but Steve Cohen
the culture critic
When singer Nancy LaMott died on December 13, 1995, aged 43, music lovers mourned the loss of a remarkable artist in her prime. A smaller circle of people realized there was an even greater tragedy, knowing that LaMott had recently overcome a long battle with another debilitating illness that made his success as an artist all the more remarkable.
She was a singer of theatrical power who knew how to project herself from a stage and did so in two productions and was a great interpreter of the Broadway songs of Harold Arlen, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers, Richard Whiting and many others. It can also reduce cabaret intimacy.
For two decades, LaMott suffered from pain and weakness with Crohn's disease, an inflammation of the bowel that has no known cause or cure. But after having an ileostomy in 1993, she came out a survivor of that type of abdominal surgery and has said publicly that she has never felt better in her life. Ironically, her cancer was unrelated to Crohn's disease. It's absurd that she survived one disease and then was attacked by another.
After the surgery, Nancy got stronger, sang more consistently, and began to gain fame. She won comedian of the year awards, was invited twice to sing at the White House, and recorded a movie soundtrack. Through television appearances, she gradually became known to casual viewers who did not visit nightclubs.
Let's forget for the moment that Nancy died in December 1995 because it wasn't the right ending for her story. Let's try to get this out of our heads. For the next page, let's talk in the present tense and try to pretend it's still here and becoming more popular than ever. In a way, she is.
The first time I heard Nancy was recorded on a New York radio station in 1993. Her voice is strong, clear and beautiful. She sings popular American standards, focusing on the words rather than the tone of her voice and letting you feel the emotion behind the lyrics. Often, like Cole Porter's "So In Love," it lends a ballad a dark, almost psychotic intensity.
She is fortunate to have Christopher Marlowe as her pianist and arranger, as he also uses words as a starting point. Marlowe may surprise you with his jazz-based technique, but like Nancy, he puts it at the service of the narrative.
They met in 1984 while LaMott was singing in San Francisco clubs. She had moved from her hometown in Midland, Michigan and sang in piano bars at night while working in the office during the day. (Her stage debut in Midland was Annie Oakley inAnnie, get your gun.)
LaMott sang songs by Kenny Loggins, James Taylor and other contemporaries, but gravitated towards older songs he learned from his parents when his father ran a dance band in Midland. Marlowe becomes his partner as they begin to explore this repertoire.
Most cabaret performers pay their pianists a fee. When the singer has a show that doesn't earn her money, she reaches into her own pocket to pay the player. Nancy can't afford it, and she also knows that Chris is worth far more than any fee. So Nancy and Chris become true partners and share what she earns.
For years they played in small clubs and occasionally in large halls like the Forum in Atlantic City. Most of the time the audience is small, but that's fine with both. Cabaret should be an intimate art form, they tell themselves. Nancy focuses on the audience in front of her and the songs. After each performance, as Marlowe disappears from view, Nancy talks to people and builds a loyal group of fans.
On the forum, many viewers are preoccupied with the slot machines and table games and don't pay much attention to the music, but this just gives Nancy and Chris more time to improvise and develop the arrangements. When a new approach doesn't work, they laugh and say, "Well, half the public doesn't even notice." Hopefully, the other half appreciates that a unique act is unfolding before their very eyes.
During all those years, LaMott suffered from Crohn's disease. She is usually in a lot of pain and when she takes painkillers she gets sleepy. Her cortisone meds make her vocal cords, in her words, "slippery" and unreliable. One night she will sing loudly, with a beautiful voice; The following night, she sometimes looks tired and weak. She is often so frail that she can barely stand on her feet. Sometimes she has to cancel performances. She doesn't earn a lot of money, can't afford health insurance, and therefore doesn't get the medical care she needs.
