Laurie Anderson Langue D'Amour



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Laurie Anderson

Langue D'Amour

Let's see, uh. . .


It was on an island, and there was a snake.
And this snake had legs.
And he could walk all around the island.

Yes, that's true.


A snake with legs.

And the man and the woman were on the island too,


and they were not very smart.
But they were happy as clams. Yeah.

Let's see, uh, then one evening,


the snake was walking about in the garden,
and he was talking to himself,
and he saw the woman and they started to talk.

And they became friends.


Very good friends.

And the woman liked the snake very much,


because when he talked,
he made little noises with his tongue,
and his long tongue
was lightly licking
about his lips
like there was a little fire inside his mouth.

And the flame would come dancing out of his mouth,


and the woman liked this. Very much.

And after that, she was bored with the man,


because no matter what happened
he was always as happy as a clam.
What did the snake say? Yes, what was he saying?
Ok, I will tell you.

The snake told her things about the world.


He told her about the time when there was a big typhoon on the island,
and all the sharks came out of the water, yes.
They came out of the water and they walked right into your house
with their big, white teeth.

And the woman heard these things.


And she was in love.

And the man came out and said,


We have to go now.
And the woman did not want to go.
Because she was a hothead.
Because she was a woman in love.

Anyway, they got into the boat and left the island,


but they never stayed anywhere very long
because the woman was restless.
She was a hothead. She was a woman in love.

And this is not a story my people tell;


it is something I know
myself.
And when I do my job
I am thinking about these things,
because when I do my job,

that
is what I think about.

Oooo la la la la. Voici. Voilà.
Ooo la la la la. Voici le langage de l'amour.
Oooo la la la la. La la la.
Voici. Voilà. La la.
Voici le langage de l'amour.
Ah! Comme ci, comme ça. Voilà. Voilà.
Voici le langage de l'amour.
Attends! Attends! Attends!
Écoute. Écoute. Écoute.

Yeah. La La La La. Here. And there.


Oh yes. This is the language of love.
Here it is. There it is. La la.
This is the language of love.
Ah! Neither here nor there.
There. There.
This is the language of love.
This is the language of love.
Wait! Wait! Wait!
Wait! Wait! Wait!
Listen. Listen. Listen.
Only An Expert
Now only an expert can deal with the problem,
Because half the problem is seeing the problem,
And only an expert can deal with the problem.

So if there's no expert dealing with the problem,


It's really actually twice the problem,
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem.

Now in America we like solutions,


We like solutions to problems.
And there's so many companies that offer solutions,
Companies with names like Pet Solution.
The Hair Solution. The Debt Solution. The World Solution. The Sushi Solution.
Companies with experts ready to solve the problems,
Cause only an expert can see there's a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only and expert can deal with the problem.

Now let's say you're invited to be on Oprah


And you don't have a problem.
But you want to go on the show, so you need a problem.
So you invent a problem.
But if you're not an expert in problems,
You're probably not going to invent a very plausible problem
And so you're probably going to get nailed.
You're going to get exposed.
You're going to have to bow down and apologize
And beg for the public's forgiveness.
Cause only an expert can see there's a problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem

Now on these shows, the shows that try to solve your problems


The big question is always: How can I get control?
How can I take control?”
But don't forget this is a question
for the regular viewer. The person who's barely getting by
The person who's watching shows about people with problems.
The person who's part of the 60% of the U.S. population
1.3 weeks away, 1.3 pay checks away from homelessness.
In other words, a person with problems.
So when experts say, “Let's get to the root of the problem,
Let's take control of the problem,”
if you take control of the problem, you can solve the problem.”
Now often this doesn't work at all
because the situation is completely out of control.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

So who are these experts?


Experts are usually self-appointed people or elected officials
Or people skilled in sales techniques, trained or self-taught
To focus on things that might be identified as problems.
Now sometimes these things are not actually problems.
But the expert is someone who studies the problem
And tries to solve the problem.
The expert is someone who carries malpractice insurance.
Because often the solution becomes the problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

Now sometimes experts look for weapons.


