Follow TV Tropes


Music / Laurie Anderson

Go To
O Superman. O judge. O Mom and Dad. Mom and Dad...

"Paradise is exactly like where you are right now, only much much better."
Laurie Anderson, "Language Is a Virus"

Laura Phillips "Laurie" Anderson (born June 5, 1947 in Glen Ellyn, IL) is an American musician, performance artist and composer who has been well known for her work in different fields of the avant-garde since the early 1970s. She played in the Chicago Youth Symphony and trained as a sculptor, and began doing performances in the 1960s and throughout the 1970s. While, understandably, not a "pop" artist, she is best known for her 1981 single, "O Superman," which hit Number 2 on the UK charts.

She befriended Andy Kaufman in the late 1970s, and used to play the straight man in some of his routines, including being his opponent when he challenged women to wrestle him.

After dating Lou Reed for 16 years, she was married to him from 2008 until his passing on October 27, 2013.

A couple things to note: one of her most well-known albums, 1983's United States Live, was a truncated version of her prominent performance art show recorded over two nights in Brooklyn; it contains the live (pre-single) version of "O Superman" and runs for nearly four-and-a-half hours (edited down from the actual, full length live show - which was eight hours long). She's also made several shorts, as well as two feature films. First was a concert film called Home of the Brave in 1986. This was followed nearly 30 years later by the critically-acclaimed Heart of a Dog in 2015, a collage-like rumination on life, loss, and modern American surveillance shown mostly through the experiences of her beloved late rat terrier, Lolabelle. (The latter is available from The Criterion Collection, spine #846.)


  • Big Science (1982)
  • United States Live (1984)
  • Mister Heartbreak (1984)
  • Home of the Brave (1986)
  • Strange Angels (1989)
  • Bright Red (1994)
  • The Ugly One With The Jewels (1995)
  • Life on a String (2001)
  • Homeland (2010)
  • Landfall (2018)
  • Songs From The Bardo (2019)

"These are the tropes, the tropes that take":