Despite her health problems, she sounds so extraordinary that she attracts the attention of musicians. Lyricist David Zippel, who later rose to fame as co-author of the Tony Award-winning bookcity of AngelsIn 1982 he heard her singing for the first time in a piano bar. "A little dip on Columbus Avenue on the Upper West Side," recalls Zippel. "I heard this amazing voice and freaked out. I introduced myself and said I was a songwriter and I could see her eyes rolling. She had so many guys come up to her and try to get her to sing their songs. But she and I adored each other and we became a family. She became my muse and made all my demos - all the recordings I use to demo my songs."
Zippel recalls how much fun she was to be with - "funny and smart; all the things you hear in her music are in her personality.” He sees her in severe Crohn's pain, but she always hides it from the public: "Her music of hers meant so much to her that it carried her through the pain."
LaMott appears in an off-Broadway review of Zippel's songs in 1983.It's better with a band. Among the others in this cast are Scott Bakula and Donna Murphy as Nancy's replacement. 1986It's better with a bandplays London's West End with LaMott in the cast. That same year, Nancy did the demos and endorsement auditions for Zippel's off-Broadway production ofJust like that, based on the Kipling stories, and for Zippel's version ofYou cannot take it with youWhat is the name ofgo to hollywood.
Alan Menken befriends LaMott and Zippel around 1982, and Nancy's voice is the mutual interest that unites them. "At this point in my career, I was writing mostly for cabaret," reveals Menken, "and Nancy sang two of my favorites, my cabaret 'classics' if I can call them that."
Zippel praises Nancy to his friend, composer David Friedman, who ends up seeing her singing at the Eighty-Eights, one of Manhattan's favorite venues for concert music fans. Friedman walks up to her and says, "You're going to be a star." When she asks what it's going to be like, he says he's going to produce recordings of her. It's January 1991.
LaMott, Zippel and Friedman huddle at a restaurant table and the men agree to pay $10,000 each and start a company to release and record Nancy's songs and further their careers. They named the company Midder Music after Nancy's dog. They join Scott Barnes, Friedman's friend, singer and manager, and invest in studio rentals, musicians, engineers, CD pressing and photography. Barnes uses his talent to direct their live performances and becomes their manager. Nancy and the boys call themselves Team LaMott. The seat is the small kitchen of Nancy's fifth-floor apartment on Manhattan's West 96th Street. Their business lunches are usually pizza or takeout from Taco Bell. "She was a junk food addict," recalls Barnes.
She credits Friedman and Barnes with turning their careers around: "They believe in me and put their money and energy where their mouths are." On February 19, 1991, she wrote a note to David Friedman: "Thank you. I have waited for this day for so many years. I should have been waiting for you."
His thoughts are similar in tone to the lyrics of Friedman's song "Listen To My Heart," and there's a reason for that. Here's the story. Friedman wrote it for Laurie Beechman, but Beechman canceled a show she was supposed to perform and LaMott filled in with a day's notice. Nancy sings with a music stand in front of her and makes a lyrical mistake. Instead of singing "I've been waiting for you all this time", she sings "I've been waiting for you all my life". That sentence has tremendous impact, and Friedman realizes that it's what he was originally supposed to have written. It immediately changes the published version.
In response to Nancy's letter of thanks, Friedman says, "I just want that beautiful, wonderful voice to be preserved so it doesn't get lost. I want to make their dreams come true."
Nancy LaMott: beautiful babyis her first CD, released in 1991. On the cover, the singer sits at a piano in a short skirt that shows off her attractive legs. When I hear her voice for the first time, I imagine a tall, dark and elegant brunette. In fact, Nancy doesn't look like anything. She is a cute looking blonde, relatively short. (One of her friends describes her as having "big chest and big hips.") She dreams of the day when she doesn't have to watch what she eats and can get rid of the bloated appearance that comes with taking prednisone.
However, her sound on the CD is dark and sophisticated. Nancy and Chris hear the poignancy and melancholy in songs like "Skylark" and "It Might As Well Be Spring" and convey these moods to the listener. The disc also includes songs by Zippel and Friedman.
