After Lenny Kaye and I played a few songs we invited Paul's longtime very dear friend, and one of rock journalisms first female voices to come up and offer her respects. Ellen Sander read a beautiful piece of poetry she prepared for the day.
I slept on Ellens Venice Beach couch a good number of times that first year I met Paul, 1992. He introduced us and we'd hang out with her after a day of running around and visiting cool LA music people, (mostly friends of Brian Wilson's). Then we'd report back in with Ellen's and tell her of our adventures and I'd play her some of my new songs, like I Wonder Why and other songs that became the Garage Orchestra album. Ellen I've always appreciated your belief in my music.
My pal, political documentarian/film-maker, Matt Kohn really surprised me, he showed up with celebrated, and sometimes controversial, scifi author Norman Spinrad. Wow, Matt.
Michael Lydon was an early influence on Paul's writing and they became friends in the early days of Crawdaddy Magazine. Michael is a writer of books on music and as indicated above a songwriter. He had us singing along on a very uplifting tune that day.
Wayne Robins spoke to us of Paul Williams influence on rock journalism and read and excerpt from Outlaw Blues. He wrote a beautiful tribute to Paul after the event...scroll down to the March 30th post to read it:
If it was overwhelming to me, the event was surely overwhelming to our son Alexander. There was a lot to take in. Many people speaking of his father with so much respect and love. Some of the time he listened and some of the time he sat in the big brown chair and read a book, a kind of comforting escape I believe.
The many facets of Paul Williams; Crawdaddy creator and writer, Dylan scholar, Philip K Dick literary executor and friend, Theodore Sturgeon Collected Works editor, Common Sense philosopher, hippy journalist (Time Between), music fan
I met Steve Greenberg back in 1993 when I was being trotted around to different New York record labels. He was a young record company a+r guy and we hit it off. Whenever I'd come to town we'd have lunch and catch up on our lives. Steve was the producer behind some pretty popular groups like Hanson, Baha Men (Who Let the Dogs Out), and Jonas Brothers and currently heads S-Curve Records.
Andy Shernoff, founding member of The Dictators, in the house.
Ira Robbins of Trowser Press. I was introduced to Ira by my record company Rhino when my first album came out. He said some good stuff about so the label had us meet up in New York. I seem to remember us meeting at a soul food kitchen in Harlem and having peanut butter pie or something.
At the end of the day, a very tired me, Lenny Kaye and Boo-Hooray owner/curator Johan Kugelberg.
It was an absolutely wonderful event and I still feel deeply thankful to everyone involved and all that came to show their respects. It was a moving and pretty overwhelming day, all the good vibes and stuff for Paul and his family.
These are a few choice items found amongst the many cartons of Paul's books and papers we processed this past week. The first photo is a very young Paul in a play-room full of toys. Probably the same age he was when he wrote this note to his mother saying;
"Dear Mother, I have gone over to Harold's, but don't be surprised if I'm here because Harold may be out."
His mother, Janet Williams, saw a keen sense of irony and wisdom in the note and sent it to the New Yorker column Talk of the Town. As you can see the New Yorker decided to publish it, making this, at the young age of 5, Paul's first published piece of writing.
Around age 10. In grade school Paul started his first zine, The Sunlight Harold, which only lasted for a few issues.
David Hartwell, my late husbands longtime best friend, came out this week to help me process Paul's papers and books in storage (see above, w box top on head). This was not an easy job. We did a little bit of this work back in September, this week we got down to the nitty gritty - looking through boxes, and boxes, of papers.
Alexander brought his homework to storage, a little cold down there in the labyrinths and halls and lockers of other peoples stuff.
In the evenings we visited some of the finest science fiction authors Southern California has to offer. I decided to take my guitar over to Cheryl and David Brins and in lieu of a house-gift I would sing them a song. It went so well that David Brin brought out his harmonica and chimed in on a Dylanesque ramble of chords.
David Brin in the key of C
The next night we drove up to Elizabeth and Gregory Benfords house in Orange county, where I played a few songs and we got a tour of his Chesley Bonestell prints. Cool! I adore Bonestell's astronomical art. There was some other great astro art as well, like a super cool rendering of one of my favorite weird star systems; Beta Lyrae with its swirling gases (similar to Bonestell's)..
Here you can see a Martian-like desert-scape above Greg's desk. He's an astro-physicist at UC Irvine and a much loved, hard sci-fi writer in the tradition of Arthur C Clarke. Clarke's stories, Expedition To Earth and etc, was one of the big reasons I started writing as a kid. So cool that Greg was a friend of his.
