“One White Whale," “Pieces and Parts,” & “Noisy Sea” Songs and Stories From Moby Dick (Laurie Anderson, 2000). Moby-Dick begins with Ishmael lamenting the feeling of the drizzling November in his heart, at which point he knows he needs to take to the sea, though penniless. This is where his journey begins: “Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a day, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries—stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region.”
When Ahab set sail on his monomaniacal, vengeful pursuit of Moby Dick, he had onboard a crew that was interested in the whale not for revenge but for the Doubloon— for wealth. This is one place where Laurie Anderson sees Moby-Dick as a novel still relevant. In an interview with Bomb’s Clifford Ross, she discusses Songs and Stories From Moby Dick, an electronic opera she wrote and performed in 1999-2000. She explains, “How do you drive men to action? You get some really good bait and dangle it in front of their eyes. Ahab did not have great respect for his crew; he thought they’d only respond to money. Now that is the great American story.”
Anderson’s music and lyrics, however, go beyond the critique of capital. Moby-Dick’s timeless and quintessentially American themes of journey and conquest are connected to America’s self-created religious destiny and its inevitable dimension of violence. Moby-Dick is an inexhaustible fount of profound loomings about America, the human condition, and the sublime mystery of the sacred journey. Anderson's opera is a testament to the currency of perhaps the greatest single work in American literature.