In 2003, when the National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected performance artist Laurie Anderson as NASA’s first artist-in-residence, something like The End of the Moon became inevitable. This soul-stirring multimedia show — part intensely personal history and poetry, part expressive electronic music played on violin and keyboards, part impressionistic slide projections — played Fletcher Hall in The Carolina Theatre of Durham, NC on the evening of Sunday, Nov. 13th. Virtually every member of the Triangle chapter of the Laurie Anderson fan club in attendance. At least, it seemed that way during the exuberant and prolonged standing ovation that followed the final curtain.
Laurie Anderson is a very old soul — a veritable goddess to her most ardent admirers — and her incisive observations on NASA and the Moon and post 9/11 America struck a deeply responsive chord in the audience. Manned space flight only got as far as the Moon, which Apollo 11 first visited on my 21st birthday on July 20, 1969 and Apollo 17 last visited on Dec. 7, 1972. Now machines, not men and women, explore the outer limits of our solar system. To a child of the 1950s, weaned on the juvenile science-fiction novels of Robert Heinlein, that is a damned shame.
The End of the Moon, which Laurie Anderson recites in a hoarse and sometimes hard to understand whisper and feverishly performs on violin and keyboard, uses the Moon and NASA and NASA’s recent space-shuttle tragedies as a springboard for a series of musings on — and probing of the collective soul of — 21st century America.
One striking story involves Anderson and her rat terrier Lolabelle. During a walk through a wilderness area of California, first Anderson and then Lolabelle looked up and spotted a flight of turkey vultures lazily circling overhead. But it wasn’t until the vultures buzzed Anderson and Lolabelle — their proximity revealed by their horrible breath and their claws extended to snatch the plucky rat terrier — that the performance artist and her pet recognized the precariousness of their situation.
Both thought they were safe on the isolated trail; neither bothered to look up. Until then, danger from the sky was not even a shadow in their darkest nightmares.
But since their close encounter with the brazen turkey vultures, looking for a meal, New York City resident Laurie Anderson says, Lolabelle routinely checks overhead for danger from above — looks up every few minutes. So do virtually all New Yorkers in a post 9/11 world in which heretofore unthinkable acts, such as deliberately crashing loaded civilian airliners into skyscrapers full of people, have become thinkable.
The Islamic terrorists targeting of civilian sites — office buildings, senior and day-care centers, buses and trains, hotels — provokes fear and loathing among average Americans. How America handles the rage that it also provokes will determine, to a large extent, whether the current War on Terror will become (in the words of Gore Vidal) a perpetual war for perpetual peace.