I post a weekly diary of the historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I featured this past week in “Cheers & Jeers”. For example …..
The entertainment world is full of surprises …..
OLDER-YOUNGER SISTERS? – veteran TV and stage performer Sandy Duncan and the author/magazine editor Tina Brown.
OK, you’ve been warned – here is this week’s
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES – the late abstract painter Mark Rothko has now had a gallery opened in his birthplace of Daugavpils, Latvia .. and the Mark Rothko Art Center can easily be reached by bus (via Central Station) from Latvia’s capital of Riga.
QUOTE for TODAY #1: Candice Bergen is producing a film about her late father, the famed ventriloquist Edgar Bergen … with this money quote:
Candice Bergen said her father was overshadowed by the 3-foot-long wood character named Charlie McCarthy, who got the best lines while the reserved Edgar Bergen played straight man.
“This creation took over and eclipsed the creator – it was the dummy that wouldn’t die. All the fan mail initially went to Charlie. And Edgar wasn’t really welcome at parties in the beginning unless Charlie was with him. It was totally surreal.”
MONDAY’s CHILD is Boxcar Bear the Cat – an abandoned kitteh who has now become the mascot of a Fort Myers, Florida museum.
QUOTE for today: the Guardian newspaper has a short piece on how the group Blondie came to record its hit Heart of Glass …. the quasi-disco style of which didn’t sit well with some, as Debbie Harry explains:
Clem Burke, our drummer, refused to play the song live at first. When it became a hit, he said …. “I guess I’ll have to“.
WEDNESDAY’s CHILD is Ace the Cat – an Arizona kitteh now returning to his family (due to his microchip) after being dropped-off at a shelter in …. Wisconsin.
CHEERS to the Norwegian photographer Andrea Gjestvang, whose photo series of the teenagers who survived the massacre by Anders Breivik – entitled One Day in History – has won 1st prize in the Sony World Photography Awards for 2013.
LEST YOU THINK that the WW-II policy of interning citizens of foreign descent was limited to North America: Britain interned about 4,000 people of Italian origin – including the father of actor Tom Conti.
ART NOTES – photographs by the ethnologist Edward Curtis in the exhibit Visions of Native America – are at the St. Louis, Missouri Art Museum to June 14th.
THE NATION of Tanzania has long had foreign mining companies extract the east African nation’s diamonds, gold and ores without benefiting the locals much: and wants to ensure that does not happen again (with a new natural gas boom).
IN an ESSAY appearing in Washington Monthly, Alison Gash explains how – in contrast to ENDA, or same-sex marriage – adoptions by gays flew under radar for so long …. that opponents face an uphill fight in trying to prevent it.
THURSDAY’s CHILD is Lil’ Bob the Cat – nestled in the arms of actor Robert DeNiro at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival director’s brunch.
SIGN of the TIMES – am very glad to see business editors – including the Toronto Star’s David Olive – acknowledge the twin disasters of austerity and long-term unemployment.
BRAIN TEASER – try this Quiz of the Week’s News from the BBC.
QUOTE for TODAY #2: the first quote reminded me of 2005 … when Karl Rove was under investigation and people were speculating whether George W. Bush might fire him. Former Joe Lieberman aide Marshall Wittmann said it best:
“For Bush to get rid of Rove …… would be like Charlie McCarthy firing Edgar Bergen.”
SEPARATED at BIRTH – TV stars Bob Saget (“Full House”, “America’s Funniest Home Videos”) and the host of The (Stephen) Colbert Report.
COMMERCE NOTES – modernization of old ports (as well as constructing new ones) is expected to improve the economy of nations around the Bay of Bengal – especially Bangladesh and emerging Myanmar – in a transformational way.
IT IS NOT only being gay that is being singled-out in the nation of Uganda – now, a proposed morality law even casts a doubt on the wearing of …… mini-skirts.
FRIDAY’s CHILDREN are Bubs and Bebe the Cats – presumably among the first to try-out a new cat hotel to be opened in southern England.
………. and for a song of the week ……………………………………… she never attained a Top 40 single, gold album or Grammy Award – being idiosyncratic can do that to you – but the music of Laura Nyro lives on in the many musicians who had success covering her songs … because in back-to-back weeks in 1969, three of the Top 10 songs on Billboard’s singles chart were written by Nyro. And her work is still being re-discovered, more than fifteen years after her death.
The Bronx native (born Laura Nigro) was the daughter of a Jewish-American mother (who introduced her to opera and classical music) and an Italian-American father (a piano tuner and jazz trumpeter). Laura attended – the High School of Music & Art where Janis Ian was one of her classmates. Her performing actually began (informally) singing on street corners and subway tunnels (as Doo-wop singers often began). After graduation, her father’s business contacts included record exec Artie Mogull, who signed her following a 1966 audition.
She sold her first song, “And When I Die,” to Peter, Paul, and Mary for $5,000 and released her debut album for Verve Folkways in 1967. The album (like her others) did not sell well, but was critically acclaimed and resulted in hits for other artists – Blood, Sweat & Tears (And When I Die – US #2), The 5th Dimension (Wedding Bell Blues – US #1) and Barbra Streisand (Stoney End – US #6).
