I saw Laurie Anderson tonight performing her current work, The End of the Moon. She was amazing as usual, well worth leaving work early and driving two hours, then another hour to get home afterwards. I must say I thought her last tour, Happiness, was more emotional but this piece incorporated some pieces of the earlier work and was funny, thought-provoking, ironic, and sad. Laurie played the violin quite a bit in this piece, and it was interesting to hear how talented she is when actually playing a violin with strings, instead of one with a tape head or hooked up to a sequencer.
The stage was simple: black curtains around the sides and back, about fifty candles in glass holders scattered around the stage floor. Stage right, a black leather armchair. Stage center, an electronic console, microphone, and electric violin. Stage left, on a tripod stood a screen, about two feet wide and maybe three and a half feet tall - it struck me as window-shaped. On the screen was an image of the surface of the moon.
I jotted down notes in the dark - topics she touched on, lines I wanted to remember, actions. I'm just going to transcribe the notes rather than try to sum up the performance. Talking about performance art is like dancing about architecture, to mangle one of my favorite quotes.
She walks out and sits in the chair. She's wearing a black suit, something glittery down the front. I can't tell if it's her shirt or a necklace. Smoke begins billowing behind her, filling the back of the stage but not spilling out downstage - it forms a swirling backdrop. She's reading from papers - first line: "And so, because it was spring..."
"Life itself is bad art." She talks about the lack of any real plot, and characters just suddenly die for no reason, and there are too many writers.
"It started out with a bad day." Her phone rings, the caller tells her they're from NASA and she's been chosen to be NASA's first Artist in Residence. She says, "You're not from NASA." and hangs up. They call back and she is convinced that one of her fans has found her phone number and is teasing her with her dream job just to torture her. She calls NASA and finds someone who confirms that yes, it's true. "What does being an Artist in Residence at a space program mean, exactly?" "Well, we're not really sure. What do you think it means?"
She talks about the shuttle exploding on February 2003. The wreckage scattered from California to Florida, littering the highways, falling into swimming pools. A rocket engine ploughing into the earth in the middle of a forest.
She wanted to write an opera based on Gravity's Rainbow. She actually managed to contact the reclusive Pynchon, who surprisingly acquiesed to her request with one stipulation: the score must be written for and performed with only one instument - a banjo. "Some people find the nicest way to say 'No NO NO.'"
Talk of spacesuits. In the 50s they were fragile, like tin foil. In the 60s and 70s, they were more like armor, with big pads. Some of the new designs are almost exoskeletons. A mechanical arm over the astronaut's arm, increasing his strength forty-fold. An automatic splint to help his arm mend when he breaks it while lifting something with the mechanical augmentation. Ports throughout the suit to automatically administer steroids, adrenalin, morphine. NASA developement on these suits has stopped - it's become a collaboration between MIT and the U.S. Army. These suits, designed to go to Mars, will instead go to the desert.
Americans think the world hates us because we're rich...we're democratic...we're free. We're like the beautiful girl in high school who thinks everyone hates her because she's beautiful. "No, everyone hates you because you're a jerk." Audience applauds.
Super-sized American flag.
"This war will never be over. It will just keep moving from place to place."
She and her rat terrier Lolabelle, in a mountain cabin at a Zen monestary. She never sees the monks, but they bring her food, water, supplies - they just leave it at the gate every once in a while. She's heard that rat terriers have a vocabulary of 500 words - she wants to figure out which 500. It's so beautiful that she forgets all about the vocabulary project and just spends the time walking and playing with Lolabelle and marveling at the beauty of the mountains, the forest, the sky. Turkey vultures swooping, hovering indecisively - Lolabelle isn't a white bunny and she's too big to just pick up and carry away. Lolabelle realizes 1. She is Prey and 2. They can come from the air. She spends the rest of the trip with her nose in the air, scanning the sky for danger. Like the residents of New York - They could come from the air.
"A hole in the middle of the city."
"I had no plan and very little dynamite left."
The Earth is littered with pieces of Mars. Meteorites, rocks spewed into space by volcanoes that then fell here. Even in Antarctica. Gay penguins - they can't lay eggs, so they try to hatch rocks, sitting on them for 42, 43, 44 days before disappointingly realizing that the rock isn't going to hatch. Penguins trying to hatch pieces of Mars.
Her main regret during her two years at NASA is that she didn't get to ride the Vomit Comet. She has a small camera - the images are projected onto the screen stage left. It's the lights over the audience, then she faces upstage and we see her face on the screen. She talks about astronauts, tethered to their capsules with the thinnest of lines, and suddenly her face in extreme close-up floats across the screen upside-down as if she's in zero-G. "Hello. Excuse me. Could you tell me where I am?"
Then, she's holding the bow and the camera in her hand as she plays. The violin, the strings, are moving near, then far, then tilting - wonderful images.
There should be a Department of Time.
Space travel - Moore's Law - if you went on a journey into space, halfway there your children would pass you in a faster spaceship. Of course, halfway through their trip their children would pass them in an even faster ship, and so on.
She talked about The Big Rip, the end of Everything when all will revert back to the timeless formless void that was there just before The Big Bang.
Everyone thinks their head is pretty much life-sized. But when you're looking in the mirror, hold up your hand. It's really like you have a shrunken head. "It's like shaving the face of a small puppet."
"Thank you and good night." Half standing ovation. Two curtain calls (sans curtain).
Overheard in the lobby:
"I don't think I get it."
"She wasn't like that when we saw her before."
"She does the violin thing too much. She did that last time." "But it's her instrument. That's what she plays. I loved it. Didn't you love it?"
I loved it.