It was about 18 years ago. I was driving in my car with the radio on, listening to WMUH my local favorite college station. I heard a song. Time stopped. It was a beautiful woman’s voice singing “When I was a boy.” These lyrics stopped me in my tracks:
I was a kid that you would like, just a small boy on her bike
Riding topless, yeah, I never cared who saw.
My neighbor come outside to say, “Get your shirt,”
I said “No way, it’s the last time I’m not breaking any law.”
How did she KNOW? I thought. Who is she? Where can I buy it?
It took me years to find out. This was before iTunes. Before Google, even!!! Before Satellite Radio that tells you what the song is while it’s actually playing! WMUH would only sometimes tell you the artist and often a half hour after the song played. It took me years to find out who sang that song. Years! But I never stopped looking and it was totally worth the persistent wait of finding out. It was Dar Williams. And the album was her first, The Honesty Room, which also includes classics like “The Christians and the Pagans” and “The Babysitter is Here.” But she is one of those artists that continues to create, to write, to sing and I have discovered other songs I love too – “Midnight Radio,” “Iowa,” “Spring Street”…Her new album In the Time of Gods is lovely and smart and good.
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing her live a few times, singing along with others in small clubs (I am not alone!). I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting her a few times as well – she loves to garden! And it’s always wonderful when someone you admire from afar turns out to be great in real life too. So it is my total pleasure to have her here, on my back porch…
1. What was your favorite comfort food growing up?
My parents had a great garden and every June I picked the snap peas and every September I picked the raspberries. Also, I think I have lots of Scottish blood. I’m a big fan of potatoes and root vegetables and am not really picky about how they’re cooked.
2. What is it now?
It’s still snap peas, berries, and root vegetables.
3. What’s your must-have food when on the road?
All I want is crap food to deal with all the anxiety and low blood sugar of traveling, but all I need is vegetables. I’m like a parent, constantly reminding myself to eat salads.
4. What’s your viewpoint on organic food?
It’s important for everything from soil to humans to the planet.
5. Do you do anything in your life organically?
My dad subscribed to Organic Gardening magazine starting in the late ’50s, I think, and I’ve subscribed (or he has subscribed me) for about 15 years, so I’m on board. We have a great four-season garden (with cold frames), even though we live on a tenth of an acre. We served our own salad for a New Year’s party, so that’s our latest good news on the organic front. Organic is synonymous with expensive, and that just kills me, so I try to serve it more often than I talk about it.
6. Who was your biggest musical influence growing?
That would either be Simon and Garfunkel or Donna Summer.
7. Who is it now?
I’m often in search of silence! However, my son is listening to the R.E.M. catalog and I’m loving it.
8. If you could write a theme song for any revolution or movement, what would it be?
Oh, man. Solar power. I think that’s the movement that’s about to hit a tipping point, but can I say one thing? It’s really important to buy solar panels made in the United States right now. Oh, wow, can you tell what a bad song I would write??
9. Where’s your favorite place to play music?
Countless places. But Milwaukee has the best coffee.
10. As you travel and tour, what’s one insight about humanity that you’ve gained from your adventures?
After 20 years, I can see that it all comes around. The low are raised up. The mighty are humbled. The embarrassing stuff is forgotten or laughed about, and friendships remain. Just when you think you’ll never write another song, you write another song. Just when you think your audiences are preferring to stay home with a book, their kids show up and it all starts again. The wheel is always turning, and, minus the part about people dying, it always feels, to me, like it’s getting better.
Photo: Amy Dickerson