Born in Chicago, performance artist Laurie Anderson studied both art and the violin until age 16 when she decided to stop playing the instrument in order to focus on art and literature. Her passion for reading and art led her to Barnard College where she studied art history. After graduation she studied with Carl Andre and Sol LeWitt at the School of Visual Arts and completed an M.F.A. in sculpture from Columbia University in 1972. Music became a part of Anderson’s work in her 1973 performance Automotive (a concert for “nice cars in harmony”) and she returned to the violin (although in an unconventional way) in 1975 when she invented the tape bow violin by replacing the violin strings with a tape recorder playback head and the bow hair with a prerecorded piece of magnetic tape. Sound was produced as she dragged the magnetic tape bow back and forth over the playback head.
Anderson achieved popular success in 1981, and a recording contract with Warner Brothers Records, when her song O Superman (from Part 2 of her seven hour theater piece United States) was released as a single and climbed to number 2 on the British pop charts. An unlikely popular hit with a duration of over eight minutes, it is a typical Anderson composition in that it tells a story interjected with clichés (Pay as you go), slogans (Neither snow nor rain nor gloom of night…), and humorous asides (Hi Mom!). A political work, Anderson wrote the piece as a reaction to Iran-Contra, but it took on new meaning for her when she sang the lines “Here come the planes. They’re American planes. Made in America.” at Town Hall in New York City on September 19, 2001, ten days after the destruction of the World Trade Center.