StreetLegalPlay by Kyle Thomas Smith

Laurie Anderson at Lincoln Center’s Rose Theater

Posted in Uncategorized by streetlegalplay on July 27, 2008

The Bacchae with Alan Cumming and The National Theatre of Scotland proved a tough act for Laurie Anderson to follow in Lincoln Center Festival ’08, but Anderson proved much more a match than a follow-up to that excellent production. In her first Lincoln Center appearance since 2002, Laurie Anderson played the entire set of her 2008 album Homeland.

Anderson deliberately avoided fanfare by stepping on to the candlelit stage unannounced and immediately picking up her violin. The title Homeland derives from the government’s exploitation of the term “Homeland Security,” which juxtaposes coziness with bureaucracy and doom.

Anderson began her set by formulating a myth for the audience about a flock of birds who flew above the earth before there was such thing as land. With nowhere to land, all these birds ever did was fly around, fly around, fly around. There was nothing else to do, nothing to remember in the repetitive activity of simply flying. Then, one day, the father of one of the birds died. The flock had to bury him, but there was no land in which to inter the body. After careful consideration, the dead bird’s daughter decided to bury her father in the back of her head. And that, according to Anderson’s newly spun lore, is where Memory was born. Anderson, 61, has remarked that she weaves myths in this day and age to counter the trend of new mythology that the American government infuses into the post-9/11 media.

Shortly after introducing the Memory myth, Anderson began citing a roll call of American war crimes in the song, “Bad Guy.” The song ends with the words, “I would fly away/But the war is here to stay.” She continues stating, “the war is here to stay.”

There are whimsical bits to the show, however, such as one where she asks us to contemplate the role of underwear studs on Calvin Klein billboards. What would happen if those giant pictures on those billboards were to come to life? Would they march up LaFayette Street in their underwear and start crashing bars and stepping on cars? Even us angry liberals have to have a laugh sometimes. The media isn’t all American Pravda. Anderson doesn’t lose sight of how funny it is. If the earth is still around centuries from now, anthropologists will be busting a gut over what our beloved fashionistas’ sense of sexy was.

Anderson also made an unexpectedly positive statement about John McCain – although, knowing her music as well as I do, I would not be so quick to regard it as an endorsement. She mentions that John McCain once called Rush Limbaugh a clown. When a reporter asked McCain if he felt he should apologize for that remark, McCain said: “Yes. I’d like to apologize to all the clowns – Crusty, Bozo, and all other clowns – for lumping you all in with Rush Limbaugh.” Anderson neither elaborated on this anecdote nor did she make additional commentary on Obama. It remains somewhat of an enigma why she brought this McCain tidbit up in the first place.

Later, Anderson discussed former Texas Governor Ann Richards. She related how the NRA had advised all the women of Texas to carry handguns in their purses. Richards responded, “I’m not sexist, but I will declare that no woman in Texas will ever be able to find a handgun in her handbag.” Once again, the story went nowhere; it’s hard to piece together why Anderson inserted it at all.

Still and all, the music was brilliant with violin virtuoso Anderson playing alongside gifted musicians such as Joey Baron (percussion), Rob Burder (keyboard), Greg Cohen (bass), Eyvind Knag (viola).

Toward the end of the set, Anderson’s husband Lou Reed made a surprise appearance to accompany her on the 2008 songs “Lost Art of Conversation” and “No Man’s Land.” Time may have taken its toll on Reed’s looks but his guitar sounds just as good as it did in his Transformer days.

The entire Homeland experience reached the apex of sublimity for a rapt audience. Some of the drum-machine tempos brought back some of the best that the Eighties had to offer in its Talking Heads heyday, where Anderson played a vital, if underground, role. Anderson is a true artist who showcases her music for the purposes of communication and social and political inquiry, rather than as a fishing for applause (The Rolling Stones would do well to learn from her example – see my earlier blog on Shine A Light). The simplicity of the set, where there was candlelight but no video installations, threw the profundity of Anderson’s music and political message into full relief.

An arts reporter, who was interviewing Laurie Anderson about her new album and concert series, asked her, “Do you think people are afraid to speak out because they’ll be called un-American?” Anderson answered:

Yes, absolutely! And I find that extremely distressing especially now that the elections are going on and every candidate has his story about how the world works and what’s going on. And people are scrutinizing their stories. A war that will last a hundred years? Why is he telling that particular story? What’s behind it? But we live in a country that is very story savvy and it is the person who tells the best story who gets heard. And that’s what I’m interested in…I want to tell a better story, a truer story.

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