Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Murky Ever Rolling River

Noooo, ALEX CHILTON gone? Only, 59. So sad, some of my favorites gone this year, Jim Carroll too. I met Alex at a show in DC, opening for him in 1991. That night I sang my new song, Song For Brian which is a love song for Brian Wilson, and dedicated it to Alex. He then dedicated a Beach Boys song to me. Back stage we talked about our signs, he a Capricorn and how that didn't fair too well with Gemini, me. He was very sweet kinda flirtatious and it was a great show.

A friend of mine that is in the middle of a relatively amicable divorce said to me, "Now that I'm dating again I'm gonna have to ask any serious contenders to get a physical, guys can start dropping like flies in their 50s if they don't take care of themselves." And in response I said, "Madonna was questioned recently about why she dates men so much younger than her 51 years and she said 'Have you seen men my age?' ".

Okay, I'm thinking I've got a husband in a nursing home and when I do start dating....again. Well, do I go the younger route or the older. A few years ago I was hanging out backstage at a Patti Smith show and I said to my friend, her guitarist Lenny Kaye, 'Is she with that young guy in your band?' And he said yeah, they had a special thing. And I thought, that's nice, that's what I want when I'm in my 50s.

But I love those old guys from the 1960s American Renaissance. Like Paul, Alex Chilton, Jim Carroll. Take care of yourselves. Dang. Maybe this is why it's the women that are the elders in old native American culture.

Which brings me to something in Chinese medicine called Jing and the three treasures. According to Ron Teeguarden's book RADIANT HEALTH: The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs, there are three treasures in the human body. Jing, Qi, and Shen. Jing is the superior treasure, "and existed before the body existed and this Jing enters the body tissues and becomes the root of our body". Sometimes its called essence, when it runs low we are forced to tap into our original Jing reserves, which can become so depleted that it runs out and the person dies. It goes on to suggest we take care of ourselves on a daily basis taking care of our daily immediate energy called Qi. And then Shen is our spiritual energy.

So get enough sleep (I tell myself). I know I'm ranting, I'm feeling the final throes of a cold and too bored to do nothing, too low energy to get busy.

I'm sad about Alex Chilton. When I last saw him it was 1997 in Charleston West Virginia, we were both on a live broadcast radio show. I was out on the road touring across the country and had been booked on the NPR radio show called Mt. Stage with Alex C., John Prine, and Jill Sobule. I played a new song of mine, Antarctica on keyboard that night and my 1996 single, High Jump. I remember Alex being distant and sullen after the radio performance, I thought he wasn't feeling well so I left him alone.

I'd flown Paul in from San Diego for a few nights, we went out to dinner with the shows producer before the taping began and he and Paul got along really well. The next day we drove up to Wheeler and caught a Bob Dylan show and my friend Elizabeth slipped away mid show and next thing I know she's on stage sitting under Dylan's shadow watching the master up close (until a roadie caught on and whisked her away). Then Paul flew home and we got on with the tour.

Alex Chilton I am with you in Memphis digging the soul of the land,
I'm with you in youth crazy with too much too quick sudden crazy fame,
I am with you on the long dark drive of the soul onto the next night show,
I am with you in the stupidity of music business expectations lost gone never existed and enter the new day of Internets dawn,
I am with you in Memphis again at the gates of Elvis eating fried banana and peanut butter sandwiches and puking in the Mississippi River,
I am with you at the Greyhound station where bus driver says to me "only bad girls stay in this town" and I get off the bus sick with strep throat swooning with love for this holy land staggering to the river and back to my shabby hotel,
In my dreams you walk with me bolstering my flagging spirit lifting a lovely melody above the plastic seat of my greyhound up into the sallow yellow of fading light and now/born stars that come to visit again over and over the murky ever rolling river.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Paul Williams: THE BIO-PIC ( Part 2)

I'd like to thank Ben Greenman for the (happy surprise) really nice article on Paul and the Beloved Stranger blog at the New Yorker website:

Now on with the show....

