Having more fun

By MATT ASHARE  |  February 13, 2007

Freeing herself from outside expectations, be they real or imagined, has been a process for Williams. She’s not shy about her age — 54 — or the idea that there are values she picked up during her formative years. “When I started out in the early ’70s, I had a little apartment in Houston and my rent was like 85 bucks a month. So you could do a day job a couple days a week and the rest of the time work on your music. Now I see people in their early 30s trying to get a record deal and having to work a full-time job. A lot of them just give up. I mean, when I did that first Rough Trade album in, what, 1988, I had been working day jobs up till then. I think because I was in the world that I was in, I wasn’t really worried about practical things. There was a support group of other artists in Austin and Houston — there was just such a big music scene that I was protected and encouraged a lot. I was just really fortunate to be in that world and be part of that scene there. Plus, I’m a late bloomer, so I didn’t think in terms of ‘Wow I’m 33 or 35 or whatever and I’m doing this.’ There was just always something or someone pushing me forward and propelling me just enough to keep me going. So there wasn’t that sense of ‘Oh God, I can barely make it . . . what’s the point?’ So I had an advantage because I started out during an era where I felt I was really nurtured. When I was in college in the early ’70s, during my brief period of academic education, I was actually going to major in cultural anthropology, not music. And I had someone say, ‘You are doing cultural anthropology with music.’ And nobody thought about how they were going to get a job doing cultural anthropology.”

She remains well aware of how those experiences have affected her career. “I know why Sheryl Crow is more successful than I am. I mean, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I haven’t been in the video marketplace, so my profile hasn’t been that high. Like there was always this line I didn’t want to cross because I was so afraid of ‘selling out.’ I was really staunch about that. It was all about that underground roots thing. I thought of MTV being like a big corporate monster. So I rebelled against it. Then again, the marketplace is such that the kind of music I play just isn’t marketed as commercial music. I started getting a little hopeful when I saw artists like the White Stripes on MTV. I was like, ‘Wow, this is cool, I actually like this music — it’s interesting and innovative and cool and rootsy and it’s on MTV.’

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