Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

53 things about Laurie Anderson you may or may not know

Only an expert can solve a problem. (23. March 29, 2024, at Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, Laurie Anderson was as provocative, brilliant, inspiring, whimsical and stylish as ever.)


Laurie Anderson in concert in Portland. Photos: Mike Meyer

“I’m not even here.”
– Laurie Anderson

And I looked up and there they were Millions of tiny teardrops just sort of hanging there And I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.”
– Laurie Anderson

DISCLAIMER: This is not an in-depth analysis of the life and work of Laurie Anderson, who has been in full creation mode all over the world for 50 years. I don’t like in-depth analyses. This is more a response to Laurie’s concert Friday, March 29, at Keller Auditorium and a response to everything I have learned about her in the last 10 days of research, isolated as I am by bi- lateral pink eye. “Not to worry,” Gregg Bielemeier said. “Pink is the new black.”


1. Laurie Anderson is brilliant. She flames with brains, curiosity, imagination, and rock and roll.

2. Born June 5, 1947, in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, 30 miles West of Chicago, she is the second eldest of eight. She’s turning 77. There is no sign of decline except small folds of intelligence around her eyes like little books.

3. Her parents were named Arthur and Mary. Arthur met Mary when she was his horseback riding student.


Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

4. Laurie said she did not love her mother. She found her mother cold, formal, feelings-avoidant. And snobby. But her mother always supported her work and routed critics who called her daughter weird. She also was able to instill a confidence in her daughter modeling how not to care what other people think. That detachment from judgment allows an artist to boldly forge ahead.

5. When she was a young girl, she played violin with the Chicago Youth Symphony and studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.

6. When she was 12, she broke her back somersaulting off a high dive, missing the pool and landing on cement. She spent months in a hospital ward. Doctors told her she would never walk again.

7. She used to amuse herself by thinking up stories that absolutely could never happen; for instance: “A man is walking in the snow, looking up at the sky and a duck flies overhead, has a heart attack and drops dead on the man’s head, killing both of them.”

8. When she was running for student council president in junior high, she wrote to JFK, before he took office, asking for tips. He told her to find out what the people want and help them get it. He sent her roses when she won her election.

9. She started college at Mills in Oakland, California, but transferred to Barnard, graduating with a BA in Art History in 1966. She received an MFA in sculpture from Columbia in 1972.

10. She said that when her father died, it was like a library burned down.


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

11. Laurie Anderson drew the underground comix Baloney Moccasins, taught art and illustrated children’s books before she was able to support herself with her music and performance.

12. You’ve probably heard this, but when she first started performing with her violin and recordings in various cities around the world, she stood on ice skates frozen into blocks of ice. The concert ended when the ice melted enough that she lost her balance.

13. Her 1982 album Big Science was a surprise hit. The song “O Superman” rose to #1 in Britain. She, consequently, signed a seven-album contract with Warner Brothers.

14. She wrote a symphony in 1969 for car horns.

15. She has collaborated with everyone from William Burroughs to Frank Zappa to Andy Kaufman.

16. Laurie Anderson is innately to-die-for stylish. Her hair has produced one of the great hairdos of the last 100 years. Also on that list are Angela Davis, Rod Stewart and Amy Winehouse.

17. But Laurie Anderson rarely says anything about her looks, apparently unaffected by annoying Vanity, unlike some other people I know quite well.


18. The deep, smooth, richness of Laurie Anderson’s voice allows for her words to be received as if they were honey, but they’re not.

19. They are skewers of truth.

20. They are sneaky, snide spikes, dipped in honey.

21. Laurie Anderson says she hates it when people tell her their dreams [who doesn’t?], but has used her dreams to inspire a large body of work. Her 2005 exhibition The Waters Reglitterized was described as a diary of dreams and their literal recreation as works of art.

22. She said she thinks of herself as an idiot and that many of the things she says are “stupidly pompous. I don’t understand what I’m saying sometimes myself. I just like to take guesses.”

23. March 29, 2024, at Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, Laurie Anderson was as provocative, brilliant, inspiring, whimsical and stylish as ever. The band Sexmob was also brilliant. They played from most of her albums over the last 50 years with all the usual technology—large images, sound manipulations and vocal hijinx.

24. BUT I do wish the sound had been clearer. I know my ears aren’t what they used to be, but everyone in the auditorium mentioned missing words. For a poet, there is nothing worse. I recommend captions, my dear. Captions.


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

25. I repeat, this is not an in-depth analysis of Laurie Anderson’s work.

26. We screamed last Friday at Keller. Borrowing from Yoko Ono, who allegedly screamed for three minutes straight after hearing of the shameful results of the 2016 election, Laurie asked the audience to scream. She said she knew we wanted to. Of course we did. [Are you kidding?]

