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Music Monday on Friday: Baby Doll

My college roommate was totally into Laurie Anderson. Not my freshman year roommate, but the fellow I roomed with sophomore and junior years; a vaguely remember that my freshman year roommate had decent taste in music but I can’t for the life of me remember any specific bands or even genres he liked.

Anyway, Strange Angels came out in 1989, when I was a sophomore, and my roommate bought it (on CD!) and we listened to it a lot. I mean, a lot. It’s a terrific album, just taken as a pop album. I mean, for a pop album it’s a bit arty, but it’s no artier than, say, Remain in Light. There are melodies, and the songs are more or less the length of songs, at least within the college alternative music sense of songs, where four or five minutes seems like a perfectly reasonable song length.

“Monkey’s Paw” is a fantastic song riffing off the old story and plastic surgery. “The Day the Devil” is a fantastic song about, well, the day the Devil comes to get you. “Beautiful Red Dress” is probably the best pop song there is about menstruation, and “Hiawatha” is probably the best pop song there is about Longfellow poetry. But my favorite, for some reason, is “Baby Doll”, which is about the relationships between people and their brains.

I don’t know about your brain, she says, but mine is really… bossy. It’s bossy, but also condescending, and definitely male. Baby Doll, he calls her, and he interested in what he wants, and not particularly interested in what she wants. The offhand manner in which he comes to her assistance in the letter-writing. The wrinkled little scraps of paper with insulting comments. And striking closest for me is the way that her brain goes away and comes back, without warning, without sticking to a schedule.

And it’s danceable. Well, funkable. The beat is driving, with just a tad of swing and odd sounding percussion like synapses snapping. Yes, eighties synthesizer.

Oh, one more thing: When she says Do you mean… George?, she’s referring to Our Only President’s father. At some point in 2001, I must have heard the song and griped about how it came back. Nice to think that soon we will have a President with a different name.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Strange Angels was one of the best things for me about cat- and house-sitting for Nat Anderson in college. That and the Poulenc keyboard concerti, and the complete Blackadder, and (quoties) A Bit of Fry and Laurie (no quoties), and Holmes, the cat.

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