The last time I met Saul Williams in person, he was with the finest South African woman of some kind of Afro-East-Indian descent I have ever seen. So letâs get that straight. So, like DJ Spooky, when you are going to accuse me of being a jealous âhaterâ then assume I am jealous of not having the female company Saul might keepâbut when it comes to other stuffâŠ wellâŠ I try to speak in parables to the colored folk who think they know who I amâŠ I try to use the parable of Arthur MacArthurâŠ more on that laterâŠ
Iâm sure you, Black person reading this paragraph, donât have my âspecialâ problems but I often get the feeling that when I meet, what someone on Bossip would cruelly call a âD-list celebrity,â the supposed celebrity sees me as so poor, ignorant, provincial and so much in awe of the crumbs âthe white manâ can throw down, that my apparent reserve and nonchalance is a pretense. What pisses me off is when someone like DJ Spooky or Saul Williams might assumeâjust for a secondâthat I would like to be themâor that I would like to âtrade placesâ with themâŠ When it comes to these void, egocentric showdownsâwhen it becomes clear to me that the only way communication is going to take place is within the limited confines of bloated egocentrism, then fineâletâs be egocentric:
Now hear this D-list through A-list celebrities! I donât want to be you. I want to repurpose the power and resources of the muffuka that pays youâŠ You are an errand girl sent by grocery clerks to collect a billâŠ Me watching you in âmainstreamâ or âalternativeâ media is like watching you go to Nicks Check Cashing to pay your gas billâŠ Who gives a fâ about being the art president!!! What kind of ghetto do you think I am from? I see the power that subsidizes the presidential platform!!!
I think of myself as of the Jackson Family led by a dancing Michael angel before he got his nose cut off (like the nose off the so-called âsphinxâ)âand I think of people like DJ Spooky and Saul Williams as the hard-working Osmond-family, tea-dance substitutes for the real shitâŠ Iâm old enough to be honest about this nowâŠ Anybody who can get along with properly-assimilated, bourgeois, white liberals of all skin colors all over the world with nothing lost in translation is not from the real shitâŠ A lot of black people are just painted black, they are just âthe sameâ on the insideâŠ The science tells me that my melanin is not a topical applicationâŠ it is in my bodyâŠ neuromelanin makes me think differentâŠ âWhat?â âHuh?â
When I use the phrase âthe real shitâ I am referring to the shit a dung beetle from the Nile Valley rolls in African manifestations that Mos Def might throw away brilliantly in a rhyme schemeâbut real people got to live that shitâŠ and when you start to live that shitâŠ it gets real hard to show up at Lollapalooza and talk about where I need to put my bags downâŠ it gets real hard to tolerate people who write explicitly that they are from somewhere between âself hate and BrooklynââŠ Iâm from L.A. mufukka: the great Fela had to travel from Africa to Los Angles back in the 1960s to find out that he was Black and proudâI know you all got plenty, plenty of rejection for me writing this but I find Black people living in the snowâoften choosing to live in the snowâvery strangeâŠ
Every âsuccessful artistâ has to go through a phase of self-exploitation. Laurie Anderson talks about mechanical trees that grow to their full heights and then chop themselves down. I think that associates well hereâŠ So when Saul Williams writes about his sound showing up in a Nike commercial, to me he is just announcing another effect of lumber-jack enterprise in his wooden-mahogany-brown furniture factory:
I received a lot of questions from some about why I would allow my song âList of Demandsâ to be used in a Nike campaign. Ironically, half of the people now reading this post never heard of me until that commercial aired. That, indeed, was one of my reasons for allowing it. A small circle of poets and conscious do-gooders are not enough to effect the change necessary to shift our planet in peril. We must enlist people from all walks of life, people not accustomed to questioning the norm, people who may simply want to dance uninterrupted without message or slogan. I see no glory in âpreaching to the convertedâ. Furthermore, I believe fully in the power of music and have branded my work with [its] own conscientious stamp and stomp of attitude fueled to steal the show in the face of the nonsensical.
First, when he says the word âallowââdo stress that he is saying that he âallowedâ Nike Corporation to use his music in a commercial. Thatâs like saying a Tibetan monk allowed the Chinese government to use a pair of slippers that was hidden in a box to be put on the feet of the appointed puppet ruler for a day-long ceremony. Second, when he says that a âsmall circle of poets and conscious do-gooders are not enough,â I will flatter myself and assume that he is referring to me. But donât let me feel too âgoodâ because Saul clearly has dismissed me. Third, when Saul says that he can âsteal the showâ he is saying that his message will be more powerful and eternal than:
- Decades of The Simpsons with their Monty Burns character designed to âhelpâ the masses question the upper classes.
- Almost a century of Monty Python, anti-colonial, anti-establishment buffoonery.
Jim Morrison (a more powerful rock-and-roll poet than Saul Williams) actually yelling at audiences of thousands telling to them âwake up!!!â (study âCelebration of the Lizardâ).
- In 1984, Bruce Springsteen released âBorn in the U.S.A.â this anti-establishment, protest song was later raped by the Ronald Reagan presidential campaign. This song is rated as of the top 500 songs of all white timeâSaul Williams is ready to beat thisâŠ
- And Joe Strummer? Saul Williams? Hah! Well, I am recklessly confident that Saul Williams is a ânicerâ person than Joe StrummerâŠ But I mention Joe Strummer because his father was a diplomat and this caused âJoe Strummerâ (John Graham Mellor) to travel the world and live extensively in many places at an early ageâthis had a profound impact on his life that nouveau riche Negroes (who often preach in utter ignorance to poor boys like me about needing to âexpand my horizonsâ) need to study in depth. Joe Strummer, by the way, leads to my Arthur MacArthur quip (see below).
