A rare shot of Laurie Anderson with a normal haircut.
Musician, performance artist, and all-around intimidating brainiac babe Laurie Anderson turns 60 today. That’s right, 60. I found this hard to believe, but I double-checked and found it to be true. Yet more proof that Time Is Passing at an Alarming Rate.
I’ve been a fan ever since I heard Mr. Heartbreak, released in 1984, which featured Anderson’s trademark mix of cerebral detachment with strong senses of humor and melody. It also was my first exposure to the droll voice of William S. (Uncle Bill) Burroughs, who is heard intoning lines like “The sun’s coming up like a big bald head” and “It’s driving me crazy, it’s driving me nuts.”
It was only later that I went back and listened to Anderson’s debut and probably masterpiece, Big Science. Derived from her five-LP epic United States Live—which, a quarter-century later, I’m still scared of—this album propelled Anderson from avant-garde obscurity onto the pop charts. Viewing it at this remove, it’s hard to see why. Not that Big Science isn’t great; although strongly redolent of the 80s, it has not dated over the years so much as fermented. What’s hard to understand is how it ever found a mainstream audience. “O Superman”—ethereal, arthymic, and over eight minutes long—somehow became a hit single. Could that happen today? You never know, but my inner old fogey (who sounds an awful lot like WSB) is muttering “I don’t think so.”
I have to admit to not being hep to what Laurie is up to today. I only recently acquired her 1994 album Bright Red/Tightrope, so I’m running roughly a decade behind. There’s still time to catch up, though, and hopefully time to see her live, which I regret not having done up to this point. In the meantime, please join me at 7:27 tonight for a synchronized listening of “Sharkey’s Night” as—wait for it—the sun goes down like a big bald head.