Freaky Repost: Laurie Anderson

Standard

Sorry I totally spaced on posting yesterday.  I’ve been running around doing stuff today, so I didn’t really prep any good new freaks.  Here’s one of my favorite old freaks for your re-enjoyment.

 

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.

Freaky Friday: Metal Machine Music

Standard

It’s just another fun day in the City of Angels today.  (I’m so tired of this.  I’m so tired of blood and bullets and lunatics.  I’m so tired of listening to asshole reactionaries try to defend owning weapons whose sole purpose is to kill people.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: BAN ALL GUNS NOW!!!!!!!)

I guess this makes my choice of music for today’s post even more appropriate.  There is no rhyme or reason to Metal Machine Music.  There is no melody; there is no rhythm.  It’s just noise.

It’s also kind of fascinating.  Almost hypnotic.  Many critics (both professional and amateur) have said that Lou Reed made this album out of sheer perversity, that he wanted to piss off his record company, that he didn’t care about listeners or selling records or anything else.  I’ll buy that last one.  Commercialism was never one of Reed’s priorities.  And having recently had a huge hit with “Walk on the Wild Side,” Metal Machine Music may have been some sort of reaction to his sudden popularity.

Of course, it might have had something to do with being influenced by avant-garde and experimental music, too.  This sounds like the Rock version of John Cage or La Monte Young.  It really is just random feedback, fuzz and squeals that would give me a headache if I turned the volume up any higher.  I wouldn’t have appreciated this when I first heard of it (back in my early 20s, I think).  Hell, I didn’t really appreciate anything Lou Reed did until the last 10 years or so.  But I’m rapidly learning that I was a total idiot.  I’m strangely okay with that.

Last night, my local PBS station aired the American Masters documentary on Lou.  Rock  & Roll Heart is a funny, loving tribute to the man and his music, and I heartily recommend it.  And a small newspaper published this sweet note that Laurie Anderson wrote about her husband’s final days in the place they loved together.  I’m so happy that she shared that with the world.

I just wish the world deserved it more.

Freaky Friday: Laurie Anderson

Standard

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.

“O Superman”

Standard

A little more than a week after September 11, 2001, Laurie Anderson performed at Town Hall in NYC.  I believe it was a previously scheduled performance that Anderson and the management of the venue decided not to cancel in the wake of the attacks.  “O Superman” was twenty years old by this point, a song that had been a minor hit for Anderson.  Although “song” isn’t really an accurate description.  Laurie Anderson isn’t a musician; she is a performance artist.  She has chosen to make albums, often of her live performances, as a way to present her work.  And many of her pieces take the form of music with something resembling traditional song structure.  It’s mostly semantics, but words are important.

This piece is frighteningly prescient, and in the wake of hijacked planes being crashed into buildings, incredibly moving.  I doubt there were many dry eyes in the house that night.  “O Superman” defies most description, so I’ll just leave you with the song.  (And note that I have one more September 11 themed post coming tomorrow.)