A few years back Alexander and I were watching a documentary on Stephen Hawking and Greg was in it, I said, "Alexander, there's your dads friend talking about your favorite subject (physics)".
We left the Benford's relatively early, I had a race to run with Alexander the next morning. The Thanksgiving Day 5K in Oceanside. We were amongst 10,000 people at 8am, crazy. Alexander beat me by 20 seconds, but we both came in around 33 minutes. Not so bad considering I'm just coming back from a year of appendectomies and sprained ankles, and well, other stuff.
Thank you David Hartwell for a thoroughly enjoyable holiday week. Lots of hard work (not to mention emotional) on Paul's archive and really fun visits with inspiring writer friends.
We got David to the airport and drove back home to find ourselves suddenly immersed in a spontaneous visit from Paul's oldest son and family, down from the Bay Area for the day. Their kids (Paul's grandkids) and Alexander, romped and rooted around in the sand for several hours while the sun set over our local beach.
(all photos by David Hartwell, except for those by clb)
I've been going back through the blog, the last six months of writing, and printing out all the worthy essays, contenders for entries in what will become a future book. My long time friend Dr. Paula Luber, gave me a big jump start on this in June when she printed out every Beloved Stranger blogpost since day one in late 2009 and up until Paul's memorial. That, is a good friend. The best. Later today David Hartwell is coming in to visit from New York. He was Paul's best friend and confidant for many years, since Paul was in the 8th grade I believe. David, if you don't already know is a senior editor for Tor Books. And has won numerous awards in his field of Science Ficiton book editing. After picking him up at the airport and delivering him here to a nice post flight snack, I will summarily dump the pile of papers, once a blog, onto his lap. He's been forewarned. And a brilliant editor to help me see what is here and what must go and what must still be written is just what I need right now. After it's been tumbled through the wash we'll know where to go from there. I have so appreciated those of you that have read and written to me, supporting me in the writing of this blog. Those of you that are writers yourself have been very encouraging and because of you I thought perhaps, this could indeed become a book one day. I was recently encouraged at seeing the books on the late great writer, Iris Murdoch by her husband, John Bayley, who wrote of their life together and her long decline into Alzheimer's. Two wonderful books on their time together, one of which became a film called Iris. And now I go to the copy shop...
Filmed in 1989 by Rocky Schenck. Some of it was filmed indoors, as you can see at the beginning, by the majority was filmed in Bakersfield with me sitting on the back of a flatbed truck driving around the outskirts of town. It was a little mind bending for me as I'd grown up, for a time, about 30 miles north of there in Delano.
Rocky was wonderful and did a beautiful job on it and the look is still rather timeless, and hard to tell what era it hails from.
At the time, the hope was, that Rocky would make the film to this song and that a second song was to have a video as well.
I was trying to talk my record company Rhino in to giving me money to make a video for the song What's Wrong With Me with a young cool Brooklyn based film-maker I'd had several great conversations with and was a fan of his work. I lived in the Park Slope part of Brooklyn at the time, not far from him, we talked about life in that part of New York, our parents-his father was ailing, and our work.
The film-maker sent Rhino, at their request, a film reel of what he'd done, which included a favorite of mine Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, acted out by Barbie dolls. Rhino later told me they'd watched his reel and found it to be too 'unpolished, amateur and unprofessional' and they weren't going to hire him, Todd Haynes to make my video. Too bad, he went on to make some great films like Safe, Velvet Goldmine and I'm Not There.
At any rate, this song here, Indirectly Yours was on my second album Naked Movie Star, recorded in Mid-town Manhattan and produced by Lenny Kaye.
