When I trace my foundational knowledge of the music I eventually immersed myself in at my college radio station, I usually have to cite either Rolling Stone or, more rarely, the keepers on the airwaves in my hometown. When it comes to Laurie Anderson, though, I’m fairly confident I was introduced to her by Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert. While the Chicago film critics dutifully covered the major studio releases on their weekly movie review program, they also committed themselves to highlighting the smaller, independent, even oddball films that weren’t likely to play at a theater near me, not just as a means to fill their airtime but because of a steadfast belief that the whole of the cinematic landscape merited the added public attention they could provide. So sometime in the midst of 1986, they devoted a portion of their program to Home of the Brave, a concert film featuring and directed by Anderson. In their vernacular, it earned two thumbs up, and I remember Siskel talking about how much more interesting Anderson’s art piece approach was to the typical concert film while he mimed someone blandly singing into a microphone with a grin on his face. It’s vaguely possible I’d encounter Anderson earlier, maybe on Saturday Night Live or even The New Show (I was one of about eight people who watched the latter show, and at times I absolutely adored it), I don’t recall doing so. In my memory, the televised film review was my first exposure to her. Hell, it realistically might have been my first exposure to the whole concept of performance art.
As with the other artists with whom I’d had glancing encounters, I was prepare to come at new music from Anderson like some sort of devoted fan. So when her album Strange Angels arrived at roughly the start of my sophomore year, I was all over it, speaking with feigned expertise of Anderson’s choice to move away from abstraction in favor of more direct and borderline conventional pop songs. I also offered myself plenty of congratulations for warming to music that was outside of my normal palette of crashing, banging boys with loud guitars, pointing proudly to my favorite moments of abstraction and challenge that Anderson still built into her music. I hope I wasn’t tiresome about it, or at least not more tiresome that any nineteen-year-old talking forcefully about music.
My knowledge base in regards to Anderson’s music probably hasn’t expanded all that much since those days, but at least I now have a willingness to demure, acknowledging what I don’t know. I’m not prepared to argue about which music represents Anderson at her best. I just know the stuff off of Strange Angels holds a special enough place for me that I’m forced to view it as my favorite Anderson material, even as I readily concede that other, artier outings are surely more significant. Let others place Anderson properly in the canon. Me, I just wanna bop around to “Babydoll.”
Listen or download –> Laurie Anderson, “Babydoll”
(Disclaimer: Usually, this is where I note that the music shared in this space on this day of the week is out of print as a physical object that can be bought at your favorite local, independently-owned record store. I don’t think that’s the case with Strange Angels. It’s not all that likely that it’s sitting there in the bins, just waiting to be taken to a new home, but a brief conversation with the proprietor of the shop can probably put a copy of the album in your hands within a week or so. Therefore, what we post today isn’t a replacement for buyable music, but instead an incentive to engage in exactly that sort of commerce. And maybe but a whole bunch more music, too. If you want to seem cooler than me — and really who doesn’t? — you should probably opt for Anderson’s debut album release, Big Science. Anyway, I mean no harm, and I will gladly remove the song if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)