I hate those days where I have to choose between wonderful options: so many days have nothing much to do but work. Last night I had a choice between a terrific artist I enjoy, a fabulous drumming concert and a party at a friend’s. Tipping me over to the artist was finding out that my friend Michael would be there and bringing his new girlfriend, Lisa. I haven’t been able to see Michael in at least a couple years or more, and due to mobility issues, he doesn’t get around that much, so Laurie Anderson at MassMOCA it was. Sorry Kim and Ubaka — I hope you understand!
It’s been ages since I’d been to MassMOCA; always a fun time. I had enough time to check out the Guy Ben-Ner’s exhibit “Thursday the 12th” which was amusing, especially the “Stealing Beauty” film.
I didn’t find Michael and Lisa ahead of showtime, so joined the long line for the general admission seats. I was finally almost up to the door when some people had to cut through the line. It was Laurie Anderson — so tiny! You see people on stage all the time and never realise how tiny they can be in real life. I felt like super Amazon and I’m not that tall. She had this great black and white flannel shirt with a hood and was accompanied by a friend, and then someone with her dog, oh and then — and why hadn’t it occurred to me? — her husband and a couple more friends. Lou in leather, limping a little, it looked like. I was grinning like an idiot just seeing the two of them as they brushed past.
I chose a seat and — of course — squeed to friends via email and Twitter. Lou and his friend came in and sat down in the first row to watch. Laurie came out with MassMOCA director (and very tall man) Joseph C. Thompson and they chatted about many things, starting off with her forthcoming performance “Delusion” and its creation. She wrote a lot of it on the road, which she didn’t recommend, but entertained the audience with stories of traveling with rock musicians, jazz musicians and the Tuvan throat singers, who had a very different approach to life on the road, being nomads.
Anderson often hopped up to demonstrate what she was talking about, playing a snippet form the performance that featured the throat singing, having some of the projected backgrounds play to show the usefulness of crinkled butcher paper. After a couple of mentions of donkeys, she said maybe she should have named the show that, but delusions sounded better. While working on the Moby Dick project, someone had given her Melville’s bible. He had written copious notes in pencil in the margins, but his wife had gone back and erased them, so Anderson ended up poring over the pages with a magnifying glass.
She summed up her approach that way, being interested in the details. Lisa said over dinner that nonetheless she manages to make profound connections. I said I thought it was like Blake, seeing the world in a grain of sand.
The surprises were fun; Thompson asking about bible stories and Anderson recalling the first stories she learned in Sunday school, stories told with those felt board figures, “and there was a talking snake in the garden.” She said that’s when she realised adults were mad. “And I’m going to be one,” her child self thought delightedly. My favourite moment was when she imitated an erhu, but the best story was when someone asked about her trip to the Himalayas where she nearly died, but carried back down from the mountains on a donkey’s back (again a donkey, she said wonderingly) after days of a 105° temperature, finding herself okay with dying, a little voice in her ear kept pulling her back. It was the trekker who kept up a continuous chatter of meaningless things, lists as random as colors and his second grade class members, that finally brought her back from the land of ringing bells. Quite wonderful.