I am listening to Big Science by Laurie Anderson, and I am thinking about needles. More specifically, I am thinking about how a tattoo needle against the skin becomes, at a certain point, pleasurable. Its unrelenting repetition transcends any shock or pain that may initially arise, until that sting is suddenly so familiar. And oh, how we do fall in love with familiarity. 

I am thinking of how words can be linked—strung together as if by needle and thread—into a phrase at once jarring and perfect. The shock of hearing something said back to you that you only then realize has long been oscillating inside you. Just as the hollow tip of the nurse’s needle fits perfectly over the chicken pox scar you’ve been marked with since you were three. Like you have been a bullseye all these years in wait of this moment, this arrow. 

Of how certain voices reverberate with the exact tone you are sure must emanate from your veins. Sounds the way all voices would sound, if it were up to you. Hot and pointed and intoxicating. A strip of metal so thin it slides beneath your skin effortlessly, less noticeable than a splinter. 

“Red Trees” by Laurie Anderson (2021)

That is how Laurie Anderson’s work feels to me: a needling brilliance. Despite how many times I have listened to this album, by the end I am always dumbstruck—lured and lulled and somewhat tranquilized. Carried through a blur by the kind of narration I want to fill the big, blank moments of my life that bide time between sporadic action points. Well-shaped thoughts and sentences to snake around lived mortality, punctuated by an eloquent humor that makes poignant points without taking anything too seriously. She reassures and comforts me as she yanks the rug from beneath my unsuspecting feet.

Over and over, you’re falling. And then catching yourself from falling. And this is how you can be walking and falling at the same time.

If there is such a thing as a divine voice, it must sound vastly different to each of us. Attuned and calibrated to the specific key that makes the tiny hairs inside your cochlea stand most at attention. Laurie Anderson’s voice affects me in a physical way, a near-divine way. Goosebumps alight across my skin, I cannot help but smile, and I become utterly inarticulate. The only word I can think to call it is right, or maybe holy, but those few letters do such injustice to the intangible sensation I am trying to wrap my fingers around here. 

The way she tugs at her spoken-sung lyrics, so satisfying to my sensibilities (both the ones I understand and those which continue to baffle me). If I might name the feeling, it is alike to pulling a strand of polished beads through your closed fist. Each bump begins with a slight resistance, followed by its yielding to the force, ratcheting another click forward. (Cars full of thrill-seekers are pulled to the top of a roller coaster…) A sensation smooth and strange, so very not of you. There is a deep draw to this otherness, a compulsion to figure out exactly why it feels so good. 

But before you know it, before you are able to latch onto any proper words, the final song is over. And you are left dazed and slightly bruised, thumbing at the sore spot of where the needle went in. A record worn dull where the needle scraped across. And so I flip Big Science back to side 1. Over and over. Again.

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