Laurie Anderson Returns Home to Quell My Political PTSD in The Language of the Future

Photo by Ebru Yildiz

Glen Ellyn native and iconoclast Laurie Anderson returns home for a lovely, lyrical and melancholy meditation on the current state of affairs in her ongoing exploration, “The Language of the Future,” which premiered in 1984. In front of a reverent crowd sporting an array of signature eyeglasses, she had her synths set up stage left, a red armchair stage right, a mic and small stand center, each carrying a petite, white chapbook she referenced for her narratives. Her trademark violin crapped out early on, even after a short break to try to fix it, but she just moved to the Moog and said she enjoyed learning how to accompany herself on the fly (and wait until you see what she does with a small, round pillow speaker). She said she had wanted to do a comedy show in this comedy town, but realized she only had two jokes (which were funny nonetheless). This iteration of her peerless work was knee-slapping hilarious, interspersed with her sage dissection of the current political climate, tropes I’ve noted myself, like most sentient people seem to be “flipping out in slow motion” (I usually say “a slo-mo 9/11”), an existential not political crisis, chaos, and a pendulum swinging back into a world of liars and psychopaths. “Our empire is passing,” Anderson said, “as all empires do.” “America,” she added, “We saw it. We tipped it over. We sold it.” She talked about her grandfather emigrating from Sweden, and her pride in being Swedish, “gloomy, heavy and proud,” pleased to be a Protestant in the “sturdy industriousness” of a “coffee church.” Her second joke was about stoning vs. crucifixion, and that so few pictures show Jesus doing his job, teaching, but instead as a baby, or dead. She observed that King James changed Jesus’ name from Master to King in his version of the Bible. Thoreau’s Walden was “cabin porn,” not an environmental tome, she said, and quoted Willie Nelson that “almost everybody in the world ends up with the wrong person, and that’s what makes the jukebox spin.” She talked about a childhood accident and time in the hospital away from her seven siblings. She remembered a correspondence with Senator then President Kennedy, who advised her about running for school council: “spend time with your fellow students, find out what they want, and promise that.” Decades later, she received a book of his quotes at a Kennedy Center event, including “I look forward to an America not afraid of grace and beauty.” She contemplated the power of stories, but now, in the 24-hour news cycle, “we’re drowning in them.” Plus, “every time you clean up, or tell, a story, you forget it more.” Anderson compared Aristophanes’ The Birds to the folly of building a US/Mexico border wall. One of her few songs with words noted “days are to break up endless nights, and nights are to fall through time to another world.” She admitted that even suicide is love, in the desire to be free. She sang about her dead husband Lou Reed, missing his kiss and touch. She echoed the Statue of Liberty, adding Republican consequences:

“Give me your tired, your poor. We’ll piss on them.”

“Give me your huddled masses. We’ll club them to death.”

She was correct; she was glorious. On a personal note, the Old Town School of Folk Music has recently provided me with cultural icons I discovered in the '80s who are helping me cope with GOP/PTSD, and for that I am grateful. Laurie Anderson plays at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave, through May 7, then Anderson heads to the UK in mid-May.
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Karin McKie

Karin McKie is a Chicago freelance writer, cultural factotum and activism concierge. She jams econo.