Laurie Anderson is an artist. Her work is a brilliant commentary on American culture, values, and mores. She is the author and creator of herself. For women, that last statement is very important, because so much of what women do in this culture is defined, at least in part, by their relationships with men. But Anderson has never been in anyone’s shadow. She got her start in New York in the 1970s, during that amazing heady period when punk and disco were born. Now Anderson was never a punk or a disco diva; her musical sensibilities were wide-ranging, but much of it could be traced back to experimental music. It’s also important to note that while Laurie Anderson uses music as a medium, she isn’t really a musician. She’s an artist.
One of her earliest installations at a gallery was a jukebox that played 45s of songs she wrote. One of these was “It’s Not the Bullet That Kills You (It’s the Hole).” These songs were never released as songs, although a few copies are still around. This particular song seems to be about misplaced values and a culture of violence, a world where the victim gets blamed for the crime (sadly, this is still familiar for some crimes).
It doesn’t hurt that Anderson’s compositions are attractively catchy. She’s clearly got a tunesmith’s ear for what works musically. Her songs are interestingly literate, with good hooks. She often creates instruments to help craft her songs and performances. One of her earliest creations was a violin with a tape recorder attached to it, which eventually evolved into her tape bow violin. It creates eerie sounds that perfectly echo the dread underlying much of her work.
Of course, Anderson is at her best when she’s performing. Her concerts aren’t really shows, but more like experiences. In 1986, she released Home of the Brave, a film version of performances at the Park Theater in Union City, New Jersey. Some kind soul has posted the entire film on YouTube, which I’m including here (thanks, LegeCre). It is by turns thrilling and unsettling. Enjoy.