Saul Williams could save us all

Does talent rhyme with anything?

PHOTO COURTESY EVAN COHEN. Williams in his superhero costume.

Ashley Goetz

PHOTO COURTESY EVAN COHEN. Williams in his superhero costume.

The Oddity Fair with Les Claypool, Featuring Special Guests Devotchka, Saul Williams and Secret Chiefs 3 WHEN: 6:30 p.m. March 19 WHERE: Myth TICKETS: $32/$35 Saul Williams is in many ways a jack of all trades. The 36-year-old New York native graduated from Morehouse College with a B.A. in philosophy before winning the prestigious title of âÄúGrand Slam ChampionâÄù at the famous Nuyorican Poets Café in Alphabet City, Manhattan. The documentary âÄúSlamNation âÄú follows Williams and the Nuyorican team as they compete in the 1996 National Poetry Slam in Portland, Ore. In 1998, Saul was featured as both an actor and a writer for the film âÄúSlam ,âÄù where he played the lead role. The film won the jury prize at the Sundance Festival as well as the Cannes âÄúCamera DâÄôOr ,âÄù and immediately thrust Williams into the international spotlight. Now, almost a decade later, Saul is touring to promote his fifth album, which is produced, curiously, by Nine Inch Nails creator Trent Reznor . That album, âÄúThe Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust !âÄù which was released in 2007, is a high octane, whirlwind collision of avant-garde lyricism, eclectic hip hop and black hot light. Against the background of that famous industrial-toned Reznor sound, WilliamsâÄô songs take on a violent, feverish effect, attacking the eardrum from all sides. A&E had the chance to talk to Saul and ask him about his ideas in regard to poetry and popular music. ItâÄôs been a year or two since this album was released. Why tour now? Well, I donâÄôt think music is like film in that, you know, you get your opening weekend and thatâÄôs it. YouâÄôre backing Les Claypool on this tour; do you like working alongside him? You know, I have yet to meet him, so I guess IâÄôll be able to give that response around that time. I have no idea. I definitely like meeting weird people from connected but completely different walks of life. Les Claypool and his odd world sound âÄî I donâÄôt even know who those fans are. Would you describe whatâÄôs on this record as poems that youâÄôre setting to music or songs that take on a poem-like quality? ThereâÄôs only one poem on the album and thatâÄôs called âÄúPedagogue of Young Gods .âÄù From my opinion, everything else is a song. When I want to release poems, I usually put them in books. Not to discount the idea that lyrics are poetic. I thought that was the intention of most songwriters, you know? When I listen to ones I love, whether thatâÄôs Hendrix or whomever âÄî Sufjan Stevens or Fiona Apple âÄî I listen to the ones who have some sort of poetic license that I feel truly engaged in, if itâÄôs really personal or sometimes itâÄôs just fun. Poetry is just a part of music, but no I consider them songs âÄî those are songs. So popular music does have the capacity to exist as poetry? Well, if thatâÄôs what weâÄôre talking about, interestingly, popular music just revolves around what is popular. There are times when poetry in music is not necessarily popular; weâÄôd rather hear somebody say something about spreading some aâÄî cheeks and making them clap or drinking beer down with the boys, à la Kid Rock style. Sometimes weâÄôre not into that, you know? Sometimes we vote for people like Bush and other times we vote for people like Obama, which is to say that sometimes we are enthused by the people who have no hint of poetry in them and other times we are totally seduced by poetry, and thatâÄôs in politicians and music and life. But does it have the capacity? Of course it does. Do you still delve into slam poetry stuff or do you feel like thatâÄôs on hold right now? I recite poems. I write poems regularly. IâÄôm working on a book right now. You know, I never called what I did slam poetry and IâÄôm always confused by that. ItâÄôs either poetry or itâÄôs music or itâÄôs acting. I allow people to use terms like slam poetry or spoken word or whatever because I think that people use it to not fall asleep when theyâÄôre talking about poetry, so it helps to have a new tagline. But the oral tradition is as long as Homer , you know? People didnâÄôt read Homer in his times âÄî most of Greece was illiterate âÄî people gathered to hear him speak. HeâÄôs the high point of the canon of European poetry, and he was a spoken word artist. And I mean, it is what it is. Do I feel engaged in that? Definitely. It was never anything but a cathartic process for me and life continues to challenge me in ways that poetry and music are âĦ my life.