Monday, September 26, 2016

LOVE AND THEFT AND JIM MORRISON (originally posted 1/6/2010)

So what does become of a Love Life when the spouse goes into a nursing home? And you aren't 70 years old. And you have an eight year old child. And you're not even old enough to look back fondly on all the years gone by from your retirement recliner (does retirement exist anymore for anyone out there, post 2009?).

Sometimes I feel ripped off. I used to think, when I was a young adult, that when bad things happened to people it was because they brought it on themselves somehow. I'm not sure how, but it was their fault. I got involved with a group of older friends that believed that thoughts can be things. So I quickly surmised that it'd been my fault somehow that my mom died of cancer when I was eight years old. Was it my fault then, that Paul fell in love with me, moved to Encinitas, rode his bike to the Post office to turn in our 1995 taxes and fell off his bike on the way home?

The sun rises on the good and the evil, and it rains on the just and unjust. (Matthew 5:45) Then there is this line from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. Good and bad things happen to both good and bad people. I don't think it's the hand of god, it's just the nature of things, like entropy-things fall apart.

Speaking of falling apart I'm worried about Paul's teeth. I got a look at his gums and now I realize he hasn't been brushing and no one at the nursing home is looking after his teeth. So I'm gonna have to go on the gentle war path again and set up a meeting and make sure they are standing over him while he brushes. I figure the home is used to the old guys in their 90s and who cares if they lose their teeth, but Paul is 61 and I'm sure he'll live another 40 like his parents, so lets keep them. And I made an appointment for him to get one of those damned root planings, that we all hate, but saves our teeth.

Yesterday I had to hustle Paul back to his nursing home after I took him out for a smoothie. I was in a rush so I could make it to work on time. I pulled him along to the car trying to get him to walk quicker. Do you remember the "old guy" in the Carol Burnett Comedy Hour, that shuffle walked with tiny little old man steps? That's what I'm dealing with. Paul got testy and yelled "Stop pushing me". It was the old Paul and I was happy to see the old temper flare up. He was never someone to push around.

There are a number of great stories of Paul's famously volcanic anger. My personal favorite was when he and Jim Morrison of the Doors were on a commercial plane ride together in the 1960s. Paul, very enthusiastic about a new Thomas Pynchon book, The Crying of Lot 49, he'd just read and had in hand, talked to Morrison about the book and then gave him his copy during the flight. The plane landed and they disembarked from the plane, down one of those outside staircases you see pictures of The Beatles waving from. As they were walking down the stairs Paul noticed that Jim Morrison didn't have the Pynchon book on him. Incensed, he screamed at Morrison and made him go back on the plane and retrieve the book. Morrison did as he was told.

Paul later got to march and cock rifles on Unknown Soldier. He actually liked the Doors quite a lot but thought of Morrison as a bit of an asshole and a drunk- but with amazing stage presence. And he was a very good friend of their producer Paul Rothchild. 

Thursday, September 15, 2016


Some reworking and editing of a post from 6/25/10

Paul's new glasses came in today. I'll take a picture this weekend and put it up. I was too tired and hungry after work to go over to the nursing home and put them on him, plus I'm going to need to put his name or his initials on the arms so they lose any potential "resale" value.

Do you ever wonder why it is that some aspect of your life turned out to be like a significant book you read as an adolescent? That would be Flowers For Algernon (Daniel Keyes) in my case.

In short, the story is told from the perspective of a man who had been born mentally disabled and undergoes an experimental surgery, which increases his intelligence. Through his journal entries you follow along with his increased abilities and eventually his slow deterioration back into his disability.

When I was in the eighth grade we had to read the short story, it was in our textbook and I was stunned that something so good could be in a schoolbook. (Apparently it won the Hugo Award for best science fiction story in 1960) I bought the full-length novel and dove in. Originally published in 1966 it became a joint Nebula Award winner for best novel. But I wouldn't have known or cared about that stuff then.

It was the 70s and I had arrived at the age where the first child of the family adventures out on their own into new and unknown radio territories. I must admit, though I loved music, I was very naive and unhip about what was going on in the world of pop. But I found a new station with the whirl of a dial that I dug deeply, and it became the soundtrack to Flowers For Algernon.

