9.27.14 BAM’s month-long tribute to Nonesuch Records continued with Landfall, another legendary collaboration, this time between Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet. It was a bit of a high-wire act – more speaking than you would get from a Kronos concert, more instrumental music than you would get at a Laurie Anderson concert, a theme (having to do with decay, erosion, corruption, extinction, glitches in verbal communication, technology, environmental integrity, cosmic meaning…) but not exactly a narrative, a visual element (generated by a program called Erst) of language streaming up and down and across the back wall, often too fast or cryptically to read or comprehend. The score fell into numerous discrete pieces, none of them songs exactly, not quite movements — in a program note, Laurie refers to them as “stories with tempos.” The first and last spoken pieces refer to Hurricane Sandy, but otherwise the stories stray to lists (extinct species, galaxies) and dreams (or rather, “Don’t you hate it when people tell you their dreams?”). There is no mention of the reality that during the time the work was created, Laurie’s husband Lou Reed was sick and dying, but there is a melancholy undertow to the surging, keening strings. The last words spoken, describing a basement full of water in which are floating all the things you’ve spent your life saving, are “beautiful, magical, catastrophic.” The piece kept me guessing every minute as to where it was going and how all the pieces fit together. The New York Times review was reprehensibly stingy – the music was challenging, varied, beautiful, adventurous, and well-played.
Posts Tagged ‘laurie anderson’
12.16.13 – The invitation-only tribute to Lou Reed at the Apollo Theater was a beautiful event – a classy, intimate, surprising blend of musical performances, spoken testimonials, film and audio clips, and multi-faith spiritual expression. Welcoming music came in the form of a guitar jam between Marc Ribot and Doug Wieselman. The program officially began with Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman performing the funeral prayer “El Maleh Rachamim.” Laurie Anderson opened and closed the three-hour ceremony with very personal recollections of her life with Lou. She talked movingly about his final days, his last words, his last breath, his last gesture. They had immersed themselves in Buddhist meditation, so she and her community observed the 49-day period of practices after someone dies, according to the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The memorial at the Apollo took place on Day 50, which is dedicated to the liberation of the soul of the departed. And she said they’re very clear and strict about “no tears,” weeping seen to be confusing to the soul passing through the bardo.
Accordingly, this was an evening of much celebration and laughter, emotion and sentiment but no tears. There were lively reminiscences by Lou’s sister Meryl (aka Bunny), producer Hal Wilner, Julian Schnabel, Ingrid Sischy, the Velvet Underground’s Maureen Tucker (reading a message from John Cale), and the surgeon who performed Lou’s liver transplant, Charlie Miller, who was hilarious and touching and apparently stitched up his famous patient to the beat of “Walk on the Wild Side.” Early on, Patti Smith sang “Perfect Day” accompanied on guitar by Lenny Kaye, and she took the lead for the all-hands-on-deck finale, “Sister Ray.” Emily Haines of the band Metric sang “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Debbie Harry did “White Light White Heat,” Jenni Muldaur sang “Jesus,” and the Persuasions (who opened for Lou’s first European tour) came out to croon a gorgeous a cappella rendition of “Turning Time Around.” John Zorn’s sax solo represented Lou at his most abrasive and improvisational. Philip Glass sat down at the piano and played while the rabbi sang and Hal Wilner translated the Kaddish. For me, the musical high point was Antony performing “Candy Says” to Marc Ribot’s simple acoustic guitar accompaniment – fitting for Lou’s song about transgender Warhol diva Candy Darling to be sung by a gender-queer performer who clearly understands its existential self-disgust from the inside (“Candy says I’ve come to hate my body/And all that it requires in this world”). It seemed curious to me that only the Persuasions sang a song written after 1973 — Lou made a lot of albums and wrote some good songs after Berlin, but I suppose it’s a recognition of how solid those early Velvet Underground songs were and still are.
I would guess Hal Wilner had a hand in amassing the various amazing film clips that conjured Lou’s presence, starting with an excerpt of “Waiting for the Man” (live in concert during his dyed-blond days) and including several chunks of a very funny interview in which he talked about why he lives in New York, what he hates about Long Island, what scares him about Sweden, designing his own eyeglasses, etc. I’d forgotten that Lou was in Paul Simon’s movie One Trick Pony, but we watched the whole clip, in which Lou plays a record producer imposing egregiously bad arrangements on Simon’s character’s album. Then Simon himself came out to sing “Pale Blue Eyes.” Two radically different audio clips were also highlights of the evening – Lou as a kid singing “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and then the unedited original studio demo of Lou strumming guitar and singing “Heroin,” still an astonishing song. Laurie remarked that Lou wrote his lyrics very fast, sometimes in the middle of the night, and never changed them, believing in “First thought, best thought.” Which, she admitted, she found infuriating, as someone who labored and worried over every single line.
