It had somehow slipped my mind, but last night I was reminded that Laurie Anderson is back on the pop scene. The archetypal New York based performance artist, singer songwriter and social commentator (and main squeeze of Lou Reed) first emerged from the gallery world, where she’d toiled since the late ’60s when she debuted her car horn symphony piece, to the pop stage with her still jawdropping single “O Superman” in 1981.
The album, Big Science, released in 1982 slightly after NY art rock’s coming out party (post Talking Heads), was “smash” of the new genre (in the Billboard Top 200, at least). But whereas David Byrne publicly appeared (at the time) to be awkward or aloof, Laurie Anderson was (and is) witty, arty, intellectual, but overall she was friendly as hell, even folksy, despite her high tech presentations. There’s humanity in her work. That’s something a lot of the other performers had forgotten, if you want your audience to share the big ideas while you’re dropping the big science, “you’ve got to”, as Kurt Vonnegut Jr once advised, “be kind.”
It was natural that she’d collaborate with Peter Gabriel, and here it is… “Excellent Birds (This Is The Picture)” from her 1984 album Mister Heartbreak (this time going to #60 in the US).
Her concert movie Home of The Brave (1986) is a must-see, and marked the end the first “pop” era for her multi-disciplined and ongoing career.
She has continued to make records – Strange Angels (1989), Bright Red (1994), a spoken word record called The Ugly One With The Jewels in 1995 and Life on a String (2001).
Now At 63, after playing to the side stages of pop for the last while, all the while continuing to do great original work, in addition to become the first and only NASA Artist In Residence, writing the official Encyclopædia Britannica entry for New York’s “cultural character” and even narrating a documentary about Andy Warhol, she has come out of hibernation with a new album called Homeland.
The album features a timely message about our current world and as always, a unique take on the problems of the day. Part of which is our reliance on so-called “experts”, on “Only An Expert”:
Of course, since there’s a fine line in her work between talking and singing, a lot of her interviews are just as fascinating as her performances. Here she is talking politics with Amy Goodman, on Democracy Now!.
Talking politics is one thing, but Laurie can make even Lunch Menus seem like Television At Its Best…
Performance art is cluttered with hacks and poseurs, but Laurie Anderson is not only an innovator of the field, she’s an expert. Welcome back to the pop world.