Arts & Entertainment
'The Changer and the Changed' offers words of wisdom to a nation in need
Thirty years after the legendary album's release, Cris Williamson's words are timelier than ever
By Jason Michael
Originally printed 11/12/04 (Issue 1246 - Between The Lines News)
There's no need to waste precious space on her bio. Cris Williamson is a legend, one of the originators of the art form known as women's music. It's been 40 years since her first album came out, nearly 30 since her landmark recording "The Changer and the Changed," and now, as many in our country are grieving over the prospect of four more years under this intolerant regime, Williamson's making a timely return with "The Real Deal," due out in January. Last week, just one day after John Kerry conceded defeat and dropped all legal challenges, Williamson spoke to Between The Lines about the healing power of music, the help our country needs and how to choose a positive outlook during these troubling times.
While admitting to being a little stunned in the wake of the election results, ("like I'd been hit right between the eyes with a hammer"), by Thursday Williamson had regrouped.
"I just gathered myself but I didn't fall into deep despair, because it's such an invitation to go there," she said. "As it is with any kind of divorce, I felt - I think a lot of us felt - divorced from our own nation and alienated. But there are a lot of us. You can't forget, because you feel so alone and so lonely, that you can gather together around that loneliness or you can gather together to somehow re-pledge yourself to the issues that matter. And for me that's, above all, the environment, because what's the use of any freedom if you don't have a planet that's worth living on? So I'm rededicated to fighting very hard for this earth."
Williamson reminds that Rumi said, "Let the beauty we love be what we do," and she aspires to that goal.
"For me, that's music, that's friendship - nobody's in control of that and nobody is in control of my accurate response to the voices I hear," she explained. "And I hear people say, 'Well, what about my children? What about the water? What about Alaska?' Cause you know they're going to go roaring in there in the name of God and country to rip open one of the last remaining places of wilderness in all the world and they'll do it in the name of energy and they'll be able to get some and then it will be gone. But the footprint will be forever. So how do we walk lightly? For me, as a musician, I don't have to be heavy handed but I can be light in my heart and shine the light like a beacon out there because people need to come home and they may need that little light in the window to find their way."
Williamson's working on her latest 'beacon' now, her 23rd album. On her way into the studio on Wednesday, she stopped off for a bite to eat.
"I found myself eating breakfast and I thought, 'I am alone in here,' because I could see a lot of joy and a lot of conversations drifted my way about, 'Well, in our churchÉ.' They began with 'in our church,' which is where the other side goes to secure [its base]. How smart is that? When people are afraid for their souls, they're going to cling to the nearest lifeboat and the lifeboat, whether it's an illusion or not, is what they're going to go for. In this case, it's an easy mark. And I think as gay people, we were an easy mark to fix in their mind because there has been no conversation on the part of some people in this country with anyone who is openly gay. There's nothing so fine as an easy enemy and an easy mark and we become an easy target.
"We were the ones who were endangering marriage. Yeah, that's right," Williamson chuckled. "It's laughable with a rational mind. But when you're afraid, the rational mind isn't there. And people are so fearful. And when you're driven by fear you're gullible."
Williamson cautions that we shouldn't fall into the same trap as the other side, that we should not succumb to fear and should operate from a place of love.
"As a nation we're in a boat and we're in a little boat with people who don't necessarily like each other and who obviously don't like us much," she said. "They fear us and it's silly, really. It's so silly that your mind can hardly hold it. We are not the enemy. Fear is, though, and that intolerance is, and that same fear and intolerance can crush all things beautiful, all things beautiful. I'm an artist, so I spin beauty every day and I want everyone to do that, to be an artist and to make more beauty and say, you know, 'No, actually, we won't be driven into camps,' and 'No, I'm going to love who I love because it's about love, mister, not about gender.' It's not about those highly visible things that make peoples' knees buckle. No, it's not about that. It's about beauty and how you see other human beings. It's only by loving that we are good human beings. So I would pray for more love to come into the hearts of all human beings. That's the transforming event and maybe that's why I am the way I am. I've been much loved in my life. And even when love fell away from me from one person, guess what came pouring in? More love. Not less, more. I got more because I broke open. So it's important to undergo these passages of life."
That's the lesson of "The Changer and the Changed," which comes from a line in the song that opens that set, "Waterfall." The line says, "When you open up your life to the living all things come spilling in on you." Williamson is willing to have what will wash over her, whether it be pain or joy, for she realizes that it's only the grainy abrasiveness of the sand that could act as a polish for the pearl.
"Living is a conscious event, and living as a conscious human being means you're awake all the time," she said. "You don't get to go nap. You don't drink. You don't do drugs. You stop doing the things that pull the veil over your consciousness and you let consciousness shine out like the light that it is. You can attribute it to God, you can attribute it to Buddha, you can attribute it to genetics, whatever you like. But do it. Like it. Let it shine.
"Music is such a great way," she continued. "It's the greatest anodyne there is, it has a beautiful healing power because the voice is closer to the heart than anything. It ripples up through your throat but that isn't where you sing from. You sing from your whole being and it just passes over these vibrating mechanisms, technically, in the throat. The songs that opens up this new album is called 'Songbird.' And I liken myself no more no less than a songbird. You look at them on the wire and they just open their little beaks and out comes this liquid stuff. If we do that and fly, now we'd be talking power. We imitate it at best, but when I'm on the stage and when I'm singing, I feel closest to nature and the nature of all beings then I do anywhere else. I'm most at home there."Cris Williamson will be appearing at The Ark in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, Nov. 16. For more information, call 248-645-6666.