"Word Of Mouth" lyrics - LAURIE ANDERSON

"Word Of Mouth"

In 1980,
As part of a project called Word of Mouth,
I was invited, along with eleven other artists,
To go to Panape,
A tiny island in the middle of the Pacific.

The idea was that we'd sit around talking for a few days
And that the conversations would be made into a talking record.

The first night we were all really jet-lagged
But as soon as we sat down the organizers set up all these mikes
And switched on thousand white light bulbs.
And we tried our best to seem as intelligent as possible.

Television had just come to Panape a week before we arrived
And there was a strong excitement around the island
As people crowded around the few sets.

Then the day after we arrived,
In a bizarre replay of the first TV show ever broadcast to Panape,
Prisoners escaped from a jail,
Broke into the radio station and murdered the DJ.
Then they went off on a rampage through the jungle,
Armed with lawnmower blades.

In all, four people were murdered in cold blood.
Detectives, flown in from Guam to investigate,
Swarmed everywhere.
At night we stayed around in our cottages,
Listening out into the jungle.

Finally the local chief
Decided to hold a ceremony for the murder victims.
The artist Marina Brownovich and I went,
As representatives of our group... to film it.
The ceremony was held in a large thatched lean-to
And most of the ceremony involved cooking beans in pits
And brewing a dark drink from roots.

The smell was overwhelming. Dogs careened around barking.
And everybody seemed to be having a fairly good time
... as funerals go.

After a few hours Marina and I were presented to the chief,
Who was sitting on a raised platform above the pits.
We'd been told we couldn't turn our backs on the chief at any time
Or ever be higher than he was.

So we scrambled up onto the platform with our film equipment
And sort of duck-waddled up backwards to the chief.

As a present I brought one of those Fred Flintstone cameras,
The kind where the film canister is also the body of the camera,
And I presented it to the chief.
He seemed delighted and began to click off pictures.
He wasn't advancing the film between shots,
But since we were told we shouldn't speak unless spoken to,
I wasn't able to inform him that he wasn't going to get twelve pictures,
But only one, very, very complicated one.

After a couple more hours
The chief lifted his hand,
And there was absolute silence.

All the dogs had suddenly stopped barking.
We looked around and saw the dogs.
All their throats had been simultaneously cut
And their bodies, still breathing,
Pierced with rods, were turning on those spits.

The chief insisted we join in the meal
But Marina had turned green
And I asked if we could just have ours to go.

They carefully wrapped the dogs in leaves
And we carried their bodies away.