‘It has never been more pertinent’ – Margaret Atwood on the chilling genius of Laurie Anderson’s Big Science
I didn’t understand, back in 1981, that O Superman was about the mission to retrieve embattled Americans during the Iranian revolution and the hostage crisis, in which 52 US diplomats were held by Iran for more than a year. Anderson herself has said that the song is directly related to Operation Eagle Claw, a military rescue operation that failed: a failure that included a helicopter crash. This catastrophe demonstrated that the American military-industrial Superman was not invincible, and that the automation and electronics mentioned in the song would not always win. The helicopter crash, said Anderson, was the initial inspiration for the song or performance piece. When O Superman became a hit, first in the UK and then elsewhere, Anderson claims to have been astonished. What were the chances? Very slim, you would have said ahead of time.