Laurie Anderson Returns With Atmospheric 'Homeland' In a career spanning more than three decades, the musician and artist has established herself as a composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker and songwriter. Her elaborate stage performances have become legendary, and Homeland -- her first studio album in 10 years -- finds her continuing to innovate.

Laurie Anderson Returns With Atmospheric 'Homeland'

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1981 - the pop music charts in the U.K. included the usual suspects: Rod Stewart, Olivia Newton-John, Julio Iglesias, The Police. But for a time, the number two spot was held by an unexpected song.

(Soundbite of song "O Superman")

Ms. LAURIE ANDERSON (Musician): (Singing) O Superman.

SIMON: "O Superman," an 11-minute single of hypnotic voices and electronics, was the work of American artist Laurie Anderson. It put her on the map not only musically but also at the forefront of what was then called performance art -although she does not like that phrase.

Over the years, Laurie Anderson's stage appearances have become the stuff of legend, combining vocals, violin and electronics with film, video and visuals. In her career spanning more than three decades, she's established herself as a composer, poet, photographer, filmmaker and touring musician.

She's just released her first studio album in 10 years. It's called "Homeland."

(Soundbite of song "Dark Time in the Revolution")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking) ...does it make common sense for an island to rule a continent? And everybody kind of went hmmm, and they signed back up. And today you could ask: Does it make common sense for a country to rule the world? But no matter what your answer, no matter what you think...

SIMON: Laurie Anderson joins us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. ANDERSON: It's great to be here.

SIMON: So what's wrong with that term performance art?

Ms. ANDERSON: Oh, it just sounds so clumsy. Why aren't books called writing art? I dont know. It sounds like a bad translation.

SIMON: So please tell us about "Homeland." Firstly, the title.

Ms. ANDERSON: Heavy quotes around it. I mean it's not a word that Americans use. No one would say my homeland - it's just so sentimental. But this record was started in the Bush era, and it kind of went over the cusp into Obama, and I appreciated how story-savvy the Bush administration was, to put a sentimental, gooey, homey word like homeland next to bureau and security.

So they were kind of masters of this way of concocting a thing that was really then - has nothing to do with homeland and nothing to do with security, but a lot to do with control. So one of the big themes of "Homeland" is this kind of sense of who's in control.

SIMON: A lot of the music, we'll stipulate for people, is atmospheric and contemplative. There's a cut which I think, actually, the message of the song is, is contemplative, but it's - musically it's downright bouncy.

Let's listen to "Only an Expert."

(Soundbite of song "Only an Expert")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking) In America we like solutions. We like solutions to problems. And there are so many companies that offer solutions. Companies with names like: The Pet Solution, The Hair Solution, The Debt Solution, The World Solution, The Sushi Solution. Companies with experts ready to solve these problems.

SIMON: I think this is my favorite cut, if I might nominate it as such.

Ms. ANDERSON: And might I add the petroleum solution, adding a few more verses dedicated to BP on the next - we're going to do a few little shows in a couple of weeks of some of this record, so it's always...

SIMON: You always put new examples in?

Ms. ANDERSON: Updatable. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. So let me ask your expert opinion.

(Soundbite of laughter)


SIMON: Too many experts in American life or so-called experts?

Ms. ANDERSON: I think so. You know, and experts have to kind of defend their territory, you know, like I'm expert in this. And so you have to like go to the expert in that. You can't think it through for yourself. Or if you have a problem, ask your doctor what's wrong. Ask yourself. Come on. You know, it's irritating to me that so much of American life is really just infantilized, treated like children.

(Soundbite of song "Only an Expert")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking) Just because all your friends were fired and your family's broke and we didn't see it coming doesn't mean that we were wrong. And just because you lost your job and your house and all your savings doesn't mean that you don't have to pay for the bailouts, for the traders and the bankers and the speculators. 'Cause only an expert can design a bailout and only an expert can expect a bailout.

(Singing) 'Cause only an expert can deal with the problem. And only an expert can deal with the problem. And only...

SIMON: We're speaking with Laurie Anderson about her new CD, "Homeland." I'd like to ask you about Fenway Bergamot.

