INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Uncut JULY 2016 - by Michael Bonner
AN AUDIENCE WITH... LAURIE ANDERSON
The artist, author and musician shares her memories of Lou, Bowie, Burroughs, Eno, and punching Andy Kaufman. "David said: 'I think you can read minds...'"
"These days, I'm the Artist Who Does Concerts For Dogs," says Laurie Anderson. It is mid-morning in New York, and Anderson is considering this recent unexpected twist in her eventful career. Inspired by her latest project - an album and film called Heart Of A Dog - she has been performing a twenty-minute piece specifically designed for the canine ear. "The only problem is it's so much fun! People tell their dogs all week, 'We're going to a show just for you! You're going to love it!'" She held the UK premiere in early May at this year's Brighton Festival, where she was guest director. She also hosted another event there: Lou Reed Drones, an installation of her late husband's guitar and amps in feedback mode. "Lou used these guitars in his live shows," she explains. "It was about setting a pulse and atmosphere, a weird harmonic structure; they would fade in and out of the shows. We did it at first as a part of a memorial for Lou in a gallery. Since then, we've done variations on it. It's developed. People have brought their instruments along. When we were setting it up in the Park Avenue Armory in New York, John Zorn came by with his sax. We've had Iranian bagpipes, clarinets and violins, a cello, some ballet dancers. I learned from this experience... never underestimate the audience."
STAR QUESTION - Philip Glass: Where is the most interesting place on earth to listen to music?
So he's limited it to the planet? First of all, the answer is inside your head. That's the best place to really hear it and understand it. If I were listening outside, I would choose a mesa in New Mexico. A very, very flat top-ofthe- world kind of thing, a perfect blend of sky and land. That's not very realistic, because I can't imagine a sound system on top of the mesa. It's pretty theoretical. But let's leave it at inside your head and Mexican, a mesa in Mexico. In New Mexico. Or Mexico. All the Mexico is also good.
Erik Davidkov: You played Always Crashing In The Same Car at the Bowie tribute concert. Do you have a favourite memory of David?
David called me in the mid-'90s and said, "I think you can read minds." I replied, "You know, I'm pretty sure I can't." He said, "I want to do an experiment. I'm going to call you every day at different times. Have a piece of paper next to the fax machine. Then put down the phone and we will each make a drawing and we'll fax our drawings to each other." The first time I did it, a drawing came into the fax machine and it looked like mine. What are the chances of two people drawing a bush in the foreground, a house and on a second storey a post coming out and a man hanging from it? The chances are zero. They're zero. I have twenty of these drawings. I'm probably going to make a book from these, a mind-reading book. David helped me understand Lulu, Lou's last work, which was filled with anger. David said, "Nobody ever understands Lou. This is his greatest work." I was really afraid of the anger, because I thought at the end of your life you should try to have some peace. Instead there's Lou like it's Lear. Of course, I saw what David did around his death. It was an amazing accomplishment. It just tore my heart out. What a person, what a magnificent person.
Doug Cropper, Fairford: What are your plans for Lou's archive?
There's a million different things in there. Eight hundred hours, it's massive. We're trying to think of some really good things to do with it so we're still sorting through it. Does it go back before The Velvet Underground? Oh yeah. It's his life's work. He spent the last three months of his life remastering stuff from the Arista era. It's about twenty-five CDs. It's so beautiful and to see how excited he was about it, about using technology from now to make that stuff sound like its true self. It's not about smoothing it out, it's about roughing it up sometimes. There's always different criteria. The energy of that music comes zooming out in a way that is almost terrifying. It's really exciting.
STAR QUESTION - Anohni: What is your favourite colour and what are the five things your favourite colour reminds you of?
I just did some maroon and brown paintings and found that maroon is quite an interesting colour. But OK, my favourite colour today is white. It almost never is white, but since you're asking me right now, it's because I associate it with white skies and today we have one here, so I'm really excited about it. It's a luminous white sky, a beautiful spring sky. I'm looking at a white door as we're speaking now and it's pretty good. I'm going to open a painting show in Naples. There's some very big paintings there that were the result of being really enthusiastic about white canvases. My friend Julian Schnabel is my painting teacher. I was feeling down maybe four years ago and he said, "OK, here's the brushes, there's some canvases, go make a painting." I said, "I hate painting, I don't want to go and make a painting." They were big white canvases. Just to defend myself, I started to paint and I really couldn't stop. Another thing: I like really pale faces. I like white socks.
Shereen McDonald, Glasgow: How did you become involved with the Nova Convention?
