Summertime Musings II: Laurie Anderson

I have of late not been gentle to Laurie Anderson, as I find most of her music to be banal, superficial, politically simple-minded, and musically vacuous. Thus it comes as no surprise she is now writing music for dogs.

I have long had dogs as have many of my friends. They are wonderful creatures and companions. They reciprocate our affection and keep us company; make us aware of the simple nature of joy; perhaps even bring meaning to some human lives. But ultimately- and here is the rub- they don't and can't provide an intimate I-Thou relationship. No matter how much we wish to anthropomorphize them, they are truly not human. And while animals can make sounds, they cannot make or understand music, particularly as a source of pleasure or of meaning.

Music- that is more than just random Cagian sound- is a human made language for humans to understand music's own nature and to understand our sense of a transcendental relationship to the world and maybe more. This is an aspect- some argue the fundamental aspect-of what makes us human.

So Ms. Anderson wrote a piece for dogs first performed outside of the Sydney Opera House (Did this location give it some particular privilege? If a porcupine burped in the same location would its emission also have special significance?) It is in a very low frequency band since this is the range in which dogs can best hear. About the performance she said "At the end, they began to bark -- even the droolers in the front row. "It was a beautiful sound," she said. "They barked for five minutes. That was one of the happiest moments of my life." Music is, of course, supposed to have expressive meaning and signify something of moment. This piece sounds to be as expressive as thunder.

I am also delighted that some artists love their pets- seemingly a lot. Ms. Laurie Anderson has recently released a movie about her dog Lolabelle, a rat terrier who died in 2010. Her husband Lou Reed died in 2013, and the film is dedicated to him.

The New York Times tells us that "Heart of a Dog," is about 75 minutes long and, with dreamlike fluidity, tackles a wide range of themes: mortality, love, art and even post-9/11 surveillance." Note the last category, which could have just as easily been about 9/11 mortality/carnage. I guess it isn't because, like in her breakout piece Oh Superman, every plane is an American plane wreaking carnage (who were piloting those 9/11 planes?), and apparently there are no other evil forces in the world, and certainly none worse than America. But why bring up silly things, like beheadings in far off lands, when we are just talking about our pet and surveillance?

A final question- Did Anderson privilege one over the other: that is, her dog and husband? In response to Dennis Prager's question to kids: " If you are in a boat with your dog and a stranger and the boat were to sink, whom would you save?" most kids answer that they would save their dog. Poor Lou, it is not at all clear where he would have found himself if he were with his wife and dog in a leaky boat.

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