Laurie Anderson on Letterman, plus an introduction
July 18, 2010 7:07 AM   Subscribe

Performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson frightens milliennial when she appears on Letterman to perform Only An Expert with the very natural addition of a verse about the Oil Spill. (via the Awl, who also offers a nice introduction to Anderson)
posted by The Devil Tesla (86 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
If Laurie is scary to my generation, I have to weep.
posted by SansPoint at 7:13 AM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


It was a milliennial, not all milliennials :p.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:14 AM on July 18, 2010


That was pretty awesome. I never quite understood my husband's big love for Laurie Anderson until I saw her live a few years ago, but now I get it. (I paid him back by showing him Stop Making Sense, which he'd never seen. Yeah, we're kind of hopeless Gen Xers.)

I know she has a new album out/coming out; if this is typical of it I need to find it right now.
posted by immlass at 7:15 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


immlass: it's out, and it's her best work since Mister Heartbreak, I'd say. I also saw her perform last week, and when she busted out the oil leak verse to "Only an Expert", the audience was very pleased. It was a bit of cognitive dissonance, applauding lyrics like that.
posted by SansPoint at 7:20 AM on July 18, 2010


I like the idea of Laurie Anderson scaring people. But, um, that performance isn't it. It was pretty limp. And I'd like to think her impact is more than a MeFi post about an Awl Quicklink about a one paragraph Gawker post. Mach 20, National Anthem.

(PS: Gawker steals content).
posted by Nelson at 7:20 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Holy shit. The new album includes performances by John Zorn and Antony Hegarty.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:21 AM on July 18, 2010


I think Nelson meant to link to this when he talked about stealing, where gawker hosted a video themselves instead of embedding a youtube video.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 7:25 AM on July 18, 2010


I read a couple of the Gawker blogs, but I'm starting to wonder why and for how much longer I will. Like so many other bloggers, they're obviously starved for content and page views, and they're constantly inventing trumped-up drama within their insular little worlds in which they live. I mean, come on.

I don't generally get Laurie Anderson, but that piece was pretty cool.
posted by jbickers at 7:32 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


there's really not much to 'not get' there, eh? and if gawker really thinks this is 'weird ass spoken-word/repetitive thing' well ... they just need to get out more often.
posted by msconduct at 7:42 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


That performance looked great and sounded even better. I don't understand the counfusion here, Gawker.
posted by mintcake! at 7:44 AM on July 18, 2010


I suspect the confusion is that Laurie is a 60 year old woman laying down electronic beats and spoken word lyrics. Were this some young, 20-something kid from Williamsburg, nobody would bat an eye. Hell, they might even like it!
posted by SansPoint at 7:46 AM on July 18, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm a millennial and I thought that was pretty rad.
posted by rageagainsttherobots at 7:48 AM on July 18, 2010


Thanks, Devil Tesla, got my MeFi links crossed.
posted by Nelson at 7:50 AM on July 18, 2010


Sanspoint, thanks for the tip. I went off to hit her web site and then iTunes and am downloading it as we speak. Happy Sunday!
posted by immlass at 7:55 AM on July 18, 2010


And sometimes when it’s really really really really hot and it’s July in January
And there’s no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities
And hurricanes are everywhere and everyone knows it’s a problem–
But if some of the experts say it’s no problem
And if other experts claim it’s no problem or explain why it’s no problem
Then it’s simply not a problem.

But when an expert says it’s a problem and makes a movie about the problem
And wins an Oscar about the problem
And gets the Nobel Prize about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree it is most likely a problem.


Heh.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:56 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh mattchew. I'm not surprised that a Livejournal star wouldn't know who Laurie Anderson was. Livejournal skews young.
posted by pinky at 7:57 AM on July 18, 2010


Is that Bill Laswell on the bass? :)
posted by symbioid at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2010


symbioid - Yes it is.
posted by SansPoint at 8:05 AM on July 18, 2010


Your first hint should've been when Gawker called the M.I.A. "Born Free" performance on Letterman "disastrous." I mean, it's not that great of a song, sure, but disastrous? It's not as though she danced a jig. And that Laurie Anderson clip wasn't nearly as weird as I was hoping it'd be. As late show performances go, it was pretty good, actually.