And sometimes they look everywhere for weapons.
And sometimes when they don't find any weapons.
Sometimes other experts say, “If you haven't found any weapons,
It doesn't mean there are no weapons.””
And other experts looking for weapons find things like cleaning fluids.
And refrigerator rods. And small magnets.
And they say, “These things may look like common objects to you,
But in our opinion, they could be weapons.
Or they could be used to make weapons.
Or they could be used to ship weapons.
Or to store weapons.””
Cause only an expert can see they might be weapons
And only an expert can see they might be problems.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

And sometimes, if it's really really really hot


And it's July in January,
And there's no more snow and huge waves are wiping out cities,
And hurricanes are everywhere,
everyone knows it's a problem.
But if some of the experts say it's no problem,
And other experts claim it's no problem
Or explain why it's no problem,
Then it's simply not a problem.
But when an expert says it's a problem,
And makes a movie and wins an Oscar about the problem
Then all the other experts have to agree that it is most likely a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

And even though a county can invade another country,


And flatten it. And ruin it. And create havoc and civil war in that other country,
If the experts say that it's not a problem
And everyone agrees that they're experts good at seeing problems
Then invading that country is simply not a problem.
And if a country tortures people
And holds citizens without cause or trial and sets up military tribunals,
This is also not a problem.
Unless there's an expert who says it's the beginning of a problem.
Cause only an expert can deal with the problem.
Only an expert can deal with the problem.

Only an expert can see there's a problem


And see the problem is half the problem
And only an expert can deal with the problem
Only an expert can deal with the problem
O Superman

O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad.



Hi. I'm not home right now. But if you want to leave a message,
just start talking at the sound of the tone
.

Beep!
“Hello? This is your Mother. Are you there? Are you coming home?”

Beep!
“Hello? Is anybody home?
Well, you don't know me,
but I know you. And I've got a message to give to you:
“Here come the planes.”
So you better get ready. Ready to go. You can come
as you are, but pay as you go. Pay as you go.”

And I said: “OK. Who is this really?”

And the voice said:

This is the hand, the hand that takes. This is the hand,


the hand that takes.
This is the hand, the hand that takes.
Here come the planes.
They're American planes. Made in America.
Smoking or non-smoking?”

And the voice said:

“Neither snow nor rain nor gloom
of night shall stay these couriers
from the swift completion
of their appointed rounds.

'Cause when love is gone, there's always justice.


And when justice is gone, there's always force.
And when force is gone, there's always Mom. Hi Mom!”

So hold me, Mom, in your long arms. So hold me,


Mom, in your long arms.
In your automatic arms. Your electronic arms.
In your arms.
So hold me, Mom, in your long arms.
Your petrochemical arms. Your military arms.
In your electronic arms.

 

