This is the time. And this is the record of the time.
December 31, 2014 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Over 30 years since it was finally presented in full as a two-night, seven-and-a-half hour multimedia opera only a handful of times in only three cities, Laurie Anderson is revisiting her seminal work United States with United States V. Produced by pomegranate arts, who recently brought back Philip Glass' Einstein On The Beach.

United States was created between 1979 and 1983, and was performed in many pieces and forms before all four parts were brought together for a full ensemble debut at Brooklyn Academy of Music in early 1983. Even before the entire work as assembled, Anderson had already pulled together key pieces for her first studio recording, 1982's Big Science, which scored her an actual radio charting hit in both the US and the UK with O Superman (For Massenet).
Big Science playlist on YouTube
BONUS: David Bowie covers O Superman (lead vocal by bassist Gail Ann Dorsey),
BONUS: O Superman on Top Of The Pops 1981 (Anderson not performing, TOTP dancers doing their best, um, something)
Anderson presented even more reworked United States material on her second album, Mister Heartbreak, from 1984. This album yielded a somewhat popular video, Sharkey's Day, and included Excellent Birds, a duet with Peter Gabriel that was re-recorded on his So album as This Is The Picture (Excellent Birds).
Mister Heartbreak playlist on YouTube
Mister Heartbreak itself became the basis for the concert film Home Of The Brave, a theatrical release from 1986.
Home Of The Brave on YouTube
Given the amount of repurposed material available, it is shocking how little documentation actually exists for performances of United States. We have a small photoset, a coffee table book, a couple of videos (Mach 20, from "The New Show" [not filmed during a performance of United States], Difficult Listening Hour, from Home Of The Brave), a dubbed-into-German television interview from 1983 (that actually contains rare footage from the show) [in three parts], and of course, United States Live, a five-record box set that actually charted on the 1985 Billboard 200 chart. The packaging for the release was full of images and gems taken from and inspired by the show. It was later rereleased on CD in a slightly truncated form, but it is still over 4 hours of the portions of the performance which aren't mainly visual in nature.
United States Live: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 [The CDs do not directly correspond to each part of the United States performance, but close enough.]
Lyrics/transcription for all the words in United States Live.
To date, most of Laurie Anderson's actual performances remain undocumented in any solid, complete way. Perhaps United States V will receive the full treatment any work from this quirky, innovative, brilliant artist truly deserves.
New Music America 1981: Selections from “United States” by Laurie Anderson (June 13, 1981) [in two parts ~50m total, from Internet Archive]
Audio Arts: Laurie Anderson "This supplement is an interview with Laurie Anderson recorded at Riverside Studios in London on 19 October 1981concerning the work United States, parts 1, 2 & 3 (1981)." [in two parts, ~30m total, from Tate Museums]
Speaking of Music: Laurie Anderson, 1984 [extensive lecture discussing song and idea development surrounding Mister Heartbreak and United States ~150m. Free registration required, but worth it if you want to dig deep.]
posted by hippybear (34 comments total) 77 users marked this as a favorite
Well, I paid my money, and I’ve got this funny feeling that somehow, you know, it’s not what I paid my money for.

I mean I paid my money and I just don’t think this is what I paid my money, you know, what I paid my money for.
posted by PMdixon at 10:59 AM on December 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Excellent post. I love Laurie Anderson so much and I don't think I would have seen this if not for this post.

I've been really lucky to see Laurie Anderson twice, once at BAM when she did The End of the Moon, the work she made as NASA's first (and last) artist in residence. I saw her a few years after that with the world champion Mongolian Throat Singers in Prospect Park and that was strange and incredible.

We are all going down.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:08 AM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

Great post! Many thanks!
I was lucky enough to catch Anderson way, way back in the day, when her tour actually made a stop in Indianapolis. It was pretty amazing stuff.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:15 AM on December 31, 2014

Wow! I can't claim to be a big fan but I was incredibly randomly thinking of Laurie Anderson just last night and thinking I should go back and re-listen to some of her albums. I guess this is a sign!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 11:19 AM on December 31, 2014

TOTP dancers doing their best, um, something

(O Nelson laugh): ha ha ha ha ha ha
posted by hal9k at 11:20 AM on December 31, 2014

I've seen Anderson three times: Empty Places, The Nerve Bible, and her Moby Dick piece (that I can't remember the name of). She's always worth catching. I hope when USV tours I get to see that, too.
posted by hippybear at 11:21 AM on December 31, 2014

This is the sort of 80s revival I can get behind.
posted by ardgedee at 11:26 AM on December 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Huh. This is especially timely for me because I turned the corner in Soho today and someone looked right at me and said, "Oh no! Another Laurie Anderson clone!"

And I said, Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me! Loook at me!
posted by Naberius at 11:53 AM on December 31, 2014 [14 favorites]

Thank you very much for this post. It made my day.
posted by key_of_z at 12:02 PM on December 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Laurie Anderson is the (underrated/under-the-radar) bomb. That is all.
posted by blucevalo at 12:10 PM on December 31, 2014

I love United States Live. Only ever saw her perform once but that performance was heartbreaking. She sang O Superman at the Arts on the High Wire benefit for arts organizations and artists after September 11th. Philippe Petit walked a highwire from the stage to the balcony and dismounted mere feet away from where we were sitting.
posted by kokaku at 12:35 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

My jaw just hit the floor, and I cannot pick it back up.
posted by SansPoint at 1:18 PM on December 31, 2014

Love this post ever so much. Thanks hippybear!
posted by Splunge at 1:19 PM on December 31, 2014

He says things like, Why don't you get a real job, or? You. And. What.....Army? Or? Get a horse.
posted by xingcat at 1:19 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I saw United States I-IV here in D.C. in 1983 And it was one of those blessed experiences that completely rewrite one's idea of what a genre can be like. The storytelling, the multimedia, the incredibly dry wit that turned on a dime into something a little edgy or scary, the songs and the orchestrations. Wait, theatre can be like this?

