Please, click for an expanded view & comments
Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, released March 3, 1968, is an example of the superb talent Laura Nyro possessed for blending Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building. Musically, the influence of Tin Pan Alley is manifest in “Timer.” The song opens with a cakewalk, i.e. a march cadence which gives way to a strut. The cakewalk is again refrained in the closing. In the late 19th century, the cakewalk became a fad and marked the onset of Tin Pan Alley (circa 1880’s to 1930’s &/0r 1950’s.
Laura listed herself on the vinyl back cover of Eli as the “writer, composer, voices, piano and witness to the confession.”
It is widely accepted that her earthy musical style and candid sexual imagery are about her men, i.e. “Eli’s Comin,” “December’s Boudoir,” and “The Confession,” e.g. “love my lovething – super ride inside my lovething.”
“Emmie” was “pop’s first lesbian love song.”¹ Laura sang of her beloved in a frank and exalted style, e.g. “you ornament the earth for me,” “the natural snow,” “the unstudied sea,” “you’re a cameo.” Laura was a weaver of song, and Laura’s beloved “ you were born a weaver’s lover. Born for the loom‘s desire.” (Laura’s piano)
The inspiration for “Emmie” was Maria Desiderio, aged 13. While respecting by her discretion, Maria’s tender age, Laura could not resist her own love’s vanity. Laura sang in her flame to Maria, “oo who stole Mama’s heart and cuddled in her garden? darling Emmie, oo la la la, oo la la la…” For the past two years, I have interviewed scores of gay, bi, and straight women about the import of these lyrics. Every woman has considered “cuddling in a woman’s garden” to be a description of an intimate embrace of the female genitalia.
Laura was widely reported to have said at concerts that the song “Timer” was about a cat. This was incorrect. The vinyl recording of the live concert of Seasons of Lights makes it clear that the comment “here’s a song about another cat” was in reference to “When I was a freeport (& you were the main drag)” and not about “Timer.”#
The opening musical phrasing of “Timer” conjures a pace and the lyrics evoke the imagery of a dog walk. The song is her musings about love, e.g. “and now my hand is ready for my heart.”
But, who was “My lady woke up – and she broke down – she got up – she let go…”?
Who was the muse for “I like her song and if the song goes minor – I won’t mind”?
Who is being put on notice in “And 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 – you and Timer”?
It was also reported that “Timer” was about the passage of time. But lyrically, the song was mostly Laura’s feelings about love and not the passage of time, e.g. “But now my hand is open and now my hand is ready for my heart.” The song repeatedly identified or was spoken to a lover.
By juxtaposing the lines “My lady woke up – and she broke down – she got up – she let go” with the lyrics “Baby I’m not trying to talk you down,” is there the suggestion of a lovers’ falling out? And is the lyrical ultimatum “the lady rambles never more– if you love me true,” an allusion to the reason for the tiff?
“So…let the wind blow Timer / I like her song – and if the song goes minor – I won’t mind.” Is the repeated use of the idiom “let the wind blow” for emphasis and to suggest a willingness to brave what may be adverse consequences? Is the use of the phrase “…if the song goes minor” to suggest the possibility of a lost or unrequited love? Is it also, a subterfuge common to a flame, i.e. a cryptic reference to Maria’s age?
Are the lyrics “but I could walk thru them doors onto a pleasure ground. It was sweet and funny a pleasure ground” the same as cuddling in Mama’s garden?
Any doubt as to the lover being a woman was dispelled by Laura’s redacted version of “Timer” performed on May 30, 1971, in live concert at the Fillmore East. It becomes apparent when viewed in the context of the song “American Dove” which was Laura’s love song to her fiancé, a decorated Vietnam War veteran. Both songs were released on the 2004 CD Spread Your Wings And Fly.²
Maria was also the inspiration for “Désiree” on the album Gonna take a miracle? ³^
The young woman silhouetted with Laura on the back cover of the vinyl album jacket of Eli and the Thirteenth Confession became Laura’s memento mori to her then flame and eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio.
The picture is worth 1,000 confessions and renderings of the image are an easy find on-line.*
The songs of ELI are a treat, a treasure trove of her musical precocity and lyrical poetry. Even though the silhouetted picture is not on the back of the CD, the re-mastered songs beat the dust off the vinyl. (The back cover is shown inside the jewel box behind the CD disc)
^ Links below to “Désiree”
* N.B. be sure to avoid the strict search mode on Google.