Saturday, April 11, 2009
Become Funky and Split
This clip has come and gone on the internet for years, so maybe you've already seen it. But I'm putting it here just because there's so little footage of the camera-shy Laura. It comes from D.A. Pennebaker's documentary of the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Actually, this is an outtake. By the time the film was complete, these performances of "Wedding Bell Blues" and "Poverty Train" had ended up on the cutting room floor, as they say.
By the time I was in high school, people my age had never listened to Laura Nyro, much less heard of her. My high school friends listened to Fleetwood Mac, Linda Ronstadt, Queen, E.L.O. (E.L.O.?) Both Joni and Laura already felt like the music of the older brothers and sisters I never had. Still, I listened to them constantly as if they'd written those songs especially for me. I don't think I even wanted anyone else to know about them. A few years later, though, in college, I met someone who'd said that she'd seen Laura in concert, for the Christmas and the Sweat tour, back in 1971 or so. She sat beside me in my Milton class, and said, good-naturedly, "she's a big sloppy dyke!" Indignantly, I replied, "she is not! " Our class began. Our professor began to read a passage from Paradise Lost in her usual tremulous, painfully reverent voice, so I couldn't get to the bottom of things. Only later did I figure out that my indignation was based on ignorance. Her Laura didn't match the Laura inside my head. And my Laura was simply based on the images I'd built of her from album cover photos. And, back then, the implications of a love song like "Emmie" went right over my head.
In any case, this clip also interests me because this is the performance in which Laura was allegedly booed off the stage. She thought of this concert as her disaster; it's part of her myth, and it took her years before she could gather enough nerve to perform on the stage again. But you can see that at least a good part of the audience is there. And if you didn't know any better, you'd certainly think that she was in command, enjoying her moment, moving about--until the end of "Poverty Train" when a complex range of emotions plays out on her face. There's something poignant and painful about the complex relationship between any performer and her audience documented here.