Gawker needs to chill with the histrionics, or otherwise they'll have no way to breathlessly report on entertainment detritus that's actually unexpected or shocking.
posted by chrominance at 8:06 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Still got it!
posted by box at 8:07 AM on July 18, 2010


Only An Expert is one of my favorite Anderson songs.
posted by The Whelk at 8:07 AM on July 18, 2010


Oh my goodness, that was abominable. Really awful, even if it was meant to be funny or skewering something it utterly failed, it was just boring earnest tripe that said absolutely nothing. This feels like when I went to watch an amateur theatre company do a series of 'moving coming out stories' to a backbeat of synthesizers.

I weep for John Hegley.
posted by shinybaum at 8:09 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


@Nelson Ha-ha!
Just kidding, thanks for the links. I hadn't seen the National Anthem one, and the other one I hadn't seen since watching it on SNL as a kid.
posted by planetkyoto at 8:10 AM on July 18, 2010


I liked that more than I expected to. For spoken word, it was pretty musical, and her delivery is great.
posted by Edgewise at 8:14 AM on July 18, 2010


And no, not scary.
posted by Edgewise at 8:14 AM on July 18, 2010


That was great stuff.

America will not be functionally properly until Laurie Anderson is working pretty much full-time for the likes of CNN, maybe half an hour every night, putting things in perspective as it were. That is, we have enough weird artists telling small pockets of hipsters their truths, not near enough weird reporters filing from the front lines, reaching millions, telling it like it is.
posted by philip-random at 8:18 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yeah that was kind of awesome. I don't quite get the "what the hell just happened". And immlass, stop making sense rules so much.
posted by djduckie at 8:31 AM on July 18, 2010


synbioid: Is that Bill Laswell on the bass? :)

Yes indeed.
posted by el_lupino at 8:37 AM on July 18, 2010


Oh, millennial, as in one of those goofy artificial generation labels. I first read that to mean some dumbass millennialist freaked out (maybe in the live audience?) about a Laurie Anderson performance on the Letterman show. Which would have been much more amusing. But if a post is an excuse to show some Laurie Anderson, it's good.
posted by pracowity at 8:37 AM on July 18, 2010


Oh man, I want to kill that showboating sax player.

She doesn't need backing. I much prefer her solo performance of this song Live from Lincoln Center.
posted by charlie don't surf at 8:40 AM on July 18, 2010


Ah, this is Gawker taking the piss for another round of inflated hit-counts. I can't believe anybody there would actually never have heard of Laurie Anderson. How else could they understand the tweets of George Lazenby?
posted by kipmanley at 8:40 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


some weird ass spoken-word/repetitive thing

I think those things are called "raps".
posted by vibrotronica at 8:50 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh man, I want to kill that showboating sax player.

I don't. I felt it helped focus the piece. Lots of cool punctuation.
posted by philip-random at 8:56 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's the problem?
posted by nola at 8:59 AM on July 18, 2010


America will not be functionally properly until Laurie Anderson is working pretty much full-time for the likes of CNN, maybe half an hour every night, putting things in perspective as it were.

That would be awesome. You say Jon Stewart isn't edgy enough, Steven Colbert doesn't do it for you any more? Well here's Laurie Anderson doing the nightly news.
posted by scalefree at 9:06 AM on July 18, 2010 [4 favorites]


I thought the performance was weirdly wonderful.

It's amusing that a Gawker hipster in Manhattan (of all places) has no apparent awareness of Laurie Anderson and her shtick.
posted by blucevalo at 9:09 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


With the exception of a few tracks here and there, I've never much cared for Laurie Anderson. And "Only and Expert" is just to the positive side of "meh" for me. But seeing the people at Gawker, where they try very hard to project an image of "We've been tired of that new band you just of since January. We always know more about these things than you, rube" getting all weirded out by a performance which is just what I'd have expected from Laurie Anderson? That, I just love. You can go back to stalking Lindsay Lohan with your slightly creepy mix of lust and revulsion now, m'Ok, guys?
posted by tyllwin at 9:35 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Laurie Anderson did an incredibly tame but still interesting piece (what, no visuals?) on Letterman and folks are getting all het up about it? I almost wished I lived in the 80's again.
posted by kozad at 9:45 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


What's the problem?

