Laurie Anderson Gives McDonald’s Coupons to Homeless People

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

Name: Laurie Anderson
Age: 63
Neighborhood: Tribeca
Occupation: Artist. She'll be discussing her work next Thursday, March 10, at 8 p.m. at the 92nd Street Y.

Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Herman Melville. I love the way he wrote about the coastline. The river is a really big part of my life; I live by it, so reading about what he had to say about how people are drawn to the water is beautiful. I think that’s really true about New Yorkers.

What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
Mushrooms and ginger ice tea at Candle 79. It’s a vegan place, and even though I’m not vegan I love the idea of really great super-fresh food. I take a lot of friends there who are not vegan and they grumble on the way there but are surprised by how much they like it.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
Make pictures and music and talk to lots of people.

What was your first job in New York?
Cataloguing seventeenth-century drawings of medieval tombstones when I was an art graduate student at Columbia University. I spoke Latin and French, that’s how I got the job.

What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
The Pee-wee Herman Show. I love Pee-wee Herman. The ostracism was really absurd, and it’s remarkable and a cause for celebration that he gets another show at this point in his life.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
Yes. Always women. Often men. I also give McDonald's coupons instead, not because I love McDonald's, but because I handed out food with a friend for a few months that she got from health-food restaurants, and people didn’t really want it, I have to say. So I realized that what might be a good way to go are the coupons, so that whenever people were hungry, rather than giving them beans in their cardboard tent, they could get a hot meal. And it’s easier to imagine that someone is going to eat that way, as opposed to use it for drugs. They’d probably just sell the coupons and use them for drugs anyway, but there’s no getting around that.

What's your drink?
Jacques Torres hot chocolate.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
I make lunch once in a while, salads. I know it doesn’t sound challenging, but especially in winter we make a lot of roast vegetables.

What's your favorite medication?
Don't have one.

What's hanging above your sofa?
A digital music box shaped like a carpenter's level that I made. I started as a sculptor, and I was always opposed to having to make new shapes because there are an awful lot of shapes in the world, and I tried to use things that were already around. It’s a duet, so when you tip the level one way you hear a woman’s voice singing, and then the other way you hear a man’s voice singing, and when you level it with your hand you hear them both singing.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
I cut my own hair.

When's bedtime?
Varies.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
I like them both. They’re radically different, but I’m not really somebody that’s too nostalgic for things.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
Hideous pretentious architecture.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
Not enough trees. I’m on tour a lot and I find myself in mostly other cities, and actually New York turns out to be greener than a lot of places. I just don’t have much success in visiting them.

Who is your mortal enemy?
I have two and can't say their names.

When's the last time you drove a car?
Two days ago, going out to the water.

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
Some of my friends are really struggling. Not just artists. In the record industry, everything around it collapsed, so it left a lot of people trying to figure out what to do. And people still haven’t figured out what to do, people are still in shock.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
Times

Where do you go to be alone?
My imagination.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Their address.