Laurie Anderson is the world’s pre-eminent performance artist — a musician, writer, and electronics and visual wizard. The 60-year-old New Yorker’s fascination with technology in everyday life has inspired her work since her independently produced recording “O Superman” became a counterculture smash in 1981.
Since then, Anderson’s 10 albums and ambitious stage works have propelled her from SoHo art spaces to symphony halls. This Saturday she returns to Boston’s Opera House to perform Homeland, an epic poem wrapped in a rock concert that promises to be her most electronic and improvisational production. She spoke with me by phone from the Tribeca loft she shares with her boyfriend, Lou Reed.
Is Homeland overtly political?
Maybe covertly, like most of my work. Not all its stories are political. It’s a great time for stories. People are listening in a sharper way right now, trying to evaluate stories the candidates are telling. So this is a very wordy piece.
Are you caught up in this election?
I think everybody is. Everyone’s aware that we’re dealing with a lot of important issues. For example, I feel more aware of budgets — which doesn’t sound glamorous but was a part of what I was thinking about while writing Homeland. It’s odd that nobody really talks about the cost of the war. We have 750 military bases around the world; our military budget is bigger than the rest of the world’s combined. While it is important for candidates to talk about health care and education, talking about the resources we spend on war is taboo — even though we wouldn’t have any trouble in other areas if we allotted that much spending to them.
I think most Americans are overwhelmed by the cost of living.
People got shocked. “How am I gonna afford that new iPod?” “How am I gonna avoid getting kicked out into the street?” When you see Obama appealing to “hope,” you realize how fearful people have become — full of paranoia and fear. No one likes to think of themselves like that. And we’re not like that. You can’t define Americans that way.
What role did fear play in creating Homeland?
It was more loss than fear. I was working on a film in Japan — a series of stories — just as we were invading Iraq. One of them was about the feeling of losing things. Sometimes you feel like you’ve lost something but can’t figure out what: your keys, your car, your boyfriend. I realized what I’d really lost was my country and the idea of where I come from. A lot of people share that feeling and don’t articulate it.
Do you find hope in any of the candidates?
I’m a Democrat, and I think both candidates are amazing. I’m not a McCain fan, but I did like that he called Rush Limbaugh a clown. Then someone on a talk show said he owed an apology. And McCain agreed. He apologized to Bozo and Krusty and the other clowns who didn’t want to be in the same category as Limbaugh. I thought, “Thank you. Finally a little humor.” Electing a president isn’t something dire, but bureaucrats feel they have to be super-sanctimonious, which makes their language so stilted. They’re afraid to offend, so they say nothing.
Why does Homeland have more electronic grooves and more improvisation than your earlier works?
If it’s too highly programmed, it’s no fun to play. You’re doing the same thing every night. I built this music on the road through collaborations with all kinds of musicians: rockers, the downtown avant-garde, electro-pop people. I also became mesmerized by Tuvan throat singers. It’s like listening to someone whose head is a radio tuned to nine stations at once. Homeland has a lot of odd beats, and my big challenge is showing the musicians where the downbeat is. If they don’t feel it in the same place, we’re dead.
You and Lou are a quintessential New York couple. How connected do you feel to the city?
I love this city. I’ve lived in so many different New Yorks. Now I’m living in a Minneapolis-style New York in Tribeca, with all kinds of people and a Whole Foods. They’re planting trees outside my window as we speak, where a burned-out warehouse used to be. I don’t feel nostalgic for the old New York, although I enjoyed it. There’s always something interesting going on, and lots of great musicians and artists and people who are ambitious but also help each other. The sentiment is, “We hope you succeed, because that will make the place more interesting.”