Here's a list of some of the songs I fell in love with: Eighteen With A Bullet, Me and Mrs. Jones, Using Me ('til You Use Me Up), Ben (especially poignant since it was about a rat and Algernon was a mouse), Shaft, What's Goin' On, Backstabbers....

The other station I listened to occasionally and when I wasn't reading the book had a few good songs but some dumb ones too. I liked The Needle And The Damage Done even though it was a scary song about drugs and I hated a song about a guy named Guitarzan. There was also a lady that sang about how terrible it was going to be to turn 17 (Janis Ian), dang it was gonna be depressing apparently.

So I stuck to my newfound radio station. I didn't realize at the time that it was for young black urbanites. For me these new songs were the sound track to this grand novel I'd discovered.

The parallel: When Paul had his bike accident way back in 1995,  I was with him through all of the various forms of rehab. Even then I thought occasionally of the book parallel. Paul's doctors said his recovery from such a devastating brain injury was miraculous.

I watched Paul go from his early days in rehab, answering simple questions about the date and the president to his later rehab days of having intellectual conversations with the cognitive therapist, her saying to me "There's no reason for him to be here".

Then in the past 6 years the slow, unstoppable descent into dementia. Flowers For Algernon the book had been my white mouse, doing a dry run before the real thing.

I don't see it all as a complete loss. We had eight years together after his brain injury where he lived a normal life as a writer, lover and father. And I don’t see it as a simple tragedy. Even the character Charly, knew he had done something very important for humanity, even in his final days of blissful naivete.

Paul enjoys looking at his books now and sometimes reads passages from them. Last year I asked him if he missed writing, he gave it careful thought and answered flatly, "no". And I could see he was alright with that.

He wrote more than 30 books. His words and perspective live on through them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

PART 2: PAUL S WILLIAMS BIO PIC--The Crawdaddy Magazine Years

Paul starts CRAWDADDY! Magazine January 1966 out of his dorm at Swarthmore College. But by the fourth copy he has dropped out of college, moved back to Boston and gotten a little bit of funding from his grandfather Phil Williams, who wanted to support his grandson's burgeoning business. We pick up the story from there...

15. Paul sez “Jon Landau, certainly one of the best and most influential critics of the rock era, debuted as a rock writer in the fifth issue of CRAWDADDY!, September 1966. Paul now back in Boston was going to Club 47 three nights a week and hunting down rock and roll shows where ever he could,the rest of the week. Flipping for bands like The Animals’ two hour show at Rindge Tech, The Rolling Stones at Boston Garden and Lynn Football Stadium, The Beatles at Suffolk Down “plainly audible, beautiful to look at, and confirmation that we—and I—existed as a special body of people who understood the power and the glory of rock ‘n’ roll.” 

Jon Landau: "during those few short years we changed each other's lives--he certainly changed mine more than the other way around.  From the day he walked into the old Briggs and Briggs Records and Instruments store in Harvard Square, where I was a high school student with a summer job behind the counter, we started talking and talking and talking about music, music, nothing but music.  He was trying to get the store to carry the first issue of Crawdaddy! and I convinced my boss to let him put it by the register. When he came back the following week, I had read it and I volunteered.  With my classic teenage arrogance, I announced that I could do better than any of the writers in that issue, including him.  He responded,  'Ok, Mr. Bigmouth, give it a try'  Which is how I came to be a rock critic." 

16. Between the fifth and sixth issues Paul took a 2,200 miles “mostly business trip”, hitchhiking from Boston to New York, Cleveland to Chicago, and Wisconsin and back. In Chicago on a blues fan’s pilgrimage Paul stopped at Chess Records’ recording studios which resulted in a full page ad in CRAWDADDY! and an assignment to write the liner notes for new albums (each called More Real Folk Blues) for artists like Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Sonny Boy Williamson. When Paul gets back to Boston a local magazine distributor has ordered 2,000 copies of the sixth issue, which now has a print run of 2,800 copies (up from 1,500 copies of the previous issue).

