Saul Williams has been breaking ground since his debut album, Amethyst Rock Star, which was released in 2001 and executive produced by Rick Rubin. After gaining global fame for his poetry and writings at the turn of the century, Williams has performed in over thirty countries and read in over three hundred universities, with invitations that have spanned from the White House, the Sydney Opera House, Lincoln Center, The Louvre, The Getty Center, Queen Elizabeth Hall, to countless villages, townships, community centers, and prisons across the world. The Newburgh, New York, native gained a BA from Morehouse and an MFA from Tisch, and has gone on to record with Nine Inch Nails and Allen Ginsburg and has performed in numerous film and television roles.
A Rwandan, an Albanian and an American sit around a kitchen table in
Cité Rouge, in the nineteenth arrondissement of Paris. Here is the ministry of conversation I tune in and out of with concentrated attention. I am a city of cameras where nothing goes unnoticed. The modern state of surveillance. I counted nine policemen in the courtyard monitoring our movements. Yet my city/state is one of awareness. I am paying attention. The gift of the moment is that tonight I learn something new about Marguerite Duras…born on Maya’s Angelou’s birthday…born on Andrei Tarkovsky’s birthday. It’s a reverse graffiti. Tagged, unsuspectingly thinking in bright colors over the metal gate I once pulled down over that side of my brain: a new language, a new level of engagement.
That’s where PJ Harvey comes in, loud, intricately welcoming, bluesy, ballsy, brazen and sweet. She sings a community of hope. I have issues with hope, since I read the Taoist passage that states, “Hope is as hollow as fear.” But the truth, and I am the last to admit it, is that we are afraid. We are afraid because we’ve witnessed countless transgressions against love, against thought, against beauty…not just “les attentats,” but the hopeless despair in the face of powerlessness that breeds it. Unearned privilege. The cripplings of power. And it is also by this stretch of hand that the world of art becomes the “art world.” We’ve witnessed beautiful truths dismissed, the manufacturing of movement, the detonation of dumb. The discography of disconnect still connects, and far too often we scan the plethora for a glimpse of our truest selves. None of it is what it could be. The drugs are in the food. A nation disfigured. I watch footage from twenty to forty years ago and what strikes me most is the body types.
But the mind is strong. I hear a thousand Fred Hamptons in a Black Lives Matter activist, think, yep, and browse the timeline — another generation’s skyline — for glimpses of confirmation in other worlds and mine. The stars where they are as we are around this wooden table. Small cups of espresso, ash rays, unopened wine… Music corks the moment. The discussion turns to Shakespeare, specifically Ophelia. PJ sings dead from the glassy stream. “The circle is broken,” she says. Legend says Ophelia and Hamlet were one person. Then there’s the story of Shakespeare’s son, Hamnet. I hadn’t known Duras had a son, or of his book of his mother’s recipes…
“Do you see that woman sitting in the wheelchair with her Redskins cap on backwards? What’s that she singing?” The recipe for movement is vast and drum-worthy. The trumpet-string of horn-bikes rides me over oceans. Smoking medicinals at a wooden table in Laurel Canyon. Time-traveled through song-scape and arrived in one piece. I am no longer where I was. PJ, a through-line. A Twitter-thread, Storified through instrument and amplification. She sings through the willows and into the soul of all who hear her.
The antique table in Paris is a multiplication of stars and planets. Their alignment tonight, on this super-moon in Aries, on this day of remembrance, is to stamp out the fires that history has kept burning. We stamp out through song. We stamp out through instrument. We stamp out through film, through media, through theater. We stamp out with poetry what language will not translate. Through a web of emotional awareness, attention paid in dollars, the fade out/in of sense and harmonic sensation, PJ leaves her stamp…born on…