More than a decade has passed. We find ourselves drawn once again to this “delusional” bedtime story, woven by the master storyteller, Laurie Anderson.
On a Saturday night 12 years ago, we witnessed a spectacular performance. At the EX3 Theater of Contemporary Arts across the Arno River in Florence Italy, Laurie Anderson mesmerized the audience with a one-woman show. An incredibly creative and energetic performing artist, singer, musician, inventor and philosopher, she did not disappoint! “Normal” instruments weren’t enough to express her dream-state thoughts and feelings. So, she invented one: an electronic violin that uses special magnetic tape on the bow instead of horsehair and space-age pick-ups that make the violin wail like a wild cat. Laurie’s philosophy is expressed weaving diverse fragments of life into a political-personal-psychological-fairy tale performance. Her style is unique and we’ve never experienced anything quite like it.
Following is the excerpt from a local newspaper, “The Florentine,” November 2010, which described her anticipated performance: “Delusion” is an eclectic multimedia show that brings together various forms of media, including video, music, monologues, and electronic puppets and violins. The show, which made its premier last February at the Vancouver Olympic Games, is conceived as a series of short mystery plays featuring elves and golems, nuns and dead relatives, fantastical unmanned ships and dark, scary forests. Through a series of altered voices and imaginary guests, Laurie Anderson’s colourful and poetic language in “Delusion” is a reflection on words and things, life and language. “Delusion,” a story of longing, memory and identity, makes its Italian premier in Florence, as part of Ex3’s New Musical Events.
She has described her art as “of the moment,” and says that it doesn’t really keep well over time. While her many videos create a chronicle of her performances throughout the years, they don’t quite tell a full story.
We arrived early, as usual, to claim third row seats. From 8:30 pm, when the doors opened, people slowly wandered into the theater. In true Italian style, they chatted in the aisles, gesturing to animate their conversations. The l’ora accademia, (the academic hour) prevailed, which is customary in Italy. Performances and lectures begin a fashionable 15 minutes later than scheduled. At 9:30 pm the theater lights flickered to indicate the beginning of the show. Some obstinate folks continued to linger, ultimately fumbling their way to their seats in the dark.
A full-projection screen covered the back part of the stage, while two smaller screens flanked each side, strategically angled. The 10 x 10 screen to the left resembled a giant blank hallmark card. The other flanking screen to the right appeared to be a security fence hidden beneath a white nubby tablecloth, casually thrown over it at the last minute. A keyboard stood just right of center with Laurie’s strange electronic violin hanging precariously on a side hook. Then front and center, was a loosely covered sofa of sorts—the form looked a bit like spontaneously draped Halloween wax lips. Finally, completing the scene was a small platform toward the back of the stage.
The show began a full hour before Laurie appeared onstage, with a projector casting black and white oscillating pop-art images onto the couch—like a lava lamp without the liquid. It was undulating, almost nauseating. Despite having motion sickness, we were intrigued. Laurie finally emerged from the shadows wearing an untucked crisp white shirt, an artsy tie (loosely knotted under the collar), and black knit capris. As a final touch, she wore the cutest little sparkling Mary-Jane shoes with translucent soles.
Laurie quietly floated her way to the keyboard. With a dreamy look on her face, she began playing several repeated chords while talking—and so the narrative unfolded. For 90 minutes, she wove stories, reading from her computer screen or paper notes, delicately pressing buttons on floor controls with her feet, while frequently launching into musical tirades with her vio-lectro-lin. With the latest technology, she made the sound of her voice alternate between ethereal, almost angelic and Darth Vader-like menacing tones. Several times she sang—her voice sounding like a strange other-worldy visitation. As she spoke, sang, read or played music, there were thousands of wild images flashing onto the 3 screens: scribbles on chalkboards, rain, blowing leaves, and other random dream-scapes.
Overall, it was an amazing, wonderfully thought-provoking evening. She was flawless and nothing short of masterful. With all the diverse ideas presented, as well as the sensory bombardment, we were exhausted by the end of performance. On the drive home, we wondered, “What does it all mean?” It was a performance that needed some mulling over. The pondering continues to this day—perhaps for the rest of our lives.?
We agree that her art is especially tasty “in the moment,” but find her message actually ages quite well—timeless, like a fine wine, better with every passing year.
What an incredible bedtime story!
Feature image above: courtesy of sfjazz.org
Video courtesy of YouTube
Cover of the Florentine courtesy of theflorentine.net
Laurie’s violin photo courtesy of Derrick Belcham
Story courtesy of our long-term memories
“Nighty-Night Rosie June”—Another kind of bedtime story designed to take you into peaceful slumber rather than calling forth your most complex nighttime illusions/delusions: