Saturday Single No. 1

Originally posted February 10, 2007

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, whom I overlooked 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 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.


 “Like An Island Rising” – Cris Williamson [1982]

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2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 1”

  1. About Five Years Ago . . . « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] I wrote briefly about Cris Williamson, a member of the women’s music movement. Calling the post “Saturday Single No. 1” (and I really should have called it No. 2), I shared the lovely “Like An Island Rising” with […]

  2. ‘So Sad . . .’ « Echoes In The Wind Says:

    […] decided it was long past time for me to learn how to play “Like An Island Rising,” which was Saturday Single No. 1 almost eight years ago) and several CDs by folk artist Eliza Gilkyson. I also grabbed a series of […]

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