The end of summer really needs a valediction of one sort or another. As season's go, it's value has an inverse proportion to it's brevity and its weight. Being light and short means all events within have more moment than most. And for city dwellers, who don't get to "winter" at anyplace we don't spend rent, the pleasures of the harbor (oh yes, and why not use Mr. Ochs, who was not immune to things beyond the political) like Governor's Island, concert evenings in Central Park or any of the other half-dozen outdoor venues, dinner at Del Posto and that long walk through humid waves and human seas, but, as well, those day trips to Fire Island (as Neil PAtrick Harris sang at the Tony Awards' show, w/r/t Broadway, "It's not just for gays anymore!") and the Sunken Forest/Sailor's Haven area--all feels about as close as you can come to the Florida Keys without passing through communities of bible-thumping, gun-toting reactionaries, or alligators. I look at these bathhouse curtains waving and I hear Brian Wilson, smell SPF 70+ lotion, see the drift-polished bits of nacre and shell glinting at the waterline where the wash withdraws. Empty mind and brilliant sun.
Yet, the urban texture cannot be dismissed. You pay enough for living in this burg, once in a while it should offer you a favor or two in compensation. And while there are treasures to be plucked from the aether all during the sweating weather, a couple standout.
So then, one peek at a peak from this remove.
This summer has seen a phenomenal number of appearances by Laurie Anderson (frequently with her more famous mate, Lou Reed) in which young could have seen her ambient, noise-jamming, doing a spooky cover version of Shel Silverstein, but of all attended, the August 10 set at Damrosch Park one stands out head and shoulders. It was not as spare as a solo, with Rob Burger on a variety of keyboards and Eyvind Kang on viola, and long past the production values of "Home of the Brave", she has been doing a lot of minatures, and then a book like "Moby Dick" and even some improv. And it is all the best work of a mature artist who can carry her vision to any material, sure, but, for a lot of us old-time downtown followers, nothing has felt like coming home in a while. For someone--let's call this someone a fan of Dylan's amphetamine-fueled rock period when for three or four albums (depending upon your method of calculation) he could do no wrong--who can recall seeing "United States, Part II" at the Orpheum on 2nd and St. Marks, in early 1980, this was like "Blood On The Tracks".
The best reason for this is that the text she'd chosen was "The Real New York City".
The obvious reason is that cities of this sort deserve more than a cursory glance. As you will see below, what Ms. Anderson displays, above and beyond the musicianship, is a talent for observation comparable to few. Back in the last century, when in conversation with her, she said that, while she did enjoy narratives, she was more and more being drawn towards fragments, like Borges—and, like movies. Hers, then, is a prime example of the Editor’s Art. Set the scene in a snapshot. Advance this one more frame and you see someone entering Chaos Theory. Take it a few more, however, and you find self-organizing structures within the turbulence. And, for this reporter, that is what these fragments are: bits of napkin-written, back-of-the-receipt, envelope-scrawled flashes of insight into places, like a Beaudrillard Psychohistory done with tweets and camera phones. But, again, for this reporter, that’s just a fancy way of saying postcards. (And postcards are something well known here.)
A few too many metaphors in the mix? Ah well, more power to them whose road lead directly to the palace of wisdom. The rest of us will have to be contented with the excess off-ramp.
What follows then are the rapid snatches of meaning culled from her dream-of-consciousness spell, in her own voice (not that of her snarky vocoder buddy) that is as much a cunning seductress as a calming nurse, all in this ethereal suspension of light and air.
“…there’s this blimp…and it’s been circling the island of Manhattan…and it drifts right by this man’s open window…and on the side of it…in HUGE Helvetica letters…is the word ‘DELERIUM’…” This segues into a snippet about the strangeness of the San Genaro Festival being held on the streets of Little Italy every year, of carnival rides outside your window, “and the smell…of burning sausages…”
From here she glides into a few topical references on our post- 9/11 era, the reign of Bloomberg, Dominique Strauss-Kahn “now known world wide…as a chimpanzee…”as part of a general section called, one gathers “Life In The City/Hard Times.” Still even as she is saying “Tonight, they’re rioting in London, again” she can’t help but smile as the sound of the police siren comes not from her speakers, but Ninth Avenue behind her. She draws this to a close with “So there’s the good news…and the bad news. And the bad news is the Earth keeps spinning, spinning, spinning…trying to throw us off…And the good news is, as Willie Nelson says: 90%of all the people in the world, end up with…the wrong person. And that’s what makes the juke boxes….keep spinning…”
This dives into a ride on violin and synth that blends in with the dusk so well you almost don’t notice, “…night…the city…the air…and you can see…ghost trains…along the High Line…long, black limosines, and EMS trucks, carrying the drunk, and the dead…tourists descending from the Enterprise…” And as each bit unfolds, you have to wonder if she really does cruise the avenues at that hour, chronicling the changes wrought by time and temperature.