I dunno, I'm not an expert.
posted by fleetmouse at 9:47 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I was confused by this too. The reaction, I mean. I had never seen Laurie Anderson perform before, so I didn't know what to expect. What I got was a musical performance piece that was not exactly my cup of tea, but obviously competently performed and entirely comprehensible.

I can understand how someone who hasn't been exposed to very much experimental art might have a "WTF was that?" response. But it's not really that out there, even for Late Night TV performance acts. So I guess the closest thing to a story here is that Gawker has someone reporting on entertainment culture who has little or no actual understanding of entertainment culture. I guess that's a sad statement about Gawker, but I'm not sure it merits too much discussion.
posted by 256 at 9:49 AM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


I think the best way to think of this is like a modern folk song, a bit like a contemporary "Old Man Atom". It's got cynical spoken-word verses punctuated by a singalong chorus.
posted by LSK at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2010


I'm glad she did it; someone needs to keep the oil spill front and center. I'm also glad she tethers the whole thing to the culture of expertise, since it seems like the hidden theme of our age is the foibles of "expertise" (see the experts who just knew that Saddam had WMD or the experts who just knew the Wall Street bubble could never pop).

Also, fwiw, since the link in the FPP links to and references one night after M.I.A.'s disastrous Late Show performance, I watched that as well, and found it too tedious to even finish watching.
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 10:02 AM on July 18, 2010


What the hell was scary about that? Besides the subject matter? I really don't understand why this post is framed that way.
posted by agregoli at 10:10 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those confused:

If basically all you listen to is popular stuff, and you think Lady Gaga makes great music, then something like this is going to be really "out there."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


If basically all you listen to is popular stuff, and you think Lady Gaga makes great music, then something like this is going to be really "out there."

That's completely unfair. I love performance art and thought she was boring, dreary, weak and personality free in that Letterman clip.

I think this is like SNL. Millions of Americans think it's hilarious and I just stare at it blankly like it's the worst kind of bland ever. I think rather than me not appreciating things that are 'out there' this is other people thinking 'out there' is some boring crap you can see in local theatres every wednesday evening for a £1.50 subsidised ticket.
posted by shinybaum at 10:40 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


I need to start recording Ferguson five minutes earlier.
posted by Lazlo at 10:40 AM on July 18, 2010


Um, "What the hell happened?" doesn't sound frightened, so much as confused or disappointed or snarky. I looked in both posts for the part where someone was actually frightened, and didn't find it.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 10:41 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


...agreeing that Anderson's performances can be much, much stranger (again, no visuals? No strange dancing?) this was fairly tame (and I think she held back a bit on the song, normally it's done with tightly controlled rage)
posted by The Whelk at 11:06 AM on July 18, 2010


Well, it's nice that downtown performance art has started to bewilder after have basically gone mainstream for so long. I guess if you wait long enough, you get to be weird again.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:17 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Idiocracy in Gawker comments, minus the drooling and eating cheese through a tube:

"Shes reminds me of the Talking Heads!"
"this isn't art. this is someone with a band reading her poem from 3rd grade about problems."
"Is this like Ke$ha for people who went to college?"
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:33 AM on July 18, 2010 [3 favorites]


shinybaum: "I think this is like SNL. Millions of Americans think it's hilarious and I just stare at it blankly like it's the worst kind of bland ever. I think rather than me not appreciating things that are 'out there' this is other people thinking 'out there' is some boring crap you can see in local theatres every wednesday evening for a £1.50 subsidised ticket."

Karen Finley would have left you apoplectic with boredom then.

"Millions of Americans"..... Mmmm nice try there. Not biting.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 11:39 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


America will not be functionally properly until Laurie Anderson is working pretty much full-time for the likes of CNN, maybe half an hour every night, putting things in perspective as it were. That is, we have enough weird artists telling small pockets of hipsters their truths, not near enough weird reporters filing from the front lines, reaching millions, telling it like it is.

The only differences between a Laurie Anderson half hour news show and a Glenn Beck half hour news show are calculation and irony.

Fuck it, Glenn Beck is pretty calculated. These two things are pretty much the same.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:39 AM on July 18, 2010


I mean to say a Laurie Anderson news program would look very much like Glenn Beck.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:40 AM on July 18, 2010


What would a Joan Baez new program look like? How about Joni Mitchell?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 11:44 AM on July 18, 2010


This maybe would have been weird in 1982.

