Laurie Anderson

By: Adam McGovern
June 5, 2014


Performance art’s first rock star became literally a rock star — after working highbrow dives and fine galleries for a decade, LAURIE ANDERSON (born 1947) rose to power in that bizarre Warholian micro-decade of 1980–82, when the pre-Reagan party was still crashing and all a nascent MTV had to play were some “New Romantic” fashion-singers and her. And she was ready, duetting with the cold tech that synth-pop had just made trendy, scaling her ideas to the grandeur of escapist spectacle, diving into the irony that was about to become our national default mood. But she always wanted to show us what was wrong with the picture, and what was funny about what is strange. Classic virtuosity with lowly gimmicks (her unforgettable violin-bow of magnetic tape that played against heads on the instrument’s bridge), sober jargon delivered in cartoon voices, machinery embraced while searching for the ghosts to coax out of it. Anderson became more than a cult hit because she accentuated humanity while not shrinking from advancement — in a decade of roots-rock retreat and fashionable detachment, she wrote songs of life and love from inside the cage, or palace, of technological possibility that was forming around us. Every mass-market sci-fi diva, every high-profile story-slammer, and every stadium-filling standup comic too, owes something to her avant-populism and eccentric monologues. Master showperson, globally travelled cultural stateswoman, speaker of truth to power and storyteller around the worldwide mobile campfire, Anderson endures by being the kind of artist who wants to please the crowd while showing everyone in it how they could stand out.


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Redmond O’Hanlon, Misha Mengelberg, Pancho Villa, Aesop Rock.

READ MORE about members of the Blank Generation (1944-53).


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