Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
"O Superman (For Massenet)" is a 1981 song by experimental performance artist and musician Laurie Anderson. Part of the larger work United States , "O Superman," a half-sung, half-spoken, almost minimalist piece unexpectedly rose to #2 on UK music charts in 1981. Much of Anderson's fame can be traced, directly or indirectly, to this song.
Anderson constructed the song as a cover of the aria "O Souverain" from Jules Massenet's 1885 opera Le Cid . The first lines ("O superman / O judge / O mom and dad") especially echo the original aria.
Overlaid on a sparse background of two alternating chords formed by the repeated spoken syllable "Ha," the text of "O Superman" is spoken through a vocoder. As part of the larger work United States, the text addresses issues of technology and communication, citing at various points an answering machine message and the US Postal creed.
First released as a single by One Ten Records , the song's popularity led to Anderson signing a distribution contract with Warner Brothers, who went on the release Anderson's album Big Science in 1982). A live version of the song also appears in Anderson's 4-disc box set United States Live (1984). The song was also covered by David Bowie during his 1997 tour for the album Earthling and is featured in a sketch on the Swedish TV show Nilecity 105.6 first aired in 1995, then mimed by a stuffed Garfield toy animal.
Although Anderson had, almost two decades before, dropped the song from her performance repertoire, she revived the piece in 2001 during a concert tour that included a retrospective look at some of her older pieces. A live performance was recorded in New York City the week following the 9/11 attacks. In this context, certain lyrics appeared to many to be uncannily phophetic: "This is the hand, the hand that takes / Here come the planes / They're American planes. Made in America / Smoking or non-smoking?" The 2001 live performance appears on Anderson's 2002 album Live in New York .
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