Ms. ANDERSON: He's my alter ego. And its an audio filter that I've used since really the late '70s, when I did a little gig as an MC for William Burroughs and I thought I need some audio drag, and so I invented this filter that kind of does that - although I - you know, it's electronic, so I'm nothing without the boxes. So this character was first called the Voice of Authority, and Lou, my husband, Lou Reed, came up with - how about Fenway Bergamot? I said fine, and it turned out to be kind of a good name, like a baseball park. And bergamot is not just the ingredient in Earl Grey tea but it's also almost a character in Proust. It's like the madeleine. It's one of the - a fruit that triggers memory, and I thought that was a good name for this character, because he - right in the middle of the record he does a long kind of, let's say, manifesto about time.

(Soundbite of song, "Another Day in America")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking Through Filter) 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.

SIMON: You dedicate this CD to your parents, right?

Ms. ANDERSON: Yeah, I did. And it just - one of the songs on this record is -like many of them have this kind of undercurrent of memory, and so one of them is called - its about a lark from a hilarious 2,000-year-old play by Aristophanes called "The Birds."

(Soundbite of song "The Lark")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking) And its a short story from before the world began. From a time when there was no earth, no land, only air and birds everywhere. But the thing was, there was no place to land because there was no land.

So they were just like flying everywhere. And one of the birds is a lark and one day her father died and...

(Soundbite of song "The Lark")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking)...and this was a really big problem because what should they do with the body. And there was no place to put the body because there was no earth.

So they try to figure out what to do. And, of course, this is a huge theme in Greek tragedy and it's a theme in modern-day life as well. What do you do with your parents? What do you do for your history? What do you do with - about stuff? She decides anyway to bury her father in the back of her own head, and that's the solution.

(Soundbite of song, "The Lark")

Ms. ANDERSON: (Speaking) And this is the beginning of memory, because before this, no one could remember anything. They were just constantly flying in circles. Constantly flying in circles.

SIMON: You gave a concert for dogs in Sydney, I've read?

Ms. ANDERSON: I did. And when I was curating the Sydney Festival, called Vivid, I said how about a concert for dogs? And they said, yeah, why not? So I thought a couple hundred dogs would show up. Thousands of dogs showed up. Thousands, and it was one of the most purely joyful things I've ever done in my life. Because a lot of people say, you know, my dog likes classical music, but they say that about your kids too, just so they'll lie down on their towel and take a nap. But, you know, there were a bunch of rocker dogs there and they were like, I want to rock. And there a bunch of, in the front row, just droolers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANDERSON: You know, tongues hanging out and their eyes were crossed.

SIMON: Like big Saint Bernards or something?

Ms. ANDERSON: Yeah, like what am I doing here? What is this?

SIMON: Rrrrroohhhh...

Ms. ANDERSON: Yeah. And we were playing a bunch of very high frequency things. Although a couple of dog trainers said, listen, you really can't play stuff way up there. You dont know what's going to happen with a lot of dogs. So we did other things, music that had a bunch of rhythmic stuff in it, because just things that people and dogs do together anyway. Like when you walk your dog, you have to get into - you get into a rhythm with them - a musical kind of rhythm.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

(Soundbite of applause)

SIMON: Last weekend you were Queen of the Coney Island Mermaid Parade.

Ms. ANDERSON: Yes, I was.

SIMON: And Lou Reed was King Neptune.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANDERSON: Yes, he was.

SIMON: What was that like?

Ms. ANDERSON: And our dog was the mer-dog. She had her own huge banner of her playing the piano, which she does beautifully.

SIMON: Plays the piano?

Ms. ANDERSON: Yes. She plays on the record. She plays on "Bodies in Motion." She plays a really aggressive solo at the end.

(Soundbite of song "Bodies in Motion")

SIMON: I would've guessed any dog of yours would be a gifted musician.

Ms. ANDERSON: Well, you know, she got cancer and went blind and so when she lost that and couldnt find her way around and couldnt identify anyone, we found someone and this person said, oh, I taught my dog to play the piano. And I said, teach Lolabelle. So she did. She's working on her Christmas record now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANDERSON: So you'll be hearing about that soon. It's really beautiful. It's so nice.

SIMON: Are you going to sing backup on Lolabelle's Christmas record? Or...

Ms. ANDERSON: I'm hoping to, yeah. But I dont think it really needs it. It's very beautiful.

SIMON: Well, Ms. Anderson, thanks so much.

Ms. ANDERSON: Youre welcome.

SIMON: Nice talking to you.

Ms. ANDERSON: It was a pleasure.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: You can hear Laurie Anderson's full album "Homeland" on our website, You can also hear answers to questions sent to us on Twitter and Facebook, including what's on her iPod.

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