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Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro Hardcover – April 3, 2002

4.1 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Young women growing up in the tumultuous 1960s found that the music of Bronx-born singer/songwriter Nyro was something they could cling to. Journalist Kort, who obviously felt the same way, here portrays the enigmatic performer in this first account of her life (1947-97), cut tragically short by ovarian cancer. Nyro was just a teen when she began what would become a long recording career, though renditions of her works by others (e.g., the Fifth Dimension, Barbra Streisand) would generally be more successful commercially than any of her own. Kort gathers every date, description, and dialog to draw a complete picture of her subject. For the legion of now middle-aged fans, there is perhaps too much minutiae regarding studio sessions, musical arrangements, chord variations, personnel changes, and industry infighting. Nyro's relationship with eventual power-broker David Geffen (her agent, representative, and friend) is more interesting, though the ending of that tale remains somewhat ambiguous. There is nothing here from Nyro herself, except what is culled from numerous interviews and the shared memories of family, friends, and fellow musicians. Musicologists and students of the history of popular music will wallow in the preponderance of information, especially as it pertains to Nyro's unquestionable influence on the music industry and the growth of women as both performers and composers. Those of us who knew every lyric of every song (and still do) would prefer a more accessible portrait of our goddess. Still, this biography is recommended for academic and public libraries. (Photos not seen.) Bette-Lee Fox, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

"Some will feel saved by her music," Kort says, and that accurately indicates her stance on the influential '60s singer-songwriter whose "And When I Die," "Eli's Coming," "Wedding Bell Blues," and "Stoned Soul Picnic," became signature songs for Blood, Sweat and Tears, Three Dog Night, and the Fifth Dimension--acts that appealed to a different, more mainstream audience than Nyro herself did. While providing hits to sparkly rock featherweights (i.e., some of the era's consistent hit makers), Nyro endured management by chameleon supreme David Geffen, which was unsettling for her but makes for good reading. Always enigmatic, she was somewhat secretive near the end of her life, after she received "the worst possible diagnosis: stage 4 ovarian cancer," which she "definitely felt she was going to get," says her brother. Nyro was one of the songwriters whose output gives "Age of Aquarius" rock its lingering cachet, and it is unfortunate that too many middle-of-the-road musicians have made elevator music out of it. Kort's admiring biography begins to give Nyro and her impressive music their due. Mike Tribby
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (April 3, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031220941X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312209414
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,069,222 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Culbertson on February 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
From the first time I heard her on the radio singing "Save The Country", I have been enamored with Laura Nyro. I loved her voice, piano and songs, and thought her work on New York Tendaberry was some of the best and most unique work I had ever heard. I also liked her looks and her demeanor. I liked her so much, I wrote her an affectionate letter via Columbia Records in 1969, but, to my regret, she never answered.

Michele Kort, in her outstanding biography of Laura, has made me feel like I did get a chance to meet her, afterall. Her writing pulled me in from the first page, and I felt like I was right along side of Laura as I relived her ascendancy to musical greatness. Ms. Kort informs the reader of many interesting facts, such as Ms. Nyro having been named by her musician father after the song from the classic movie, Laura, and that she had lots of training in voice but had fairly limited piano training.

Ms. Kort takes us through all Laura's albums, what was going on in her life when they were being conceived, developed and recorded, who produced and engineered them, who the other musicians and vocalists were, and the various negotiations Laura engaged in with the record companies to get the result she wanted. I found this information of great interest and I would not have minded at all if the book had been another three hundred pages.

Most gratifying was that Michele Kort has written a quite detailed book which gives the reader a very good sense of Laura and some of her idiosyncrasies, but she always treats her with the greatest respect.
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Format: Hardcover
Reading this book finally gave me that special "secret key" into a world no one was privy to until now. Laura Nyro's mysterious persona was always very compelling. She was someone you never could get too much of, because there never was much we were allowed to know. So, those of us who fell in love with her amazing music always were forced to read into the lyrics, to wonder, to get lost in a trance while listening as we saw visions of New York streets and imagined the people and scenes in her songs. I was 16 years old the first time I escaped into Laura's music, and that was decades ago. My reaction as I listened to each song, was that I was stunned. The songs were stunning. Her voice: stunning. It was that melding of jazz, gospel, Broadway and how every note she played on the piano was intentionally placed and significant. And how her voice captured all the raw emotion of real New York life. She made me yearn to go there, to feel what she felt, to see what she saw.

She was the pioneer, a woman whose creative abilities were, in my opinion, up until that time, unsurpassed by anyone, male or female. That's why the book is such a treasure. It unlocks so many of the mysteries that many of us had resigned ourselves to never know. Unlike the other reviewer, I relished the details of the recording sessions and everything else, every other detail about Laura's life, personality, art. At the risk of sounding snobbish, I suppose you have to be the following to truly appreciate what is offered here: 1) an absolute die-hard Laura Nyro follower and fan from the 70s, and 2) probably a songwriter and musician yourself in order to understand what it takes to create the kind of work she created. (I am both).
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Format: Hardcover
This is an engrossing and extremely well written account of the life of mysterious and mythic singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. Baby Boomers who came of age in the latter Sixties and early Seventies will love this wonderfully balanced account of Nyro's tragically short life. The author, not by artificial construction, but by simply telling the story by way of the many authoritative and definitive sources available to her, captures the excitement that Nyro's stunning music created. Younger readers, who are comfortable with their favorite female singer/songwriters of today, will also benefit tremendously by reading this biography. Nyro paved the way for the female singer/songwriter and it was not an easy path to walk. Readers will also be intrigued by the latter part of Nyro's life which, to some, is shrouded in mystery. Without giving anything away to spoil the fun, one is deeply impressed by just how true Nyro was to herself, how uncompromising she was when it came to her music. Despite the fact that Nyro died tragically of cancer at the age of only forty nine, this biography reveals a life of the deepest integrity and beauty. Anyone who reads this book will never forget it.
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Format: Hardcover
I confess. I belong to the tribe of souls who have long worshiped at the altar of Laura Nyro. Most of us were there back in 1967 at the beginning of her career, when her voice and piano first tore through our consciousness, awakening us, and it forever altered our relationship to music and melody. Her music has been the central soundtrack to our lives, but not just as background sound, we cared about her music as art, it reached us at the deepest levels of our hearts and souls and it transfigured and healed many of us. Indeed, we experienced it as religion, and it has never left us. We are a unique breed of fans in that Laura Nyro is more than our favorite singer/songwriter. We believe we were "saved" by her music. Michelle Kort understands this essential nature of those us in the tribe, and we have waited a long long time for someone as capable as she to write Laura's story. She has done an absolutely fantastic job with this biography, especially given the difficulty of the task. Difficult because no other figure in popular music remained as mysterious and elusive and unpenetrable as Laura did throughout her life. She firecely protected her privacy at the expense of her career, and she so singularly, uncompromisingly pursued her craft without a thought to self-promotion, that consequently very little about either her personal or professional life was ever revealed to the public. We who have loved and listened to Laura for over 30 years had to settle for the occasional rare interview, or little scraps of news and gossip, often inaccurate, passed down through the tribe and endlessy debated among ourselves. Michelle Kort's miracle of a book corrects this long silence and finally tells the story we have breathlessly waited for most of our lives.Read more ›
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