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Singing to Break the Silence: A Conversation with Singer-Songwriter-Activist, Dar Williams

StoryJanuary 25, 2002
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Philip Jones Griffiths

photographer and author, ??Vietnam Inc. Since his first trip to SoutheastAsia three decades ago, Philip Jones Griffiths has returned numerous times. A new edition of Vietnam Inc. waspublished in September 2001 with a forward by Noam Chomsky. Chomsky was profoundly affected by the book when it wasoriginally published.

Dar Williams is one of today’s most acclaimed singer-songwriters, a folk artist in the tradition of Joan Baez, JoniMitchell, and Utah Phillips. She has said of her music, "I hope I’m writing songs that go into the niches and placesother people don’t." But she has one song that holds a special place in the hearts of us engaged in the struggle tosave grassroots community radio: a song she wrote about the influence of New York Pacifica station WBAI called "AreYou Out There?" which goes:

And what’s the future, who will choose it?
Politics of love and music
Underdogs who turn the tables
Indie versus major labels
There’s so much to see through
Like our parents do more drugs than we do

Corporate parents, corporate towns
I know every TV set that has them lit
They preach that I should save the world
They pray that I won’t do a better job of it
Pray that I won’t do a better job
So tonight I turned your station on just so I’d be understood
Instead another voice said I was just too late And just no good...Since the early 1990s, Williams has been combining a fierce dedication to social justice with a deeply personalsensibility in her music. And indeed she has raised her powerful, 3-octave voice for array of progressive movements:from Pacifica radio to the environment to women’s rights and anti-corporate global justice. In the process, she hascreated a unique sound, where the personal intersects with the political, past traditions merge with the present, andstruggle melts into humor.

Dar Williams launched her music career nearly a decade ago on the Boston-Cambridge coffeehouse folk circuit. In 1994she recorded her first collection of songs, The Honesty Room, on her own homegrown label. It was eventually picked upby Waterbug Records and then re-released in 1995 to a wider audience by the independent Razor & Tie record label.Since then Dar Williams has recorded four albums, each one an inspired combination of politics and poetry. She hastoured extensively, with folk legend Joan Baez, Lillith Fair, and various folk festivals. She’ll return to the studionext month to record another album.


  • Dar Williams, singer/songwriter.

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