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SOUL PICNIC by Michele Kort


The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro

by Michele Kort

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-20941-X
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

A detailed biography of the influential singer-songwriter.

Laura Nyro (1947–97) was underappreciated in her time, journalist Kort argues persuasively in her debut, noting that this is the first substantial look at the artist’s life and music. However, Nyro’s unique songwriting inspired great early interest and later on an obsessively loyal fan base that included luminaries like Joni Mitchell and Peter Buck. She first gained attention as a shy, Bronx-bound teenager with a prodigious production of ethereal piano compositions combining jazz, pop, and folk influences. Her early contacts with the music industry were marked by, as Kort puts it, “disdain for her looks and style uneasily coexisting with a recognition of her talent and commercial potential.” Nyro, who said, “I work months and hours and years and a lifetime on my songs,” dropped her initial management for her Verve debut, More Than a New Discovery (1967), in favor of David Geffen, portrayed as the young singer’s soulmate. (Their friendship dissolved when she chose to stay with Clive Davis’s CBS Records, instead of moving to Geffen’s startup label.) Her songs became hits for acts like the Fifth Dimension and 3 Dog Night; the royalties from “Stoned Soul Picnic” and “Eli’s Coming” allowed her “to follow her muse wherever it led her.” Nyro stood out in the decadent late-1960s rock milieu; her drug use was tame, and her personal life discreet. After several unsatisfying traditional relationships, including a tumultuous marriage to a Vietnam veteran and a briefer affair with an Indian national, with whom the increasingly feminist-identified Nyro had a son, she found lasting contentment in a low-profile relationship with painter Maria Desiderio. Fans will enjoy this bio, although others may note its sedate pace and aversion to critical views of its subject. Since Kort’s research unearthed many reviews that now seem like snide misappraisals, one can understand her advocacy of Nyro here.

Captures the essence of a widely admired, improbably successful artist.