Saul Williams on his new book "Chorus," the Shit we Dance to, Obama ain't Jesus, & More

Posted by Billyjam, September 6, 2012 10:25pm | Post a Comment
In celebration of Saul Williams' new book Chorus, a collection of the work of 100 poets joining Williams in his "literary mixtape," the poet/actor/activist/musician launched a tour (also dubbed Chorus) a week ago with dates over the long Labor Day weekend in Baltimore, DC, and New York City. On Monday (Sept 3) night, I met up with the New York-born Williams, who currently lives in Paris, backstage at Joe's Pub before he went onstage alongside ten contributors to his new book.

Considering our interview was on the eve of the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama's run for a second term was foremost on his mind, as it was on mine so I was curious to know the outspoken artist's views on the upcoming election. "To me this upcoming election is super clear because the policies are so, for lack of better words, so black and white," he said. "The policies are so clear just in terms of women and what I believe in progressiveness. I mean, the past two thousand years in a nutshell have everything to do with controlling women and enforcing cheap labor; that's what Christianity, all this shit boils down to in my perspective." Williams minced no words when he said, "I would hate to see Romney win. I hate the idea of taking a few steps forward only to get pushed back. It's like the weed fight in California. All of this progress and then all of a sudden it's like people get scared." 

On the topic of those who are outspokenly disappointed with Obama Williams said, citing celebrities like Matt Damon who were vocal about losing faith in Barack Obama, "I think that's a little absurd. I am really interested in knowing how much faith people put in politics in the first place. Like what exactly do you expect from politics? Me, if I had that much faith in politics, then I'd be a politician. What I believe in is what I do. That's where I expect the change to come from: it's through the arts and what have you. That's the power I believe in. That's the change that I believe in. That's what affects the youth, affects mind states, how people think, affects how society moves which is why I rail against the nonsense that I hear that passes as shit that we dance to and I try to make shit that's not. I don't think that our dance music needs to be dumbed down. Like the stuff that moves me psychologically, spiritually, rhythmically makes me dance harder."   

"He has been diplomatic and trying to talk to people on both sides," said Williams who fully understands the mentality of "many on the left" who at first expected Obama to come into office and make sweeping changes immediately. "I think a lot of people on the Left were upset at first. They were like 'It's not moving as fast as I like but I understand the importance of trying to listen to both sides and not been the same sort of dictator-like that Bush became.'" Williams, who has long been a very vocal anti-war spokesperson - speaking out on the war in Afghanistan, added that, "I can respect that but drones and killing? No I can never respect that. But a man does not rule a country alone. There's so many people: Cabinet and Congress and all that stuff. There's so many belief systems at play in being a president." Williams said that he found, just in making an album, that he experienced politics firsthand with a producer and an engineer all telling him how to make "his" album. "It's all politics," he said.

"Barack Obama is a politician," said Williams. "I never thought of Obama as being Jesus but in terms of been a president I think he's doing a fair job. In terms of war and all that, I am a 100% opposed and I can't wait until he finds the whatever it is: strength, courage, gift of persuasion, whatever it is to stop those guys  that he is sitting in a room with." Williams spread the blame to the state of the current political beyond politicians and corporations to all of us. "The work that has to be done really," he stressed, "is to get the war-hungry, lets-police-the-world people out of the government so that they don't have to be catered to in any democratic way. And in fact what we need to do to get them out of the government we need to get them out of our fuckin' selves. We need to stop becoming those types of people. And how do we do that? By investing more in education than we do in defense!"

        Saul Williams + Chorus contributors on stage at Joe's Pub in New York this week

Williams' new book Chorus is his fifth in fourteen years (The Seventh Octave, published in 1998 by Moore Black Press was his first). His film credits are even greater in number with his best known been the award winning 1998 movie Slam for which he was both a writer and actor. Williams' excellent seven release discography is available at Amoeba where he has even celebrated some of them. In 2004 he did an in-store performance at the Hollywood Amoeba in support of his then just released self-titled album. And in 2008, around the time of the release of The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust, he revisited the Amoeba on Sunset when he did a revealing "What's In My Bag?" segment (scroll down to see video below). His new book Chorus, which as published on Tuesday by MTV Books through Simon & Schuster, is a bit of a departure from his previous work in that this one includes other poets - many other poets -  that include Justin Long Moton (2011 New York City Youth Poet Laureate), Beau Sia (one of the fellow members of the 1996 Nuyorican Poets slam team that was featured along with Williams in the documentary film SlamNation), and legendary spoken word artist Abiodun Oyewole who spearheaded the infamous Last Poets in 1968. Much to the delight of the Joe's Pub audience Oyewole was among those ten Chorus contributors to join Williams onstage on Monday night.
As literary mix DJ of his self-described "literary mixtape" book Williams said that, "The whole goal of this book is I wanted to share the stage. I wanted to share the opportunity afforded me with other poets. But I don't read anthologies so I had to find a creative way to put it together so I had to find a creative way to put it together. And so I put a call out through social media and I got 8,000 poems in a month. I hired two editors to help me select one hundred poems out of those 8,000. Then I scratched off the names of the poets and the names of the poems and just focused on the text and tried to find a sequence so that the one hundred voices sounded like one voice. And then on top of that restricted to the sequence and to the words that were there and highlighted words that were there to write a meta-poem on top of that. So it's a book that you're forced to read twice if you want to get all of. "

Saul Williams doing a "What's In My Bag" @ Amoeba Hollywood in 2008

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Chorus (1), Saul Williams (8), Democratic National Convention (1), Poetry (14), Barack Obama (23), Dnc (1), Slam Poetry (1)