By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
"YOU KNOW WHEN THE EGYPTIANS built their steam trains they didn't have any fuel to burn," chants Anderson in "One Beautiful Evening," a song from Life on a Stringthat also appears in an expanded form toward the end of Happiness. "But what they did have a lot of was old mummy rags lying around. So they gathered up all the rags, and they burned them in their trains. Yeah, they burned their ancestors for fuel."
The story adds another karmic dimension to the notion of "fossil fuel," but "One Beautiful Evening"'s oblique damning of our collective souls doesn't end there. Between snippets of silly children's songs ("I'm a little teapot short and stout") and "Hey hey nonny nay," an echo of Ophelia's half-crazed lament in Hamlet, are apocalyptic visions delivered not with dread so much as relish: "Funny how hatred can also be a beautiful thing/When it's as sharp as a knife."
It's part of Anderson's rebellion against this artificially shiny society in which darkness gets short shrift, against a general agreed-upon notion that art should be beautiful and people should always be nice, against a president who advises us to shop our way out of the post-terror blues. ("You kind of wish he'd say a few other things," says Anderson, "but I guess he's not that kind of guy.")
"I'm really scared," she says when the subject comes up. "I do generally fear for what's going on. I fear that people have been taught that the more stuff they have, the better it is. I fear for our spiritual life. And whenever I say 'spiritual life' people say, oh, God, gurus, crystals, all that. But I'm talking about intelligence. I'm talking about analysis. I'm talking about not believing the fake, propped-up version of what we're supposed to go for as Americans. There's a reason Buddhism has taken root in the United States, and of all places in the world found the freedom here to be extraordinary. There are reasons we get immigrants from everywhere, why in World War II we got Jews from Germany to come, which enriched us enormously beyond our wildest dreams. There's a reason we've been able to attract artists and intellectuals from a lot of different places."
Those artists have not all come to make art that cheered people up. Sometimes the most uplifting artistic expression is the kind that articulates the white noise of anxiety that runs in our subconscious, the anguish people in times of stress manage to keep to a low hum, but are often relieved to have brought to the surface. "If you bring forth what is within you," says the Gospel of Thomas, "what you have will save you."
"It's not that I'm trying to make work that is desperate, and that brings people down," says Anderson. "But on the other hand, what's wrong with a little bit of terror, a little bit of sadness, some sense of loss? We're human beings. We're not just about eating gourmet food and having a nice ride in an SUV, about making a good life for ourselves. That fits with the European version of who we are. But Americans are much more advanced than that. We're people who come from the transcendentalists, from Thoreau, from thinkers who had a real spirituality.
"And from what I know," she insists, "they're still with us."