(Dave Simpson’s article appeared in the Guardian, 4/19.)
Laurie Anderson, singer-songwriter
In 1979, Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran. America went blazing in with helicopters to get the hostages out. But it backfired majorly. A helicopter and a plane crashed in the desert. We were left with dead bodies, a pile of burning debris and the hostages nowhere to be seen. So I thought I’d write a song about all that and the failure of technology.
I’d just heard this beautiful 19th-century aria by Massenet that began: “O sovereign …” It was a prayer to authority, which I thought was interesting, so I started writing: “O Superman …” The lyrics are a one-sided conversation, like a prayer to God. It sounds sinister – but it is sinister when you start talking to power. I juxtaposed sinister and mundane imagery: “Hold me Mom in your long arms, your petrochemical arms, your military arms.” We’d always been told that America was the motherland, to appeal to our love of mom and dad, but it’s really not like that. I put the US post office slogan in, too: “Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”