Saul Williams :: 12.01.04 :: Great American Music Hall :: San Francisco, CA
So the election is over, we lost, we feel dejected, miserable, scared, and overwhelmed. What do we do now? Who do we turn to? What can be done? Where do we go? If you were lucky enough to be in San Francisco on December 1st, you went to the Great American Music Hall, you turned to Saul Williams, you listened, and you moved one small step forward.
Touring in support of his incredibly strong, self-titled sophomore release (FADER Records), Saul Williams and his band, which includes Heidi Gadd on violin, her husband Christian Alvarez on drums, and bass player, guitarist, dj, sound-effects musician Thavius Beck, came to do far more than simply play some songs and recite some poetry. To put it bluntly, Saul is leading the revolution. He has picked up his pen and opened up his mind. He's looked in the mirror and stared back at history. Saul Williams has gathered his gumption, put it on vinyl, and he is taking the fastest route to change that he knows - performance.
While the evening as a whole was certainly great, the most impressive moments came when the band would bring it way down or even slip offstage, leaving only Saul, his thoughts, and a microphone. In those deep, introspective monologues we found the necessary, politically-driven, change-oriented beauty at the core of Saul Williams. As Saul made clear, music has always been intimately and emotionally tied to change. Prior to the Civil War, slaves had songs to make their unbelievable, unlivable lives livable. They sang to communicate, to escape, to unify, and to elevate. In the 1960's it was rock 'n' roll. Music was a driving force in the anti-war and Civil Rights movements. By embracing a form of music to which their parents couldn't relate, artists like John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and countless others were reacting to a social and political condition that was greatly in need of change.
In San Francisco, Saul spoke of the incredible division we are currently experiencing in this country. He explained how our country is closer to civil war than it has been in his lifetime. It was at this point that he spoke of the third civil war we could be walking towards. First, there was of course the American Civil War that devastated our country from 1861 to 1865 and was fought primarily over slavery. Then, there was the Civil Rights movement, which was another civil war fought over equal rights and unfair treatment, waged at its peak between 1955 and 1965.
While it was all incredibly eloquent and laid out in a manner that seemed utterly brilliant, none of what Saul was saying here was really anything new to the spiritually and mentally awake listener. But it was the next "dot" that Saul connected, the next point he highlighted, that truly brought it all into focus. These civil wars were not North vs. South, or Black vs. White, they were wars fought by an "evolving or transformative consciousness vs. a consciousness that refused to evolve or transform even in the face of heightened/new insight or understanding." This was the missing link. This was what made San Francisco believe that perhaps we are building to our own civil war. To spell it out and leave little room for debate, the essence of Saul's argument and his drive for revolution comes down to the need for America's youth to stand up to their parents. Not in a literal, "take up arms against your pappy" way, but in a symbolic, general manner in which we need to take the power and stop the cycle. We need to level the playing field and not allow greed and power to dictate our motives. As Saul told me in a discussion we had a few months back, "We have to make some strong inner changes, some strong inner decisions as individuals that will do the... I'm not a Christian but I'm about to quote Jesus, where he says, 'It will turn son against father.' You know, 'My truth will turn son against father.' That's the type of shit that has to happen truly in this society. So the guy who is the heir of, you know, 'such and such corporations' that manipulate so many people in whatever other nation in which they manufacture their products. The son that's the heir has to say, 'You know what dad; we're going to make your company philanthropic when I become the head of it.' So the change is going to have to occur by us having the courage to stop perpetuating what our parents instilled in us. And that's a very hard thing to do. Because what did our parents instill in us? Our parents instilled that we're different, we're better than that, we're chosen (laughing cynically) all these things that make us different, that distinguish us from humanity, and the lesson of today has to be our oneness with humanity."
This is our war. As Saul said over and over, it is up to us, the youth, the fortunate masses who have this elevated perception and a more evolved view of the world. But we can't simply ask everyone to get along. Like the hard-nosed, focused leaders who continue to dictate policy in America, we need to visualize, verbalize and very clearly lay out what we want. The people in power have always known what they want: To rule "this" land, dominate "that" people, own "this," conquer "that," rule everyone (for their own good, of course). The peace-loving Left can't simply wish for a better world. We need to be clear about what we want, make a plan and follow it with every bit of passion and fight we have... like the other side always has. We need to be clear about what changes we desire and what actions will get us there, which led to Saul's song, "List of Demands."
We feel the great divide in this country, but that divide is not Republican vs. Democrat (as Saul said, many of us can finally admit we didn't even like Kerry anyway). It's also not North vs. South, or "The haves" vs. "The have nots." It is a higher, more-evolved consciousness vs. a lower, less-evolved consciousness. It is a heightened belief that we do not need to wage wars overseas when there are battles for food, homes, education, and change going on right here at home. And it is a core belief that the system is broken and that we need to stop the propagation of special interests and corrupt political business. Are things better here in America than in most countries? Clearly, but that has nothing to do with it. You do not judge yourself based on your neighbor, you judge yourself by asking if you are the best you can be. America could be, and should be, a much fairer, more egalitarian place. We should be leading the world by our example at home, not with guns in a far off country. We should eliminate strife in our cities before trying to rebuild societies in distant lands. We should push for peace, not perpetuate war. As Saul told us, the civil strife that we currently stand upon is not easy to understand, nor is it easy to win, but it is necessary. And for anyone who stares at the ceiling as night turns to day or who can't seem to believe what they read in the paper, for any of us who are absolutely disgusted, we know this to be true. As Abraham Lincoln said as he blazed a path to freedom in the first Civil War, "Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history."
This was the core of what the Bay Area crowd pulled from Saul's absolutely inspiring and empowering performance, but it was not completely made up of such heavy moments... there were also plenty of beats and interesting instrumental engagements. The opening "African People" featured subtle violin string plucks and deep, almost tribal, drum beats as Saul called out to all the dark-skinned, displaced family in the room. Songs like "Telegram" spoke straight to the fucked-up state of hip-hop, and "Black Stacey" cut open insecure wounds from his youth.
Like Public Enemy before him and Dead Prez next to him, Saul is clearly calling for change, for revolution, for war, for whatever you want to call it. In another moment of clarity, Saul proclaimed, "Our music is our alchemy." We are all made up of 75 percent water. Thus, we vibrate. Our bodies literally vibrate when receiving music. Music is our path to change. What it comes down to is that if you could hear his voice, and if you can read these words, it is up to you. It us up to me, it is up to all of us - if you can comprehend the beats and understand the message, it is up to us to raise the consciousness of the entire fucking planet. It is not only possible, but it is our duty. The revolution didn't die on November 3rd, it has only just begun. Believe in yourself, believe in change, embrace it, fight for it, and don't ever stop.
Listen to Saul Williams on Rhapsody.
Read JamBase's interview with Saul.
Buy Saul's new album here.
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