura did say while introducing the song “When I was a freeport (& you were the main drag)” “here’s a song about another cat.” ¹
What the lyrics of “Timer” do reveal is Laura musing about love, e.g. “and now my hand is ready for my heart… Timer knows the lady’s gonna love again – if you don’t love me – The lady rambles never more – if you love me true…And if you love me true, I’ll spend my life with you…” Supporting the notion about the passage of time is the ascending lyrical array climaxing as shown above. The array covers the beginning of life “holding to my cradle at the start” and ends “I’ll spend my life.” But even these references, arguably about the passage of time, are wrapped in allusions to love . (see the youtube links to “Timer” below)
Charlie Calello, the arranger & Laura’s co-producer, claimed that every song of ELI “had some underlying meaning about her own life…Eli was one of her boyfriends…” Michele Kort, Soul Picnic, p. 62.
The newspaper ads for the album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession stated “She doesn’t explain anything – She fills you with experience.” ibid p. 62.
The lyrics of “The Confession” e.g. “love my lovething, super ride inside my lovething,” were described by Kort as “a postcoital exuberance.” ibid p.61. The lyrics “oo who stole Mama’s heart and cuddled in her garden? darlin Emmie, oo la la la, oo la la la …” were part of “ Emmie,’ Pop’s first lesbian love song.” (Alanna Nash – EW.com –April 25, 1997 – Passion Player) As early as June 1968, Pete Johnson in his review of “Emmie” in Coast FM & Fine Arts (p.50) commented “There is a momentary shock at hearing a woman romancing another woman.” *
With the album released on March 3, 1968, it’s easy to see why CBS would have been loathe to “explain anything.”
As with “Emmie,” the muse for “Timer” was Maria Desiderio. She was thirteen and Laura was nineteen. “So let the wind blow Timer …I like her song and if the song goes minor – I won’t mind.” Haunting and prescient are the lines “And if you love me true, I’ll spend my life with you, you and Timer.”
Laura’s songs: “Emmie” ’68, “Timer” ’68, “Désiree,” (“Gonna Take a Miracle” 1971), “Roadnotes” (“Mother’s Spiritual” 1984), “Walk the Dog & Light the Light” ’93, “Angel in the Dark” and “Sweet Dream Fade” both ’94 (“Angel In The Dark” 2001) reveal an “on and off” relationship of thirty years, from 1967 to 1997, Laura’s death.
Laura and Maria shared an undisputed 15 year, eventual, life partnership. Laura, Maria, and their dog Ember were buried (ashes interred) under the Japanese Maple at their estate in Danbury CT.
Laura left us her keepsake, of Maria, on the back cover of the vinyl dust jacket of Eli. In March 1968, Columbia released the thirteen-track vinyl record. Creativity wise, her recently negotiated four album contract with CBS gave her carte blanche. It was not an exaggeration that Laura listed herself on Eli’s back cover as “the writer, composer, voices, piano and witness to the confession.” As such, she would have been free of any inhibition in witnessing the confession in a graphic way. On May 22, 2007, Gregor von Kallahann, in his review of Soul Picnic for Amazon.com reported, “Even as a teenager growing up in a small town in Maine, some of my friends said knowingly… that Laura was ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ …How else could you explain that back cover on ELI…?” On August 12, 2007, Michele Kort posted a rave comment on the von Kallahann review. ^
There are the other explanations of the silhouetted picture being a double exposure and/or a three-quarter angle of a young Laura. Brian Van der Horst, in his April 1968 review of Eli in the New York Free Press, Critique – 4, p.8, ingeniously, described it as “representing the parting chrysalis of her old life.” Assuming it true, notwithstanding, the back cover is a memento of her then “flame” and eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio.
The ditty on the vinyl record, Part 2, 13. The Confession is very likely a deliberate diversion, a subterfuge common to a “flame” (an intimate friendship between an older woman and a younger woman). But, reminiscent of the flame, that Laura kept for Maria, is the token of the inside lyric flap. The outer flap, appearing as part of the cover, contains the title in script viz “Laura Nyro Eli and the Thirteenth Confession.” Just below that is the printed menu of the thirteen songs and a last line “Lyrics Within.” As you open the flap, revealed on the other side, are the lyrics of “Eli’s Comin'” & “Timer,” hence, Eli and the Thirteenth confession (Timer).
Argue all you want, you can’t get around “Désiree.” In 1971, she records “Désiree,” a song that can only be described as a Sapphic reverie. Laura, uniquely, titles her cover “Désiree.” She refrains her beloved’s name 14 times in 1:48 min/sec. More than a remarkable coincidence are the facts that “Désiree” means desire and Maria’s last name, Desiderio, also means desire. Laura’s treatment of this ditty was her personal attribution. Kort mentions in Soul Picnic, that “Désiree” was stripped down to voice, piano, and vibes with “Nyro smoothly harmonizing with herself.” ibid p.133. Laura insured that this song would be just so.#
The past analysis of the song “Timer” has dwelled on cats and time. No one tackled the climactic lyrics, i.e. “And if you love me true, I’ll spend my life with you, you and Timer.” These lyrics are an obvious and ultimate expression of love! Who might “you” be, if not Maria? It is a remarkable coincidence that Maria Desiderio was the you that Laura did eventually spend her life with. As remarkable as the coincidence that the beloved’s name in the song “Désiree”and Maria’s last name Desiderio both meant desire.
Supporting the notion that “Timer” was a love song to a woman is the redacted version of “Timer” from Laura’s live concert on May 30, 1971. This concert occurred while she was deep in love’s thrall with her fiancé, her future husband, a Vietnam War Veteran. (see link for the redacted “Timer” at “Spread Your Wings and Fly)
If Maria was the inspiration for “Désiree,” is it such a stretch to trace the origin of the flame back to 1967, especially, as Laura marked the event with “Timer” & “Emmie” and the Back Cover of Eli?
Listen to the song, then tell me I am wrong! (Désiree #3. on the g2g love song list)#
The actual quote “Here’s a song about another cat” appears on side two of the vinyl album of the live concert, Season of Lights. It is found between tracks 2 & 3, i.e. “The Cat-Song” & “Freeport,” and is heard between 2 & 3, without interruption & respectively.
# Désiree by Laura Nyro released November 1971.
Laura Nyro performing Desiree, I couldn’t find this on youtube so I just made it. It is presumed and almost sure that Laura Nyro’s treatment of her song “Desiree” is one of the most undisguised professions of love by a woman singing to another woman ever recorded. I just love Laura Nyro!” vj 3assal
P.S. don’t let Kurt11110 seduce you with his cats. lol
Emmie, Pop’s first lesbian love song.
Youtube link to “Emmie”
^ Amazon Review of Soul Picnic & Comments