This segues into something more metaphoric before grounding again in that well-know slogan of our New York state-of-mind: “…If you see something, say something… But what, exactly, are you supposed to say? Officer, there’s something not quite right about that person there… OR…Officer, there’s something wrong about that bag in the middle of the station… OR… Officer, there’s something not quite right with YOU, you’re sort of slippery around the edges, like you just might melt down into an officer-sized puddle, right in front of me…” then, to slam the point home: “Did you know that 1,400 new spy agency’s have been started in the last ten years, in America?”
It is just these contrasts which bring the somnambulistic reverie into diamond clarity, like that sudden focus wherein a 2D picture snaps into a 3D relief, in some transfictive Playstation event.
“Uptown…downtown…countdown….&, in Midtown, the lights come on in the high-rises…the cleaning machines moving slowly…you can see the paper shredders shredding, shredding, shredding…the mist surrounds the tallest towers, until there is no escape…except for the heat, which rises up, rises up, rises up, in the jade-like night…”
And then if you wonder where you are going, a series of directions begin to trace a route down from Westchester, ending up in the Lincoln Center parking garage, and you realize you’ve been guided by the sexiest GPS module ever.
Lest you think this all apiece, it should be noted that without the aural component, this would be stand-up comedy with little chance of making it at Caroline’s past the first open mike, or an op-ed that wouldn’t get past the assistant at the copy desk. What give performance art the kick is this use of electronics and text: you can’t have one without the other. Hence, this poor approximation.
So when she and the guys slip into what, in—say—1985 might pass for a “dance” track, “Step Into The Flow” carries just enough data to give the feet a reason to beat there. Unless you notice, this ultra-rap-trip, in mild iambic-pentameter, seems to be one step ahead of you. And when it side-slips into a reverie on “Voila Paris”, you begin to feel like its no stretch to bring the other metropolii into the mix, finding the common thread in them all.
And should you THEN think it all impersonal distance of the detached adventurer, “the space…between…the beats….on 14th Street, the nightgowns hang on the racks…people in sturdy khakis, and pre-washed jeans…” and begins noting the number of names for polyester mixes and blends like discovering exotic sea-creatures, “…and I tell myself…if only I didn’t feel so lost, maybe I could…” as if drowning in these seas of fabrics.
A sequencer’s bell tolling as muffled alarm form a buoy on rough seas? “South Street Seaport…cars whoosh by…lights flash in the studios…of photographers…high rises, rise and fall… people fall off bar stools… Hard Times…give it the gas…I just keep falling behind …heat rises, people sliding …in a dream like mine, One World Trade rises, you can se it from here… heat rises…” The viola takes a solo here in a Middle Eastern mode which soon becomes saw-dense as it rips through a hornet’s nest and keens like a Yom Kippur shofar, Laurie waving him on to moan out another chorus of uncorked cellulose eerie.
And at the end of this fever-sweat, we drop back into context with “The United State is the oldest country in the world, because it has been in the 20th Century the longest. So said Gertrude Stein, when she said it…that’s what she said…” sounding a lot like Ms. “A Rose Is A Rose Is A Rose” herself, there. But if GS is forever enigmatic, Anderson can have her own propers as spin doctor, finding the whirl within a word. “…and on Wall Street, futures are being bought and sold, buying and selling…things, that don’t exist yet-have-not-been-made …thing that have only been thought about—they’re thoughts! …and that’s what’s for sale…and in this way…the city, start to grow around you …not the one you imagined, but one made of something else …adrenalin…delirium…”
Then shifts into telex signal mode, “We are always inventing people…maybe we need to lighten up… so we can travel---light!”
Almost too dark to make another note, her summation begins, as always, somewhere in the real. “The city has changed a lot in the last few years, and its replaced the former city. Fewer bookstores, but hey!—lots more cupcake shops! So that’s one thing. And also, lots of goofy talk about…texting and …tech conferences—and yeah!—plenty of gizmos—oh yeah!—plenty of apps, presented by a few good guys in button-downs and chinos …who’ll analyse us all, for the good of mankind…”
Any why do I feel compelled to write down everything I can remember? And here? Because, in times t o come, I may want to be able to turn my memories into cloud computerland, but right now, this is the best shot I got.