As if the images of Lou Reed — Mr. Rock and Roll Animal, Mr. Street Hassle, Mr. Metal Machine Music — wearing a kippah at the Wailing Wall and practicing Tibetan Buddhism weren’t spiritually eclectic enough, we witnessed testimonials and demonstrations of t’ai chi from his teacher Ren GuangYi, his student, and his community. (It was fascinating to see how easily the 21 form t’ai chi moves could be adapted to the tune of “Sister Ray.”)
A rich full occasion. I was delighted to share it with my friend Judy Mam.
June 15 – I wasn’t planning to see End of the Rainbow, Peter Quilter’s play about Judy Garland, but Kai invited me to go with him, so I figured why not? Well, it turned out to be everything I’d suspected – a mediocre play, an unnecessary theatrical event. I thought I might at least admire Tracie Bennett’s much-ballyhooed performance as La Garland, but I didn’t see any of the extreme desperation or corrosive self-hatred others reported. I’m told Bennett has scaled her performance back since the show opened on Broadway. Understandable, but no fun for latecomers like me.
June 16 – Andy and I stood in line for two and a half hours to get free tickets to see Daniel Sullivan’s production of As You Like It at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, largely on the basis of having admired his Merchant of Venice on Broadway. Both productions featured Lily Rabe in the central female role. But the production was so unengaging that we ended up leaving at intermission. John Lee Beatty’s set design was drab, and although Rabe was lively enough, most of the performances seemed stiff, distant, and/or unintelligible. I felt most sorry for poor Stephen Spinella, playing a nearly static Jacques in a bad wig and scraggly beard. The one pleasure of the evening came from Steve Martin’s surprisingly fresh bluegrass-scented score, beautifully played by an onstage band (Jordan Rice, Tony Trischka, Tashina Clarridge, Skip Ward).
June 18 – I’m very much liking Fiona Apple’s new album, another one with an unwieldy title that most commentators have consented to just call The Idler Wheel…. I was tripped out by Dan P. Lee’s profile of Apple in New York magazine – fascinating and yet disturbingly intimate. I guess if you’re going to stay up all night getting “very stoned” and drunk several times with the subject you’re writing about, you might as well include it in the story. But it ended up seeming creepily exhibitionistic, and I wondered if Apple really consented to Lee’s hyper-exposure.
June 20 – Andy and Jonathan accompanied me to see the Keith Haring show at the Brooklyn Museum. Both of them enjoyed it very much – the show focuses on very early, pre-stardom Keith Haring (essentially 1978-1982), before either of them lived in New York or were aware of Haring’s work. Since I was living in NYC and working for the Soho Weekly News during much of that time, I was around when the wunderkind was making his chalk drawings on subway posters, and one aspect I loved about the show was its time-capsule flavor (all praises to the late Tseng Kwong Chi, who documented all this stuff at the time, because his photos preserve ephemeral work for posterity). I also liked getting a look at Haring’s art-school notebooks, the unexpectedly academic working-out of what became iconic images, the room-sized painting The Matrix (above), and his early inconsequential videos. But ultimately I was unsatisfied with the narrow range of the work on exhibit because I couldn’t help holding it up against the vast range of what came later, the stuff he showed at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery and the increasingly ambitious multimedia collaborative stuff that MOMA beautifully showcased in the retrospective that happened before Haring left us way way way way way too soon.
We toodled around a couple of other exhibits at the museum, checking out the small but intriguing display of newspaper articles written by Djuna Barnes, quirky intrepid gal-reporter pieces from the lesbian novelist best-known for Nightwood. (The show is installed in the corridor next to Judy Chicago’s iconic The Dinner Party.) We also walked through the “American Identities: A New Look” show, a potpourri of stuff from the permanent collection, including an early figurative painting by Mark Rothko (Subway, above; I never knew he did anything but the color-field paintings for which he’s famous), some striking neo-icons by Kehinde Wiley (below), and John Koch’s titillating painting The Sculptor.
