August 13, 1984 12:00 PM

by Laurie Anderson

The priestess of avant-garde rock, Laurie Anderson has previously released record albums that retool or reinterpret portions of her mammoth six-hour, four-part multimedia stage performance, United States: I-IV. Now she has published this book, which contains all the words from United States—the ones she speaks and others that flash on screens around her—in addition to many photos of her in performance and lots of stills that are from the show itself. The records do not—and do not try to—duplicate the experience of witnessing Anderson’s “performance art.” They stand on their own as beguiling, often provocative entertainment. This book doesn’t try to duplicate the live experience either, but it doesn’t stand on its own nearly as well. Anderson’s deadpan words remain just dead on the page when the reader is unable to hear her breathe magical nuance into them with her marvelous voice and droll, tantalizing, intellectually seductive delivery. Likewise, for all the book’s visual abundance, it can’t capture an Anderson performance’s fascinating flicker of images, the humor and eeriness of the juxtapositions and repetitions. Fans who have seen the show may enjoy being reminded of key phrases and pictures. That, however, is a relatively paltry pleasure; a video-cassette would probably do the trick much better. But a Laurie Anderson performance is also a large-scale event, a scene and a gathering of the tuned-in. To appreciate what her art is really about, you simply have to be there. (Harper & Row, $29.95; paper, $19.95)

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