Laura Nyro Aida Pavletich - Essay

Aida Pavletich

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Laura Nyro] was a natural magnet for opprobrious epithets, a stark tragedienne who, though hailed as a new songwriting genius, was christened the "Bronx Ophelia." Her loose songs were bursts of inspiration, quotations from American pop songs. They were held together by her audience, who grasped the thin thread of common culture and her idiomatic constructions, which, from another viewpoint, would have seemed to be no more than word salads.

At the start of her career she made Eli and the 13th Confession, a concept album around the growth of a girl to maturity in thirteen songs, hopscotch style through anguish and elation. Old rock 'n' roll from doo-wop groups, the symbols of the Catholic Church, the rhythm of New York City flashing by like stations from a subway car, and a mood of giddy, muddled infatuation were gathered like a bouquet of flowers.

Acceptance by the public and a comfortable record deal changed the influence on her music. The new elements were gross and unassimilated when she began to reach outside American pop and the music of the Tri-City area.

Whatever the new influences upon her were—a new way of life, her travel to the Orient, a settled existence, prosperity, emotional fulfillment, maturity—what suffered most was her symbolism. For a westerner, there is nothing that can outdo the glamour of the Christian symbols, to rival the impact of the crucifixion, not even the ritual of hara-kiri; after all, Jesus returned for an encore. There are no madonnas or Magdalenes, there is no pietà.

Laura Nyro toed a thin line between affectation and genius, then produced nothing for four years. The longer she went without creating an affecting song, the more it seemed that her talent had been precocious, erupting from the anguish of immaturity, and that her need to write vanished when she found her niche in life. Then the fragile talent appeared to be a series of mannerisms with no real depth. (pp. 224-25)

Aida Pavletich, "Women of Heart and Mind," in her Rock-a-Bye, Baby (copyright © 1980 by Aida Pavletich; reprinted by permission of Doubleday & Company, Inc.), Doubleday, 1980, pp. 207-36.∗