27. But mostly, it seems a lot of us are still thinking about one of her Buddhist teacher’s advice: “Try to feel sad, not be sad.”

28. Hunh?

29. Laurie Anderson always says or shares thoughts that make our heads spin, our brains twist and shout. We grow neurons.

30. Such a trickster. Don’t you agree? How’d she get that way?

31. Laurie Anderson is a Buddhist. One time she meditated for 16 hours straight and when she came out of the meditation, she no longer remembered her name.


Portland Opera Puccini in Concert Keller Auditorium Portland Oregon

32. Lou Reed was a Buddhist too and supposedly had one of the most beautiful deaths in recorded history.

33. But this is not about Lou Reed, even though every man I talked to who was at the concert said they loved the Lou Reed part. First thing they said.

34. But this is not about Lou Reed.

35. Okay, Okay. Everything you’ve heard is true. Laurie Anderson met Lou Reed in 1992 and they were together from that point on until he died in 2013. They were married in 2008. When you see them together in video clips, etc., they both look like they’ve eaten the cat’s pajamas, or swallowed the canary, or whatever that saying is. They look beautiful, in synch, and in love.

36. When Laurie Anderson sewed a drum machine into her white satin suit and then danced and played her body, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! She later joked about the loudness of her shirt.

37. She composed the soundtracks for Spalding Gray’s “Swimming to Cambodia” and “Monster in a Box.”

38. Laurie Anderson did voice work in “The Rugrats Movie.”


Portland Center Stage at the Armory Coriolanus Portland Oregon

39. Laurie Anderson did the voice recording for Don DeLilo’s novel The Body Artist.

40. She also once asked Thomas Pynchon if she could write an opera based on his book Gravity’s Rainbow. He said sure, as long as it was scored for a single banjo. She said that was the best rejection she ever got.

41. Laurie Anderson has not read anything about herself in over a decade. And she feels a lot better that way.

42. Lou re-named Laurie Anderson’s ground-breaking digitized male voice, which she had been calling “auto drag,” Fenway Bergamot.

43. She became NASA’s first artist-in-residence in 2003.

44. She was part of the team that created the opening ceremony for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.

45. When her dog Lulubelle went blind, Laurie Anderson taught her how to play the piano and the dog played every day while Anderson put on electronic rhythms.


Portland Playhouse Passing Strange Portland Oregon

46. In 2019, she and the Kronos Quartet won Grammy for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance for their album Landfall which was a response to Hurricane Sandy.

47. In 2021, Anderson was appointed the Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard and recorded four readily available lectures.

48. Anderson has invented several musical instruments, beginning with the tape bow violin that used magnetic tape in the bow instead of horsehair; and the Talking Stick, a wireless instrument that can access and reciprocate any sound using granular synthesis.

49. Now Anderson has begun experimenting with AI. Her words, Lou’s words, and the Bible’s have been uploaded together into an uber computer in Australia. The computer henceforth spews out a sort of robotic brilliance.

50. Laurie Anderson says she loves technology but she hopes we get slower because she fears we are going to implode. She also says that if people expect technology to solve their problems, they do not understand technology and they do not understand their problems.

51. In 2024, Anderson withdrew from a guest professorship in Essen, Germany, after university officials objected to her support of a “Letter Against Apartheid” organized by Palestinian artists, calling for “an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.”

52. Anderson said her goal would never be to make people feel better. “I want them to laugh or go eek. When I hear that art should make the world a better place, it makes my blood boil . . . But secretly, I do want to do that.


Cascadia Composers May the Fourth be with you Bold new music for winds and piano Lincoln Recital Hall PSU Portland Oregon

53. Laurie Anderson blazes with light.

Laurie Anderson onstage at Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon, March 29, 2024. Photo: Mike Meyer
… and, she looked just like this. Photo: Mike Meyer

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Leanne Grabel is considering going back to writing poems on the page; in other words, simplifying. Her latest performance (& chapbook & postcards & posters) was Old With Jokes performed at the Eastside Jewish Commons as part of ArtLab 2023. She is currently teaching flash memoir at Menucha Arts Center and Silverton Arts Center. She has books. Most recently, her collaboration with filmmaker Penny Allen This Rescue Thing (Penny wrote the novel, Leanne illustrated it) will be published by The Opiate Press in 2024.


8 Responses

  1. Thanks Leanne, I enjoyed this. There is another groundbreaking creative artist who majored in art history at Barnard, graduating two years before Laurie Anderson, so they may have been in some of the same classes: Twyla Tharp.

  2. Great piece Leanne, love the list format! I did not see the show but have seen her many times before and am a true fan. She was a big influence on the G.A.s Her film about Lulubelle and Lou was so great too.

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