BTW, I saw tons of millennials blown away at a live performance by Fever Ray, so it's not like they cant handle teh weirdness, because if there is an edge Karin is far closer to it than Laurie Anderson has been in decades (and possibly moreso than she ever was in the first place. And that's just one act. Modern indie, for all its faults) has fringes the Serious New York Art World Of the 80s would never have gone near.

I always thought Laurie Anderson was considered an "artiste" more out of an insistence by herself and the Artforum-conspicuously-displayed-on-coffee-table set that she was an artist (I'm arting as hard as I can! Look!) than out of any great body of work she created.

But I digress, Gary Trudeau said all this better than I ever could (again, two decades ago)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:45 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Forgive that badly closed parens
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:46 AM on July 18, 2010


And then, of course, she does this.
posted by carping demon at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2010


and stuff like this and this

So yeah, she gets a pass from me.
posted by The Whelk at 11:50 AM on July 18, 2010


So sit down with your kids and explain "Gravity's Rainbow" to them, before they learn it on the streets.

Seriously, take out the "your favorite band sucks" stuff and the comments by people who would show up on the Makezine blog to add the comment "this person has too much free time" no matter what it is they've just put up and what your left with is this one: "Don't worry your (possibly) pretty little head about it, Matthew. It's grown-up stuff."
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 11:51 AM on July 18, 2010


"The mailbox was Haldeman!"

*saxophone skwaank!*
posted by Senor Cardgage at 11:52 AM on July 18, 2010


I love it. There's just one sentiment that's missing that would really sum up the last decade of American history. I would have it go something like this:

If you're an expert that saw there's a problem, then
You're not the expert to deal with the problem


Or more succinctly

Only an asshole can deal with the problem
posted by zjacreman at 11:58 AM on July 18, 2010


I have such a girl crush on Laurie Anderson. For those not familiar with her early work, here's "You're the Guy I Want to Share My Money With" from UbuWeb, with John Giorno and Wm F. Burroughs.
posted by readery at 11:59 AM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


That writer just responded how I did 25 years ago when I first saw Laurie Anderson, that's all. Except I wasn't scared, I wanted more.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:06 PM on July 18, 2010


Having looked at the other youtube links, that Letterman video was not a good introduction to her work and is not representative of her better stuff.

And if I'd realised she was some sort of sacred cow I wouldn't have been so harsh, but the video sucked. Sorry to anyone I've inadvertantly poked although I still find this is the first time I've ever agreed with Gawker on anything.
posted by shinybaum at 12:07 PM on July 18, 2010


Well it wasn't by far the best performance of Only An Expert I've ever seen but I liked the new verse.
posted by The Whelk at 12:08 PM on July 18, 2010


acid trip, Laurie, 1981. five stars.
posted by JohnR at 12:20 PM on July 18, 2010


shinybaum: "Having looked at the other youtube links, that Letterman video was not a good introduction to her work and is not representative of her better stuff.

And if I'd realised she was some sort of sacred cow I wouldn't have been so harsh, but the video sucked. Sorry to anyone I've inadvertantly poked although I still find this is the first time I've ever agreed with Gawker on anything.
"

Eh, poke away! No harm in that. Laurie Anderson has always been somewhat of a darling in the NY scene. While I'm not a big fan, I've always respected her body of work and give her props from a historical perspective. I will admit to liking some SNL as well. Hehehe.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 12:20 PM on July 18, 2010


I love Laurie Anderson. I can't hear the phrase "Sun's coming up..." without filling in "...like a big bald head."
posted by TochterAusElysium at 12:32 PM on July 18, 2010 [2 favorites]


but the video sucked

Thanks for your considered critique. It has certainly prompted me to reconsider my enjoyment of it. Clearly, I just don't know suck when I see it. Something to do with a given piece being strange and disconcerting ... and umm, mature?
posted by philip-random at 12:55 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Eh. Her music is like foreplay without the benefit of orgasm.

That's the only way I can put it.
posted by Malice at 1:10 PM on July 18, 2010


Clearly, I just don't know suck when I see it.

Don't do that.

