Saturday Single No. 675

It was about this time thirteen years ago that I figured out what I wanted to do with this blog. I’d spent about a month ripping records from my collection to mp3s, then posting them at the blog’s first location, first without much commentary at all, and then, pulling comments from places like All-Music Guide.

After a few weeks, I began writing my own commentary, but it was limited. And then, right around February 1, 2007, I began to write about how I got my records over the years, how it felt when listening to them, and also about the life I’d lived while hearing the music and how the music had affected that life.

And I was off, doing finally what I’d hoped to do when I set up housekeeping on the Web. Over these thirteen years, the tales have dwindled and become generally less interesting (one runs out of tales eventually and does not want to be Old Uncle Walter, who tells the same war stories every time you see him at a family reunion). Thus, my posts have become more reliant than I might like on record charts and radio station surveys and the shelves full of books that this hobby has led me to collect.

I’m sure there are more stories inside that will interest me if no one else, and there’s always the music, so this blog – to quote Bob Dylan – ain’t goin’ nowhere. I just hope that the folks who stop by here for whatever entertainment they may gain continue to do so.

So another year starts. Thanks for stopping by through the years gone by.

With that, I offer (with some minor revisions) a piece I first posted here almost thirteen years ago as Saturday Single No. 1, accompanied by a video of one of the first tracks I ripped from vinyl:

All Music Guide makes a trenchant observation in its overview of Cris Williamson and her music: It notes that trying to assess Williamson and her place in popular music is like trying to assess those athletes who played Negro League baseball before Jackie Robinson began the integration of major league baseball in 1947: We can never really know what might have been.

That’s because Williamson was one of the first – possibly the first – musician to state clearly that she was gay. And she did it in the early 1970s, when doing so scared away major labels that otherwise would likely have scooped her up in the hubbub of the singer-songwriter boom and happily mass-marketed her literate, thoughtful and often lovely music.

Even as her music has never reached as wide an audience as it deserves, Williamson – born in Deadwood, S.D., in, oddly enough, the Jackie Robinson year of 1947 – has made the proverbial lemonade: She, along with a few other pioneers like Meg Christian and Margie Adam (and Holly Near, who should have been mentioned in the original post), created through their recordings and performances the genre of music that became known as Women’s Music (which, if it originated today, would likely be clustered in with folk music, which is the category in record stores where I’ve found the Williamson albums I own). Recording on Olivia Records – which released thirteen of her albums, including The Changer and the Changed, quite likely her best and most influential record – and then on her own Wolf Moon label, Williamson has been a consistently good, sometimes great and always listenable musician.

AMG wonders, and I do too: What would her career have been like had she come along twenty years later, at a time when top-rank performers like the Indigo Girls and Melissa Etheridge could openly proclaim their orientations without losing their mass audiences? We can’t answer that, of course. As a friend of mine once told me during a conversation about roads not taken, we’ll never know what didn’t happen.

But there is the music, a body of excellent work (on nearly thirty albums) that deserves more notice than it gets. In that body of work is today’s Saturday Single, the song “Like An Island Rising” from Williamson’s 1982 release, Blue Rider.

Like any listener, I have songs that move me in various ways, including a whole box-set’s-worth of tunes that move me to tears. Some of those are linked to people and times now gone; others touch me simply because they do. “Like An Island Rising” is one of the latter. Whenever I hear it, from the first time after a garage sale purchase in 1998 through my listening to it again this morning, it dives deeply into me. And I find myself pondering once more the line that seems to me to be at the song’s heart:

“Sweet miracles can come between the cradle and the grave.”

Yes, they can. Just listen.

Tags:

2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 675”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    If there’s an upside to Old Uncle Walter Syndrome, it’s that your readers can contract it, too. Having never had an uncle named Walter, I certainly wouldn’t be put off by the occasional unintentional rehashing. It also affords the opportunity to weave fresh context into a “previously released” main point.

    Not to worry; I’ll keep reading, no matter what you write.

  2. Val H. says:

    G’day from Australia! Google led me to your blog when I was looking up Dick Hyman. It’s right up my street as I suspect my formative years as a music appreciator mirror yours. Thank you for introducing me to Cris Williamson – what a beautiful voice and such an emotional song (in a good way!). I can’t believe I’d never heard of her till now. Ebay will help rectify my ignorance. In case you don’t know her, I would recommend Australian Judy Small as another example of a gay woman singer/songwriter well before her time. Now she’s a Judge on the Federal Court! Plenty clips on YouTube.

    Now I’m off to explore more of your blog and looking forward to plenty of musical memories bubbling to the surface as well as the evocation of another era, our youth. Greetings to Minnesota from a hot, blustery Melbourne.

Leave a Reply