Sharkey’s Day



Sun's coming up. Like a big bald head. Poking up over the grocery store. It's Sharkey's day. It's Sharkey's day today. Sharkey wakes up and Sharkey says: There was this man... And there was this road...And if only I could remember these dreams... I know they're trying to tell me...something. Ooooeee. Strange dreams.(Strange dreams). Oh yeah. And Sharkey says: I turn around, it's fear. I turn around again And it's love. Oh yeah. Strange dreams. And the little girls sing:Oooee Sharkey. And the manager says: Mr. Sharkey? He's not at his desk right now. Could I take a message? And the little girls sing: Oooeee Sharkey. He's Mister Heartbreak. They sing: Oooeee Sharkey. Yeah. He's Mister Heartbreak. And Sharkey says: All of nature talks to me. If I could just figure out what it was trying to tell me. Listen! Trees are swinging in the breeze. They're talking to me. Insects are rubbing their legs together. They're all talking. They're talking to me. And short animals- They're bucking up on their hind legs. Talking. Talking to me. Hey! Look out! Bugs are crawling up my legs! You know? I'd rather see this on TV. Tones it down. And Sharkey says: I turn around, it's fear. I turn around again, and it's love. Nobody knows me. Nobody knows my name. And Sharkey says: All night long I think of those little planes up there. Flying around. You can't even see them. They're specks! And they're full of tiny people. Going places. And Sharkey says: You know? I bet they could all land on the head of a pin. And the little girls sing: Ooooeee. Sharkey! He's Mister Heartbreak. They sing: Oooeee. That Sharkey! He's a slow dance on the edge of the lake. He's a whole landscape gone to seed. He's gone wild! He's screeching tires on an oil slick at midnight on the road to Boston a long time ago. And Sharkey says: Lights! Camera! Action! TIMBER! At the beginning of the movie, they know they have to find each other. But they ride off in opposite directions. Sharkey says: I turn around, it's fear. I turn around again, and it's love. Nobody knows me. Nobody knows my name. You know? They're growing mechanical trees. They grow to their full height. And then they chop themselves down. Sharkey says: All of life comes from some strange lagoon. It rises up, it bucks up to its full height from a boggy swamp on a foggy night. It creeps into your house. It's life! It's life! I turn around, it's fear. I turn around again, and it's love. Nobody knows me. Nobody knows my name. Deep in the heart of darkest America. Home of the brave. Ha! Ha! Ha! You've already paid for this. Listen to my heart beat. And the little girls sing: Oooeee Sharkey. He's a slow dance on the edge of the lake. They sing: Ooooeeee. Sharkey. He's Mister Heartbreak. Paging Mr. Sharkey. White courtesy telephone please. And Sharkey says: I turn around, it's fear. I turn around again, and it's love. And the little girls sing: Ooooeee Sharkey. Yeah. On top of Old Smokey all covered with snow. That's where I wanna, that's where I'm gonna That's where I'm gonna go.

The Language Of The Future

Last year, I was on a twin-engine plane coming from Milwaukee to New York City. Just over La Guardia, one of the engines conked out and we started to drop straight down, flipping over and over. Then the other engine died: and we went completely out of control. New York City started getting taller and taller. A voice came over the intercom and said:

Our pilot has informed us that we are about to attempt a crash landing.
Please extinguish all cigarettes. Place your tray tables in their upright, locked position.

Your Captain says: Please do not panic.


Your Captain says: Place your head in your hands.
Captain says: Place your head on your knees.
Captain says: Put your hands on your head. Put your hands on your knees! (heh-heh)

This is your Captain.


Have you lost your dog?
We are going down.
We are all going down, together.

As it turned out, we were caught in a downdraft and rammed into a bank. It was, in short, a miracle. But afterwards I was terrified of getting onto planes. The moment I started walking down that aisle, my eyes would clamp shut and I would fall into a deep, impenetrable sleep.

(YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THIS ...
YOU DON’T WANT TO BE HERE ...
HAVE YOU LOST YOUR DOG?)

Finally, I was able to remain conscious, but I always had to go up to the forward cabin and ask the stewardesses if I could sit next to them: “Hi! Uh, mind if I join you?” They were always rather irritated—“Oh, all right (what a baby)”—and I watched their uniforms crack as we made nervous chitchat.

Sometimes even this didn’t work, and I’d have to find one of the other passengers to talk to. You can spot these people immediately. There’s one on every flight. Someone who’s really on your wavelength. I was on a flight from L.A. when I spotted one of them, sitting across the aisle. A girl, about fifteen. And she had this stuffed rabbit set up on her tray table and she kept arranging and rearranging the rabbit and kind of waving to it: “Hi!”“Hi there!”

And I decided: This is the one I want to sit next to. So I sat down and we started to talk and suddenly I realized she was speaking an entirely different language. Computerese. A kind of high-tech lingo. Everything was circuitry, electronics, switching. If she didn’t understand something, it just “didn’t scan.” We talked mostly about her boyfriend. This guy was never in a bad mood. He was in a bad mode. Modey kind of a guy. The romance was apparently kind of rocky and she kept saying: “Man oh man you know like it’s so digital!” She just meant the relationship was on again, off again.

