Bicycling Home After Hearing Laurie Anderson Live

Laurie Anderson at Harvard’s Paine Hall

This afternoon, my friend Orissa and I heard multimedia (“That way they can’t pigeon-hole me.”) artist Laurie Anderson speak at Paine Hall at Harvard, where I have heard quite a few interesting concerts, but nothing quite like the music-free words we heard today. Just about everything Laurie says is musical (and sculptural and literary and cinematic), so we left very inspired to think about how we live in the world. Over the decades, I have heard Laurie Anderson play music and tell stories (and both at once) live in several concerts, but this one was all visual and spoken. It was also great to find that my friends Orissa and Corwin love her ideas as much as I do.

One concept that especially impressed us was that of avoiding being boxed in by straight lines (and I would also consider curved lines or any other boundaries). I spend my days staring at the world through

Laurie Anderson and concept drawing of listening through elbows.

the windows of screens: the morning news on the tablet before I even get out of bed, Facebook, email, and occasionally Twitter (I have 3 accounts) through the day, and in the ultimate parts of my job, a full vision of the entire universe by figuring out the positions and motions of objects through space. Maybe the only way to grasp that grandeur is through a window where I can examine it one planet, star, or galaxy at a time, not through images, but by the properties of the photons detected by telescopes scattered around surface of the Earth and space nearby. So maybe we need boxes.

laurie_andersonBut we also need to spend time outside of the box. Orissa and I both bicycle, and as we walked toward her nearby house, we thought about how being on bicycles frees us from simple geometry. Our constantly revolving feet move us forward through time and space. As I rode home from Cambridge to Roslindale through misty rain, I felt the ghostly presence of past trips, especially the time that my then-spouse and I biked home from the Observatory to Brookline on some of the same route I rode tonight and collapsed champagne-drunk on the floor.

After riding past the Beacon St. apartment where that ride ended 40 years ago, I crossed the dike at Longwood Station into a more distant past on Frederick Law Olmsted’s footpath along the Muddy River, with the mist dulling the sounds of motorized vehicles on the Riverway carriage road almost to the level of the horses and buggies which used the road 120 years ago.

Still further along, I rode on the bridle path along the Jamaicaway which was paved the year before my daughter was born, remembering biking there with my second spouse and a pregnant friend soon after the first undercoat of pavement went down 25 years ago.

So trips through space become meditative trips through time as I’ve traveled the same routes just about every day for decades, through all sorts of weather and the changes in topography that accompany it, through encounters with other path users (cyclists, pedestrians, geese, ducks, and the occasional great blue heron) on the paths, through a battle with aging that so far I’ve fought to a draw, and through involvement with other people who have come into and out of my life, making it more complete