That's where these threads go off the rails—what you did right there. Some people liked Anderson's performance and said so. Somebody else disliked it, and she said so. She didn't call anybody stupid or gullible for liking it; her comment was, in every respect except its conclusion, exactly like another dozen or so that had been posted. "Here's what I think about the performance."

Don't start with the sarcasm and the "Your opinion threatens mine" and the rest of it. Especially in a thread about somebody like Laurie Anderson, because that's precisely what bristles folks about the world of experimental and/or performance art—not that some people enjoy it, but that certain of them are insufferable about it.
posted by cribcage at 1:27 PM on July 18, 2010 [5 favorites]


I mean to say a Laurie Anderson news program would look very much like Glenn Beck.

Did you see her PSA ("Personal Service Announcement") video linked in the comments? That's as close as you're going to get.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:01 PM on July 18, 2010


Eh. Her music is like foreplay without the benefit of orgasm.

Interesting. Although if somebody started foreplay with me, and then at once threw on some Laurie Anderson, an orgasm would pretty much spontaneously occur.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:43 PM on July 18, 2010


AstroZombie, for me it would depend on which of her pieces. "Big Science" != orgasm. "Gravity's Angel" == Orgasm. Anything with the Voice of Authority, AKA Fenway Bergamot also != Orgasm. (Not Fenway Bergamot-ist)
posted by SansPoint at 2:51 PM on July 18, 2010


Laurie shines live in a way that no recording or video I've ever seen has quite managed to capture. The woman knows how to intoxicate a crowd like no one else I've ever seen.
posted by hermitosis at 3:11 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking of Laurie Anderson and teh sexxy... if you haven't seen this scene from Wong Kar Wai's Fallen Angels, well then... you should? At least if you like Michelle Reis ... I remember the first time I saw it, yeah, I thought it was hot, but also: Laurie Anderson as the soundtrack for a scene like this? Fuck yeah, crazy Hong Kong movie-genius dude!
posted by hap_hazard at 3:22 PM on July 18, 2010


Oh, look. Another Laurie Anderson clone.
posted by erniepan at 4:18 PM on July 18, 2010 [6 favorites]


I wouldn't use the title "frightens millennial."

I would have written "hip entertainment writer demonstrates utter lack of knowledge of the history hip" because that is a little more Gawker-like.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:36 PM on July 18, 2010


Oh, millennial, as in one of those goofy artificial generation labels.

rather i think it's "frightens milliennial " as one would "wax poetic"
posted by sexyrobot at 4:59 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think Laurie Anderson might require some context to be best appreciated. Like, say, dropping acid and listening to the complete United States Live 1-5. That worked for me 20 years ago, but acid was cheap, plentiful and good back then.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:49 PM on July 18, 2010


At moments like this it's worth reminding everyone that back in October 1981 'O Superman', Laurie Anderson's version of an aria from the 1885 opera Le Cid, clocking in at 8:21, reached number 2 in the UK singles chart.
posted by Hogshead at 6:24 AM on July 19, 2010


The problem with looking at Laurie based on a single song presented on a late night talk show, is that she tends to do projects that are complete, and the song is only one small component of that completeness.
posted by hippybear at 7:52 AM on July 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


So sit down with your kids and explain "Gravity's Rainbow" to them, before they learn it on the streets.

While you're at it, could you explain it to me too? Because I'm halfway through the thing and I think I'm really just not getting it.
posted by dnash at 8:52 AM on July 19, 2010


Because I'm halfway through the thing and I think I'm really just not getting it.

I'm halfway through it for the ninth time.

Someday, I will finish it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:35 PM on July 19, 2010


I got halfway through the first chapter once and decided it was sort of a riff on the Emperor's New Clothes.
posted by philip-random at 4:51 PM on July 19, 2010


If you've only read a half-chapter of Gravity's Rainbow, you're missing out on some of the truly amazing sequences in the book. Heck, just the English Candy Drill alone is worth the slog it takes to get to it. The book itself is pretty excellent, although the story really isn't the point, in many ways.

There are resources online if you're really stuck. They help without ruining away the experience, if you find the right ones.

Back on topic -- I'd be curious to know if Laurie's Letterman appearance boosted her album sales.
posted by hippybear at 12:40 PM on July 20, 2010


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