Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Listen: Are You Out There

Dar Williams: Are You Out There

Dar Williams is about 6 years younger than me, and grew up about 12 miles as the crow flies from me (or about 25 miles driving, on a route that takes you virtually past where I am writing this). Which is a long way of saying that we both lived in the New York area, at roughly the same time. Meaning that we had pretty much the same choices of radio stations to listen to, growing up.

I’ve written ad nauseam about how I became a music fan, and how important for me it was to listen to the radio as a teenager—mostly WNEW-FM—until I headed off to college and WPRB. That was how you learned about music then, for the most part, and where the DJs were people like you who really cared about the minutiae, about the trivia, about the connections, about good segues, about the music. And also, in those days, the DJs, and musicians, were not reticent about talking about politics and other issues, because the radio stations weren’t run and programmed by some conglomerate devoted to creating a uniform, sellable product that sounded the same wherever you happened to be.

So, when I heard this Dar Williams song, about the importance that listening to the radio had to her, it clearly resonated with me. In preparing to write this piece, I found a bunch of live videos of Dar performing this song, often with her introductions included. She sometimes talks generally about the power of radio to introduce listeners to music, and always mentions that the song was inspired by her listening, in her teenage years, to WBAI, a radical, left wing station probably best known for having played George Carlin’s Filthy Words routine in 1973, which resulted in an iconic Supreme Court case that defined the government’s ability to regulate obscene and indecent material on the airwaves. Williams talks about how the station’s discussion of all sorts of conspiracy theories made her think, and the music opened her mind. In addition, there are references in the song to WRSI, 93.9 “The River,” a station in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she was living when she wrote the song (and which is also, I must add, the home of Smith College, the alma mater of my wife and daughter, where I was last week to attend the groundbreaking for the school’s library renovation).

For me, WBAI was something that I respected, but never listened to—too much talking, not enough music for me, but the song is really universal, at least for those of us who grew up obsessed with radio (and are still obsessed). I’ve long been a fan of Williams as both a songwriter and singer—she was probably one of the first artists that WFUV got me hooked on, her appearance at the Clearwater Festival in the 90s was the main lure for my family to attend our first one, and her song, “When I Was A Boy,” was a family favorite, reminding us of our daughter as a child, around the time the song was released.

Dar, and Lucy Kaplansky and Richard Shindell, joined together in Cry, Cry, Cry a few years back, but after one album and some touring, they went their separate ways, for the most part, reuniting last summer at Clearwater for a fun, if sloppy and under rehearsed set. They are back now on the road for a mini-tour, which will be stopping in Tarrytown this weekend, and my wife and I will be there, despite having to fight our way through the Halloween parade and block party right by the Music Hall.

blog comments powered by Disqus