Have you ever noticed how much of our communication with people seems to happen in cars. A place where you are not as likely to be distracted by the computer, TV, cell phone(hopefully), doing-ness-like-dish-washing, etc. Driving my son home from school today a discussion of his father arose. Primarily because I told him I was gonna have lunch with someone soon who's husband suddenly, unexpectedly passed away, and they had a few children, who, like Alexander, will now grow up without a father. Alexander said this: "I can't really miss my dad because I didn't really have him as a dad. We don't miss floating around in space because we've never floated around in space. Maybe an astronaut misses floating around in space. But we don't miss it if we've never had it." Alexander doesn't remember him because his father, Paul Williams, began the descent into dementia when he was 2 1/2 years old. I told him before that, he was a very good father, who would walk him around in a sling (when he was a baby), feed him spaghetti dinners when I was at work, and take him to the park. I can't say that I personally, remember anything from the age of two and a half. When I was three we lived in Manhattan Beach, CA on a sandy mound over looking some oil wells and smoke stacks of El Segundo. I thought they were amazing to look at. Sometimes the local kids and I would take cardboard boxes and sled down the sandy mound our houses were perched on to the street below. Eventually, I got in some big trouble with that. We moved to Hermosa Beach by the time I was three. I remember losing my stuffed animal and crying and spelling the word STOP at every stop-sign. When I was five we moved to central California, a small town, Delano where my father began a job working as an administrator for the school system. Delano was surrounded by miles and miles of grape crops. Cesar Chavez founded his National Farm Workers Association in Delano. Being a young kid I missed the whole hullabaloo happening right under my nose. Ours was a life of plastic kites, stealing loose change from parents dressers, learning how to ride a bike while standing up and putting a matchbook on the wheel so the cardboard would hit every spoke going round, making a bbbbbb noise. Every one was white skinned in this neighborhood. And I saw alot of the people inside the houses because I'd go door to door with my wagon selling dinosaur drawings for 5 cents a piece. Money for candy or turtles or goldfish. When I was five my mother moved away with my baby sister. Sometimes I'd live with my mother and grandmother but mostly I lived with my dad in Delano. I often wonder, now, as a mother, how could a mother move away from their child. But she did, so she could get a degree and teach and make a living and possibly divorce my dad. We never got to find out what her plan was, she died after an operation to remove cancer from her system, she never really 'woke-up'. The day before she went to the hospital she came to stay with me and my little sister (by now four years old), we were living at my dad's mothers house this school year. She was laying on her side on the living room couch watching us play. It was October a week or so before Halloween. I tried talking to her, asking her questions but my gramma kept telling me to "hush, leave her alone, she's not feeling well". She'd always been so busy, but here she was doing nothing staring at me. It was eerie. By the next morning she was gone. There was always something aloof and unapproachable about my mother. Beautiful and inward leaning. She'd spend hours pouring over her school books, underlining things of great importance. Shuffling through the multitudes of little cardboard squares with fabulous rocks glued to them. I wanted to be like that. I suppose, I knew what it was like to float in space. It was not a perfect thing. You still have to pee and stuff. Maybe really I only had a taste of it a few times, unlike other astronauts that went up all the time. But I knew I liked space and I missed it when it wasn't there. Sometimes when I was with my father I'd think "gee I wish I was with my mother" and when I was with my mother I'd think "why is it that when I'm with my mother I wish I was with my father and when I'm with my father I wish I was with my mother" I never actually connected it up to think 'why aren't they together anymore', that was some kinda advanced thinking. After she died I made up the idea that she'd succumbed to Valley Fever while digging up very ancient Indian bones as an anthropologist, (I'd just watched a show on Dr Leakey). I really believed it. For several years in fact. I think I was fortunate to have had that little taste of having a mother (later I had a step mother that adopted me and my sister, but that's another story). Knowing what it was like to have her bathe me and tell me how skin gets sloughed off every 7 years like a snake. Or take me to The Pike at night in Long Beach. Or buy me encyclopedia's at Lucky's Grocery one book at a time (within which I found my beloved Chesley Bonestell's astronomical art). Or lose me in the snow for an hour in the woods and I navigating on my own-found my way back to her and the rangers. Or pull me back in the car when I opened the car door while moving and she grabbing my arm, saving me from certain peril. Or making me the prettiest dress ever, one that they later had to sneak out of the closet for fear of my great upset. At least I had those times. Those imperfect times, of floating in space. All there is left of my mother are about four photos, this one below, being one of them. My son Alexander however, someday, will browse through his fathers books, he having written more than 30 of them...and get to know what it's like to float in space, maybe just a little bit.
A little better rendering of the photograph. My mother was modeling at Haggerty's on Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles at the time.
The Kite was "filmed" end of last year on PhotoBooth on my MacBook. We had a day at the beach last Thanksgiving vacation and I made up a little story. There was to be more, a mean grandma, but the time for filming slipped away then we were into the holiday and then Paul in the hospital and the kids outgrew these clothes. Flying to NYC last March I dumped all the PhotoBooth film pieces into iMovie and finally got around to assembling and editing them. Then found bits and pieces of music notes I'd made to myself as a musical garland to the visuals. The music that starts the film and ends it, was the music I continually heard in my head during the filming. Footage at Moonlight Beach (before they finished the construction) was with Guthry and Renata Hahm and my son Alexander. So let this be a little gift of appreciation to you readers, and commenters (!) as we've just gone over the one hundred thousand views mark. And in particular a very special thank you to you followers that have encouraged my work, that have kept the faith, with your donations to the new album.
