Sunday, October 24, 2010

Three Photos

Paul and Alexander Williams, Oct. 24,2010. This was the first of the three photos. I showed Paul the book I picked up a few weeks ago near Harvard: Patti Smith's Just Kids, and I'd bookmarked the page where she mentions her admiration for Paul and Crawdaddy magazine. He was very interested to read what she said and continued reading a few pages after. He rarely reads nowadays so it was nice to see him enjoying a book.

Paul often has one eye shut. The doc's never did figure out just why that is, speculating that it is a tic, like the bending over he does every minute or so. I asked Paul to open both eyes for this photo and you can see how hard it is for him to do. He really concentrated to make himself do it. I think whatever is going wrong in his brain is affecting his eyesight. Clearly you can see in this photo, he has a sort of 'wandering eye' gaze now. Something he never demonstrated until the last few years.

This one was the best of the three
photos Alexander and Paul look at ease with one another and Paul is relieved that he can close his right eye again. Alexander has a very minimal relationship with his dad, even before Paul was moved into the nursing home, but he does like seeing his dad smile. And Alexander consistently makes Paul smile.

Friday, October 22, 2010

If you believe in me

I’ll perform miracles, lewd acts of nature,

ripple the waters

and make the Earth wind round in smooth rhyme.

If you believe in me,

I’ll buy you a sandwich

unveil my face, untie the lace

and reveal the secret word

that admits you to the party.

If you believe in me,

I’ll wear your crown,

I won’t let you down,

you’ll get your money’s worth,

unless you expect nonsense and phony penance, for instance.

If you believe in me

I’ll invite you to the water, salty to the tongue

it’s warm and I’ve been waiting.

If you believe in me,

What’s so weird about that?

So what if they can’t see

we are blind most of us, mainly

but sometimes, plainly

there is a crack in the floor of heaven.

If you believe in me

I’ll turn back time

make it speed ahead

or suspend its existence altogether.

If you believe in me

I’ll reinvent the wheel

make you cry where you never feel

make all things new under the sun

then I’ll wash away your tears.

If you believe in me

I’ll call off the revolution

close the mines

settle all bets

bury the hatchet

take off the black dress

and make a pilgrimage to your holy lands.

If you believe in me

I'll part the red sea

the 2nd sun will come out

the naked moon will rise over the stones as predicted

and the villagers will reveal themselves.

How do I know this?

When I used to know bandits, bullet dreamers, idle threats...

How can I be sure?

Because your face made me see it.

Because you saw before they could,

and past the daytime,

shine a billion stars.

(clb 10/22/10)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Mindful blogging

Breathing in I type some words. Breathing out I pause for a thought.

This weekend our son Alexander, turned nine years old. It was a drizzly dark end to the week but we found some light of our own making. Saturday night Alexander and I went to Lego Land for an October/Halloween Fest and costume contest. This year Alexander has become an astronaut. He decided they were very cool after watching Apollo 13 a few months ago.

This afternoon we had some family members over for cake and ice cream. I picked up Paul at the nursing home. My sister Tami took a 3 hour bus ride up from San Diego (only 30 minutes by car). And my mom drove the one and a half hours from Lake Elsinore. It was a very nice visit and Alexander came out ahead with some 25 dollars to add to his piggy bank and some nifty new books.

Paul was ready and clean when I picked him up at the home. He'd been bathed and shaved and had clean clothes on with his hearing aids in his ears. When I asked him if he said he wanted to come over he said, yes. But instead of sitting up or standing he handed me a weak hand expecting me to pull him off the bed.

I'm worried about how weak he is getting. And I wonder if he is 'giving up' to some extent. In his moments of lucidity he must wonder what is going on with himself. And does he have that kind of self awareness anymore? Recently he walks even slower and sometimes it seems like his legs are almost giving out. I asked him to pick up the pace this afternoon and that seemed to work for about five minutes, we were able to get out the front door , about 5 paces from the car and he made a bee-line for a bench and plopped down. I read in a pamphlet a few years ago that dementia can have a big effect on a persons ability to control their own body. They fall apart physically over time. And I think that is what's happening here.

Last weekend I brought Paul home for a little family time with me and Alexander and as we were leaving, getting ready to go back to his nursing home, he said to me "Me go bathroom" and I realized that his ability to access words has taken a real hit. He rarely says a whole sentence anymore. Almost never offering a comment or a thought, but still tries to answer questions, often thoughtfully.

Breathing in I am sitting on the bed. Breathing out I am aware of my fingertips touching the keyboard letters.

This past Wednesday I took him out for a mexican food lunch and asked him some Crawdaddy! history questions, like:

Why didn't you look for a big investor when the magazine had such a buzz and exponentially gaining readership? Why didn't you find someone that could front you a chunk of money so you could pay your employees and writers a good wage? He said, " Because you lose your freedom". He said it simply and clearly and with little forethought. I mentioned that Jann Wenner, creator of Rolling Stone, had done just that, he found a big investor in his girlfriend/wife's family and he could pay his writers more.....Paul smiled, didn't say a word. I mentioned that it was ironic that Jann married a woman with money and then turned out to be a closet gay guy that had been hiding his sexual preference even from his wife. Paul said "He knew what he wanted".

Still, some gems of wisdom from the great man. I take them where I can and they over ride the sad state of his deteriorating physical condition and loss of communication skills.

I do miss him. There's no question. A great deal.

But life must go on, right? If I were living in a god-forsaken land like Afghanistan or Iraq and saw wars ravages on my friends/loved ones daily, I would learn quickly to accept what is, life as it is. Not life as I want it to be, but what is in front of me. Some suffering, some joy.

And remember the pleasure of breathing.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Paul Williams Bio-pic Part 3

Because it has been so long since the first two Bio-Pic entries were posted (back in February and March 2010), I've added them to this entry...the additional segments come in at Crawdaddy Issue Five....(ed- and have you seen the film The Social Network-Zuckerberg's story reminds me of the young Paul Williams. Would you agree?)

1. 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 five 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 received degrees, but Paul 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 Holzman of Electra Records bought a complete set. Electra 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 the great Wolf’s set.

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 (now called Paseem’s) 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.” Peter Guralnick author of the two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, Last Train To Memphis and Careless Love began writing for Crawdaddy after Paul asked him to help him interview Howlin’ Wolf.

16. Between the fifth and sixth issues Paul took a 2,200 mile “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.

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.

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.”