Monday, November 12, 2018

It is earlier here. We have a different time.

These days, music can appear in a variety of forms.

By Bert56 at Dutch Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Take Laurie Anderson's United States, Part I-IV. According to Wikipedia, it usually took eight hours over two nights for Anderson to perform all of United States. However, by the time it was released as a live album in 1984, the resulting piece was only 4 1/2 hours in length. Visual portions of the piece were omitted from the record, and apparently no one wanted to issue a Betamax version of the entire eight hour thing.

Of course, we had heard United States before. It takes a long time to come up with eight hours of performance art, and the world had actually heard some of the songs before, on Anderson's "Big Science" album. That's how I first heard Anderson's vocal performance style, one that I parodied at one point. The title of this post is a line from my "found" recording of a Laurie Anderson-David Byrne collaboration - one of those collaborations that you won't hear about anywhere else, if you get my drift.

So there's the eight-hour United States, the 4 1/2 hour United States, or the little bits and pieces of United States. For example, when Anderson performs her big pop hit, "O Superman."

She did that one night, about two decades ago, and it was notable. I've written about this particular performance before, but rather than alluding to what I said, let me go back to the original source - a Pitchfork album review of "Big Science" that went far afield.

"In September 2001, I was on tour and played 'O Superman' at Town Hall in New York City," writes Laurie Anderson in the liner notes to her newly reissued Big Science. "The show was one week after 9/11, and as I sang, 'Here come the planes/ They're American planes,' I suddenly realized I was singing about the present."

The Pitchfork writer, Joshua Klein, digs a bit deeper, to a performance before the New York one.

"Suddenly?" Methinks Anderson is being a touch disingenuous. On the night of September 11, 2001, Anderson was performing at the Park West in Chicago. The air was heavy with dread, confusion, and anger. Waiting for the show to begin, the crowd was talking amongst itself, conversations running the gamut between those three poles. Anderson herself had allegedly spent much of the morning on the phone with her partner Lou Reed, who was back in New York-- and supposedly sitting on the roof of their building watching the Twin Towers burn-- though she made nary a mention of the day's events once she started performing.

The crowd was dead silent throughout, but when Anderson began "O Superman" you could hear the room shift as the already menacing song took on new layers of eerily contemporary meaning. "Hello? Is anybody home? Well, you don't know me, but I know you. And I've got a message to give to you. Here come the planes. So you better get ready." The lyrics chimed out like an answering machine message sent to the future, picked up several decades too late.

Of course, the emotions that were evoked in Chicago that evening, or in New York a week later, cannot be accurately duplicated today.

It is later here. We have a different time.
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