Posted by: Mark Nielsen | February 19, 2013

Laurie Anderson: Performance Artist, Personal Hero

Nederlands: Laurie Anderson in De Vereeniging ...

Nederlands: Laurie Anderson in De Vereeniging te Nijmegen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main local Chicago classical/ folk radio station ran a truly great and long Laurie Anderson interview a few years ago (more of a guest co-hosting thing, really, 40 minutes here in its edited form).

As I’ve aged, I figured out it’s to each his (or more likely her) own, as far as acquiring the taste for this funky but highly philosophical and “experimental” spoken-word artist and violinist– who shacks up with Lou Reed and pals around with classical musicians and avant garde painters. I heard the WFMT program linked to below as a replay on the radio station a year after it first aired, but I also just recently discovered they have it in archives online, available whenever we want it. Yay!

Here’s WFMT’s write-up introducing the full 90-minute audio program:

In this Guest Host program, Kerry Frumkin welcomed Laurie Anderson for 90 minutes of music and conversation. One of today’s premier performance artists, Laurie Anderson is also known for her multimedia presentations. The Glen Ellyn native and Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra alumna is also a visual artist, composer, poet and vocalist. Over her multi-decade career she’s collaborated with composers such as Phillip Glass, and rock musicians like Lou Reed and Peter Gabriel. NASA recently named her their first-ever Artist in Residence.
Again, here’s the WFMT link– page down to find her program, a Flashplayer clip:,5,17


My favorite story she tells is about going downtown as a teen for Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra rehearsal, then going on to her Art Institute nude life drawing classes down the street, then eventually starting up a nude drawing group back in Glen Ellyn after school for her friends… a minor scandal at the time in conservative DuPage County, IL, USA . The parents put a stop to that after awhile, but it didn’t stop Laurie from blazing a trail for the next 40 years. You go, Laurie.

Laurie also mentions in the inteview the failed Iran hostage rescue attempt in 1979 that ended in a helicopter crash, an event suddenly sort of relevant again thanks to the Oscar nominations for Ben Affleck’s Argo. (A GREAT film, btw. Go see it.) Indirectly, the failure of U.S. military technology in that Iran copter crash was her main inspiration for O Superman… that and a certain opera work by Massenet.

As a “pop star” Laurie probably peaked with O Superman–a very low peak, which I can’t even find any records for regarding its U.S. Billboard singles sales (though it went to #2 !!! on the U.K charts… see, they’re just more intellectual across the pond). But she never set out to be a pop star, and really self-identifies as a visual and multimedia artist moreso than a musician. But for the record,  O Superman would have been in about 1981. To refresh your memory, below I’ll link to the semi-famous music video for O Superman, a sort of early Techno music track, though I doubt many of today’s practitioners of techno know much about Laurie:

O O O, it’s super! —>


IN THE 2000’s, Laurie made still more political/artistic statements about international matters of state on the stellar disc Homeland. She also finally married Lou Reed, in 2008. And she just keeps chipping away, redirecting our attention to the cutting edge of how we know what we know, why we do what we do, and why we should care.

If you didn’t get enough Laurie above, there’s also a nice 13-minute documentary sort of thing at YouTube, in which she talks to the DaVinci Learning people around 2001 about computers, the internet, her dog, dolphins, and her creative process and content priorities overall. She wraps up by talking about the Dalai Lama, and the temptation to hate or to be selfish that we have to work hard to resist. Ok, Laurie. I’m tryin’.

And, finally, an inside joke, for all the Laurie A fans who might stumble here through some strange back door in the future:

“Quien es mas macho, iceberg or rollerskate?”


  1. […] who follow Marking Time at all will perhaps recall that I’m a big fan of Laurie Anderson [click for my most recent mention of this groundbreaking violinist, writer, singer, composer, […]

  2. Any idea where those WFMT archive links are now? Unfortunately, it looks like they did a redesign and the links are broken.

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