In advance of her Irish gig, Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed, Putin and O Superman 

In advance of her Irish gig, Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed, Putin and O Superman 

Laurie Anderson’s speaking voice has the soothing quality of a long walk or a contemplative evening by a crackling fire. And so it is disconcerting, to put it mildly, to hear this icon of the performing arts suddenly emit of sputter of surprise. 

“Oh my gosh. Oh, dear. I just saw a little alert here on my phone, unfortunately. It says Putin is putting his nuclear systems on high alert,” says Anderson from her loft apartment on Canal Street in Manhattan. “I feel he’s quite nuts. He does have the ability to do that [use nuclear weapons].” 

That the world is becoming a stranger, scarier place day by day is hardly a radical statement. But no artist is arguably better able to help us negotiate these uncanny times than Anderson. She’s a poet of the strange and uncanny. Someone who has, across her decades in the visual arts and music, explored the dystopian aspects of modern life whilst always emphasising the human need for connection and empathy.

Anderson, performing at Dublin’s National Concert Hall on Tuesday, April 26, certainly has never been slow to point out the evils of militarism and warfare. That goes all the way back to 1981, and her UK top five hit, O Superman: a stream-of-consciousness critique of America’s empire-building around the world.

“When love is gone, there’s always justice/and when justice is gone there’s always force,” she intoned through a distorted vocoder, so that she sounded like a Dalek having a breakdown. “So hold me, Mom, in your long arms/your petrochemical arms/your military arms.”

 Forty years on, the flags and the faces have changed. Yet, as we watch the news, O Superman’s imagery of “petrochemical arms” and “military arms” feels as horribly relevant as when Anderson wrote the song at her studio overlooking the Hudson River.

“It’s a lot about power and justice,” she says. “And that plays out in many different ways. And it’s playing out in a way now that’s quite… I would used the word, terrifying.” 

It’s Sunday in New York and unseasonably cold. Anderson tends to follow the same routine regardless of day – a lesson from her upbringing in Chicago as one of eight children. Weekdays were chaotic and so were weekends. In the years since she has learned the value of treating every new morning as if it were the same blank slate. Another opportunity to learn and to create.

“From the time I was a kid I liked to do stuff like go downtown to Chicago and play the violin in the symphony. It’s like a vacation at the weekends for me. But it’s still work, I guess, because I’m doing the same thing I was doing since I was a kid. Just doing art projects. But today is a weird one. It’s freezing cold.”

Laurie Anderson. Picture: Ebru Yildiz

Anderson was born in the middle-class Chicago suburbs in 1947 into a Swedish-Irish family. She went to New York for college, graduating from Columbia with a masters in sculpture before launching herself upon the downtown art scene.

Her work from the outset walked the line between visual art and performance. Or, indeed, skated it as she did with her 1970s piece Duets On Ice, in which she played violin while wearing ice-skates set in a frozen block. The house lights went up only when the blocks melted.

In 1992 she met Lou Reed at a music festival. They would be together until his death in 2013 from liver cancer (having married in 2008). Reed had acquired a reputation for not suffering fools – or, indeed, not suffering anyone at all. Yet, he seems to have gone weak at the knees for Anderson and never quite recovered his composure.

She spoke a lot about Reed in the original version of her spoken word show, The Art of Falling, which she brings to the NCH in April and which she describes as “a masterful mix of stories about falling in love, falling asleep and falling in line”. 

In that pre-Covid incarnation, she connected her time with Reed to the experience of finding spiritual peace through Tai-Chi, a non-violent martial art which she and her husband would practice together.

“That’s what I doing before the pandemic. I don’t know what I’ll do now. I don’t know what to do with titles. So I’m just calling everything the same thing and hoping for the best. It’s all kind of one work in progress in a way. It might have something to do with that [Reed]. Probably not. We’ll see. I’m really nervous about it. I feel like I would like to make something that

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