When Laurie Anderson was 19, she moved from Glen Ellyn, Illinois to New York City to study art history and sculpture. Early on, she made a thing called Automotive — it was a symphony played on car horns. She was hooked.
Laurie went on to pioneer electronic music, inventing a 6-foot-long wireless MIDI controller synthesizer called a “talking stick” that could replicate any sound. She created a violin made out of a tape recorder (she had begun playing classical violin at age 5, and had performed with the Chicago Youth Symphony). Laurie moonlighted as an art critic while making comic books, albums, films, pop music hits, and multi-media performances that included dance, drawings, photos, and puppets. She became NASA’s artist in residence, and wrote a one-woman show about her experience. Today, Laurie continues to perform her creations worldwide.
When Laurie was 45, she met a rocker named Lou. It wasn’t long before Laurie and Lou were a number. They shared passions for music, electronics, meditation and collecting butterflies. Collaborating in art and life, Laurie and Lou focused on play, performance, creation, downtime, unfettered creativity and mutual critiquing. Hanging out with experimental and expansive friends, their operative word was “new.” As partners, they built their higher selves.
On marriage, Laurie has written that what surprised her was the way the relationship altered time and brought new and unexpected tenderness. She has described constructing a way to be that enables each one to be part of a pair. Being married to another artist, she says, means both will understand the meaning of “go to your room.”
A couple of years ago, Lou’s health started to decline. He had liver disease. Two Sundays ago, Lou’s heart stopped. A Tai Chi Master, Lou was at the time doing the well-known “Water-flowing 21” with his hands. Laurie was holding him, watching his face fill with wonder as he slipped away, fearless. Laurie has written that she “got to walk with the person she loved most in the world, to the end of the world.”
P.S. “The purpose of death is the release of love.” (Laurie Anderson)
Esoterica: Lou Reed’s musical influence has touched artists worldwide and shaped the sound of alternative music. As guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for The Velvet Underground, Lou invented his own guitar tuning, sang in irreverent, spoken-word style, and preferred poetry to standard lyrics. Considered a commercial failure in the 1960s, The Velvet Underground‘s debut album sold only 30,000 copies. “Everyone who bought one of those first copies started a band,” said musician and producer Brian Eno. Later, Lou went on to a multi-decade solo career. David Bowie called him “The Master.”
A special smile, often
by Karen Fox, Vashon Island, WA, USA
I started to read this morning’s letter and thought I was reading Robert but it seemed different. Seeing your name at the end I was touched by your gentle nature that comes through. I saw Lou Reed in Toronto’s Massey Hall in the ’70s. When you experience moments that you know are special you feel richly blessed. When you are older and remember them, they make you smile, often.
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Possibilities of an artist — partner
by Sharon Cory, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Lou Reed’s death was a sad moment for me, as I remember being on the edge of a psychedelic, late hippie movement where The Velvet Underground appeared in my provincial little city and then rapidly disappeared. His music was always important to me but I only recently knew of his wife’s work and their life together. This letter makes me wonder if I missed a really great relationship by choosing never to get involved with a fellow artist. I guess I was afraid that the competition would rip us apart, but you’re right that another artist would have understood the pressure to get the work done, even at odd hours, and the mess that was sometimes made.
Passing a torch
by Peter Trent, Hawkesbury, ON, Canada
Whilst it has been evident for a long time that you are one of many people upon whom your father relies, it is, to me, particularly gratifying that the ‘letter’ torch has been passed on to your hands. The letter has been, for as long as I’ve subscribed, one of the highlights of my artistic week and I wish you great joy for as long as you continue it. Thanks for grabbing the ball and running with it!
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Leaving an imprint
by John C. Wallner, New York City area, USA
My work uses old letters and notes and pages from destroyed books lost in attics. They show a moment in time where a human hand touched paper and left an imprint. You have done the same with your art and your letters. I feel we live through our compassion and not just our bodies. Time holds our moments in what we do and say and how we treat the precious gift of our lives. As a painter you are giving beauty and your moments to others that remain and continue.
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Lonely painter relocates
by Suzie Gordon, South Africa
I live in a beautiful quaint village that is tiny and tucked away from the hustle and bustle of technocratic life. It’s full of CEOs, inventors, artists, and super human beings — successful and caring folk.
I am writing this after taking time to calm down and opened your mail on loneliness. I found that painting made me lonely and that is why, when I relocated from LLandudno in Capetown — a super special location on the sea side – that I would buy a house right in the middle of Greyton, a unique village where people located to because of the beauty and richness of the land and surrounding huge mountains and the first comment was that it’s a caring village and you’re now one of the family. This was just what I was looking for so that I could take a break from doing my art and pop outside my gate and chat to the passing folk.
I opened a Fashion school here — it was the first multi-racial school in South Africa, and I did what you do. I looked into the souls of each student, guided them through their emotions, gave them hope and love and wisdom that I had acquired through my extensive traveling. These students excelled. I gave the first short courses in South Africa, too. One could understand that in 4 months you could do what you would achieve in a year if you were lucky at a Technikon. This was proven when the Technikons approached me to come and teach their students. I said yes on one condition — that I had to do it my way. No marking, and no following the format laid out by the government education department. It was agreed, and I have taught for 17 years and am blessed knowing I have helped the poorest of poor to become someone.
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Enough, an excerpt
by Bruce Wilcox, Denver, CO, USA
life comes — life goes — just do the work until the end
this will be the last time these conditions exist
you’re good enough — even if it seems everybody hates you
though at the time it wasn’t understandable
you’ve been transmuting hate since you were eight
an unexplainable set of circumstances but one that’s been very valuable to the whole
so there’s nothing to forgive — it will be enough — and amazingly — love is all around you
because — on this side of the veil
we’re all blown away by the beauty of your creation experience
until then- challenge everyone — everything
continue to help where you can
use your tools and do healing work
write poetry and mix music
share your energy field with those who are open
persevere — make art — and just be radiant
create beauty — and you’ll heal hell
I agreed to do the work
just do the work
do the work
it will be enough
more than enough
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by Alan Brown, Norway
I have been a subscriber for sixteen years in total I think. I know you as much for your writing as painting, and through the words in your emails you have created many a wonderful scene in my mind. You’ve been a great source of inspiration for me personally with your content and style of storytelling. Not just about painting, but life, possibilities and hope.
It’s occurred to me, as this is my first time of writing, you probably don’t know most of your audience. I suspect you’ve become a friend to many out here in email land without knowing them. People, who look forward greatly to hear from you, but for one reason or another, are not disposed to write back – anonymous friends. In writing this I can no longer count myself as one of them, but I am certain there are many. Many such friends, who, like me, wish you and your family all the courage and strength possible at this a challenging time.
“If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run…” (Rudyard Kipling)
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Reignat, From A Ballon, Early
oil painting, 30 x 36 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Shirley Erskine of Toronto, Canada who remarks, “How beautiful and poetic a life of love between two creative persons, continued throughout their time on this earth. They gave the world the gift of their musical passion and mutual respect.”
And Debrah Barr of Portland, OR, USA who invites the Painters Keys community of friends to send Robert a brush, or other creative tool — “things we have used to create our work, to show our support — to be there for him,” and to give him “a very tangible representation of how beautifully he has given so many of us the courage to pick up those tools.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Laurie and Lou…