Home of the Brave :
a film by Laurie Anderson. The soundtrack is also her third LP.
In United States, Ms. Anderson pokes fun more than once at the idea of promoting herself, or even of anyone caring about her work. She reads her own promotional brochure during a song, the same song in which she recounts a fictional chat with a record executive (“Yankee See”); she acts out a segment of a radio show called “Difficult Listening Hour.” At one point in part IV of U.S., she even gets out a telephone and pretends to invite a reluctant friend to a party — the party she’s at right now — which is her show — the show that she’s doing — right now.
“Yeah, I know it’s late. Yeah, I know you’re asleep. It’s kind of noisy here. There’s kind of a party going on… Listen, just put your shoes on and call a taxi and come down… Thirty-five dollars, but it’s — yeah — it’s two nights. Listen, uh — I’m sure I could get you in.”
By 1985, she was touring Mister Heartbreak and had never been more famous. The milieu shift resulted in a duo-dimensional follow-up to Heartbreak: a concert film called Home of the Brave, and an album of the newer material from the film. Aside from the six new songs, “Sharkey’s Night” expands here from the William S. Burroughs album-closing sketch on Heartbreak to a proper, climactic art-funk sequel to “Sharkey’s Day” (also performed in the film, by the way) — and yes, the redone “Language Is a Virus” is once again originally from United States.
As the title Home of the Brave is conceptually one step removed from the title United States, so the film Home of the Brave is a pop revue version of the form she pioneered in United States. That’s not to say the film is any less engaging as a performance piece — frankly, it’s probably “more fun” — only that U.S. balances austerity and humor with a magic ratio, while Home of the Brave, by contrast, does a bunch of super-groovy party tricks and then says goodnight. It’s a great movie that would make a perfect double feature opening for the just-slightly-superior Stop Making Sense; they share dancing, rear-projections, lights-as-props, awesome black female backup-singing duos, and more! (I would wager that, as is often the case, contemporary influence went both ways there.)
In the transition from performance artist to art-pop star, one thing Laurie seems to lose for a moment here is her looming mastery of themes. Or does it transform into something less looming? Dark contemplation of our relationship with society and its technology has been replaced with a lightly satirical spin on TV, home computing and fame — her own. If there’s such a thing as glitzy art-pop, this is it.
In the next post we’ll be listening to the would-be hit single from Home of the Brave, “Smoke Rings.” But for the moment I’ll just describe a particularly telling track on the LP called “Talk Normal,” an uber-goofy Latin dance number that seems to completely mock the idea of her ever having even a “would-be hit single,” all while throwing out the most hilariously mundane spoken fragments she’s ever conceived (“First National Bank? I love it! New hat? Forget it! Moby Dick? Never read it!”). When everything but the percussion has dropped out, she ends it this way:
“I turned a corner in SoHo today and someone looked right at me and said, ‘Oh no. Another Laurie Anderson clone. And I said: ‘Look at me. LOOK at me. LOOK at me. Look at me, look at me, look at me, LOOK at me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me. Look at me.’”