New Internationalist

Live at Town Hall, New York City, September 19-20, 2001

Issue 349
Frightful foresight: Laurie Anderson

Rarely has a record risen to meet the challenge of world history. The event in question is, of course, the destruction of the World Trade Center, a short cab ride away from NYC’s Town Hall. And the response was written by Laurie Anderson 20 years earlier – in a reaction to a very different situation.

No-one could have guessed how exact, how poignant and humane – her work would become in the wake of 11 September. One cannot listen to those lines in ‘O Superman’ – ‘Here come the planes/ They’re American planes/ Made in America’ – and remain unmoved by the strange admixture of calm and despair, the frightful foresight. Listening to this double CD, one is also struck by the recurrence of airplane and travel images, where flight becomes a symbol of magic, modernity and retribution.

Anderson has always refused to shirk political engagement in her work, tackling the relationship between humans and technology, military proliferation, censorship, aids and gender inequality.

She recently authored an open letter to President Bush that criticized his ‘war on terrorism’ and which was signed by scores of leading US radicals, artists and intellectuals. The letter said: ‘We refuse to allow you to speak for all the American people. We will not give up our right to question. We will not hand over our consciences in return for a hollow promise of safety… We refuse to be party to these wars and we repudiate any inference that they are being waged in our name or for our welfare. We extend a hand to those around the world suffering from these policies; we will show our solidarity in word and deed.’

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