Be sure to check out the Appendix below. “She can Pinch and Squeal A Falsetto With the Best of Them (A Rave Review)” by Brian Van der Horst. The article contains the origins of: “Emmie” (as me); and the Back Cover of ELI.
DAN NIGRO, (cc Jan Nigro)
Your cousin, Laura Nyro was a pioneer in open expressions of same-sex attraction in popular song. Laura’s songs “Emmie” ’68, “Timer” ’68, “Désiree” ’71, “Roadnotes” ’84, “Walk the Dog and Light the Light” ’93, etc. document a thirty year on/off relationship with Maria Desiderio. Maria was Laura’s “flame” & eventual life partner. Laura Nyro’s queer music was a significant contribution to LGBTQ popular song. It deserves to be celebrated as an open expression of female sexual attraction, rarely heard in the popular music of the day.
Dan, The following is an edited collection of dialogues and comments posted by you and myself, on YouTube – vj covers by Mystkystify & by Sylvette323b, circa August 2011. Our comments on Mystkystify & Sylvette have been deleted along with the videos. In the Posting infra at the very bottom are preserved the song timing for the m/Mamas couplet. Throughout the body of the letter I have added other versions of: “Emmie” “Timer” “The Confession” “Désiree” & “Roadnotes” to provide the flavor of the songs.
“Emmie” released on ELI March 3, 1968 – vj LauraLand4u
DAN: Laura’s own simple explanation for this song was that it was “about the eternal feminine.” The cycle of a girl becoming a woman, and here, Laura the young woman lyrically longs for, but ultimately kisses goodbye the fading innocence of her girlhood. A beautiful and unique expression of self-realization. I thank you for posting this song, which, itself, never grows old. My best regards.. Laura’s cousin Dan.
RABDRAKE: “Emmie, Pop’s first lesbian love song” – Alanna Nash “Passion Player” EW.com, April 25, 1997. “There is a momentary shock at hearing a woman romancing another woman” – Pete Johnson in Coast FM and Fine Arts, June ’68, (p50). “Emmie” and “Désiree” are “open expressions of same-sex attraction on Laura’s part.” – Ari Fox Lauren – foremost authority on the music of Laura Nyro. Laura’s candor about cuddling in a woman’s (garden) was sexually subtle while being sensually bold. “Emmie” is a flame/crush song.”
DAN: Hello Sylvette. This is Laura’s cousin Danny. Thank you for keeping Emmie alive here on youtube! It is a stunning track, isn’t it? Laura’s simple explanation for her lyrics here was that it they were “about the eternal feminine.” The cycle of a girl becoming a woman, and here, Laura the young woman lyrically longs for, but ultimately kisses goodbye the fading innocence of her girlhood. An unexpected, beautiful, and unique expression of self-realization. It never grows old. My best to you! -Dan
RABDRAKE: Hi Sylvette, … Dan the “Mama’s couplet” scotches you. Even the music betrays the verboten nature of the crush. The jarring discordance of “Emmie, your mama’s been a calling you.” (2:53 – 3:04) The reverie/vanity of “oo, who stole Mama’s heart and cuddled in her garden? Darlin” Emmie la la la, oo la la la, oo la la la , oo la la la” (3:05–3:30) BTW why the different spellings for mama’s/Mama’s? I’ve never encountered a woman who does not agree that cuddling in a woman’s garden is tantamount to fondling the female genitalia.
RABDRAKE: To Laura, Emmie was about the eternal feminine. Zoe Nicholson said Laura was “woman identified.” Would not the two aspects add up? To Laura, lesbian would, at least, be subsumed under ‘the eternal feminine” The lyrics once “Friend” now included “Mother, Daughter, Sister, Lover…” *
“Timer” released March 3, 1968 on ELI – vj kurt11110
RABDRAKE: Michele Kort claimed Timer was about a cat, pp. 59-60 Soul Picnic. But Laura was quoted in Coast FM and Fine Arts, October ’69, “I’ve got this dog Beautybelle. A great big German Sheppard. She’s much bigger than I. She walks me.” Be sure to close your eyes while listening. I dare you to comment that you can’t feel Beautybelle pulling Laura down the street on a walk as Laura muses about love. Please note, the music is classic Tin Pan Alley, i.e. a Cakewalk. Except for the changes, this ditty is a walk/march giving way to a strut and a flourish.
DAN: What a unique and exhilarating song structure! The lyrics seemed so mysterious, but “Timer” was merely Laura’s reference to the creator. As she did in various ways in other lyrics, Laura here references her sometimes reluctant break from her youth and her coming into her self: “holding to my cradle at the start…but now my hand is open, now my hand is ready for my heart,” and her acceptance of the inevitable shift forward: “so let the wind blow timer.” Laura called this insight “folk wisdom.”
RABDRAKE: Dan, I love your references to the enigmatic, the mysterious. Your lyrical array begins, “holding to my cradle at the start…timer knows the lady’s going to love again if you don’t love me, the lady rambles, nevermore, if you love me true (and ends)if you love me true I’ll spend my life with you…” Whose you? Is it “I like her song, and if the song goes minor I won’t mind”? The fact is that the woman, Laura did spend her life with was Maria Desiderio. This coincidence is almost prescient
DAN: Dear rabdrake2447 (Ralph Bruno): You pay so little attention to detail of the written word. You have misquoted Laura’s lyrics, fabricated things that were said to you in emails, and continue to misread and misquote my words. Did you see that I said that the lyrics SEEMED so mysterious, followed by how un-mysterious they really were. If you were a reliable and responsible armchair writer, the family could have shared much with you, but it’s not the case, so we will not. Best of luck to you.
RABDRAKE: Dan, I believe we may have started off poorly. As we both feel passionately about Laura, we tend to have very thin skins. Denknee once wrote this is about music and as such, I’m just as entitled to my opinion as you are to yours.
DAN: Ralph: You must understand that opinions about somebody one did not know (Laura and Maria, to you) and anecdotes and facts about somebody one did know (Laura and Maria to me, and to Laura’s brother Jan), are very different things. When you refuse to consider things we’ve shared, and even to acknowledge explanations Laura herself gave about her art, that reflects poorly on your sense of responsibility as a writer. This is not irredeemable, but you have to be responsible. Please honor Laura.
DAN: mystkystify: I forgot to mention that Laura also had a cat she’d named Timer 🙂 [Dan’s comment was flagged as spam?]
RABDRAKE: Dan, about Timer the cat? Thanks. One of the images that I had of the song was her scolding a pet, why not a cat on her piano? “You’re a fine one Timer, you got me walking through the gates of space. “
The “Confession” released March 3, 1968 on ELI – vj bambamanofir
RABDRAKE: “Explaining the song to an interviewer with the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner she said, ‘I had just finished with a man and I knew I had to write this song about it.’…Assuming that what she had just ‘finished’ was a sexual experience, Nyro’s postcoital exuberance was stunningly bold.” “Nyro had, in fact, displayed female sexuality on ELI…in a way rarely heard in pop music.” Michele Kort SOUL PICNIC, p.61. And on ELI, the same can be said of “Emmie” with its subtle sexuality and bold sensuality.
Btw the Back Cover of ELI is worth a thousand confessions.
Back Cover of ELI
Désiree released November 17, 1971 on Gonna Take a Miracle. – vj megasoreassrawr
RABDRAKE: Dan Nigro, Laura’s cousin wrote, “Desiree could have been dedicated to any number of the enigmatic women in Laura’s life at the time.” It is very reasonable to narrow the field to Maria Desiderio, who was seventeen at the time. After all, Desiree and Desiderio both mean desire! Zoe Nicholson, Michele Kort and Patti Di Lauria agree that Laura considered Maria to be her soul mate. I can’t imagine a more perfect song that Laura could have dedicated, on the down low, to her soul mate, Maria.
