The Changer and the Changed' turns 30

Jason A. Michael

{ITAL Cris Williamson
'The Changer and The Changed' 30th Anniversary Tour
Saturday, Sept. 23
Hannah Theater in East Lansing}

{ITAL When you open up your life to the living
all things come spilling in on you.
And you're flowing like a river; the changer and the changed.
You've got to spill some over, spill some over, spill some over, over all.}

It's been heralded as one of the best-selling independent releases of all time, but it's much more than merely a sales figure. The groundbreaking album is an ode to the beauty of women, an anthem praising their vibrancy, a celebration of their strength and, at its very core, Cris Williamson's "The Changer and the Changed" is a tribute to their tenderness.
"Nothing that I've ever done has ever been received like that one," said Williamson, who's in the middle of a tour started last year to commemorate the 30th anniversary of "The Changer." "I think Carole King would probably tell you the same is true of Tapestry, though she certainly put all her intellect and fine-tuned songwriting abilities into each and every piece, as did I."
Indeed, the 18 albums she's released since "The Changer" have all been well received. Yet it's easy to imagine that her status as a pioneer would remain intact today had she never released a follow-up, for it's the album, as much as its creator, that's revered as a legend.
"There was something about the reception of it and I, therefore, think it's something else that's at work there, whether it's fate or a kind of magnetic resonance," Williamson explained. "I've likened it many times to a porthole or a portal, most importantly a gateway of sorts, that isn't really totally dependent upon the time in which it was created. It harkens back to the '70s just by its arrangements and the kind of music I think it is, but I'm still able to guess and surmise that even in these days when people discover it for the first time they have a similar reaction."

Creating diamonds

Perhaps it's the echo of the era in which it was recorded, an eerie sound that instantly transports you to the birth of the feminist movement and the newness of women singing for women, that you cannot escape. There's an unmistakable purity that seeps through each melody and lyric.
"They're very sturdy songs. Barbara Higbie calls them diamonds; she says they were obviously created under great stress," Williamson said with a laugh. "That's what diamonds are. It's an odd thing, the pearl and the diamond, it's pressure and irritation."
Williamson admitted that many of the gems on "The Changer" really did come about as a result of great struggle.
"There were some sort of dire circumstances that had forced me outside of my own house," Williamson recalled of the day she wrote "Waterfall," the album's opening track and the song that features the lyric from which the album's title was taken. "So I went outside and sat in the sun, and thought about how life has these currents, the up and down, the pools that are quiet. And as long as I stayed in that water image it took care of me. It's worked that way for a lot of people. It takes cares of them in a certain way. You know, the old adage about the rainy day, that beautiful old classic, 'Here's That Rainy Day.' So it was like a time had arrived when I had to deal with some stuff. But first I just sat in the sun and calmed myself down. I often do that. If I can just sit in the light for a while and let it infuse my whole being, then it nourishes me as well."

Voice of a generation

Little did she know at the time that the words she was writing would go on to nourish hundreds of thousands of listeners. "The Changer," one can say without exaggeration, was the voice of a generation that had been longing to be heard for so long. One of the first albums produced, written and arranged for women by women on the newly founded, first-of-its kind women-owned Olivia Records.
"We were so busy making stuff up," Williamson said of the friends who helped her put the album together. In all, she thanked over 50 women on the back of "The Changer" for their contributions. "We shared everything we knew. I knew a little bit about something, and then somebody over there knew a little bit about something. And together, we knew enough. It was adventuresome, really hard work and scary in a lot of ways because we didn't know much of anything. What were we doing? Where are we going? We were aiming for something that hadn't existed yet. It isn't a reality until you get that album. I think they pressed 500 ostensibly and those sold right away, and they were just, 'Oh my God. We've got something.'"

Through the porthole

Something so good, that 30 years later it's still being celebrated. For this tour, Williamson and friends are actually performing the album in its entirety.
"It's risky because people know it," she said. "They know it by heart. So you can't fuck it up in anyway because they know. But they're fairly forgiving, I would say, about that. Still, it keeps me on my toes. And it's good. It's a way for me to reestablish my own relationship with that music and love it all over again."
Williamson invites all to join in the love fest, and reminds that "The Changer" belongs to everyone and no one, that anyone can look through the porthole and take in from the view what they will.
"Everybody's welcome, I always say that," she said. "It's no mistake that women have responded so strongly to this music. But honestly, I write it for everyone, and I'd love for more gay men, in particular, to come. This culture what women have made, especially lesbians, is for them, too."


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