It was to celebrate William Burroughs, who'd just returned to live in New York. Keith Richards was supposed to be there, but he had cancelled quite early. I was MC and my job was to keep the ball rolling so people wouldn't ask where Keith was. I kept introducing other people like Patti Smith and people were yelling "Keith! Keith! Keith!" It was a lot of punk kids who wanted to meet Keith. Anyway, finally Burroughs came out and banged his briefcase to his desk and sat down with this pork pie hat on and he said, "OK, then." He started talking about sex and drugs and murder and these punks were going, "Grandpa! We love you!" It's really interesting to do cross-generational things in the art world, because generally they tend not to be like that; so that was a really wonderful moment when the punk kids got to meet Uncle Bill.
We had this idea of looking at the water while we were listening to the music. The Hudson is right outside my studio window. The music seemed to go with the river no matter what. If it was rhythmic and the river was really glassy, it seemed to work as a counterpoint, or if it was choppy, it seemed to magnify the rhythmic elements. Sometimes you'd play the music and the river would look a little boring. Our slogan was, "If it goes with the river, it goes on the record". Then they built this Trump building in front of my windows and right against the walls so I see nothing anymore. I've got a big painted wall now so I could theoretically make paintings anyway. It's a sad story.
Allan Lee, Springfield, Illinois: How does your childhood in Glen Ellyn, Illinois influence your art and music?
went back a couple of summers ago for a small reunion with some of the people in my school. We walked around the town. I had been so afraid that it had been turned into some kind of condo, but it was even sweeter than I remembered it. This is in Heart Of A Dog, but there's a guy who lived there who worked in the trees and pretended he worked for the phone company, or he imagined he did. If it was 2016 he would've been in an institution. But in that small town in the '50s, people went, 'He's not hurting anyone. If he thinks he's living in the trees and pretending he's doing work for the phone company, it's fine. Let's just thank him for it.' So they did.
Lisa Parsons, London: You were an underground artist when O Superman became a hit. What were the pros and cons of that success for you?
I was part of a really cool New York scene, but I didn't see it as underground at all! I didn't have any interest in the pop world. We were really snobbish. We thought that pop world was idiotic, built for eleven-year-olds. So when I got calls about doing this record, I thought it odd, but I decided to do it. I got a lot of criticism from other artists but I saw it not as selling out but crossing over. I was determined very early on not to take it seriously, so I think for the most part I didn't. My ego probably got entwined a little bit, but for the most part it was a really interesting experience. I'm glad I did. The brevity of that kind of success is pretty well known - you're in and then you're out. But it was cool, too, to do it for a bit. I liked it a lot.
STAR QUESTION - Stephen Merritt, Magnetic Fields: Why aren't you running for president?
Oh, I am running for president. Didn't I mention that to him? OK, that's pretty undercover. Probably for the same reasons he isn't, because who wants to have their flaws exhibited to the world? I just feel great. I just can think of so many times somebody would say things that I did wrong or that were stupid or not very generous and it would really make me feel bad. So I guess it's just that I don't feel like I'm too proud to do it, but maybe I'm too private. I just don't really like that aspect of it.
Peter Speller, Torquay: When you inducted Lou into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, you talked about your three rules of living. How did you and Lou arrive at those three rules?
Trial and error! Rule one was, don't be afraid of anyone. Rule two was, get a really good bullshit detector. And three, be really, really tender. They really worked for us. What they didn't address is that sometimes as an artist it's hard to keep working. Sometimes you think, isn't it better to just live and look at the sky or meditate than to keep making things?
Neil Clarke, Bristol: What do you remember about that '70s New York art scene?
Quite a lot, because my life was very shaped by the group of people that I worked with at that time. Theresa Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark, Jene Highstein the sculptor, Richard Cera. We lived in SoHo and we all saw each other every day. No one thought they would ever make one cent from their work so there was a kind of crazy egalitarian thing that was happening. Men and women were completely equal. We all wore this kind of workers' outfit. It was a lovely time and we were really snobbish and we were really hard-working. Then gradually we began to work in Europe, mostly in Italy and Germany, and we became expats. That's when that scene gradually got broken up.
William Merrin: You worked with Andy Kaufman. Did his brand of performance art influence you?
Yes, but I was never anywhere near as out there as Andy, no-one ever was. I saw him at a club in Queens when no-one had heard of him. He was playing the bongos really pretty badly and crying while he was playing. It made you cringe, but it was also really hilarious. So then I was his plant for a while. I would go to clubs with him and he would go into character as this guy Tony Clifton. He was a real jerk who'd say things like, "I hate women, I don't respect them, I'll respect them when a woman can come up here and knock me out." So I was supposed to go up onstage and knock him out. He would really fight, and I would try to punch him. He kind of let me win, but not really. I had a great time with Andy.