West Side Stories Article
by Forrest Preece
For a lot of people, it’s all about the performance.
For the Sara Hickmans of the world, it’s about the content. But she had to get to a
certain point where she could start the dialogues that mean so much to her.
Yes, once upon a time, there was a girl named Sara who started humming before she could talk.
When she was seven, she had a Dan Fogelberg album — one of those fancy fold-out numbers –
that she listened to with rapt attention.
She started playing around with the album. Soon she was meticulously pasting in photos of herself and lyrics
to songs she had written, covering the Fogelberg lyrics. Then she stuck in headlines like “Sara Hickman Plays
Carnegie Hall” and “Sara Hickman Meets George Burns.”
The next year, she won a performing award from the Daughters of the American Revolution!
Fast forward– as the years rolled on, not only did she wind up playing Carnegie Hall and meeting
George Burns, but she was on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show twice and Pat Sajak’s, too. Besides that,
she had her own “Austin City Limits” show and was named one of Performing Songwriter’s
“100 Most Influential Independent Songwriters of the Past Fifteen Years” and she has 14 CDs in circulation.
Here’s the kicker — she went on tour as the opening act for Dan Fogelberg. Oh yeah, dreams definitely can come true.
So why did her story turn out so well?
Well, there’s some stunning creative talent involved. But I think a lot of it has to do with how in touch with
everything around her Sara is—and how anxious she is to connect with it all. With great dexterity, she has
rolled that caring and concern into a successful career.
You know the old saying about people “wearing their heart on their sleeve”? Sara has her entire body and sou
l turned inside out.
To wit, by the time she’s been talking to me for about fifteen minutes, her eyes are tearing up about a favorite cause.
Then, in an unprecedented turn for this humble scribbler, she’s leaning over, touching my arm and asking me to tell
her my story.
(Hers is a lot more interesting, I can assure you.)
Sara initially went to East Texas State College in Commerce majoring in art. Along the way, she gravitated towards
making music instead. She wound up attending North Texas State University in Denton and earning her art degree.
But along the way, she’d been performing at a variety of gigs to pay for her supplies.
After graduation, she moved to Dallas to pursue a recording career. (By the way, her latest CD is “Motherlode”—
a two-disc set which is well worth a listen. One disc has happier songs and one has more contemplative numbers.
It depends on your mood.)
But in 1994, she felt the call of Austin and moved here. “This city is so much more spiritual. It now feels like
Austin has always been my home,” Sara says.
(By the way, she hasn’t given up on art. As she was proud to point out, she created ten chairs on little rocks
that are in the Austin Museum of Art’s “The Texas Chair Project” headed by famed sculptor Damian Priour.)
What she puts into her work boils down to this– for Sara, like I said, content is much more important than the
trappings of performance.
“Most people in western civilization, I feel, are tied to the ‘American Idol’ way of thinking,” she says.
To wit, in that world, the pyrotechnics with which way you deliver a song or anything creative is more
important than the meaning.
That attitude about true worth has rubbed off on her kids. The other day, she took her girls Lily and Iolana
to see “Twilight.” Afterwards, her 12-year-old Lily turned to her and said, “Who cares if it’s pretty—the content
just wasn’t there.”
(Lily’s a chip off her momma’s block, no doubt. During a break in a charity auction not long ago, she went up
to the stage, grabbed the mike, and defiantly challenged everyone in attendance to give more to the cause
of crime prevention, rather than spending money on drinks.)
On that score of core meaning, when I talked to her Sara had just gotten through playing and singing
at the Austin Area Ministries holiday service at the First Methodist Church. She was so taken
with what she saw—“Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Sikhs,
everyone was singing with so much fervor and co-existing.”
Sara narrowed her eyes and said, “It meant so much to me when the St. James Episcopal Choir did
songs in English, Zulu, and Spanish,” Sara says.
“All these faiths and people have so much to offer. Why can’t the world behave in harmony like that all the time?”
Sara invited all the children, some wearing their native ceremonial attire, onto the stage and asked them,
and everyone else in attendance, to join her in singing her song, “Never Ending Circle of Love.”
“It was beautiful,” she says.
Afterwards, as she stood outside the church,
she spoke with some of the Muslims and a homeless man, listening intently to what each had to say.
“Everyone has a story to tell,” she shared.
That leads me to one of her latest efforts, the creation of Super Pal Universe.
“This website and the music in it make up ‘pop driven activism,’” Sara says.
Super Pal Universe refers to a five-member band of teens and they have some very tuneful songs online.
They perform around town—but Sara wants their messages about ecology and trust and coexistence to be
spread around the world and she’s doing that with an engaging and remarkable website.
“This is fun music you can sing along with – I want them and their messages to be known around the world
and I’m using my networking abilities to help them do it.”
She adds that they are inviting other teens to create video webisodes that will appear on the website
and relate to the themes of the music.
Another part of the Sara Hickman universe is Necessary Angels. http://www.necessaryangels.org/
This site has links and descriptions of other cause-driven sites, ones that Sara herself embraces.
Sara also has a website called Start the Dialogue http://sarahickman.ning.com/ which contains some
very intriguing sets of responses on a variety of topics—like the death penalty, abortion, and politics in general.
What‘s more, she recently finished a “twelve cities, twelve month” tour called Music for Life, featuring herself
and musicians like Kinky Friedman and the Austin Lounge Lizards, plus political figures like the mayor of El Paso, John Cook.
“The whole purpose of the tour was to up the level of discussion about the death penalty,” Sara says. “We
had speakers on both sides of the issue.”
You can direct your life in any number of ways—going for money alone, for fame and little else, or you can
capitalize on your good fortune and help society change. It’s pretty obvious which route Sara has taken.
Stay tuned for more from her!
Odetta has passed away, but her voice, songs and committment to civil rights will endure…