The Operating System

4th Annual NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: Day 23 :: David Moscovich on Laurie Anderson

In this musing, this provocation, convocation, ritual love-letter, selfitaph—Laurie Anderson pins Hulk Hogan with her pinky finger. Why is it called a pinky? Laurie Anderson does not eat jelly roll donuts in this essay. Laurie Anderson K.O’s the homeless guy on the corner of 34th and Macy’s — what? Why would Laurie Anderson do such a thing? She does not, she would not.

I am not going into the first time I saw Laurie Anderson with Lou Reed. I am not going to compare Laurie Anderson with Lou Reed, nor will I match them up together in one sentence again. Except in this essay, this thinking-out-loud-on-paper, this love-for-artist business. This is not a business. The perfume in this essay was brought to you by a well known parfumier—yet there are no promotional offers associated with this essay. This is not an essay. There are no dollars in this perfume. Pardon me?

The first time I heard the work of Laurie Anderson was from her 1995 cd entitled The Ugly One With The Jewels. I was listening to the community radio station in my hometown. I was going through a phase of deep listening where I would turn the lights off and listen in complete darkness. It was winter in the Midwest, and through the pitch everything became closed and calm and quiet and all I could hear was Laurie’s haunting, persuasive voice leading me into what felt like a trick, like high artifice, like a wonderful boobytrap. Laurie was about to reveal to me what sort of animal she had caught. This was the formal Laurie Anderson in a bowtie. Laurie Anderson in a bodysuit. Laurie Anderson and Devo, together as they never were, rolling around on shag carpet, speaking in tongues while a lone snare drum rattles from the particularities of a neighboring subwoofer. Laurie Anderson under the auspices of NASA, chasing a grape juice bubble in zero gravity. The grace of the never not uncondemned. The grace of the undamnable.

The first time I met Laurie Anderson was at Miller Theatre on the campus of Columbia University in the City of New York. I introduced myself from below the stage, and she spoke with me peering down. From my perspective she was a giant, but from hers I might have looked ghosty, pumped up with black leather, epistemologically bereft—I felt Lilliputian, a serf in the presence of royalty. The second time I saw her in close proximity, she was with Lou Reed, but I did not recognize him as Lou Reed. It is just they went together so well—some couples leave a painful void in their fandoms when their partnership ends. And this is not a question. Laurie Anderson is not a question. This is a question. What?

And it may have been on that same night. I thought she was with another man, and felt a pang of proxy betrayal—as if I could feel betrayal on Lou’s part—as if it mattered what I felt—as if I were Kung Fu master capable of throwing the emotions of greater men into my bionic ninja-sphere—as if I could have avoided talking about Lou Reed—and I thought she was with someone much older, more gaunt, paler and thinner than Lou Reed. As I looked more closely, I saw that she had replaced Lou Reed with this other person who appeared to be doing his best Lou Reed impression. As I looked more closely, I was not seeing what I thought I was seeing— that my prescription was wrong, that my way of seeing things was all wrong, that my astigmatism was correct—my seeing was all based on some Platonic Lou Reed I had built up over the years and the year—that Lou Reed was himself doing his best Lou Reed impression. It was harrowing to see another hero in that same hour, shrinking and disintegrating before me. As I remember it now—yes—it was the same night and he was in the audience. This was not the first time I had been confronted with the mortality of an idol—nor is it a point to dwell upon. Lou Reed is immortalized, as will be Laurie Anderson, through the voices they left behind. What Laurie Anderson has, and what Lou Reed had—has—is style—this we know because when Laurie Anderson speaks—in that voice that is her performance voice—it is in the way only Laurie Anderson can speak. Our vocal imprints are as unique as our fingerprints, but some strike more pleasingly than others.

The first time I heard Stories From the Nerve Bible I fell under a sort of trance beneath her steady yet never monotonous storytelling voice, a voice that with every turn seemed to promise a never before seen treasure. The first time I heard the story, The Ugly One With The Jewels, in particular, I had this sense of near magic imbued into the quotidian—much like a gratifying reading of Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Jorge Borges or to speak more contemporaneously, Aimee Bender—a sort of Magical Realism for the travel curious. What the album offered was instant teleport to another land—and promised a confounding yet satisfying spiritual cipher, to be read and decoded by the steady pulse of one of femalekind’s warmest voices—a timbre that in some tangential way brought out the smokiness of Etta James and Billie Holiday in a different kind of blues—one accompanied by the stride playing not of an upright Steinway but of 80’s synth tones. Some strike, some retreat. Some hold logic to be the primary requirement for statement, for purpose, for porpoise, for poise. Laurie Anderson in an oxygen tank, serving it direct and breathable.

But what I learned when I saw her perform again live in Brooklyn—was that I could not always count on connecting with an artist’s work based on her previous work—that I had to depend on specific instances to meet my aesthetic needs. That what was vital had to be new each time. Something about the Brooklyn performance did not reach me—the lighting was too fanciful, the repetitive use of shadows from behind a curtain seemed overused and cliche—and her voice, not like a beacon of mystery and storytelling magic as it had seemed in a dark room ensconced under Midwestern ice—became too familiar, too reliant on the same texture and cadence as before—the spell was broken. Perhaps it was the visual element that threw me—that my first encounter was in the darkness would lead me always to seek her in the darkness again—and even a sliver of light was too much. Things may never be the different that I always wanted. Things may unchange themselves, or their forces, or be acted upon by forces of which—like Heidegger’s Uncertainty Principle—may betray the open-coffin. There may be times when we may be wiser to remain not saved. Excuse me?

DAVID MOSCOVICH‘s collection of one-page fictions, You Are Make Very Important Bathtime, was nominated for a Pushcart and &Now prize and is available from Journal of Experimental Fiction (Geneva, IL). Finalist for the Eric Hoffer Prize for Best New Writing in 2013, he is editor and publisher of Louffa Press, a micro-press dedicated to printing innovative fiction in collectible, handprinted and numbered chapbooks. David’s volume, Bad Juju, rounds out our 2015 catalog, with an anticipated release this winter. In the meanwhile, he’ll be joining us LIVE next week for GROUP HUG at Mental Marginalia, 4/28 at The West, at 8pm. You can find him at  http://www.davidmoscovich.com

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