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I’ve been obsessed with Laura Nyro since before summer started. She was always one of those artists that you heard about, one of those You Should Listen To This people, but I never made the time for her back when I was a teenager. Part of it was her era, and how she was invariably lumped in with Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Carly Simon, and other free-thinking hippie granola lesbian armpit hair lady music of the 1970s.

The shame of it is, she is far more interesting to me than her famous counterparts, and I wish I’d paid attention back when I was 15 and heard about her for the first time. I would have had twelve more years of being held captive by her. I shared her first record with Michael and he iterated something similar; I thought she would be just this lame thing and instead her music has been soul-destroying.

I have nothing against Joni Mitchell, and Carole King’s Brill Building work is unimpeachable, but Nyro trumps them by somehow combining the best elements of both (I really can’t stand Carly Simon for some likely irrational reason; she has always struck me as a total douche–and not in the way I understand either, like how Joni Mitchell is a douche). Nyro has Mitchell’s poetics and King’s indestructible sense of melody and structure, but somehow on top of everything else is an intangible sense of humanity present in her delivery and voice. It’s not a great voice, not at all, but like Bob Dylan, she is tremendous singer. Her voice is imminently schoolteacher in the most loving way, plainspoken until she suddenly swoops to falsetto with no warning, for no reason. Which, to me, is somehow more touching and vulnerable and remarkably human than someone with exact technical proficiency. But above all else, there’s her unerring melodicism; it’s no wonder her songs were covered and made into hits by acts as disparate as the Fifth Dimension and Barbra Streisand and Blood, Sweat, and Tears and Three Dog Night.

Probably my favorite Nyro song is “Timer,” insofar as it combines drastically wild elements into one beautiful amalgam. It begins rather simply, sounding like your basic folk melody before immediately switching into vague rock orchestral bombast, and then wild, nearly-avant garde howling. The rest of the song takes up girl group and soul, throws in some classic Tin Pan Alley for good measure, and ends with some vocal circling reminiscent of doo-wop. A song that alternately talks about death, love, and religion to ultimately talk about life should genre-hop in as satisfying and full a manner as this.

My heart breaks: “And if the song goes minor/I won’t mind” and everything after that. Sometimes earlier than that, when she sings “Now my hand is ready for my heart so let the wind blow.”

I was talking to Mark about Laura Nyro, whom he had also slept on, and after a few weeks of listening he declared, “She’s basically the American Kate Bush.” Kate Bush is another one of those singers I’ve been hesitant about; perhaps because of the reputation, perhaps because of the limited exposure I’ve had, where basically I’ve only concerned myself with her vocal affects. I know next to nothing about Kate Bush, so I began with Hounds of Love.

The title track is one of the most remarkable songs I’ve heard in a long time, somehow finding a musical landscape that fits the lyricism, which is top-notch: love metaphorized as fox hunting in which you are both hunted and hunter? It is soaring and claustrophobic, and the drums somehow sound to me like the perfect representation of a self-hater’s neurosis and disbelief regarding romance.

My heart breaks: basically once the drums and synth interconnect at the beginning, really. And then Bush’s singing pushes me over the edge. Especially the first instance of the background vocals.

I can’t properly express the effect this has on me; much like Nyro’s “Timer,” “Hounds of Love” has this magic elixir quality to it that reduces me to weepy emotion, that moves me without even trying, that somehow just cuts right down to the bone. It will take me forever to understand why both of these songs, at this point of my life, carry such intense meaning. Each has to do with one’s relation to oneself and the world at-large, in a specific way that still feels universal and full of something so bogus-seeming as Truth. Pop songs don’t ever do this. These two, somehow, do.

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One Comment

  1. TIMER still grabs me after decades of listening to it. Great description of the musical components.. thanks
    JGrace
    http://flourishingincrisis.wordpress.com/


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