“Her gift,” says Barnes, “is taking theatrical scales and re-examining them from an emotional point of view. Like many performers, she had an active dream world, a sense of make-believe, and she could jump into a song as if it were real life. After listening to 'Surrey With the Fringe On Top' or 'I Have Dreamed', how can you listen to those songs without thinking about Nancy's performance?"
your next CD,Come rain or come sun, dedicated to the music of Johnny Mercer. "That Old Black Magic" - lyrics by Mercer, music by Arlen - is one of his best vocals. Upon hearing the song's standard 1942 pop melody, most listeners fail to realize that the lyrics tell a story of possession and death. But LaMott and Marlowe did, and Nancy interprets the story more poignantly than any other singer. in itmy stupid heart1993 CD she mixes classics by Irving Berlin with contemporary material by Stephen Sondheim, Cy Coleman, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. On records and in person, she develops a unique mix of new and old material.
"It's so great when we make music together," says Christopher Marlowe. "When we're apart, my hands miss her voice."
After this album, Nancy's health becomes increasingly precarious. Doctors recommend a colectomy and ileostomy – removing the large intestine and creating an opening in the abdomen to remove waste from the small intestine. After the operation, she must wear a plastic bag attached to her skin. It's a common practice, but people often feel reticent about it and avoid talking about it. David Friedman introduces her to another singer he knows, Michie Mader, who tells Nancy about her own experience with an ileostomy. They talk on the phone for two hours. Like other women facing ostomy surgery, Nancy wonders how she will look in a dress and if she will ever be able to have sex again. She and Chris Marlowe are just professional partners and she leads an active love life. Says Mader, "She wants to know, 'What can I expect?' I tell her, 'What you can expect is health.' Let's continue.'"
Immediately after surgery, in her room, Nancy pulls up her hospital gown and invites friends to take a look at the opening called a stoma. "Look, this is part of me," she says; “This is my body and we will all have to live with it.” After that, after the inflamed and diseased part of her body was removed, she regained her strength. She sings better than ever. She is coming off prednisone. Her sex life is thriving. She tells just about everyone she meets that she had an ileostomy and that it has made her a healthy and happy person. She says this disclosure works well because the men who date her know what to expect if they see her naked. She says that way there are no last-minute unexpected surprises.
LaMott makes his Broadway debut inThe best little brothel goes public, a continuation ofThe best little brothel in Texas, and has a very short shelf life. In June 1994 Nancy appears onstage at 92nd Street Y in New York in an ASCAP production singing songs by Friedman and Zippel, and the following year she returns with a program of theater songs by Zippel, Wally Harper, Doug Katsoras and Jonathan Sheffer return. She makes a strong impression with "Another Mister Right," a bluesy song that showcases Nancy's dramatic ability.
the producer ofthe mistakeoffers LaMott the chance to play Fantine, but Barnes advises her to decline and wait for a role in which she will be the first actress to play the part.
In 1994, she told me that she hoped to get married and maybe even have children. She tells me enthusiastically about singing at the White House and, above all, about the return engagement – this time with dinner – that the Clintons want. She packs them into the legendary Algonquin Hotel in New York City and is booked for an extended Valentine's Day show at the Barrymore Room in Philadelphia in 1995. She is 42 years old and at the peak of her career when I ask her where she hopes to be in five years' time. .
"I just want to work out and be healthy," she says. "I never minded being famous."
Maybe fame isn't what she's looking for, but she's always wanted to be successful and is willing to make some lifestyle changes. The Key West Diner on 95th Street used to be her favorite restaurant. Now she wants to take me and my wife to Bouley, as trendy as Manhattan. She used to drink Gatorade, now she orders Merlot.
Despite the high features, it remains affordable and generous. At the end of her Philadelphia engagement, she throws a party for the crew and a few other friends. The lighting girl and the sound engineer told me that no other artists made this cool touch. We stayed in her room at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel until the wee hours of the morning, talking about plays and politics and showbiz. She's excited to perform with Sinatra at Carnegie Hall in July and asks if we heard the rumor that Frank had a colostomy. As a small-town girl, Nancy breathlessly shares stories she's heard about famous people who are said to have ostomies like hers. It's like Jews, Italians, gays and other minorities who like to claim that celebrities are one of them. I am not aware of the veracity of this rumour.
