Emmie, Pop’s first lesbian love song


Emmie is a track on the 1968 album Eli and the Thirteenth Confession by Laura Nyro released on March 3, 1968. Alanna Nash in her April 25, 1997, EW.com  music comment Passion Player* touted “Emmie” as “pop’s first lesbian love song.”

Pete Johnson in his June 1968 review of the song in Coast FM & Fine Arts (p.50) commented “There is a momentary shock at hearing a woman romancing another woman…”

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…”

Ari Fox Lauren, a recognized theorist on the music (sans lyrics) of Laura Nyro, is of the opinion, “Emmie” and “Désiree” “are open expressions of same-sex attraction on Laura’s part.”

Kathy G. in her May 4, 2008, blog on The G Spot “The G Spot Weekend Diva Blogging: Laura Nyro” wrote, “Emmie” is “a groundbreaking song in that it’s a pop song in which a female sings openly about her love for a woman.” DEFUNCT circa 8-14-11

The lyrics in “Emmie,” “Time to design a woman” along with both references to Mama in “Emmie your mama’s been a callin’ you” and “who stole Mama’s heart…” suggest a younger woman.

The lyrics “oo…who stole Mama’s heart and cuddled in her garden? Darlin’ Emmie la, la, la, oo, la, la, la …” candidly describe intimate behavior.

The lyrics “…I swear you were born a weaver’s lover… born for the loom’s desire” act as a lovely metaphor to Emmie. Words that describe Emily as the lover born for Laura, the weaver of songs. The piano is the loom Laura weaves her songs upon.

It is undisputed that Laura Nyro and Maria Desiderio were eventual life partners. Deborah Sontag in her interview with Maria, then 43, in the October 26, 1997 article for the New York Times titled “Laura Nyro, an enigma wrapped in songs” confirmed the 15 year life partnership and described Maria as “a Brooklyn native.” According to Zoe Nicholson, Maria moved in with Laura, circa Labor Day Weekend 1982.

Michele Kort in Soul Picnic (p.196) wrote “None of Nyro’s close friends are certain how she met Maria…” Kort also wrote about Maria and “Laura- who friends say had not previously been with a woman lover-…”

Laura’s songs : “Timer” – 1968, “Emmie” – 1968, “Désiree” – 1971,  Roadnotes” – 1984, and “Walk the Dog and Light the Light” -1993, document an “on and off” relationship spanning thirty years, from 1967 to 1997, Laura’s death.

If as Kort reported in Soul Picnic p.196, Maria was Laura’s first “woman lover,” then it stands to reason that Maria was the inspiration for “Emmie.” The Sontag article in the New York Times corroborates, Maria as a native New Yorker. Maria was likely in the NYC Metropolitan Area. At that time, Maria was thirteen and Laura was nineteen. The two women became enamored of each other, circa 1967. Laura marked the occasion with the songs “Timer” “Emmie” and the back cover of ELI.  Young Italian women call it “flamma” (flame – It describes a crush, an intimate friendship between an older woman and a younger woman).

Havelock Ellis in the 1942, Random House edition of Studies in the Psychology of Sex Volume 1, Appendix B The School-Friendships of Girls pp. 868 et seq., p.870 identified eleven various characters of “flames” different from mere friendships.

“Emmie” illustrates, at least, seven of the eleven “flame” aspects: (5) “exaltation of the beloved’s qualities,” e.g. “you ornament the earth for me,” “the natural snow,” “the unstudied sea,” “you’re a cameo,” (7) “the absence of envy for the loved ones qualities,” e.g. “you’re a weaver’s lover,” “born for the loom’s desire,” (10) “the consciousness of doing a prohibited thing,“ e.g. “Emmie your Mama’s been a callin’ you,” even the jarring discordance in the music betrays the verboten nature of the crush/flame  [2:53 – 3:04] (9) “The vanity with which some respond to ‘flame’ declarations,” e.g. “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] (6) “the habit of writing the beloved’s name everywhere,” e.g. Emmie and Emily are recited 14 times in the song. The prevalent use (eight times) of the idiom “oo la la la” marks the song as something provocative and sexy. The bracketing of the lyrics “…who stole Mama’s heart and cuddled in her garden? Darlin’ Emmie…” between “oo…” and “…la la la…” underscores the physical nature of the intimacy.  The many women that were interviewed all agree that “cuddling in a woman’s garden is tantamount to fondling the female genitalia.

At the release of Eli, March 3, 1968, Maria was thirteen. Laura may have alluded to Maria’s tender age in”Timer”, “so let the wind blow Timer…I like her song and if the song goes minor I won’t mind.” Maria’s age was the same as the number of songs/confessions in Eli. Is this mere coincidence or a subterfuge common to “Flames?” Ellis p.870 (1).

Another aspect of “Flames” is the pleasure in preserving keepsakes. Ellis p.870,(11). The silhouetted picture on the vinyl back cover of Eli is a memento of Laura’s “flame,” Maria. 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…?”

There are the other explanations of the silhouetted picture being a double exposure and/or a three-quarter angle of a young Laura.  She Can Pinch And Squeal A Falsetto With The Best Of Them (A Rave Review) is the Brian Van der Horst,  April 1968 review of Eli in the New York Free Press, Critique – 4, p.8,  This was the article in which Brian, ingeniously, described the back  cover of ELI as “representing the parting chrysalis of her old life.” Assuming it true, notwithstanding, the back cover is a trophy of her then “flame” and eventual life partner, Maria Desiderio.

The vinyl back cover of ELI is worth a thousand confessions.

* Passion Player – Alanna Nash EW.com