Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Laurie Anderson's "Delusion"

The last time I saw Laurie Anderson perform was....  20 years ago, in Champaign-Urbana. It was terrific.  She handed out small leaflets of newsprint with a chunk of charcoal taped to one corner and explained, at the beginning of the performance, that photography was not allowed, so.... please feel free to sketch.

That performance stayed with me a while. In fact, I'm pretty sure I talked in an obnoxious (to others) but satisfying (to me) imitation of her sonorous, quirky cadences for, like, ever. If I'd had LEDs, I would have carried them in my mouth. Between that and Stop Making Sense, I can't remember why I didn't walk around in a white seersucker suit all the time. I wanted too. Like, bad.

"Delusion" played at Harris Theater in Chicago last night. (What a great theater by the way, on the north end of Milennium Park. A little vertiginous in the balconies, I had to hold the rails like a kid to get to my seat, but wow. It's a pit, a cavern, deep underground, like a womb. Must go back.) I really enjoyed it. 90 minutes of truly excellent performance, wonderful wordplay, the kind of sound and video technology that 20-year-ago Laurie probably dreamt of. Here is how the New York Times described it:

The main business of “Delusion,” as Ms. Anderson has explained it, is exploring the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, our families, our country and the world, and the porous border between history and myth. A jokey account of a lawsuit about the ownership of the moon morphs into a meditation on the roots of the Russian space program in the work of a 19th-century mystic. The story of the Icelandic farmer becomes a discussion of Ms. Anderson’s Swedish and Irish family roots. Probably the oddest of Ms. Anderson’s many odd tales is her memory of a dream in which she gives birth to her pet terrier.

The stories were engaging, humorous, at times a little sad. The lilt is there, the male techno-modulated character is fully formed as another individual (Fenway Bergamot is his name, she says. I always assumed it was mostly possession by William S Burroughs.) Her violin work was impressive, explaining even to a musical dolt like me how a chunk of melody repeated extemporaneously and (seemingly) randomly over abstract percussion begins to take its own shape, reinforce its own mood and meaning.

But today, I'm humming O Superman. I feel like I can't remember any of the tuneful bits, and feeling a little sheepish about that. Like, disloyal. Unfortunately, I need phrasing to understand music. Isn't that terrible? Repeated melody doesn't seem to be enough, I guess I need a time signature. Oh jeez - a hook? I feel terrible admitting I'm such a Luddite.

I realize it's performance art, but Sharky's Day is a song I can remember and sing to myself. Let X=X. I even remember "full fathom five, my father lies..." the Shakespeare/Melville mashup. "Delusion" is passing away from me like a dream that has no anchors, no refrain to attach to. Like a "Difficult Listening Hour." I'm embarrassed to say it - it probably speaks to my unsophistication. So sorry Ms Anderson. I'd just like to sing a long a little bit today.

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