Nancy never gets mad when she talks about other singers, but she's realistic. She offers advice to a less handsome male artist who likes to sing about romance. "Change your behavior," she tells him. "Sing 'All of Me - why not take all of me' and tell the audience how it feels when you're not good looking. That would be powerful.” It's part of LaMott's philosophy: if there's an elephant on stage, you better tell the audience there's an elephant, because they're going to see it anyway. One thing the audience doesn't see is a physical sign of your ileostomy. Nancy now she is wearing some sexy dresses and no one can tell that she has something between her skin and the dress.Certo Nancy com Chris Marlowe:
In the spring of 1995, after singing at an AIDS benefit in San Francisco, Nancy attends a performance byangel in americaand meets actor Peter Zapp. Soon they're on the phone for hours every day and considering how they can juggle two careers with their marriage. He loves your direct and confrontational way of approaching problems. He thinks the scars on his stomach are signs of his character. In a diary she writes, Nancy quotes the poet Rilke: "In imperfection is beauty... Let me be beautiful and brave."
Nancy performs at Manhattan's Tavern On the Green in June. Then she has a drink with Michie Mader and says, "I was bleeding and I got some bad news today. I have uterine cancer." Her doctor recommends a hysterectomy, but she puts it off. Why? Because she wants kids? Because she wants to finish another album? Because she doesn't want to miss a lucrative Algonquin show in September? Nancy is indecisive and confused.
It is now September 1995 and Nancy is completing her two weeks at Algonquin. She had to cancel last Friday's performance due to pain and bleeding. With difficulty she manages to sing on Saturday, the night of her graduation. Her voice is powerful and contagious, especially on Cole Porter's "So In Love", one of the tracks on her latest CD.listen to my heart. The theme song, written by David Friedman, describes Nancy's feelings at this point in her life:
"Every dream I dreamed came true...
After all these years, I can finally sing my song.
I've waited my whole life for this moment...
There is so much to say that I don't even know where to start.
All about life that's just begun...
Listen to my heart."
Speaking to me after the show, Nancy said she is about to have a hysterectomy. Would the previous surgery have made a difference? We'll never know.
Nancy feels oddly small and scared as we hug goodbye.
I'd rather skip the next three months altogether. At least let's skip the details. The operation came too late to save his life. She lost her hair due to chemotherapy. Her confidant, Michie Mader, is Kathie Lee Gifford's sister, and Kathie Lee stepped in to provide moral support and help Nancy ship wigs. Laurie Beechman, who also battled cancer, gave Nancy advice about the cosmetics she used in her own life: "Try to make yourself attractive on the outside so you don't think about what's going on on the inside."
Singer Margaret Whiting used to bring friends to see Nancy perform. She visited during her recent hospital stay and thanked LaMott for recording songs written by her father, Richard Whiting. Margaret told Nancy, “The royalties from your recordings are really going to help.” Margaret overreacted and tried to make Nancy feel better. In fact, Whiting is comfortable without the extra income she could earn from selling Nancy's CDs.
Nancy's records were still not turning a profit. The LaMott team did not reach the point of realizing a return on investment. It was an investment in the future.
Nancy married Pete on his deathbed. The wedding guests went to a local pub for a few drinks, and when they got back to Nancy's hospital room, she was gone.
But his voice and spirit live on. Eight days before her death, she performed at an on-air party to celebrate WQEW radio's first anniversary. She sang "I Didn't Know What Time It Was (Then I Met You)" by Rodgers & Hart.
She will always be there for my special events, even the little ones. Every time I lift a glass of Merlot, I think of Nancy.
Video "I will be with you".Click here
Video "Again and again".is here
For information on LaMott's records, click hereHere.
Read more stories at The Cultural Critic