Strange Angel

Laurie Anderson breaks her own rules--again

NT: You've performed several times in the Phoenix area. What's your impression?

LA: I've never had the time to explore it. I really liked the people who came to the shows. I felt like they got it, and that was a pleasant surprise. Because in a lot of ways I think of myself as an artist who can just play certain major cities--San Francisco, New York, L.A. So when I got to Phoenix, I was really surprised that it was a cool scene.

NT: Any cities where you've played the lead balloon?
LA: Nashville would probably fall in that category. I got a lot of blank stares in Nashville. It was really weird. People were like shouting "Play country," and I was like, "But I don't know any country music; I'm really sorry." But I can't blame them. They're having a good time in Nashville, and that's good. It's a party town. It just wasn't for me. I'm not a pop artist, and it helps when people don't come expecting pop entertainment.

NT: So what's your opinion of the three-minute pop song?
LA: Writing a good short song is extremely hard, so I have great admiration for anyone who does that. But, then again, I like every kind of music. No, that's not true--I hate Broadway shows. I mean I really hate them. But there's something in almost all other music that I find interesting.

NT: Even country?
LA: Yeah, because it's so emotional. At its best, it can make me really cry. And I like that.

NT: What about techno?
LA: It's cool in the background. Techno is music without a foreground. But that's all right. I've got plenty of things to do in the foreground.

NT: Hip-hop?
LA: Definitely cool. Especially if the words are good. Of course, they're usually not that good, but, in a lot of cases, it doesn't matter 'cause the hip-hop attitude comes through strong. It's like "Look at me! I am so cool." And that's great. Everybody should think they're ultracool. The world would be a much better place.

NT: On your last album, Bright Red, you said, "What I really want to know is this: Are things getting better or are they getting worse?" ["Tightrope"] That was two years ago. Any conclusions?

LA: I see that generally things are getting better. But I'm a hopeless optimist. I look for things getting better rather than worse because, you know, we gotta live here. And I believe everyone has the choice between being an optimist and a pessimist, no matter what happens to you. You can make terrible ideas out of good things and, of course, vice versa. So for the sake of convenience and happiness, I choose to be an optimist.

NT: One concern that registers throughout your work has to do with how America's Puritan ancestors sort of still loom over the spirit of this country like a ghost. Do you think we'll ever exorcise their ghosts?

LA: I think that in spite of our Puritan roots Americans are pretty fun-loving. We genuinely like fun. We value it. Go to some place like Germany, where it's really all about work, and you'll see that loving fun is an amazing achievement for a people to make. Another big achievement America has made over its Puritan history is that we're friendly. Just in the sort of way where you get in a cab with somebody you don't know and you're like, "Hey, what's happening, who are you, what are you doing today?" There's a startling difference in that respect between Americans and some Europeans. I think a lot of Americans experience that when they travel. . . . Friendliness just comes more naturally to Americans. And strangely enough, to Tibetans as well. That's one of the reasons I think Americans and Tibetans have this strange sense of kinship. Anyway, seeing that friendliness rise out of this democracy is a thrill. I see this growing lack of fear at making contact with other people. It took a while to build, but I think it's become more and more pronounced.

So there--that's one solid, good thing about the future.
NT: Any other signs you would point to in support of optimism?
LA: Restlessness. I have this sense that people are very restless these days, and that's always a good sign. Because it means they're questioning and some of the answers are making them uncomfortable, and that's the only way things ever get better on a large scale.

Laurie Anderson is scheduled to perform on Saturday, July 13, at 8 p.m.; and Sunday, July 14, at 7 p.m. at Scottsdale Center for the Arts.

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