It's in my top three concert-going experiences. I've seen her a number of times since then (including a show in Madrid that she performed entirely in Spanish off index cards), but that was the ultimate. I'll be very interested in seeing how/if she picks up the thematic and stylistic threads of the earlier work.

Thank you for posting this.
posted by the sobsister at 1:27 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

United States footage from German TV, 1983: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.
posted by mykescipark at 2:08 PM on December 31, 2014

Awesome post for the new year!
posted by reedcourtneyj at 2:33 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Home of the Brave is the only show I've been to where there were people laughing and then crying in the aisles. It was something.
posted by sneebler at 4:34 PM on December 31, 2014

Laurie Anderson is god.
posted by at 5:18 PM on December 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I knew that my husband was the guy for me when, during a conversation about food, one of our co-workers at Tower Books said "so what are grits, anyway?" and we both responded, in unison, "Grits are fifty."
posted by bakerina at 5:40 PM on December 31, 2014 [6 favorites] Laurie Anderson is god.
God wishes.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:55 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just picked up a vinyl promo copy of Mister Heartbreak at my local record store. I'd forgotten how great that recording is.
posted by clvrmnky at 6:48 PM on December 31, 2014

My Laurie Anderson story.

When I was in high school, I had a job making electronic violins for Max Mathews at Bell Labs. The first one I completed was sent off to Syd Alonso who worked at Synclavier. Max told me that Syd was going to send it off to Laurie Anderson. I was crushed because (1) I was just getting good and the first one had a number of blemishes (2) when I finished the second one, I engraved the frame (which was aluminum) with our names, the date, the violin number, and at Max's suggestion, we named each violin with the prospective owner's name, "The Aho" (Al Aho played in a string quartet with Max on Monday afternoons in Max's Lab).

So flash forward 10 years - Laurie Anderson was on a book tour and was doing a signing at a bookstore in Palo Alto, so I went and brought a copy of Mr. Heartbreak and a photo I took of violins in the works. I showed Laurie the picture and she smiled like a kid at Christmas and said, "oh! Max Mathews!" and I said, "and me - I worked for Max and I made your violin." I told her it was missing the signature and really needs to be done and left her a card asking her to please contact me to finish the job." (sigh) She never did.
posted by plinth at 7:47 PM on December 31, 2014 [3 favorites]

(See also)
posted by plinth at 7:58 PM on December 31, 2014

I saw the live showing at BAM in 1983, which was massively hyped, and it felt like half an hour of good standup comedy and 45 minutes of cool techno tricks (esp. the waving-the-cane-to-reveal-a-scrimmed-image-in-light bit) that was stretched drastically into 7 ponderous hours.
posted by msalt at 2:37 AM on January 1, 2015

An absolutely splendid post, hippybear. Thank you!
posted by On the Corner at 3:06 AM on January 1, 2015

Hoo! I am not alone here in loving Laurie Anderson since I kind of randomly wandered into a gallery in Soho in 1977 full of photographs and a jukebox. Choose a number on a photograph you like and punch it into the jukebox, among with a quarter, and Laurie's music filled the room. My favorite was, "It Ain't the Bullet That Hurts, It's The Hole". Thanks for the post!
posted by Hobgoblin at 6:22 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh boy. Right again.
posted by Devonian at 7:22 AM on January 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

BONUS: O Superman on Top Of The Pops 1981 yt (Anderson not performing, TOTP dancers doing their best, um, something)

This is amazing, the literalism, the quivering translucent pods, the 80sness...
posted by PMdixon at 7:42 AM on January 1, 2015

I hadn't heard of Laurie Anderson, but I immediately recognised her voice from Colin Stetson's work, which I also discovered through MeFi.

"Red was a fast colour, always zooming away... but this was something that everyone knew. And here they come, the people from the bible... and so we wave our shredded flags... no knowing what they mean, at all, after all... with the colours bleached, to white..."

posted by Acey at 8:08 AM on January 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, I can't wait. Some people followed the Dead when I was in college; I followed Laurie Anderson. Great shows and memorable road trips.

I will be ever grateful to Fenriss for introducing me to Laurie Anderson back at geek camp!
posted by rednikki at 10:49 AM on January 1, 2015

Since you mention it, I'm gonna watch Home of The Brave again. Anderson had a pretty cool band at the time.
posted by ovvl at 12:11 PM on January 1, 2015

I worshipped Laurie Anderson as a young composer in the early 80s, at the dawn of the digital and multimedia era. I had a chance to work on something in which she was involved a couple of years back and it was fascinating (and also meant I got to meet Lou Reed right before he died).

Let me just say that while her career is poorly documented in public archives, so far, she keeps every last thing and this revival is the tip of the iceberg.
posted by spitbull at 5:43 PM on January 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

I talked myself out of going to see her at the Birchmere this fall because of that darned toddler and this is making me feel really bad about it.
posted by phearlez at 11:35 AM on January 2, 2015

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