Always two things switching.
Current runs through bodies and then it doesn’t.
It was a language of sounds, of noise, of switching, of signals.
It was the language of the rabbit, the caribou, the penguin, the beaver.
A language of the past.
Current runs through bodies and then it doesn’t.
On again.
Off again.
Always two things switching.
One thing instantly replaces another.

It was the language of the Future.

Put your knees up to your chin.
Have you lost your dog?
Put your hands over your eyes.

Jump out of the plane.


There is no pilot.
You are not alone.

This is the language of the on-again off-again future.


And it is Digital.

And I answered the phone and I heard a voice and the voice said:


Please do not hang up.
We know who you are.
Please do not hang up.
We know what you have to say.
Please do not hang up.
We know what you want.
Please do not hang up.
We’ve got your number:
One ...
Two ...
Three ...
Four.

Another Day in America

And so, finally, here we are at the beginning of a whole new era.


The start of a brand new world. And now what? How do we start?
How do we begin again?

There are some things you can simply look up–


Such as the size of Greenland, the dates of the famous nineteenth-century rubber wars,
Persian adjectives, the composition of snow.
And other things you just have to guess at.

And then again today is the day and those were the days and now these are the days.


And now the clock points histrionically to noon. Some new kind of north.
And so, which way do we go?

What are days for? To wake us up.


To put between the endless nights.

And by the way, here's my theory of punctuation: instead if a period


at the end of each sentence, there should be a tiny clock
that shows you how long it took you to write that
sentence.

And another way to look at time is this: There was an old married couple


and they had always hated each other.
Never been able to stand the sight of each other, really.
And when they were in their nineties they finally got divorced and people said:
Why did you wait so long? Why didn't you do this a whole lot earlier?
And they said: Well, we wanted to wait until the children died.

Ah America! And what will be America? A whole new place just waiting to happen.


Broken up parking lots, rotten dumps, speedballs, accidents and hesitations,
things left behind, styrofoam, computer chips.

And Jim and John, oh they were there. And Carol too, her hair pinned up


in that weird beehive way she liked so much. And Craig and Phil moving at the pace of summer.
And Uncle Al who screamed all night in the attic. Yes something happened to him
in the war they said over in France. And France had become something we never mentioned.
Something dangerous.

Yes some were sad to see those days disappear. The flea markets and their smells, the war,


all the old belongings strewn out on the sidewalks. Mildewed clothes
and old resentments and ragged record jackets.

And ah these days. All these days! What are days for?


To wake us up. To put between the endless nights.

And meanwhile all over town, checks are bouncing and accounts are being automatically closed. Passwords are expiring. And everyone's counting and comparing and predicting.


Will it be the best of times? Will it be the worst of times?
Or will it just be another one of those times?
Show of hands please!

And ah this world, which like Kierkegaard said, can only be understood when lived


backwards which would entail an incredible amount
of planning and confusion.
And then there are those big questions always at the back of your mind.
Things like: Are those two people over there
actually my real parents? Should I get a second Prius?
And you, you who can be silent in four languages;
your silence will be considered your consent.

Ah but those were the days before the audience, and what the audience wanted,


And what the audience said it wanted.

And you know the reason I really love the stars is that we cannot hurt them.


We can't burn them or melt them or make them overflow.
We can't flood them or burn them up or turn them out.
But we are reaching for them. We are reaching for them.

Some say our empire is passing. As all empires do.


And others haven't a clue what time it is or where it goes or even where the clock is.

And oh the majesty of trees. An unstoppable train. Different colored wonderlands.


Freedom of speech and sex with strangers.

Dear old God, may I call you old? And may I ask: Who are these people?


Ah America! We saw it. We tipped it over and then we sold it.
These are the things I whisper softly to my dolls, those heartless little thugs dressed in calico kilts
and jaunty hats and their perpetual white, toothy smiles.