Kurt Cobainâs message (a union of lyrics and music that is way, way more powerful than what Saul Williams brings no matter how hard he squeezes his face and sweatsâand I am referring to non-Black people in this list on purpose)âsmells like teen spirit?
Iâm going with this: Nike Corporation is releasing an image during this Chinese-dominated Olympic season to sell radical American âfreedomâ juxtaposed with Chinese explicit totalitarianism. This is the same move white U.S. powers would use with people like Paul Robeson to pose in front of the former Soviet Union. Saul Williams should be flattered because I have compared him with Paul Robeson. The little catch is that Paul Robeson had the entire Cold War era to not be killed by the U.S. powers. Once the Olympics are over and bullshitting in front of China is off the radar, my feeling is that Saul Williamsâ people will not have enough parlay-time to get another deal. Itâs down to the Warholean 15 minutes, babyâŠ
Who was the Nazâ with God-given ass? Nazâ refers to Nazi as well as Nazareneâthatâs depth in Ziggy poetryâŠ (whatâs sad to me right about is that Saulâs âNiggy Tardustâ rhymes with âZiggy Stardustââbut Ziggy played guitarâwas inspired by Jimi Hendrix who is quite âniggyââso we lose a stratum of depth?)âŠ My rule for the powerful artist is that the more you study them the more you will findânot finding less the other way âround. Saul Williams, like thousands of truly talented actors and political business people who answer to the name âpoet,â is to me the other way âround. You people outnumber me so I donât plan to âwinâ this âargument.â
Combine the fan-base of Michael Franti, Saul Williams, Carl Hancock Rux and whoever else of this chocolate ilk (ever in defense of a âuniversal messageâ which âaccidentallyâ does not hurt ticket sales) you can think of and you have a large âcommunityâ of pseudo-activists who can actually galvanize for once around the news of my future death. My potential to bring people together around these âimportantâ issues is actually quite impressive.
Most pop personalities have a de-facto dependency on the ignorance and self-centeredness of their enthusiastic, youthful audience. Saul Williams seems like James Baldwin for kids born in the 1980sâand being James Baldwin for PBS kids with excellent taste in women and a Spike-Lee-style-Nike-commercial income is not a horrible place to be for a few fiscal years. I am not saying that Saul Williams needs to get run over by an Israeli bulldozer penniless in some stolen suburb of Palestine in order to âproveâ that he is ârealâ butâŠ hmmâŠ (âhater!â) wellâŠ look: we are proud to present Saul Williams here in the kintĂ© spaceâcheck out âSaul Williams: Antiwar Freestyle.â And dig this 10-minute interview on YouTube.com with Saul in the Jimi Hendrix soldier jacket.
The last time I thought about Arthur MacArthur was when I was sitting in the recently remodeled kitchen of the mother of my youngest son. She lives near the park where I saw Saul Williams twice and the grocery store where I saw him once. Because of where my sonâs mother lives are the only reasons why I have seen Saul Williams in person and have spoken to him. (I mention this so that Saul Williams âfansâ wonât erroneously assume that he actually sought me out. Donât worry, kids, Saul still does not know where I amâŠ)
My sonâs mother (who is a Black woman by the way) wanted to announce to me that our son will be flown to England in 2009 because her live-in boyfriend (who is a Black man by the way) has some kind of academic appointment at Oxford. I thought this experience would be great for my son so that, like Arthur MacArthur, he can travel the world at a very young age and (I pray) remove a lot of illusions and trappings of what it means to be ârichâ and/or âfamous.â I think there is a reason why Arthur MacArthur did not even try to âbecome famousâ like his fatherâand I think it has something to do with learning at an early age what is bullshit, a gas-bill payment and what is important. My sonâs mother, by the way, will not remember that I told her I obtained my first passport specifically for events like thisâshe was too busy thinking I was threatening to take my son out of the country. But thatâs another story about nouveau riche NegroesâŠ
Like his real father, my son continually has the opportunity to get the fascination of flying first class, staying in expensive hotels, getting educated while sitting next to white children, eating the finest food in the world and wearing the finest clothes out of his system. I am sure a young Joe Strummer went thought a similar experience (and possibly Saul Williams had something like this with his civil-rights-preacher-father childhood). One very rewarding effect of living with supposed ârichesâ at an early age is that you can grow beyond that shit and get down to what really matters (which is not getting a âmessage acrossâ embedded in a Nike commercial). I know many of you know that this is not true in all casesâbut the potential is there. Arthur MacArthur is my symbol of that potential.
Now I am not here to convince Saul Williamsâor even Jason Calacanisâthat they need to rethink a lot of shit of a nouveau riche fragrance. I am not going to play a bunch of Pink Floyd albums in tribute to Saul Williams so he can learn (probably again) about being crazy and having a real need to see pigs fly. This therapy is not needed and would not work when it isâthat is why I bring up Arthur MacArthur. Arthur MacArthur is more of a non-conformist rebel than Saul Williamsâand Arthur was right there in the heart of military whiteness. Let him tell you without even speaking how much vanity and vexation in public gets you âjust to pay a gas billâŠ
Correction: Saul Williams was in a play at Stages Theater Center in Hollywood called âTibiâs Law,â by Jean Verdun (translated from the French by Robert Cohen). I happened to see him (again) in this play because of my old connection with Arye Gross and Stages as sound designer for a one-woman play called âShakânâ by Saundra Quarterman and Lisa Arrindell Anderson. This effort, by way, won a nomination for best sound design in the NAACP Theatre Awards. Also, Saul Williams was nominated for best leading male performance for âTibiâs Lawâ in the 25th Annual LA Weekly Theater Awards.