June 20 – Andy had never seen Bonnie Raitt live, so it was doubly joyous for us to see her opening night at the Beacon Theater. The temperature had soared to the high nineties, and Bonnie gave thanks that the concert wasn’t outdoors, like some of the shows on her tour. The concert was terrific. She looks amazing, she led a smoking hot band, and she sang her heart out. She did almost her entire new album, Slipstream, but my favorites were two great ballads radically re-arranged: John Prine’s “Angel from Montgomery,” and then her own “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which I didn’t dream of hoping she would even be willing to sing nowadays. It was actually the first encore because she said she didn’t know where else to put it in the show. I found it a little strange that she seemed to apologize for doing ballads and felt like she had to immediately do a bunch of peppy songs right afterwards so the audience didn’t get depressed or bored. Her ballads are the best part of her repertoire – they’re beautiful, deep, and true, and she could sing them all night as far as I’m concerned, whereas I could care less about hearing songs like “Real Man” or some of the medium material on the new album. But, still. Love me some Bonnie Raitt. Mavis Staples opened the show, and it was fun to see her bask in the glow of legendhood. Bonnie’s keyboardist Mike Finnigan got to do a solo number called “I Got Some News,” which had some funny lyrics: “You came in smiling/With your lipstick a mess/I didn’t understand that….”
June 21 – I blow hot and cold on Wes Anderson, but having been dazzled by the visual sweep and crazy ensemble cast of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, I figured I’d better see the similar-sounding Moonrise Kingdom in the movie theater rather than on home video. I’m glad I did. As usual with a Wes Anderson film, the word that keeps coming up to describe it is “twee,” cute to the point of precious in a curdling sense, and yet I totally admire its quirkiness and originality. It’s not copying anything, and in fact as a crazy young adult saga I love that it presents the romantic heroic journey of two unlikely nerdy kids (played by Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, above). I want there to be more non-conforming quirky nerdy heroic kids in the world. That the soundtrack toggles back and forth between Benjamin Britten and Hank Williams becomes its own running joke. And the assortment of amazing actors running around in mostly small, nutty parts (Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Bob Balaban) makes the movie fun and never boring. Not to everyone’s taste, but surprisingly satisfying to mine.
June 22 – George Harrison: Living in the Material World is one more in an unbroken string of Martin Scorsese’s phenomenal rock-music documentaries. I’m not a completist fanatic like Allan Kozinn, but I’m a hardcore Beatlemaniac and I thought I’d hoovered up everything there is to know about the Fab Four, but this two-disc, nearly four-hour documentary uses no familiar material and rounds up tons of odd scraps of film and video from the full history of the Beatles. Focusing on George makes for a very different retelling of the familiar Beatles saga, because he was in some ways the most enigmatic of the four. I learned a bunch of stuff I didn’t know – mostly trivia, but fun facts. After totally giving George credit for the classic guitar riff of “And I Love Her,” Paul McCartney talks about another recording session (only four years later) when George kept playing guitar solos on every line of “Hey Jude” and Paul asked him not to. This, in its own way, signaled the beginning of the end of the Beatles. I love seeing recent interviews of Paul and Ringo talking about the Beatles. You can’t help noting that, for all his eloquence and humor, Paul is kind of a dick — bossy, self-satisfied, pompous even when he’s trying not to be. Even so, he has made some great solo records, which can’t be said of George. The documentary never says so explicitly but watching it you can’t avoid the plain fact that George’s songwriting after the Beatles was never that good – his rhythms often plodding, his melodies banal, his sentiments kinda preachy. But it’s fun to see and hear about the origins of his best songs, “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun,” and his extraordinary range of friendships, including Eric Clapton (even after Clapton fell in love and then married George’s first wife, Pattie Boyd). Two very fleeting references are made to serious drug problems – someone says “George did everything all the way, whether it was cocaine or meditation” – though we do see him performing “What Is Life” totally wasted, his voice a wreck. Tom Petty is another compelling commentator, talking about the Travelling Willburys. But a key moment I’ll take away is Ringo talking about his last encounter with George, who was being treated for his cancer in Switzerland. Ringo mentioned that he was on his way to Boston because his daughter was being treated there for a brain tumor, and George, who was in terrible pain and could barely sit up, said, “Would you like me to go with you?” And then, wiping away a tear, Ringo says, “I feel like I’m on Barbara Walters….”