DAN: Laura’s cousin Dan here. Ralph Bruno (rabdrake2447), thank you for quoting my words correctly this time, however your PARTIAL quote places my words out of context. Your speculation is interesting, but Laura had no involvement with Maria Desiderio in 1971 when this song was released
RABDRAKE: Dan, it is likely you have no idea when”Lauria” first met. It’s unlikely that as her male relative, Laura would have confided to you the intimate details of her sexual life, particularly, if it involved bisexual behavior. I’m aware that the rest of your quote mentioned that she married in 1971. There is nothing inconsistent! If anything it strengthens the bi-premise. The year 1971 saw her bracketed between Jackson Browne and her husband. What a safe “down low” from which to boast of a woman!
DAN: It is equally likely that YOU have no idea when Laura and Maria first met, and for some reason, you are ignoring Laura’s brother’s statement that Laura and Maria were not acquainted in 1971. You are trying to force-fit puzzle pieces that DON’T fit, as badly as you want them to. Speculation is one thing, but sloppy and irresponsible conclusions are not the work of a “pop historian” that you claim to be. You don’t read things between the lines, you ADD things between the lines.
RABDRAKE: Dan, I respect Jan’s opinion. But, as her older brother, Laura would have been diffident about her intimate bisexual behavior. Why did she change the Chart’s Deserie/Desiree versions to Désiree? Why refrain Désiree 14 times in 2 min. while both the Chart’s versions were 3 times in 3 min. Why did Laura pronounce Dez-a-ray like GAY, while both the Chart’s versions pronounce Dez-a-ree like KEY? This isn’t a force fit; it’s somewhat obvious. Won’t you at least concede the coincidence of Désiree and Desiderio both meaning desire as remarkable?
RABDRAKE: Dan, On January 25, 2010, Rev-Ola Records released Laura’s covers album Gonna Take A Miracle (GTAM). According to Laura, it was to be a collection of “teenage heart throb songs.” The liner notes by Duglas T Stewart concerning Désiree state, “Before the release of GTAM, this (Désiree) was the most obscure song in the set but many see it as the most personal and important track to Laura, as they believe it was intended as an ode to her great love Maria Desiderio.”
“ROADNOTES” released January 1984 on Mother’s Spiritual – vj LauraLand4U
Rabdrake: Laura couldn’t resist her own Love’s vanity. She always boasted of her love for her woman, Maria. “happy birthday, thirties what do I want? my candles glow Baby, I want everything just everything Baby, I want everything that you can bring ’cause my heart needs to sing now lover that’s right, lover.”
Happy Birthday Thirties, 1984 the year Maria turned 30! Roadnotes was released that same year on Mother’s Spiritual
DAN: Thanks for posting this wonderful track from Mother’s Spiritual, another concept album about feminine principles. I recall with a smile visiting cousin Laura in 1983, and having her play an earlier version of this track for me, as her dogs jumped around behind her. We discussed aging–how funny since I was in my 20s and she in her 30s.. so young, yet we were aware of moving forward in years and what that might bring. She then played To A Child as her 5 yr old son flitted around the room. Sweet..
RABDRAKE: Dan, You know that circa Labor Day Weekend 1982, “Lauria” were living together in a nascent life partnership that lasted 15 yrs. Michele Kort on page 198 in SOUL PICNIC, quoted Michael Maineri, “I said, ‘So what’s going on here? How’s your love life? And Laura answered, ‘Well, it’s right here–Maria and I. I found my soulmate. I’m happy.” Under these circumstances isn’t Roadnotes being about Maria, obvious? Why are you so reluctant to mention Maria? What troubles you about “Lauria”?
RABDRAKE: Dan, “as her dogs jumped around behind her.” Were the dogs Ember and Scootie, Laura and Maria dogs, respectively? Zoe Nicholson used to tease “Lauria” about being so female identified, yet both had male dogs.
DAN: Rabdrake, Are you personally acquainted with Zoe Nicholson?