Later that summer, she appeared at the Monterey Pop Festival – and she became convinced the audience was booing her, which took years to ascertain was not (in fact) the case. The festival did bring her to the attention of David Geffen, who bought out her former manager’s contract and introduced her to Clive Davis at Columbia Records (who signed her to a recording contract). Interestingly, another group recording for Columbia (the aforementioned Blood, Sweat & Tears) asked her to audition as the band’s lead singer … which she declined on the advice of Geffen (leading to the hiring of David Clayton-Thomas, instead).
In 1968. Columbia released perhaps her best-loved album, Eli and the Thirteenth Confession – which again spawned hits for the 5th Dimension (Sweet Blindness and Stoned Soul Picnic as well), and also “Eli’s Coming” for Three Dog Night. She had some excellent back-up musicians: veteran session players Hugh McCracken and Chuck Rainey, as well as some jazz stalwarts (Zoot Sims and Joe Farrell). At this time, she offered the job as musical director of her back-up band to Todd Rundgren – who turned it down due to his work with The Nazz at the time.
I mentioned her idiosyncratic ways: Janis Ian spoke of her dressed all in black, with a somewhat distant presence onstage (Clive Davis wrote that she auditioned for him via candlelight). Her music was a blend of folk, singer-songwriter, R&B and jazz, which made her difficult for radio stations to characterize. She turned down lucrative film-composing offers, although she contributed a rare protest song to the Academy Award-winning documentary Broken Rainbow – about the unjust relocation of the Navajo people. More pertinently: she seldom gave interviews and rarely toured … at a time when this could have helped boost her career.
And this became more of a factor when her 1969 album New York Tendaberry was released, which did not spawn any hit singles … still, it garnered some excellent reviews and this compliment from the jazz trumpet legend Miles Davis – who was asked to contribute to an instrumental section, but once he heard what had already been recorded he is reported to have replied, “I can’t play on this. You already did it.”
Her next album Christmas and the Beads of Sweat featured half of its tracks backed by the legendary Muscle Shoals studio musicians (such as Dave Hood and Roger Hawkins) and the rest by musicians such as Duane Allman, the Rascals’ Felix Cavaliere, and John Coltrane’s widow Alice (an accomplished pianist, but who played the harp on these recordings). Interestingly, for someone who had written all of her own songs on recordings: a cover of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s Up on the Roof became her only single to reach the lower ranks of the Hot 100 (peaking at #92).
And that perhaps is why her album Gonna Take a Miracle – from 1971 and completing her contract with Columbia – consisted of solely R&B covers …. backed up by the trio LaBelle who made this a memorable album (albeit one without substantial radio airplay). And then in 1971 at age 24, Laura Nyro got married and ….. retired. Cold.
She returned later that decade after her marriage broke up (and she lost her mother to ovarian cancer) ….. but her music was never the same. Smile from 1976 was more subdued and while she still garnered decent reviews (and had excellent musicians such as the Brecker brothers back her) both Maria Muldaur and Joni Mitchell had moved into her territory (with much higher record sales). After her next album which had similarly disappointing sales, she left the music business again for several years.
It was not until the mid-80’s that she returned to music. She was again more subdued, but wrote more personal songs than during her first comeback and began performing live, with a well-received Live at the Bottom Line album. In 1988 she had her first major tour in nearly ten years.
Her last studio album she would see released was Walk the Dog & Light the Light from 1993, ten years since she had released an album of new material. Four years later in April 1997, the ovarian cancer than had taken her mother’s life .. claimed hers, as well. Her final recordings were released four years later. A few months after her death, fourteen female artists recorded a tribute album of her songs.
Her legacy is quite solid as she has influenced many, including Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Suzanne Vega, Jane Siberry and Rickie Lee Jones. There is a 2002 biography of her, an excellent compilation album of her works, there was a theatrical revue of her songs that went onstage in 2001 …. and there are plans for a film of her life, though these projects are notoriously difficult to get off the ground (see “Joplin movie, Janis” for an example).
Laura Nyro was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame just last year …. and one of the other inductees for 2012 was Donovan – who said on several occasions how glad he was to go in at the same time as Laura Nyro.
Of all of her songs, it is Save the Country – her reaction to Robert Kennedy’s assassination in June, 1968 – that is my favorite. Besides the 5th Dimension, it has been recorded by Brian Auger/Julie Driscoll as well as Roseanne Cash … and below you can hear it (plus at this link the more polished 5th Dimension version).
Come on, people
Come on, children
Come on down to the Glory River
Gonna wash you up
And wash you down
Gonna lay the devil down
Come on, people
Come on, children
There’s a king at the Glory River
And the precious king
He loved the people to sing
Babes in the blinkin’ sun
Sang “We Shall Overcome”
I got fury in my soul
Fury’s gonna take me to the glory goal
In my mind
I can’t study war no more
Save the people
Save the children
Save the country