Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog

by Laurie Anderson


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It's not at all surprising that Laurie Anderson would make a film dealing with grief and loss, especially as one of her first major projects after the death of her husband Lou Reed. But instead of offering a tribute to her late spouse, Anderson chose to make a film that dealt with another departed loved one: her dog. Her 2015 film, Heart of a Dog, is loosely centered around her experiences with her dog Lolabelle, a rat terrier who was adopted by the artist after being given up by a family going through a divorce. The soundtrack album to the film Heart of a Dog ambitiously combines music, sounds effects, ambient noises, and Anderson's cool but resonant narration as she tells us stories about Lolabelle that lead into observations on a variety of other topics -- life in post-9/11 America, her uneasy relationship with her mother, harrowing memories from her childhood, her studies of Buddhism, and the nature of dreams. While life with Lolabelle is the recurring metaphor on this album, Heart of a Dog doesn't have a proper narrative to connect its various elements, but the album's peaceful but determined drift from theme to theme honors its own internal logic, and it all coheres emotionally over the course of 75 minutes. Anderson's greatest gift as a performer has always been her skill as a storyteller, and she's rarely delivered a more satisfying or heartfelt work than she has on Heart of a Dog; this cycle has been written and delivered with her typical intelligence and dry wit, but she opens up about herself and her feelings in a way that's not typical for the artist, and as she reels from sharing very funny recordings of Lolabelle playing with an electronic keyboard to a heart-rendering memory of her mother's final moments of life, Anderson offers a story that speaks eloquently about joy and sorrow, sharing a deeply personal tale that has something to say to practically anyone who has cared for another being, either with two legs or four. And Anderson wisely and gracefully gives Reed the last word, with his song "Turning Time Around" (from the 2000 album Ecstasy), adding a splendid coda to the proceedings. Heart of a Dog isn't a typical tale of a girl and her pooch -- it's an album only Laurie Anderson could make, even as its sense of joy and tragedy sets it apart from her best-known work.

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