And oh my brothers and oh my sisters. What are days for? Days are where we live.


The flow and then the flow. They come, they fade, they go and they go.
No way to know exactly when they start, or when their time is up.

Oh, another day, another dime. Another day in America.


Another day, another dollar. Another day in America.

And oh my brothers and oh my long lost sisters.


How do we begin again? How do we begin?

The Ugly One with the Jewels

In 1974, I went to Mexico to visit my brother who was working as an anthropologist with Tsutsil Indians, the last surviving Mayan tribe. And the Tsutsil speak a lovely birdlike language and are quite tiny physically; I towered over them. Mostly, I spent my days following the women around since my brother wasn’t really allowed to do this. We got up at 3am and began to separate the corn into three colors. And we boiled it, ran to the mill and back, and finally started to make the tortillas. Now all the other women’s tortillas were 360°, perfectly toasted, perfectly round; and after a lot of practice mine were still lop-sided and charred. And when they thought I wasn’t looking they threw them to the dogs.


After breakfast we spent the rest of the day down at the river watching the goats and braiding and unbraiding each other’s hair. So usually there wasn’t that much to report. One day the women decided to braid my hair Tsutsil-style. After they did this I saw my reflection in a puddle. I looked ridiculous but they said, “Before we did this you were ugly, but now maybe you will find a husband.”

I lived in a yurt, a thatched structure shaped like a cob cake. And there’s a central fireplace ringed by sleeping shelves sort of like a dry beaver down. Now my Tsutsil name was Lausha, which loosely translated means, “the ugly one with the jewels.” Now ugly, OK, I was awfully tall by local standards. But what did they mean by the jewels? I didn’t find out what this meant until one night, when I was taking my contact lenses out, and since I’d lost the case I was carefully placing them on the sleeping shelf; suddenly I noticed that everyone was staring at me and I realized that none of the Tsutsil had ever seen glasses, much less contacts, and that these were the jewels, the transparent, perfectly round jewels that I carefully hid on the shelf at night and then put for safekeeping into my eyes every morning.

So I may have been ugly but so what? I had the jewels.

Full fathom five thy father lies;


Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes;
Nothing of him that does fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
And I alone am left to tell the tale.
Call me Ishmael.

From the Air

Good evening. This is your Captain.


We are about to attempt a crash landing.
Please extinguish all cigarettes.
Place your tray tables in their
upright, locked position.
Your Captain says: Put your head on your knees.
Your Captain says: Put your head in your hands.
Put your hands on your hips. Heh heh.
This is your Captain—and we are going down.
We are all going down, together.
And I said: Uh oh. This is gonna be some day.

Standby. This is the time.


And this is the record of the time.
This is the time.
And this is the record of the time.

Uh—-this is your Captain again.


You know, I've got a funny feeling I've seen this all before.
Why? Cause I'm a caveman.
Why? Cause I've got eyes in the back of my head.
Why? It's the heat. Standby.

This is the time. And this is the record of the time.


This is the time. And this is the record of the time.

Put your hands over your eyes. Jump out of the plane.


There is no pilot. You are not alone. Standby.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.

An Essay Excerpt on Laurie Anderson,
from http://starling.rinet.ru/music/lauriec.htm

[…]


I would personally describe Laurie Anderson as one of the most important artists working in music in the 80s.

Laurie Anderson is probably a minor figure in the history of music. It would be difficult to describe her as musically influential (and many people writing about her work feel the need to add the disclaimer that she is more of a "performance artist" than a "musician"). At the same time I think United States Live is a masterpiece.

In the 80s a lot of artists in different fields tried various ways to address the ways in which technology, identity, and gender were put in flux in an increasingly "wired" world. I think that Laurie Anderson is one of the most successful people at addressing those issues in any medium and that she succeeds in using music as an important part of that artistic statement.

