I’ve had a life-long fascination with progressive rock and the avante garde movement in music. Bands like Genesis, Pink Floyd, Talking Heads and Jethro Tull for sure, but also some more obscure folks you weren’t likely to hear on the radio. People like Brian Eno, Robert Fripp, John Cage and this fine example of the Avante Garde in music, Laurie Anderson.
When she toured for this album in 1984/85, I was a second-year university student and pretty heady with a course load straddling liberal arts, computing and math. The song title, Language is a Virus appealed to all three aspects of study. No one would be talking about computer viruses for more than a decade to come, mind you. What interested me was the theory I had that ideas themselves were something of a virus, that you could plot an outbreak of a political, religious or social idea on a geographical map much the same way you’d plot the spread of an infectious disease through a population.
For some reason, in my mid-20s and my second year of university (well, third if you count the year of photography school 4 years earlier), that idea seemed really important. Like somewhere in there was a kernel of profound truth that might change the world. Juvenile hubris.
I don’t get people in their 40s who claim they want to go back and relive their 20s.
On the other hand, I guess that became the theory of viral marketing.
The remainder of this song’s lyrics don’t reach me. I just don’t get it. Still, I love the get-down funky underpinnings of a sometimes distracted, often discordant bit of performance art masquerading as a concert. That sounds like I’m dissing the song, but I’m not. David Bowie, for example, had long before reconstructed performance art as a popular art form through which he performed ground-breaking music. With Home of the Brave, Anderson’s verve and intelligence combine in a commanding stage presence and an aural adventure. It was a great concert, er, performance, making for an excellent concert film. And making perturbed riffs on 6 strings, that’s Adrian Belew, a demi-god among prog-rock guitarists (King Crimson front man, session work for Bowie, Zappa, Talking Heads amongst others). I ate it up — I still do.
That, and I love the brief verse that begins and ends the piece.
Paradise is exactly like
Where you are right now
Only much much better.
Ahhh, yes, language is a virus.