We Ingest The Sun : A Night With Saul Stacey Williams
It’s hard to put a pin in the climate of our times. Dissonance is forever mounting. We feel almost consumed by all the variables around us. The news is exhausting. We are exhausting. Everywhere we look we are being told to exist as one thing when we can’t help but crave being several. Few people come around that help us work through our egos and the dissonance that comes along with them. One of those people is Saul Stacey Williams.
Known to the world of art and literature for his charisma, multidisciplinary talent, and civic engagement- Williams exists as an exemplar of the fact that some humans can do the work of ten men with half the time. Poet, musician, rapper, actor, writer, creative extraordinaire- Saul Williams stopped by the Melody Ehsani Shop to have a conversation with us. The room was packed and spirits were high as Williams made us laugh and smile, all while reminding us that although we live in a world that tries to push us to extremes, you can be several things as at once and be damn good at it. Topics ranged from the Basquiat movie, Paris Adventures with Melody, the refugee crisis, Hennessy, Kanye West’s Gucci sweat suit, weed brownies, and much much more. Below are some of our favorite pieces from the conversation, presented in Q and A form.
Q: What did success look like in your mind when you first started out?
A: "When I first started out, it was a very weird thing because as a kid I discovered acting at 8 or 9 years old. I told my parents, they cast me in my first play. We do Julius Caesar- all this shit. At this time it's The Cosby Show- you know we live in New York- so I just wanna be on The Cosby Show. I just wanna get an audition for the show. I really wanna be on The Cosby Show. My dad who had studied opera, who had gone to that famous school of music and art, had done a TV show as a kid on NBC. Primetime Kids- 1950’s late 40’s. Singing opera when he was 9 or 10. He had stories about holding the note because he’d get paid something like 36 dollars a minute- so he’d tried to sing to get a few more minutes in. They were like- acting is cool - but the industry is another thing. Instead of going to auditions, you should go to The Village and take acting classes. Instead of auditions, how about that? So I said ok. I start going to these classes at 12 years old. From there I go from wanting to be famous to wanting to be good. Because in class you could do an action, do something and then step back and critique the scene. Then it became just about wanting to be good. So at that time, and all the way through high school and through college; I’m doing literally every school play possible. So really I wanted to do was work. I didn't take the time to dream in any weird big way. I had this sense that if I focused on getting better I would get the offers to do the big stuff. All I wanted to do was have the opportunity to continue acting- that was my idea of success. The first I got paid for acting I thought it was crazy. I auditioned in Atlanta for a play that was off campus- it was a South African play and I ended up being cast. They told me I would be paid a 150 dollars a week. It was maybe 6 to 8 weeks of rehearsal and then a twelve-week run. I had to get permission from the school to do this like off-Broadway regional theater gig. I was kinda like...yah know I don't have to be...yah know...and they were like 'no this is acting you have to be paid' and I was like...ALRIGHT! I loved delving into a character because before I was old enough to travel it was a way of traveling. It was such an amazing way to experience my idea of the world. I was into it. That's my honest answer. I became more schooled as life went on. My first idea of success was to work as an actor."
Q: Is it sensationalizing to talk about hard brown and black issues in this space?
A: "I just read this great book called Syrian Dust, Written by Borre, who is an Italian investigative Journalist, who has spent the last four years primarily in Aleppo, perhaps in the safest place for her. On the front lines, you have a better chance. What she talks about that really touched me- there's also a level of this book that comes from a journalist who's tired of hearing every time from an editor that 'this is horrible but not sensational enough for it to work in our story' or 'people are getting tired of this story'- because that's how were fed. The media has these gatekeepers and the editor is one of them. What she talks about is the number of civilians who would fuckin love to be refugees, but it costs 300 dollars get someone to drive you to the refugee camp. The number of displaced who can't afford to get to the border is more than those who exist as some kind of collateral damage. Then there are the ones who get to the border, the refugees, and she talks about how the organizations that don't wanna risk their shit, that we give money to, they aren't actually in Syria. They're on the border, they're in Turkey saying 'oh if you can GET here, we’ll put you in this camp here, but you gotta make it across because I'm not going over there.' But then you get across and it's not just Syria, there are conflicts happening everywhere. There is many and varied instances of corruption perpetuated by corrupted governments- who police dissent, who torture, who's militarized police go over the board in terms of their reactions. So, of course, many people dream of getting to a safer space. So yes I do reference that stuff often- because it haunts me. So much haunts me. I mean why is [Melodies] family here? From Iran? SO many of us have these stories of seeking safe haven and our relationships to these narratives and how that affects how we view xenophobia and our autonomy. They really show the courage it takes to even fuckin run away from bullshit, and face the other bullshit of when you get here. That 'you aren't welcome here' bullshit. So, to me, that's the most interesting thing to explore creatively. Those channels are available for anyone who dares to go explore the roles of empathy. It's not a problem to go there, that doesn't have to be comedic. That's our relationship to entertainment; that it's this formulaic thing that's supposed to be funny, and we participate sometimes because of the absurdity of it all and simultaneously it's not at all. Who knows what that is, that conjures a possibility of being born one place or another. Being in a space like this, the last thing I wanna do is go into a mechanical thing."
Q: How do perform and not perform yourself?
A: "What that makes me think of is the performative aspects of even our own behavior, of all of us. We perform the ideas of ourselves that people expect. I remember the moment it struck me that I had all these different gestures that I had practiced and they all meant different symbols. I realized the choice of neutral. Finding neutral and realizing that it's not to say every time you respond to something it's fake. A lot of what we do is in-between genetic and inspired. I even remember trying to figure out how to be cool."
Q: How do you restore and balance your energies?
A: "Inspire means to breathe in. I am a big supporter of medications and practices such as reading. See the way I actually feed myself is by making and performing music. I have an ecosystem. The engagement I get from playing with music feeds me. There are levels to how you fuckin chill. For me, the things that have fed me have been the great conversation, great music, great literature, and great food. I say all that to say that it's not that complex- that balance. Not every year and cycle is as privileged as the other. It's a daily intake and monitor of intake."
In a world where we feel like we must choose between wanting to talk about our favorite new rap artist or the stories on the news, the conversation with Saul Williams reminds us that we are allowed to be nuanced. Through his work, and the work of many others, it's easy to see that things we may deem as opposing interests actually blend together beautifully. This is the generation of the side hustle, this is the generation of multidisciplinary talents. If anything, our very resistance to oppressive forces is the nuance we keep. We should function in whatever channels feed the parts of us that need feeding: be an illustrator, filmmaker, art creator, avid reader, surfer, sleeper, and freaky food eater all at once. It's okay. It's needed. It has beautiful outcomes. At Melody Ehsani we believe in being as true to yourself as possible- and if that means you pursue every passion with the intensity of a hurricane- that's exactly what we want to see. Thank you to Saul Williams for sharing a little bit of your life with us. To all of you reading- keep fighting the good fight.
Words by: Suraiya Ali
Join the conversation.
Thanks for signing up!