LAURIE ANDERSONÂ “O Superman (For Massenet)”Â b/w “Walk The Dog” (Warner Bros. Special Products #49876, 1981)
On the rare occasionsÂ big publications canonize women in rock, Laurie Anderson usually gets stuffed down near the 100 mark, if not left off completely.Â This is because few rock listeners were ever really able to understand where she was coming from (be it the pop world, the art world, or the pop art world), and understandably so.Â It’s far easier for the average listener to laud Janis Joplin, in all her bluesy, boozy, downtrodden and junked-out glory, than the highly-educated and eloquent Anderson, oozing early-’80’s downtown New York cool and bony, quasi-masculine elegance.Â Â Considered extremely minimalist even by post-punk standards, it seemed Anderson’s music was approached on the outset, as now, with a sense of fear and trepidation.Â Astounding when you consider that, when all is said and done, Anderson is ultimately a storyteller,Â a master of the most ancient art in the world.
“Have you heard that song?” a school friendÂ asked whenÂ weÂ readÂ that “O Superman”Â hadÂ hit the top of the chartsÂ in the UK, “It’s just one note!” Well, maybe it is.Â But once you’veÂ absorbed (or should I say been absorbed into) the full scope of this eight-plus minute track, you can see that it’s far more than justÂ a one-note samba.Â Paraphrasing a concept from Jules Massenet’s 1885 Napoleonic opera Le Cid andÂ crafting a sonic bed inspired byÂ the shimmering vocal cues from Phillip Glass’ Einstein On The Beach, Â Anderson, clearly mirroring Cold War and Middle Eastern tensions,Â creates her own all-enveloping, claustrophobic universe in which a simple phone-call invokes the end of the world.Â Of course, the machine is on and no one’s home.Â Sound familiar?Â Of course it does.
Now, if all that sounds like a bit too much for you, just flip this disc (which plays at 33 & 1/3 RPM, by the way, obviously to allow for the lengthy A-side;Â a 12″ version was also pressed, which spins at 45 RPM) and enjoy the gleeful, cacophonous “Walk The Dog.”Â I may be incorrect, but I believe I once heard Anderson herself describe this track as a “country song,” which makes sense when you consider that it is a fiddle-based piece that both namechecks and paraphrases Dolly Parton, but holy shit…no country song ever sounded like this before.Â Or since.Â Can you imagine some Kellie Pickler-type trying to pull this off on America Idol?Â I’d actually tune in.
Both “O Superman” and “Walk The Dog” were parts of a bigger piece of Anderson’s titled United States I-IV.Â Other highlights from that performance were boiled down toÂ formÂ 1982’s brilliant Big Science LP (learn about its recent reissue, plus Anderson’s current doings, here), a record so unique and mesmerizing that it has never left my turntable for veryÂ long over the past 27 years.Â I’ve even heard little bits and samplesÂ from it pop up in electronica and hip-hop, which makes me think that younger generationsÂ are going to continue to discover Laurie Anderson, and willÂ probably place her name higher in the future pantheons of rock.
NEXT WEEK: EnjoyÂ every sandwich.