O Superman, 1982, with Laurie Anderson, 7:27 min
With this song, part of her larger work United States Live, Anderson made it to number 2 on the UK singles charts in 1981 after it was promoted by the influential British radio presenter and DJ John Peel. It shot to fame as a result, having previously been barely known outside of Anderson’s artistic circles. First released as a single, the 1982 song was part of her debut album Big Science.
The content of the song relates to the core theme of her work: technology and communication versus humanism. In a mix of pop music video, info-clip, and prophetic oracle, she sings of her homeland, the United States of America, and its technological and geopolitical conquest. Inspired by Arie Ô Souverain, ô juge, ô père (O Sovereign, O Judge, O Father) from Jules Massenet’s opera Le Cid (1885), the introduction is a repetition of the text »O Superman / O Judge / O Mom and Dad,« whereby »Mom« and »Dad« are to be understood both as an allegory of the homeland and her mother tongue.
Against the background of the hostage-taking in the American embassy (Nov. 4, 1979–Jan. 20, 1981) and specifically triggered by the tragic crash of a military rescue helicopter near Tehran, this song is a critical reflection on imperial power interests and violence, which Anderson ultimately contrasts with the hegemony of Mother Earth.
’Cause when love is gone, there’s always justice.
And when justice is gone, there’s always force.
And when force is gone, there’s always Mom. Hi Mom!