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.”

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. CRAWDADDY! moves to New York. 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.” An article was written in the Village Voice of CRAWDADDY’s arrival, it was just the beginning of a lot of press attention.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Paul Williams: THE BIO-PIC ( Part 1)

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 exposion, from a safe distance, hidden behind boulders.

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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Hazy With A Patch of Stars

Alexander and I took the binoculars out last night and did a little amateur night sky observing. Nearly at the zenith, Mars lolls about between constellations, it's rosy light bright enough to obscure nearby stars. In the south I show Alexander the constellation of Orion. At age nine,a year older than he is now, I found a deep love for the winter sky and in particular the 3 stars that make up the belt of Orion. On a childhood vacation by car from California to the Texas Panhandle, I watched those same stars whiz by the trees and snow capped hills we passed late at night. Past weird signs promoting Mystery Spots and Rabbits with Antlers, past Meteor Craters and Lands of Enchantment. I didn't know that cluster of stars had a name just yet and so I gave them a name myself, Omar, which I believe came from a mysterious character in a Nancy Drew book.

A year later, in summer school i took a science class and found out those stars were from a grouping of stars that make up the constellation of Orion. I fell in love with Astronomy that summer and took my fathers Navy issue binoculars out every night for a look.

It was amazing what you could see with binoculars. Those little stars and fuzzy patches puffed right up to big fuzzy blobs. I made drawings of what I saw and kept files in my desk of my nightly observations. Then I got a book called The Field Guide To The Night Sky and read about telescopes. I looked at the pictures of what you might see with a good scope and the naked eye and realized I'd been looking through the binoc's all wrong. The images hadn't been in focus. I'd made big hazy out of focus blobs in all of my drawings. When I finally figured out how to properly use the binoc's I was disappointed with the results. The stars looked like slightly brighter dots. Big deal.

Then for christmas I got a telescope from Santa. It wasn't very powerful, but it was a lot better than the binoculars. I found out the scope was a refractor and later if I wanted a more powerful scope I'd probably have to go for a reflector (which eventually I did).

I spent countless nights out in front of our house with that 60x Tasco telescope. During the late afternoon I'd sometimes pray, "please God, make the clouds go away and if it be your will make it a clear cloudless night." The best nights were in the winter for sure and of course that's when my favorite constellations came out, Orion, the Dippers, The big and little Dogs, Taurus.

I lived in a small working class town in north central California. Oroville had been a goldrush boom town, then a railroad town and by the time we lived there it was just coming on to it's next boom time with the "world's largest earth filled damn" being completed in 1968. We were there when the lake started to fill up and all the old roads that were down below a certain level of the hills, and all the old grave sites and tiny towns and mines were completely covered with water. It was weird seeing those things disappear, looking at the full lake and knowing their were lives that had been spent in places now submerged.

Their were a few songs that played in my head and on the radio a lot that year. "Honey" by Bobby Goldboro, which was a sad story about a man who plants a tree with his wife and it grows up and so do their kids and then the wife dies. I'd watch the blurr of pine trees go by the car window and get all chocked up in my own world in the back seat. And another Bobby, Bobby Gentry sang "Tallahatchee Bridge" and we'd pass over the big new bridge that took us over a large tributary of Lake Oroville. Other songs that I remember, "Games People Play", "Skip A Rope", anything by Johnny Cash, they all made the prospects of growing up into adulthood look, less than desirable. I decided I'd stay a kid, not male not female, and become an astronomer. Or a writer.

I wrote my first story in the fifth grade, Mystery Of The Winding Stream. And my first song, Cretaceous Times was written the same year. When my guitar instructor heard Cretaceous Times with all of it's twelve verses which included the various theories of how the dinosaurs may have died out, he nodded at me and said, "you might want to cut it down to just a few verses". And I thought, 'well, which theory's should be cut, Einstein'. But these are tales for another night, and another chance at a crisp winter viewing of natures lights.