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Tag Archives: Laurie Anderson

Persons of Interest

Persons of Interest was a series of blog posts about artists, writers and thinkers who have had an impact on me at some time in my life and have continued to have an impact. I wanted to write a personal history of art, telling it from my own view, to examine how the art and biographical details have influenced my own critical judgements. It was not an easy process and the posts did not attract many readers; maybe it was too self-indulgent or my choose of persons too obvious. Maybe, the posts didn’t come with enough images; anyway, I don’t think that I will continue it.

Who to include and who to leave out? This is always the question in making such lists. Influences come and go in waves of interest by the public and at various times in your life you get caught up in that wave of general interest. As a kid I must have been reading Robert Hughes in Time Magazine as my parents subscribed to it but I wouldn’t want to count Hughes as an influence or a person of interest. I played on synthesisers and so I was interested in Brian Eno. I am not claiming that I am major fan of Eno but Here Come the Warm Jets and Another Green World has been on high rotation for decades.

Here are all my Persons of Interests posts. They were written roughly in the order that they started to influence me.

Jan #1 – Desmond Morris

Feb #2 – Andy Warhol

March #3 – Salvador Dali

April #4 – Marcel Duchamp

May #5 – Laurie Anderson

July #6 – Various, Notes from the Pop Underground 

July #7 – Keith Haring

August #8 – William Burroughs

September #9 – Philosophers

December #10  – Hunter S. Thompson

It is not surprising that I am interested in influences when the subject of my thesis was the influence of Max Stirner’s philosophy on Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. I started reading Max Stirner because of one remark by Marcel Duchamp but as I was investigating his relationship to philosophy, both the influence on and the influence of, I felt I had to read him.

“When he (Duchamp) was asked later in life to identify a specific philosopher or philosophical theory that was of specific significance to his work, he cited Stirner’s  only major book – Der Einzige und sein Eignetum…” (Francis M. Naumann “Marcel Duchamp: A Reconciliation of Opposites”  p.29)

 

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Person of Interest – William Burroughs

The confessions of an unredeemed William Burroughs junkie: I first became addicted to Burroughs when I read an interview with him in Rolling Stone back in the mid 1980s. I had a taste of him before that through David Bowie, Gary Numan, Laurie Anderson and other artists that he had influenced. Since then I have read most of his books, listened to a lot of recording and watched a few documentaries.

My favourite book by William Burroughs is The Western Lands (1987). This is his final novel, although Burroughs lived longer than even he expected and managed to write a few more novellas, this is clearly intended as his final novel. I love how The Western Lands critiques his most famous early work, Naked Lunch and the pathos of writing his own death as a lonely cat obsessed old man.

My favourite spoken word CD by William Burroughs is Spare Ass Annie and other tales (1992) with The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. But my favourite musical collaboration with William Burroughs is on Laurie Anderson Home of the Brave. It was my first encounter with him and it contains my favourite concept from Burroughs is that “language is a virus from outer space.” I’m not sure where Burroughs got this idea from the “logic bacilli” of Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifestos or the “spooks” of Max Stirner or somewhere in Buddhism. It is the softwear/hardwear distinction, the “meme” of Richard Dawkins, expressed in a beatific poetry.

My favourite movie appearance by William Burroughs is Gus Van Sant’s Drug Store Cowboy (1989) as an old priest – it was a roll that was perfect for him. He did appear in other movies; he plays an unnamed old man with a gun in the comedy Twister (1989) – another roll that was perfect for him.

My favourite work of visual art by William Burroughs is… no, I’m not going that far. I’m not that much of a fan but I do have three books on his art. As Burroughs said: “Something worth doing is worth doing badly.” As far as celebrity painting goes Burroughs successfully integrated his personality with his art practice. And writing about art in Painting and Guns (Hanuman Books, 1992) is certainly worth a read.

Burroughs has influenced so many artists from Jack Kerouac to Keith Haring. His influence has been wide from literature, to music to the visual arts. Many new forms of media emerged during his long life from tape recorders, 16 mm film, computer art and spray cans. This makes him the seminal artist of punk, graffiti and music sampling. He exemplifies the Beat idea of the person as multi-dimensional, free, individual, artists working across art forms and media.

At the request of Alan Ginsberg Marcel Duchamp passed on the mantle of the godfather of the avant-garde to Burroughs with a kiss.

I will end this post with Burroughs “Words of Advice For Young People” – it is good advice, worth following and delivered with an elegant brutality.


Person of Interest – Laurie Anderson

I first saw Laurie Anderson’s “O Superman” in 1981 on the Kenny Evert Video Show. It was great, so witty and with the art sensibilities of the best of new wave music. I’ve been listening to her music ever since. But this post is not just about being a fan of Laurie Anderson but a way of understanding what is broadly called alternative music.

I felt that “O Superman” had destroyed the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow pop music. It was a turning point in uniting contemporary performance art with alternative music. (Instead of worrying about the distinction between high and popular culture/serious and middlebrow culture it is more interesting to see when and why good art and popular culture intersect.)

Alternative music was a Gesamtkunstwerk, the unified art form of the late 20th Century. It was not just the music but also the music videos, the performance, the image of the band in photos and interviews, all of that as a total work of art. I hoped that music videos would be a new forum for alternative film-making.

The history of art and rock music became permanently interwoven in the 1960s when Andy Warhol managed the Velvet Underground and conceptual artist Yoko Ono broke up the Beatles. Performance art and rock performances had been growing steadily closer. Consider: Gustav Metzger and auto destructive art and The Who’s performances where they smashed their instruments, the stadium sized displays of the Japanese art movement Gutai and stadium rock, how the record cover became a popular medium for visual arts from Peter Blake, Andy Warhol, Richard Hamilton and David Hockney and how Malcolm McLaren changed the role of the rock manager into an art form.

That contemporary art and music on the same aesthetic grounds is fundamental to my understanding of art. Art not longer confined to galleries, it could be anywhere, on TV at home. That art was not a single thing but could consist of multiple things, actions, ideas and images.

Over the years I became more aware of Laurie Anderson’s background in sculpture and performance art from random articles that I would find in old art magazines and more recent articles. Was she visual artist, a writer/poet or musician (singer/songwriter); whatever combination of these things Laurie Anderson is she is very clever – and she is very funny. That’s always a good thing and learning to crafting that comedy must have come from her time with the comedian Andy Kaufman.

Anderson’s performances/songs are lyrical, they are focused on words, but so much art in the 1970s were focused on words. Anderson’s sayings and aphorisms are similar to those by the American artists, Jenny Holtzer and Barbara Kruger. Things that are said are very important that generation of artists.

As a musician working with synthesizers and other electronic music I was always impressed with Anderson’s music technology, including the ones that she invented. As an artist I wanted to record more music.

Watching Laurie Anderson dancing with William Burroughs on Home of the Brave was the start of my addiction to Burroughs (I’m getting around to writing about Burroughs as another person of influence). And finally I saw her perform live in 2007 doing Homeland at the Melbourne Concert Hall.

The soundtrack to my biopic would have to include some Laurie Anderson. On my first day on campus the doors of the lift at La Trobe University taking me up to the Philosophy Dept. closed revealing the familiar words of Laurie Anderson written in marker pen: “Paradise is like right now only much, much better.”

For a detailed analysis of O Superman read Isaac Butler’s essay “Here Come the Planes” on The Fiddleback.


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