17. The Sixth Issue of CRAWDADDY! was published Oct 20, 1966 (the first issue of Rolling Stone debuted November 1967), in a print run of 2,800 copies, up from 1,500 copies of the previous issue. Paul writes, “….sales of the fifth issue had been good enough to attract the interest of a local magazine distributor who ordered 2,000 copies of the sixth issue. Tim Jurgens, a young subscriber from San Francisco moved to Boston to help out as an editorial assistant. Paul wrote, “ I don’t think I could have made it through the next few months of the magazine’s progress and rapid growth without Tim Jurgen’s friendship and hard-working support”.

18. In mid November CRAWDADDY! moved to New York City. Paul writes in The Crawdaddy Book (Hal Leonard), “The new office was a big second-floor room overlooking Greenwich Village (I used to spend a lot of time sitting on the ledge of a large open window with headphones on, watching the endless parade of people walking across Sixth Avenue and Third Street)." The room had previously been a guitar shop called Fretted Instruments, and the walls “were pleasantly lined with natural-looking pine planks installed by the former tenant”. “All of us (additional staff persons came along soon) did much of our work on a huge table in the center of the office. There was a small back room with no windows (halfway up the stairs from the street) where Tim Jurgens (the assistant editor, also from Boston) and I slept,” Paul writes in the Crawdaddy Book. An article was written in the Village Voice of CRAWDADDY’s arrival, it was just the beginning of a lot of press attention.

Paul in Newsweek

19. Ralph Gleason from the San Francisco Chronicle wrote on January 1967, “The most interesting publication in the U.S. covering the rock scene is a magazine called Crawdaddy….it is devoted with religious fervor to the rock scene.”

20. The seventh issue of CRAWDADDY! came off the press the first week of December ’66. There weren’t many ads yet but there was a new look. The typeface inside had changed, Paul was now leasing an IBM “Executive” typewriter, the resulting page looking more like other magazines of that era, “Instead of looking like a letter from a friend typed on an ordinary typewriter”, writes Paul. 
The seventh issue is notable in hindsight for its opening sentences raving about the Doors (“the best new band I’ve seen this year...”)—the first mention of the Doors in a national publication. Paul had been given an acetate of the Door’s forthcoming album after he watched them make a promo film at the Elecktra office for their first single, Break On Through to the Other Side”. Paul had befriended their producer Paul Rothchild, at a Loving Spoonful show back in Cambridge at Club 47. 
The list of writers that wrote for CRAWDADDY! expanded. Paul said, “Crawdaddy! didn’t have any money to pay its writers, so writers wrote for us mostly as a way of communicating their enthusiasm for, the music they loved”. Sandy Pearlman and Richard Meltzer both came from Stony Brook, Long Island, Peter Guralnick and Jon Landau from Boston, David Hartwell was a childhood friend from the world of science fiction, an illustrious list of writers, rock producer/managers and editors that would all make their mark in the world of popular culture.
In the Crawdaddy Book, Paul writes: 
“Before we finished putting the next issue together, I made my first ever visit to California (thanks to a mid-sixties phenomenon called Youth Fare, which provided half-price airfare to those under twenty six). In LA I met the Buffalo Springfield and saw them do a great show at the Whiskey A Go-Go, and I spent a few days with Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys and attended a recording session for the never-finished SMiLe album. In San Francisco I was very impressed by Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Arc in Sausalito, and Moby Grape at the Avalon Ballroom, and Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead New Year’s Eve at the Fillmore. It was a good time to be a young music lover.”

In December Paul spent several days as a guest at Brian Wilson’s home in the Hollywood Hills. It was during the wildly creative Smile era and Paul stayed in Brian’s tent, which was in a sand box in his living room, next to the piano. The first time Paul smoked pot was with Brian in this oriental style tent. Brian played Paul the early acetates of Heroes and Villains and some of the other SMILE songs, which were never officially released. One day Paul spent time with Brian and the Beach Boys at the studio and remembered singing odd sounds and noises on one track (probably “Barnyard”-ed). And Paul was witness to this moment: “I was visiting a Beach Boys recording session in Dec. 1966 when Carl Wilson walked in with a record he’d just bought, something he’d fallen in love with during the group’s recent trip to England (Gimme Some Lovin’ by the Spencer Davis Group). He put it on a turntable eager to hear it--stopped after a minute and tried again--then grabbed the record and broke it over his knee in fury. He’d just discovered that the American record company had remixed the song in an attempt to make it more appealing to the U.S. market.”

