By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
It was during that bull-whale story that I began to see the pattern that has sometimes seemed invisible or, to her detractors, nonexistent in Anderson‘s work. Of course Anderson spends almost as much time on the story of Pip the cabin boy who gets washed overboard as she does with Ahab. Of course she spends most of her stage time by herself. Of course she bases a long song around Ahab’s orders to the ship‘s carpenter to build him a new leg “so I can stand in the rain.” In the end, this new piece is at least as much Waiting for Godot as Moby Dick. Characters race across the stage, stare out the ends of it, stare into films of the sea, race back, sing, run into each other, separate. Like everything Anderson has ever done -- but more obviously and movingly -- this is about loneliness, the never-ending searching for meaning and, especially, company.
Looking back over past works and recordings later that night, I found dozens of such moments in Anderson’s oeuvre. There‘s “World Without End” from 1994’s Bright Red, where Anderson murmurs, “When my father died, we put him in the groundWhen my father died it was like a whole library just burned down.” The sense of people as not just fathers, friends and lovers but also unique compendiums of information and perspective is particularly Melvillean, but also infused by a very contemporary existential angst. Then there‘s the operator comforting a midnight caller on 1989’s “Hiawatha,” from Strange Angels, saying, “I know who you‘re tryin’ to call, darlin‘, and he’s not homehe‘s been away . . . yeah, this is your country stationAnd honey, this next one’s for you.” There‘s the pleading mother talking to a machine in “O Superman,” the song that first brought Anderson into the national public eye 20 or so years ago, and the one-armed man in 1986’s Home of the Brave who wanders into a flower shop and asks, “What flower expressesDays go by, and they keep going by endlessly?”
These characters are suffering from a sense of disconnection, but mostly, they‘re longing for companion travelers, a sense of permanent and unbreakable connection to fellow beings that 20th-century humans seem singularly incapable of retaining. When, at the haunting end of Songs and Stories, Anderson talks about the “phantoms that walk before us,” telling us that we “can walk on water,” she seems, finally, to be talking about our apparent inability to harpoon our fates to anyone else’s. The wonder and the seductive sadness of Melville‘s story, for her at least, is not the fate of Ahab, nor the glorious cruelty of the sea, but being left “alone to tell the tale.” For Anderson, we are not all Ahab, but Ishmael.
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