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 let’s get that straight. So, like DJ Spooky, when you are going to accuse me of being a jealous “hater” then assume I am jealous of not having the female company Saul might keep—but when it comes to other stuff… well… I try to speak in parables to the colored folk who think they know who I am… I try to use the parable of Arthur MacArthur… more on that later…
I’m sure you, Black person reading this paragraph, don’t have my “special” problems but I often get the feeling that when I meet, what someone on Bossip would cruelly call a “D-list celebrity,” the supposed celebrity sees me as so poor, ignorant, provincial and so much in awe of the crumbs “the white man” 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 assume—just for a second—that I would like to be them—or that I would like to “trade places” with them… When it comes to these void, egocentric showdowns—when it becomes clear to me that the only way communication is going to take place is within the limited confines of bloated egocentrism, then fine—let’s be egocentric:
Now hear this D-list through A-list celebrities! I don’t want to be you. I want to repurpose the power and resources of the muffuka that pays you… You are an errand girl sent by grocery clerks to collect a bill… Me watching you in “mainstream” or “alternative” media is like watching you go to Nicks Check Cashing to pay your gas bill… Who gives a f’ 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 “sphinx”)—and I think of people like DJ Spooky and Saul Williams as the hard-working Osmond-family, tea-dance substitutes for the real shit… I’m old enough to be honest about this now… 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 shit… A lot of black people are just painted black, they are just “the same” on the inside… The science tells me that my melanin is not a topical application… it is in my body… neuromelanin makes me think different… “What?” “Huh?”
When I use the phrase ‘the real shit’ 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 scheme—but real people got to live that shit… and when you start to live that shit… it gets real hard to show up at Lollapalooza and talk about where I need to put my bags down… it gets real hard to tolerate people who write explicitly that they are from somewhere between “self hate and Brooklyn”… I’m 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 proud—I know you all got plenty, plenty of rejection for me writing this but I find Black people living in the snow—often choosing to live in the snow—very strange…
Every “successful artist” 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 here… 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 ‘List of Demands’ 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 ‘preaching to the converted’. 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 “allow”—do stress that he is saying that he “allowed” Nike Corporation to use his music in a commercial. That’s 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 “small circle of poets and conscious do-gooders are not enough,” I will flatter myself and assume that he is referring to me. But don’t let me feel too “good” because Saul clearly has dismissed me. Third, when Saul says that he can “steal the show” he is saying that his message will be more powerful and eternal than:
- Decades of The Simpsons with their Monty Burns character designed to ‘help’ 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 “wake up!!!” (study “Celebration of the Lizard”).
- In 1984, Bruce Springsteen released “Born in the U.S.A.” 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 time—Saul Williams is ready to beat this…
- And Joe Strummer? Saul Williams? Hah! Well, I am recklessly confident that Saul Williams is a “nicer” person than Joe Strummer… But I mention Joe Strummer because his father was a diplomat and this caused “Joe Strummer” (John Graham Mellor) to travel the world and live extensively in many places at an early age—this 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 “expand my horizons”) need to study in depth. Joe Strummer, by the way, leads to my Arthur MacArthur quip (see below).
Kurt Cobain’s 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 sweats—and I am referring to non-Black people in this list on purpose)—smells like teen spirit?
I’m going with this: Nike Corporation is releasing an image during this Chinese-dominated Olympic season to sell radical American “freedom” 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 Williams’ people will not have enough parlay-time to get another deal. It’s down to the Warholean 15 minutes, baby…
Who was the Naz’ with God-given ass? Naz’ refers to Nazi as well as Nazarene—that’s depth in Ziggy poetry… (what’s sad to me right about is that Saul’s “Niggy Tardust” rhymes with “Ziggy Stardust”—but Ziggy played guitar—was inspired by Jimi Hendrix who is quite “niggy”—so we lose a stratum of depth?)… My rule for the powerful artist is that the more you study them the more you will find—not finding less the other way ’round. Saul Williams, like thousands of truly talented actors and political business people who answer to the name “poet,” is to me the other way ’round. You people outnumber me so I don’t plan to “win” this “argument.”
Combine the fan-base of Michael Franti, Saul Williams, Carl Hancock Rux and whoever else of this chocolate ilk (ever in defense of a “universal message” which ‘accidentally’ does not hurt ticket sales) you can think of and you have a large “community” of pseudo-activists who can actually galvanize for once around the news of my future death. My potential to bring people together around these “important” 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 1980s—and 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 “prove” that he is “real” but… hmm… (“hater!”) well… look: we are proud to present Saul Williams here in the kinté space—check out “Saul Williams: Antiwar Freestyle.” 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 son’s 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 “fans” won’t erroneously assume that he actually sought me out. Don’t worry, kids, Saul still does not know where I am…)
My son’s 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 “rich” and/or “famous.” I think there is a reason why Arthur MacArthur did not even try to “become famous” like his father—and 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 son’s mother, by the way, will not remember that I told her I obtained my first passport specifically for events like this—she was too busy thinking I was threatening to take my son out of the country. But that’s another story about nouveau riche Negroes…
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 “riches” at an early age is that you can grow beyond that shit and get down to what really matters (which is not getting a “message across” embedded in a Nike commercial). I know many of you know that this is not true in all cases—but the potential is there. Arthur MacArthur is my symbol of that potential.
Now I am not here to convince Saul Williams—or even Jason Calacanis—that 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 is—that is why I bring up Arthur MacArthur. Arthur MacArthur is more of a non-conformist rebel than Saul Williams—and 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 —just to pay a gas bill…
Correction: Saul Williams was in a play at Stages Theater Center in Hollywood called “Tibi’s Law,” 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 “Shak’n” 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 “Tibi’s Law” in the 25th Annual LA Weekly Theater Awards.