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Bio Pic: Paul S Williams

Paul Williams: THE BIO-PIC--Part 1
(originally posted March 8, 2010)

1. Film begins with footage of the first atomic bomb. Parents meet and fall in love at Los Alamos both employed by the Manhattan Project under Oppenheimer. Robert Williams a young physicist, is invited to come watch the detonation of the worlds first atomic bomb. Women are not allowed near the test site but Paul’s mother Janet and a girlfriend sneak away and drive down to White Sands where they watch the explosion, from a safe distance, hidden behind boulders.

Janet Williams and her best friend Heidi Sitte. Janet is here holding young Paul. Both Janet and Heidi's husbands were physicists that worked together in Colorado, after Bob Williams Manhattan Project years. 

Kurt Sitte and Bob Williams (Paul's father) in the 1940s. Kurt was a Czech Jew who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He was later arrested by the Israelies for spying for the Czech (communist) government. After Kurt was arrested Heidi and Paul's father left their spouses for one another, only to have Heidi die young of liver cancer. Some family members think Heidi was Bob Williams 'only true love'. 

2. Paul was brought up in Cambridge but lived a short year of his childhood in Princeton where his dad taught Physics….at age 5 Paul was left to “babysit” his 2 younger brothers and decided to walk them several streets from home to a library. His youngest brother changed his mind midway while crossing a busy intersection and refused to budge. A friend of the family happened by and scooped up and saved the 3 young children. Janet, Pauls mother said “Paul was so mature at that age, he seemed fully capable of caring for his brothers”.

3. Paul teaches himself to read at age three while looking at old 78 RPM records. His father said he was tired of reading the names to him and Paul taught himself the names. By age 4, it is said, Paul would read the New York Times while being driven to nursery school.

4. Paul, age 5, writes a note to his mother one day “ Dear Mom, I have gone to Clinton’s house, but don’t be surprised if I’m home, because Clinton may not be home”. She sends it to the New Yorker where he has his first piece of writing published in the Talk of the Town column under the title “Logician”.

5. According to family legend, by third grade it is discovered that Paul has an exceptional mind and is given an IQ test, the score is 180. His parents move him to a private grammar school in Cambridge. He has trouble fitting in at school no matter where he goes and once admitted that kids called him “spaz” because his hand would fly up for every question. 
Paul around the time his father left the family for Heidi Sitte. He felt the weight of having to be the responsible one now, even though he fought with his mother bitterly on most issues. He told me of her suicide attempt, with pills, after his father left. 

6. In sixth grade Paul starts a newspaper, The Sunlight Herald.

7. At 15 he attends his first Science Fiction convention, soon after he starts a Science Fiction Fanzine called “Within”.

8. Age 16, Paul graduates from Browne and Nichols and decides to go to Swarthmore College. According to his mother he’d been offered a full scholarship from Stanford, where his father and grandfather had both graduated, but he turned
it down… “I didn’t want to be lured into the whole bay area music scene, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my school work.”

9. Paul becomes a DJ for the Swarthmore radio station. Paul has an argument, a disagreement in philosophy class with his professor, the man gets so riled up he threatens to kick Paul out of the class. Then Paul begins his first issue of CRAWDADDY Magazine from his dorm, two fellow college students contribute to the first issue. The name CRAWDADDY! came from Paul’s admiration of the UK music club where the Rolling Stones got their start.

10. After the first mimeographed copy of CRAWDADDY! is printed, Paul gives away as many copies as he can by hand, he receives a phone call at his dorm from Paul Simon who thanks him for his wonderful writing on the single “Homeward Bound” and praises him for writing intelligently about rock and roll.

11. One day while walking into his dorm a student yells out “Hey Williams! You got a phone call from Bob Dylan”. Dylan had read the latest issue of CRAWDADDY! and liking it invited Paul to come and hang out back stage at a show on the Blonde on Blonde tour. He also offers Paul an interview.

