Just Listen: Laurie Anderson Comes To Toronto

I feel like I’ve known Laurie Anderson all my life. But I don’t know her at all. I don’t know how you’d describe her, but here’s how I do it.

Performance artist.

Personal Service Announcer.

Musician.

Lou Reed’s widow.

That’s in no particular order and depending on the day, the last one might be the first in my mind. That’s with no disrespect for Laurie’s work. It’s simply that Lou Reed has long been a personal hero, and his death is something that still hits me hard. So inevitably, when I think of Laurie, I think of Lou too. I don’t think she’d mind. I hope she wouldn’t.

The first time I saw or heard Laurie Anderson was on MuchMusic. For you non-Canadians out there, that’s our national music video station. Or it was. I don’t know if they still play music there. I haven’t watched it in years. But growing up, I watched Much every day, and at the tail end of the 80s, I was endlessly fascinated by these PSAs that would show up every so often, featuring the woman with the spiky hair and hypnotic voice.

And that was it for me for years. Occasionally Laurie Anderson would pop into my orbit, usually in the context of her work with her partner and eventual husband, Lou. Like her voice on ‘Hang On To Your Emotions,’ from Reed’s 1996 album, Set The Twilight Reeling.

When Laurie accepted Lou’s posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she shared the duo’s three rules to live life:

One. Don’t be afraid of anyone. Now, can you imagine living your life afraid of no one? Two. Get a really good bullshit detector. And three. Three is be really, really tender. And with those three things, you don’t need anything else.

I didn’t really get to appreciate Laurie Anderson for her own art until after Lou Reed’s death. What finally got me was her album Heart of a Dog, the soundtrack to the film in which she deals with the passing of her husband, her mother, and her rat terrier, Lolabelle. It’s an incredible listening experience, as Laurie’s voice (that voice) takes you on a journey of loss. How often do you simply listen to a recording? Just sit on the couch or lay on your bed and just listen. For me, that’s the only way I can experience Heart of a Dog.

Just listen.

From there, I became enamoured with the work of Laurie Anderson. Interestingly, while I’ve explored her back catalogue, I find myself more drawn to what she’s doing today, as an artist in her 70s. Her work with the Kronos Quartet on their Grammy-winning album Landfall about Hurricane Sandy; Songs from the Bardo, the album based on the Tibetan Book of The Dead she’s done with Tenzin Choegyal and Jesse Paris Smith – these have become regular listening experiences in my life.

This week Laurie Anderson comes to Toronto as part of the 21C Music Festival. She’ll be performing The Art of Falling, featuring her solo works and in collaboration with her long-time musical partner, cellist Rubin Kodheli at a sold-out Koerner Hall, which is an acoustically gorgeous venue. She’ll also be screening her film Heart of a Dog at Hot Docs. But before either of those events, Laurie will be the focus of the 14th Annual Eva Holtby Lecture on Contemporary Culture at the Royal Ontario Museum, where she’ll be speaking about her work from throughout her entire career. It’s this event I’m perhaps the most excited about – an artist looking back, and probably forward as well.

For someone like me, who feels like I know Laurie for a huge part of my life, seeing her speak will feel like a dream.

If you’re in Toronto, you can get tickets to the 14th Annual Holtby Lecture here.

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