It is the dream,
it is the vision. It is the dance, it is the song I will sing for my
1890, Wounded Knee, South Dakota.The sound of Hotchkiss gunfire
echoes on the cold winter wind, punctuating the cries of 200 men, women
and children of the Ghostdance religious movement. In minutes, they
lie dead in the snow. On their way to a new Promised Land, they had
danced for God, the Ghostdance...
When others tell
me I can't walk I will run, and when they stop my running, I will fly,
I will fly...
More than 100 years
later, the dream lives on, embodied in the music of Bill Miller. Ghostdance
is a cry from the deepest corners of his spirit, the sound of his soul.
One of America's most notable Native artists, he has crafted an album
that is uniquely American; equal parts modern urgency and timeless mysticism.
In it he distills images gathered along his path as a singer, writer,
musician, painter, husband, father and seeker.
Where are you going,
to a Ghostdance in the snow? Where are your warriors, I see they're
finally coming home...
was raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation in Wisconsin, influenced
as much by the music of Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Neil Young as by
that of his Mohican heritage. Varied artistic pursuits, the rock 'n'
roll he played in bands, his Indian flute music and his painting would
eventually coalesce in a music and pop audiences alike through albums
like The Red Road and Raven in the Snow. With Ghostdance, Miller continues
his musical and spiritual evolution:
"I didn't sit down
with a hard plan for making this album. After a while, you trust yourself.
You learn to believe in your process and you have faith in the people
you work with, for me that was (co-producer) Richard Dodd. I did have
definite ideas about what I wanted to express, though. I feel good about
where my life is, about my family and where my music's gone, so I could
focus more on issues than on personal struggles. Ghostdance was a pivotal
song because of the parallels between what was happening in the 1890s
and what's going on today, not only for native people but for everyone.
Where are we going? What are we looking for? I think many people today
feel the same apocalyptic energy that the original Ghostdancers felt.
At the same time, there is innocence and optimism, and songs like "The
Sun Is Gonna Rise" are about that. I wrote "The Reason" for my oldest
daughter, Shayna. She's getting ready to fly, experiencing so many things
for the first time, and that helps me regain some of my innocence. It's
a universal theme."
I heard a voice
callin' out to me, might've been a vision, might've been a dream...
Bill's focus on
substance and subject inspired him to see new musical territory on Ghostdance.
"Prelude," the opening track, is a stunning scene-setter, its lush strings
giving way to the driving rhythm and gut-level pledge of "Every Mountain
I Climb." "As a painter," he explains, " I learned about composition
where you place a certain element for a certain kind of impact. You
also learn about using the palette of colors the creator blessed you
with. If you're not expressing what's in your heart and soul, you're
not using your colors. Now, when I make music, my guitar is like an
appendage. It's part of me. My flutes, my harmonica, they're the same
way. On "The Last Stand," which is an instrumental, I played guitar,
bass, native flute and harmonica. But "The Sun Is Gonna Rise" is a lullaby,
and the strings are an important element in getting it across. Somehow,
there is hope in their sound, and that gave me a whole new range of
colors to use.
" I wanna stand
where God is praised, I wanna ride across the plains to the promised
In the Ghostdance
liner notes, Bill offers this glimpse of his inspiration and the fire
that drives his musical journey: "All of my life struggles and the twenty-four
years in the music business have made my music a religious and deeply
spiritual experience for me. I thank God for these times, and I will
always look to Him. For when others tell me I can't walk, I will run,
and when they stop my running, I will fly, I will fly..."
Dark features flash
as Bill Miller sits at lunch in a Nashville restaurant talking about
his music and art. He tries to relate emotion that goes into each of
"All I'm doing
now is taking a palette, and I'm using the different colors that I know,"
Miller says, "I have never wanted to limit myself. Maybe I'm coming
of age within myself- I don't know. You come to certain point in your
life and you say 'Why am I still doing this? Why am I still here?'"
is here because he is a rogue rocker with a twist. One who has as much
in common with Johnny Cash as he does with Neil Young. It is why disparate
icons Steve Earle and Tori Amos are amount is most ardent admirers.
Such contrasts are the testaments to Miller's multifaceted approach
to life. Some know of his heritage, some do not. Some know he cut his
teeth on rock 'n' roll, even fewer know he is an artist skilled with
a brush and pen, who contributes artwork to his albums. He has all too
often been categorized because of one image - his bloodline.
Miller is a walking,
talking tribute to the world of contrast in which we all live. He is
of Mohican-German parents, a Native American raised on the Stockbridge-Munsee
reservation in Wisconsin, a far cry from the studios that have become
his home in Nashville. It has been a tough life for Miller, one filled
with the racism and abuse that has been so often chronicled. But ironically,
his songs are about the love and hope that can be found in each of us,
the inner strength that can survive. His songs are also about passage.
And it is passage
that allows listeners to catch a different glimpse of Bill Miller as
he reveals another side of himself. Those familiar with his work may
be surprised by the 13 tracks on Raven in the Snow, a roots-driven testimony
to the rock 'n' roll in Miller's soul that carries the listener across
a landscape of crunching guitars, soaring lyrics and primal drums, accented
at times by his haunting and powerful flute.
A previous album,
The Red Road, was released on Warner Western in 1994 and proved to be
a folk-laced spiritual snapshot. It was an intense piece of his life,
a chapter during which he lost his father. But it was also a chapter
in which he began to emerge from professional obscurity. His music was
touching people. Eddie Vedder became the unlikely flagbearer after Pearl
Jam performed with Miller at an Apache Indian benefit in Mesa, Arizona.
Then Tori Amos called, and he found himself opening her shows on the
Under the Pink tour. This unexpected alliance with Amos propelled Miller
into the musical mainstream.
It is the sheer
naked power of Bill Miller's poetry, the voice of each song, the emotion
of each song that weaves the common thread. It compels you to listen.
"We need the courage to turn out the lights, so to speak, and not see
the color of each other's skin," he says. "As soon as we can just talk
and respect each other for what we are, then we can move forward...
let our hair down with one another. That's what my music is about."
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