12. While attending Swarthmore Paul heard that his friend Richard Farina had died (Paul met him at a club in Philly where he was gigging and asked Richard for permission to reprint some of his writing in CRAWDADDY!, they hit it off) … there was to be a funeral for him in Carmel, CA. Hoping to catch a free ride on a cargo plane Paul is stopped in the airport and confronted by a Philadelphia police officer who calls him a hippy. A few hours later Paul is in jail and the next day in court for assaulting a cop. Paul told me the whole thing got thrown out when they realized that as he said “my glasses assaulted the cops fist.”

13. Unable to concentrate on his school work at Swarthmore…he moves back in with his mother in Belmont, MA where he starts his fourth issue of CRAWDADDY!, issue five would include writings by Jon Laundau a clerk at the local record store, Briggs And Briggs. Landau becomes someone that Paul would consult on music and current record releases. At some point Paul’s grandfather decides CRAWDADDY! is a good investment and pumps a little money into the paper, encouraging his grandson to start a business like he had, he’d manufactured a device called “the sniffer” which sniffed out gas leaks.

Paul gave free copies of his first few issues of CRAWDADDY! out to music fans
at the Newport Folk Festival. Here he is watching with zeal, Howlin' Wolf, with Grace Slick
looking over his way. He wasn't on stage here, just a fan standing around the stage, trying to catch an upclose of a great performance. 

14. Issue number 4 had Bob Dylan on the cover with a now widely reprinted article called “Understanding Dylan”. Paul ambitiously takes handfuls of copies of CRAWDADDY! to sell at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival where Jack Holtzman of Elektra Records bought a complete set. Elektra was to begin advertising in CRAWDADDY! with the next issue. There is a well known picture of Howlin’ Wolf performing at the festival that year, the photo includes a clear image of Paul behind him. He is also seen in the film “Festival” dancing with a young black woman during Wolf’s set.

(photos of Janet and Bob Williams courtesy of David Williams)

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Kind Of Intellectual Elation

I met Paul in May of 1992 at a Dylan show at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I was on a date with a friend of a friend, a nice guy, and I still feel guilty about how I kinda ditched him that night. I knew I'd see friends at the show and I kept making excuses about needing to go to the bathroom or needing a drink from the bar and I'd leave him sitting there waiting for his date to return and Dylan to begin. 

Out in the lobby I did run into folks I knew,  but I was surprised to see my friend Andy Paley, one of Brian Wilson's co-writers and ex-best friends, among them. I was on a big Brian Wilson/Beach Boys music jag at the time. I used to say that it was "informing my new music" and it was ...but mostly Brian's music and life story was a great narcotic for a girl still reeling from a broken New York romance (and lost record deal and lost-stolen car, lost booking agency, manager,...) . The smokey phantasm of Brian's great music lead me down a yellow brick road into an enchanted forrest of weird dreams which included some Beach Boy "visitations"; new friends related to the Beach Boys story (Andy being one of them) and a brand new song-cycle of tunes having nothing to do with the lost New York boyfriend. I still remember zoning out alone, after my VW bus was stolen (and all my belongings as I'd just moved back to San Diego from New York) listening to the Surf's Up CD, the song Feel Flows captures that hazy rapture perfectly, you don't even need the hash pipe.

Along with Andy, Dominic Priore was in the lobby and Wes (John Wesley Harding), and Paul Williams. It was remarkable meeting Paul, I'd just read his old CRAWDADDY! pieces on Brian's SMiLE period. We hit it off right away. I was very happy to talk to another Brian fan and asked him if he'd join me for lunch at Canters the next day. I wanted to ask him a million questions about what it was like smoking pot in the tent at Brian's house back then or what did the SMilE music sound like on those original acetates. 

We met the next day and shared a pastrami on rye and then proceeded to talk through the rest of the day. Paul then invited me to come back to the Dylan show two days later, on May 19th and join him and his wife Donna. It would be Paul's birthday. 

I wouldn't say I fell in love with Paul that day but he made a huge impression on me. It was just such a pleasure to meet and talk with another lover of music and not feel the least bit geeky about it and have it parlay into discussions of Stephen Hawking's theories of black holes and Science Fiction or whatever. It's always a great kick to meet a fellow traveler. 

Later I was to realize that this experience I'd had with Paul, a kind of intellectual elation, was not particular to me, others had had it as his friend or through reading his books and essays.