The Thirteenth Confession | Reviewer: Ralph Bruno
THE THIRTEENTH CONFESSION
“Eli and the Thirteenth Confession” is a musical tour-de-force. It demonstrates Laura’s superb talent so richly rooted in Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building. Laura listed herself on the vinyl back cover as "the writer, composer, voices, piano and witness to the confession."
It is widely accepted that her earthy musical style and candid sexual imagery are about her men, namely, “Eli's Comin,” “December’s Boudoir," and "The Confession," e.g. “love my lovething – super ride inside my lovething.”
This review of ELI will be primarily about two songs “Emmie” and “Timer.”
It is undisputed that Laura Nyro and Maria Desiderio were life partners. Laura’s songs: “Emmie” “Timer,” “Désiree,” (“Gonna Take a Miracle” 1971) and “Roadnotes” (“Mother’s Spiritual” 1984) reveal an “on and off” relationship of thirty years, from 1967 to 1997, Laura’s death.
The inspiration for “Emmie” was Maria. At the time, Maria was thirteen and Laura was nineteen. The two women became enamored of each other, circa 1967. The Italians call it "Flamma" (flames - It describes an intimate friendship between an older and younger woman).
Pete Johnson in his June 1968 review of “Eli and the Thirteenth Confession” in COAST FM & FINE ARTS (page 50) commented about the song “Emily.” “There is a momentary shock at hearing a woman romancing another woman...”
The lyrics “Time to design a woman” and “Emmie your Mammas been a callin’ you” suggest a younger woman. The lyrics “Who…? Who stole Mammas heart and cuddled in her garden? Darlin’ Emmie” are Laura’s declaration of their intimacy.
Havelock Ellis in his “Studies in the Psychology of Sex” Volume 1, Appendix B “The School-Friendships of Girls” pp. 868 et seq., p.870 identified various characters of “flames” different from mere friendships.
Some of these aspects are illustrated in “Emmie”: (5) “exaltation of the beloved’s qualities,” e.g. “you ornament the earth for me,” “the natural snow,” “the unstudied sea,” “you’re a cameo,” (7) “absence of envy for the loved one’s qualities,” e.g. “you were born a weaver’s lover” “born for the loom’s desire,” (10) “the consciousness of doing a prohibited thing,” e.g. “Emmie your Mamma's been a callin’ you,” (9) “The vanity with which some respond to ‘flame’ declarations,” e.g. “Who? Who stole Mamma's heart and cuddled in her garden? Darlin’ Emmie,” (6) “the habit of writing the beloved’s name everywhere,” e.g. Emmie and Emily are recited 14 times in the song. The prevalent use (eight times) of the idiom “oo, la, la, la” marks the song as something provocative and sexy. In “Désiree” Laura recited the beloved’s name thirteen times in one minute and 48 seconds. In “Emmie”, the repetition of her beloved’s cryptic name is a “flame.” In “Désiree”, the repetition has evolved to ornament a Sapphic reverie.
It was reported that “Timer” is about the passage of time. The song is more Laura’s feelings about love than the passage of time, e.g., “But now my hand is open and now my hand is ready for my heart.”
The song repeatedly identified or was spoken to a lover.
Who is “My lady woke up, and she broke down, she got up, she let go”?
What is “Baby I’m not trying to talk you down” about? Along with the above lyric, does this suggest a lovers’ falling out?
Who is the muse for “So...let the wind blow Timer / I like her song - and if the song goes minor - I won't mind”?
Who is being put on notice in this triplet of lyrical ultimatums? “And Timer knows the lady’s Gonna love again - if you don’t love me” and “The lady rambles never more- if you love me true,” (An allusion to the reason for the tiff?), “And if you love me true - I’ll spend my life with you - you and Timer”?
Are the lyrics “but I could walk thru them doors onto a pleasure ground. It was sweet and funny a pleasure ground” the same as cuddling in Mamma’s garden?
Maria’s age and the number of confessions are both thirteen. Is this mere coincidence or a subterfuge common to “Flames”?
Another aspect of “Flames” is the pleasure in preserving trophies, letters, etc. The silhouetted picture on the vinyl back cover of ELI is a trophy. It shows Laura leaning over to kiss a younger woman. Laura being ELI’s “writer, composer, voices, piano” would have felt compelled to have “witnessed the confession” in a graphic way. There are the explanations of the silhouetted picture being a double exposure and/or a three-quarter angle of a young Laura? Brian Van der Horst, in his April 1968 review of ELI in the “New York Free Press, Critique - 4, p. 8,” ingeniously described it, “as representing the parting chrysalis of her old life.” Assuming it true, notwithstanding, the silhouette is a trophy of Laura’s “flame” Maria Desiderio. The picture is worth a thousand confessions. Buy the vinyl. If you wish to see a rendering, Google images Laura Nyro popmatters.
ELI is awesome. The songs are a treat, a treasure trove of her musical precocity and lyrical poetry. Even though the silhouetted picture is not on the back of the CD, the re-mastered songs shake the dust off the vinyl. I bought both.