Just got done chatting with Saul Williams at the Austin Convention Center. Williams has three performances scheduled for this year’s SXSW. He’s actually just finishing up his first now, which is a solo acoustic set, but will be joined later tonight by his band for their 1AM performance at Vice. I think they’re also doing a day show at the Fader Fort tomorrow.
On my may out I also bumped into Thurston Moore. He’s plays tomorrow night (sans Sonic Youth) at 12:45AM (Mohawk Patio).
Word on the street, is that tomorrow around 5PM at the Fader Fort there’s going to be a Lou Reed Tribute show (with Lou Reed in attendance). Apparently a handful of bands will be performing Velvet Underground songs. Rumor has it that Dr. Dog, The Shout Out Louds, and Thurston Moore will be partaking in the event. We shall see.
He’s an excerpt of my interview with Saul Williams. Look for the full-length later this month:
Jim: Many people may not realize that your Niggy Tardust character has a much deeper meaning than just a name recognition to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust character.
Saul: What David Bowie was doing with Ziggy Stardust, I think, was finding a way to do a few things–to manipulate the media and shift his career, to go from this folk musician to this “what’s-he-going-to-do-next?” artist, but then to get media to raise questions surrounding gender and sexuality, and to use that as a stepping board. With Niggy Tardust I’m raising questions about identity and race, and using that as a stepping board at a time where everything is going down–like today on the news, what Geraldine Ferraro has said about Barrack Obama, “The only reason why he’s in a position that he is, is because he’s black.” So now she has to apologize, because everyone’s like, “Whoa, you can’t say that.” So America’s at this racial [crossroads], and at the same time I’m a firm believer in the idea of the feminine being the thing that we need to honor more than the idea of the masculine. That was really what my last album was about, where I was talking about vulnerability being power. With Niggy Tardust, he’s a hybrid–that’s the main focus. Here’s someone that’s born, like me and you, under the context or banner of the idea of belonging to some sort of race, but who understands and sees beyond it. You know? Who realizes that race is a social construct, and realizes that he doesn’t need those boundaries to justify his existence.
Jim: Last year you wrote an open letter to Oprah Winfrey. What was the purpose of it?
Saul: It was real simple. A bunch of friends of mine were like, “Oprah’s going to have Common [and other hip-hop artists] on her show talking about misogyny in hip-hop.” Some people aren’t aware of it that in 25 years of Oprah she’s never mentioned hip-hop.
Saul: It was the first time ever that hip-hop was addressed on her show–ever. We all knew, the black community was aware of it, she just never addressed it. So, I tuned in. It’s like, “Wow, hip-hop for the first time.” She had Russell Simmons–I can’t remember everyone she had on–but very articulate people who just didn’t say stuff that I felt needed to be said. When I stopped watching the show I was frustrated that she called it a “town meeting”. It was the same thing that led me to writing poetry. I was hearing people voice ideas and I wasn’t hearing my voice or perspective, and I knew that my voice and perspective was representative of many similar to mine. I decided the next morning, “I’m going to write Oprah today.” First thing I did was call my mom, cause that’s who you call when you’re going to write Oprah. I never intended to send it to Oprah. If you look at the style that it’s written in, I was using Oprah as the person I was talking to, because it directed how I spoke. It was like talking to your mom or something. I had to be respectful, I couldn’t be angry. I liked using [Oprah] as a writing device so I just kept it up. I spent the whole day writing it and editing it, and at the end of the day I was like, “I like this, let’s throw it up to the e-mail blast.” I’ve done that with poems several times.
Jim: Did you ever hear back from Oprah?
Saul: By the end of the next day it was on something like 200-300 websites. It had just resonated. It popped up on all these different websites and they just took it and ran with it. That’s the other thing, I never personally acknowledge that I really have any level of celebrity or anything like that, so I forget in some people’s eyes they might think that [I am famous]. Some websites responded like, “Saul Williams Sends a Letter–.” I was like, “Oh shit.” I was thinking of it like a personal blog type thing, you know? So then my publishing company was like, “We would like to formally send this to Oprah with a submission to be on her show.” So that was done. I never got a response, but the lack of response feels official.