Consider, from that perspective, the lyrics to the song "Mach 20"



"Ladies and Gentlemen. What you are observing here are magnified examples, or facsimiles, of human sperm."

"Generation after generation of these tiny creatures have sacrificed themselves in their persistent, often futile attempt to transport the basic male genetic code. But where's this information coming from? They have no eyes. No ears. Yet some of them already know that they will be bald. Some of them know that they will have small crooked teeth. Over half of them will end up as women. Four hundred million living creatures, all knowing precisely the same thing. Carbon copies of each other in a Kamikaze race against the clock."

"Now some of you may be surprised to learn that if a sperm were the size of a salmon it would be swimming its seven inch journey at five hundred miles per hour. If a sperm were the size of a whale, however, it would be traveling at fifteen thousand miles per hour or Mach twenty."

"Now imagine, if you will, four hundred million blind and desperate sperm whales departing from the Pacific Coast of North America, swimming at fifteen thousand miles per hour, and arriving in Japanese coastal waters in just under forty five minutes. How would they be received? Would they realize that they were carrying information? A message? Would there be room for so many millions? Would they know that they had been sent for a purpose?"

The basic humor here is the way in which Science's tendency to abstract and mathematize the world (and I say this as someone who was a math major) lends itself to category errors. The question, "how fast would sperm swim if they were the size of a whale?" Is not one that anyone would think of based simply on direct experience with sperm. It makes it clear distant scientific thinking "once we have an equation we can plug in whatever values we want" is from day to day experience. (Note: for more information on a related topic I highly recommend Walter Ong's book Orality and Literacy). From the point of view the fact (as far as I can tell) that Laurie significantly overestimates the swimming speed of sperm, doesn't interfere with the humor at all -- rather it emphasizes how easy it can be to introduce order of magnitude errors. If we think of Mathematics as a language this results in the equivalent of nonsense words—another Laurie Anderson theme.

What's impressive, however, about this song is the way in which it is simultaneously evocative and allusive while still having a point. The lyrics allow for a multitude of references without devolving into being just references to other things. Is it, for example, an exaggeration to see the word "bald" working partially as a reference to the absurdity of the fact that for all of the power of modern science/medicine so much time and money has been put into trying to solve male baldness with so little results. Or consider the comments ". . . all knowing the same thing" and ". . . carrying information? A message?" as references to the "atoms vs. bits" debate. Are human beings just information? Is human understanding and "knowing" logically similar to information encoded in genetic material? Those examples suggest that the song is coldly and analytically critical but I think it's poignant as well. The way Laurie sings the song the images of the race against the clock and the "blind and desperate" sperm are given weight as well. The sperm that she sings about are both mathematical abstraction and, at some level, still living cells.

These allusions have power because the central image— the eye of science (mathematics?) turned on the most human of subjects treats it as simple matter, is strong enough to support them. That image is not drowned in the other ideas and emotions (contrast, for example, Warren Zevon's "Transverse City". A song that I love but that is nothing more than images. It has no core idea).

Perhaps I have worked too hard on what is, ultimately, a throw-away song. But I do think Laurie Anderson succeeds in giving us a musical language to express these ideas. It is both technological and human (an analog synthesizer sampling the human voice on "O Superman," both distant and personal. The music alternates between anxious and playful— both of which seem like reasonable responses to encroaching technology.

I'm not sure that Laurie Anderson's music is noteworthy for any reason other than its ability to express and reflect the content of her work (though in the right mood her songs can be beautiful) and that, perhaps, is why she is more of a performance artist than a musician. But she is an artist who explores important themes with a confidence and creativity that is difficult to match.

from http://athena.english.vt.edu/~siegle/Postmodern/Performance/I.__Laurie_Anderson/i.__laurie_anderson.html

“It is perhaps not too much to suggest that Anderson manages to "deterritorialize" the United States, to give her audience a sense that they are in some measure outside­ or wanderers within ­the very place they live.”

from http://thefiddleback.com/issue-items/here-come-the-planes

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