  • Album Closure: Bright Red ends with a long Spoken Word in Music piece called "Same Time Tomorrow" about endings and the cyclical nature of time.
  • Bifauxnen: Resulting in a Gender Reveal. When Laurie first met William Burroughs, he started flirting with her thinking she was an androgynously pretty young man, until she explained she was a woman (a woman wearing a spiffy all-black tuxedo).
  • Big Applesauce:
    • "New York Social Life"
    • Many of her other songs also deal with life in New York City where she's lived and worked most of her life. Following 9/11 she directed a segment of a film paying tribute to the city.
  • Break-Up Song: "Sweaters"
  • The Cameo:
    • She appeared on "This is the Picture (Excellent Birds)" on Peter Gabriel's So, which hit Number 2 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart, making it her highest ever appearance on an American chart. (Gabriel performed on a version of the song that appeared on Anderson's album, Mister Heartbreak, released two years before So.)
    • Provided a character voice for The Rugrats Movie.
  • The Cast Show Off: Composes, performs, invents her own instruments, hosts TV shows, directs, acts in movies...
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: In "Difficult Listening Hour":
    And he had this smile, And when he smiled he had these big white teeth. Like luxury hotels on the Florida coastline. And when he closed his mouth, It looked like a big scar. And I said to myself: Holy smokes!
  • Concert Film: Home of the Brave, from 1986, which she directed herself.
  • Cool Shades: On the cover of Big Science and near the end of the film Home of the Brave. Slightly averted in the former in that the shades have been painted white, rendering them non-functional as actual shades.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    "You've probably heard that Microsoft has recently taken over the Catholic Church. The Vatican was pleased, saying, 'Well, we've been using icons for over 2000 years, and Microsoft has only been using them for 3, so we figure we'll be able to help them out a bit.'"
  • Department of Redundancy Department: From "O Superman":
    "They're American planes, made in America."
    • And from its B-Side "Walk The Dog":
    "I saw a lot of trees today, and they were all made of...wood. Well they were wooden trees, and they were made, entirely...Of wood."
  • Doorstopper: Her first live album (and only her second professional album), United States Live, is five records long.
  • Eagleland: Type 3. She loves the U.S. but is not shy about calling out those politicians (e.g., Ronald Reagan, longtime Sen. Jesse Helms [R-NC]) she dislikes.
  • Einstein Hair: One of her most iconic trademarks. She cuts it herself.
  • Electronic Music: It's her primary genre.
  • Gratuitous German: "Example #22" alternates between German and English.
  • Greatest Hits Album: While making allowances in terms of the word hits given she only has a couple of actual chart hit singles to her name, Talk Normal: The Laurie Anderson Anthology.
  • Law of Chromatic Superiority: "Beautiful Red Dress," Bright Red
  • Let X Be the Unknown: "Let X=X"
  • Live Album: United States Live and Live in New Yorknote 
  • Medium Awareness: The beginning and end of United States Live contain the talkback of the live show stage manager on the in-house intercom circuit, calling lighting and sound cues, etc. The last words spoken on the album are the stage manager saying "And send 'em out, Bill," after which the audience erupts into applause (as, presumably, Anderson and musicians come onstage for their bows.)
  • The Movie: Her 1986 concert film, Home of the Brave.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: "O Superman"'s lyrics are based around an answering machine message.
  • Naked First Impression: "Say Hello" was accompanied in live performance by a picture of a Pioneer Plaque, which were gold-adonised images of a naked man and woman (along with other symbols) that were affixed to the Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11 spacecraft as a way of identifying to any extra-terrestrials life forms where the spacecraft came from. Anderson comments of the man's gesture (hand uplifted, palm out) that it's how humans say "Goodbye", but it's also how they say "Hello", so on our planet, "Hello" looks just like "Goodbye".
  • New Sound Album: Strange Angels, which reviewers have commented seems to have been her interpretation of a straightforward pop album. She actually sings far more on this album than she does on any others (to the point of taking actual singing lessons during pre-production when she felt her skills were not up to par). Although unconventional, its sound is of a piece with the kinds of albums other artists like Peter Gabriel (with whom she had previously collaborated) were putting out in The '80s. This "new sound" didn't really take and she went back in the direction of spoken word in her later career.
  • Non-Appearing Title: "Ramon", "The Dream Before"
  • Opaque Lenses: The white-painted glasses she wears on the cover of Big Science didn't just look opaque, they were genuinely so.
  • Ouija Board: "The Ouija Board"
  • Our Angels Are Different: "Strange Angels"
  • Performance Artist: The Real Life straight female version, as, along with her music, she has presented various installations. Her concerts incorporate films and dances along with the music. One of her earliest performances, Automobile (1969), was a symphony performed on vehicle horns, and she first came to the public's attention by way of performances she'd give in which she'd play violin while wearing ice skates and standing on a block of ice; when the ice melted away, the performance ended.
  • Power Makes Your Voice Deep: She often uses a voice filter to make her speaking voice sound like that of a deep-voiced man. She used to call it the "Voice of Authority" until Lou Reed suggested he be called "Fenway Bergamot".
  • Public Service Announcement: Instead of videos for the songs on Strange Angels, she made a series of "Personal Service Announcements."
  • Quarreling Song: "It Tango"
  • Rearrange the Song: Happened twice with "Excellent Birds". The first instance was for the song's music video, featuring a more elaborate, electro-funk instrumentation that de-emphasized some of the more overtly avant-garde elements of the album version (this version incidentally would debut on Good Morning, Mr. Orwell before the album version released). The second time was for its inclusion on co-writer and co-vocalist Peter Gabriel's 1986 album So, which took the music video version of the song and made it even denser, orienting it more in the direction of World Music and featuring Nile Rodgers on rhythm guitar.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: "O Superman" was used in a commercial for HTC smartphones.
    • "Sharkey's Day" was used by Lifetime as its theme music for a while.
  • "Sesame Street" Cred: Voiced one of the newborn babies during a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment in The Rugrats Movie.
  • Shout-Out: "O Superman" itself is one to the aria "Ô souverain, ô juge, ô père" ("O sovereign, O judge, O father") from Jules Massenet's opera Le Cid. Lampshaded in that the song's subtitle is "(For Massenet)".
  • Silly Love Songs: "Baby Doll", which hit Number 7 on the Billboard Modern Rock Charts, the highest she's ever hit on her own on an American chart. It's also one of the most mainstream songs in her canon.
  • The Something Song:
    • "Three Walking Songs"
    • "Three Songs for Paper, Film and Video"
    • "City Song"
    • "Telephone Song"
  • Spoken Word in Music: All the time. Although she sang occasionally, and her very first single from 1977 was fully musical, it wasn't until her 1989 album Strange Angels - the recording of which was reportedly delayed so that she could take proper singing lessons - that singing became a regular part of her performances. In recent years, however, she has tended to focus on spoken word more.
  • Start My Own: Invented her own instruments, including the tape-bow violin and the talking stick.
  • The Storyteller: Once when asked to sum herself up in one word, she chose "Storyteller."
  • Tempting Fate: "Monkey's Paw"
  • Uncommon Time: One of her multimedia creations was "Film Song in 24/24 Time"
  • Understatement: In "From the Air", as she learns that she's going to be making a crash landing, she says, "Uh-oh. This is gonna be some day!"
  • Your Costume Needs Work: Discussed in the song "Talk Normal":
    I turned the corner in SoHo today,
    And someone looked right at me and said, "Oh no,
    Another Laurie Anderson clone!"