Learning To Fall

This is where Laurie Anderson learned to crawl

Walking and falling

The muses are calling,

“This is your captain

speaking with his voice

We all have a choice:

Sink or swim?

Walk or fall?”

Voices in a frame

spell my name

smell the same

speak the flame into being

The pictures I’m seeing

Are talking and calling

rising and falling

Learning to crawl

Crawling to the starting line

Crawling to the finish line


This is the date

This is the debt

This is the gate where Jesus wept

Take me to Pilate

Take me to Macbeth

I won’t wait for fate to flog me to death


I put all my eggs in one basket,

set my basket on a wall

where it was sure to fall

All the king’s horse

and all the king’s men

with sword and with pen

Struck down the basket

scattered the nest

burned down the rest


Walking and falling

The Tweeling is bawling

I speak and swell

but cannot spell

the broken frame

that knows my name

Things crawl apart

The centre cannot mould

Waiting for the crash

Slouching to The Clash


The distance between us is certain to fall

like time in a bottle, an egg on a wall

But no one comes close to learning it all


My blood is congealing

My brain is concealing

the past from the present

(It’s not very pleasant)

Yet on to The Tweeling

We march

We march


Be still, my soldier

Lie still

Lie still


The Tweeling is coming

I can tell

And nothing could suit this time so well

With infinite feeling

this forthcoming Tweeling

is dragging us all to hell


At least we’re talking

talking and telling

speaking and spelling

bit by bit

putting it all back together


And all will be well

All manner of things will be well

Fear not

Fear not

Everything Old Is New Again

I wanted you
And I was looking for you
But I couldn’t find you
I wanted you
And I was looking for you all day
But I couldn’t find you
I couldn’t find you.

– Laurie Anderson, “Walking and Falling” from the album Big Science (1982)

I first heard Laurie Anderson during my freshman year of college. I was at Northwestern University, suddenly out of Iowa and into the Big School in the Big City. I grew up in Des Moines, and compared to the rest of Iowa, we were the big city. I never thought my myself as a small-towner. Quite the contrary! I found Iowa outside of Des Moines to be painfully hick. Those farmers talked and looked hick. I was not like them; I was from the big capitol city of Des Moines!

Then I got to college. Northwestern is in Evanston, Illinois, just north of Chicago. Suddenly I was competing with folks from Chicago and New York and Philadelphia and Boston. I was now officially the hick. And I had never heard of Laurie Anderson.

I fell in love with her on first hearing. Her Big Science album was artsy and weird and quirky, and even though I thought I had fairly wide-ranging tastes, I had never heard anything quite like it. Since then, I have seen her on film, in concert, and hosting art shows. I’ve bought her books and her albums, then her cassettes, then her CDs.

But it was only a few days ago that I made a connection: Her lyrics remind me of Biblical poetry with its stairstepping lines and repetition.

Compare the above lyric to this, from the Old Testament:

Upon my bed, night after night,
I looked for the one whom I love with all y heart.
I looked for him but couldn’t find him.
I will rise now and go all around the city,
Through the streets and the squares.
I will look for the one whom I love with all my heart.
I looked for him but couldn’t find him.

– Song of Songs 3:1-2

It was while reading this latter passage that the theme of looking and not finding jumped out at me, and only because I had just recorded a video in which I quoted the Laurie Anderson lines at the top of this post. But then I realized that it wasn’t just the theme that was similar; it was the writing style. Anderson uses this sort of building repetition frequently, as does the Bible. Consider these rather graphic verses:

She struck Sisera;
she crushed his head;
she shattered and pierced his skull.
At her feet he sank, he fell, and lay flat;
at her feet he sank, he fell;
where he sank, there he fell—dead.

– Judges 5:26-27

I love making connections between two things that you wouldn’t think shared something in common. The passage from Judges is part of “Deborah’s Song,” and is one of the very oldest pieces of writing in the Bible. I don’t know if Laurie Anderson deliberately borrowed her lyric style from ancient Hebrew poetry, but I’m happy to have spotted a similarity. Everything old is new again.
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