June 23 – On the last day of the show, I got to see “Boat,” Laurie Anderson’s show of paintings at Vito Schnabel’s pop-up gallery on Leroy Street. Wow! I’m so glad I did. They’re monumental. I’ve been seeing Laurie’s work since the year I got to New York (1980) and have admired to varying degrees her experiments in music, performance art, video, film, photography, book-making, sculpture, storytelling, and political commentary. I’ve written about her a lot over the years, and we’ve gotten to be friends. She hasn’t ever had a show of just paintings before – she’s often evinced mixed feelings about the official Art World – but then these aren’t just paintings. The strongest feeling I had walking into the gallery was that of witnessing grief. The centerpiece of the show is “Lolabelle in the Bardo,” a series of ten charcoal-on-paper drawings imagining her beloved rat terrier in the state of being that The Tibetan Book of the Dead suggests the soul inhabits for the 49 days after it leaves the body. (Lolabelle died April 17, 2011.) These large canvases swirl with movement and recurring images (diamonds, spinning tops, and of course dogs), and they’re not without humor (Osama Bin Laden died May 2, and the artist imagines him cohabiting the bardo with Lolabelle). But a sense of loss and mourning, and the disorientation that goes with those experiences, pervades the whole show, which includes some paintings on fabric, some canvases so dark they look like sketches on blackboards (such as the painting that gives the show its title, with its mythological references to Cerberus and Styx), and a hologram of Laurie and Lolabelle sitting in armchairs while Laurie tells a story called “From the Air.”
In the evening, Andy and I trekked to a movie theater in Astoria we’d never been to (Kaufman Astoria Stadium) to see Brave. Andy’s a huge fan of Pixar and has been keen to see this movie since it was first announced that the studio famous for Toy Story, Up, Finding Nemo, and Wall-E was finally doing a movie with a girl as the heroic lead. As is so often the case, the trailer gives you the best part of the movie in two and a half minutes – the rest of it is a rambling fairy tale that gets vague and mushy at the end. Mostly, it’s a movie about hair. Merida does have an amazing mane of blazing red hair, depicted like no hair has ever been seen in animated film before. Not enough for me, though.
I just stumbled upon a beautiful slideshow online of Laurie Anderson’s 2010 “Lighting the Sails,” an installation of images projected onto the Sydney Opera House. The documentary photographs are by Mei Li. Check it out here.
Every musical education is necessarily idiosyncratic. Watching Merrill Garbus’s ebullient performance at the Allen Room with her band tUnE-yArDs, I had fun tracking the pieces of my own listening history that allowed me to even begin to comprehend her startling, wildly original musical attack. The first time I heard someone use looping to create a rhythm track was in the fall of 1980, when Laurie Anderson started performing “O Superman” (ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha) – now any number of solo performers have pedals at their feet and keyboards at their fingertips to conjure a digital orchestra. Garbus has a particularly goofy yet precise way of building tracks using her voice, a tomtom, a snare drum, and a high-hat with a tambourine parked on top of it. The additive principles of her compositions/arrangements remind me a lot of gamelan music, which I first heard at the Los Angeles Festival in 1990 but didn’t really understand until I started playing with a gamelan myself a couple of years ago. And the long-lined polyrhythms churned out by the rest of her band — bassist Nate Brenner and saxophonists Noah Bernstein-Hanley and Matt Nelson — unmistakeably refer to the Afro-beat sounds of Fela Kuti, whose music I heard for years but never really grasped until I saw Bill T. Jones’s dazzling stage musical Fela! That’s a pretty unorthodox lineage for a singer-songwriter, n’est-ce pas? Garbus is pretty ostentatious about her performance-art background and kooky self-presentation — she took to the stage with yellow and black stripes painted on her face and led the audience through mini-workshop exercises in communal toning and “breath of fire” in and amidst performing tracks from her breakthrough album w h o k i l l (especially exhilarating renditions of “Bizness” and “Gangsta”). She’s definitely one of the more eccentric entries in Lincoln Center’s enterprising American Songbook series.
At the end of the show, she invited ticketholders to join her outside in Columbus Circle, where some of her faithful tUnE-yArDs army assisted her in creating a tongue-in-cheek political/spiritual ritual wrapping the statue of Christopher Columbus with yellow-and-black-striped police tape only custom-designed to say “Occupy.” Fun!