RABDRAKE: Dan, I love this song. You can feel how happy she is. After all, what more joy to life, than love, child, Wife, family, friends and her dear “EM.” Zoe commented on my blog, post “Maria Desiderio – Part of the Lesbian Tide – Out and Proud in 1978.” The resultant e-mails gave me a wealth of anecdotes. BTW Zoe insists that she was with “Lauria” when they first met, on a fan line, at the Roxy in 1978. She joined the 8 separate sources touting 11 versions of when , where, and how “Lauria” first met!
RABDRAKE: Dan, “None of Nyro’s close friends are certain how she met Maria…Desiderio would later tell Jan Nigro that Laura ~ who friends say had not previously been with a woman lover ~ pursued her. ” Michele Kort SOUL PICNIC, page 196. As to when “Lauria” first met? Estimates are: 1967-68, 1970-71, 1977, 1978, 1980 or early 80s. Phyllis Lyon agreed that it was odd that not even their closest friends knew when, where, and how Lauria first met. If Maria was Laura’s first woman lover, then “Désiree” must be about Maria!
She can Pinch and Squeal A Falsetto With the Best of Them (A Rave Review) by Brian Van der Horst. (for legible copies see infra, bottom of the Appendix) at #
Van der Horst review part 2, Page 10
This article is from the April 1968 review of ELI in the New York Free Press – Critique 4, pages 8 & 10.
In the second half of Brian’s review, viz. of “Emily” he wrote, in part, “She can still look at herself: ‘Emmie’ (and me)” page 10.
Also on page 8 is the explanation of the Back Cover of ELI, “On the back cover of her album, Laura is seen in profile, kissing what appears to be a child. The child is herself, the photograph taken from a three-quarter angle, and representing the parting chrysalis of her old life.”
Back Cover of ELI
“Brian Van der Horst confided: that at Laura’s 20th birthday party in the Bronx, he and David L. Geffen concocted to do an advance review of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession. According to Brian, ‘…I asked him (David) to send me a test-pressing which he did.’ This was months prior to the release of ELI. The review was a rave in the New York Free Press. The same review in which, Brian ingeniously described the back cover of Eli as ‘representing the parting chrysalis of her old life.’ ‘David gave Columbia the advance copy of my article….’ CBS liked the story so much that they had thousands of copies of the review printed and distributed with the album as part of the press kit” circa March 3, 1968. (see – An Open Letter to Michele Kort – posted this blog)
The origin of “Emmie” as (me) was Brian’s own words. Michele Kort in her biography of Laura Nyro, “Soul Picnic” reported on p. 60, the Ellen Sander claim about her being the partial inspiration for “Emmie.” Laura’s reply was reputed to have been “…Well, it’s sort of a combination of you and someone else…” Laura’s own words about “Emmie” were definitely not an affirmation of Brian’s “me” theory.
The explanation of the back cover of ELI came from the richness of the imagery of Brian Van der Horst. The article itself issued circa Eli’s release date of March 3, 1968, had an express copyright grant from Tuna Fish Music -1967. From it’s inception the article was an in-house approved rave.
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 wrote this rave comment for the von Kallahann review.
“Gregory, thank you for this beautiful review. It’s wonderful to see reflected by a reader what one hoped to accomplish as a writer. I didn’t want to destroy Laura’s mystery for MYSELF, either–ultimately, her music was more important, because I didn’t want to ruin what had been sustenance for me for 30 years. Yet I was totally curious about the details of her life. But I reported them as corroborated facts, not gossip.I love your line about the book not wanting to “explain away her allure.” “That says it… Michele Kort”
The notion of “Emmie” as (me), as well as, the explanation of ELI’s back cover as being “the parting chrysalis of her old life” argue for a love focused upon a younger woman. The question is not if a younger woman. The question is which younger woman, Laura herself or that enigmatic soul mate, Maria Desiderio?
# Copies of the full article available upon request by leaving an e-mail address in the comments for this post.
* 3rd Rabdrake Emmie comment originally at Timer re: “Emmie” eternal feminine added supra for continuity
“Emmie” – vj LauraLand4you for reference to the “Mama’s couplet” NB 2:52 – 3:03 & 3:04 – 3:28.