This is Super 8 footage Debbie "Fluffy" Spinelli shot of our tour, my first, in 1988...(with the exception of the shots of us on stage and of Fluffy in the van-those were filmed by my then manager, Bruce Solar).
Most of the locations are Boston or New York City. My archivist, the wonderful Alan Bershaw, took the footage and matched it with the song Yippee! from the 1989 album. He said "The timing on the footage and the song were almost exact, so an accidental almost perfect fit." The song comes from my second Rhino album, Naked Movie Star, recorded in mid-town Manhattan and produced by Lenny Kaye. Btw, Fluffy is playing drums on the track. The shots in the van are me (w the hat), Waygone Rex Wilson (making faces) and Bruce Solar. My friend Rick Saxton was driving but you don't seem him much. The big stage was a club in Boston called The Channel. The goofy-step dancing is downstairs at the Pyramid Club, while their dance music rumbled the floors above us. A point of fact: the first show I played in NYC was at the Pyramid on Avenue A...$200 for 15 minutes and introduced by the great transvestite gogo-girl Happy Face. Iggy Pop was in the audience. My first paid gig (I knew there was a reason to leave San Diego) and what a blast.
Two lights way up on the sheer face of a hill, in the dark. One light up higher the other one lingering beneath, waiting to be joined by the slow moving upper light. Over the course of an hour we watched, from a fundraising party w all it's lights and soft nostalgic rock, and there at the side of our consciousness these two climbers found there way back to one another in the dark Mission Trails Park. By the time we left they were still half way up the hill but nearer to one another. Two lights helping one another down the rock face of life. That's companionship. I've had some time now to think about partners, lovers, companions since not being immersed in one. At first it's like. WTF! And then things settle down and you remember it was you there all along. Nothin' really that different. Two lights are a nice thing when they help each other on the rocky stuff, but it's not worth it if it causes the rocky stuff.
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What does a writer do that doesn't write, or a lover that doesn't love? "Satellite's gone up to the skies thing like that drive me out of my mind" "I watched it for a little while I like to watch things on TV" Satellite of Love, Lou Reed Maybe that's what's goin' on here...watching tv. Before I made my first Rhino album I was living in San Diego and the recording engineer at the studio I sorta managed, made a cassette of some Velvet Underground songs. It was amazing of course. Life altering, the kind that makes you feel like 'how did I live without this before?'. I read whatever I could about the Velvets and the Warhol scene. The year before my friend David Ruderman gave me the Sheldon book on Dylan, and now the Velvets brought a different perspective on NY scene. I had to figure out a way to get out of San Diego. Right after that I got some money from my tax returns, $700, it seemed like alot of money. I bought a $400 Greyhound Bus pass that allowed me to go around the U.S. wherever a Greyhound would go. The day I bought my ticket a lady behind the counter gave me her old Greyhound busline tome that showed me every line in the country. It was amazing I could anywhere. And I could do it for the length of the pass which was one month. After a week and a half of the rest of the country, I ended up in Port Authority, New York City. First time, for this Los Angelino. Already, the smells, the bums, the different ethnicities of humans, the buildings, I was utterly in love. Within a month I met most of the musicians that became the foundation of what we called Anti-folk. Lach, Kirk Kelly, Roger Manning, Billy Syndrome, and a handful of other musical losers we were. Playing at the newer, not even the old one, Folk City, and some place around the corner and these places didn't like us. Mostly because we had the nerve to laugh at their outmoded concepts of acoustic music. We wanted to be the Lou Reed, Dylan, Phil Ochs, Woody Guthrie or whatever of our day. We wanted to make our own downtown New York scene. So we did it....weirdos that we were...Tryin' to remake the cool New York thing that we'd heard in the grooves and seen in black and white photos.
There's a film that my friend and drummer Debbie Fluffy Spinelli made of us touring around the east coast around a few years later. I just got a copy of it recently (in fact hoping someone can help me find a way to get it copyable and get up here). At any rate, it's us nodding to our roots, that New York 60s thing. And I thank you Lou and others for that great great inspiration you gave us.
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When you cry, let it be fierce, let it bring down the empire of clouds I don't know why I haven't been into writing lately. It's been a strange time. I'm sorta putting one foot in front of the other doing things the seemingly right way. Working when I need to work, resting when i need to rest. Seeing friends and doing taxes. It's not the least bit fun. But it's okay. I don't have a husband in a nursing home anymore. I don't Have to be here in Encinitas. But my prime directive has shifted to some place I can't pin down anymore. I don't mind getting down the mountain by myself in the dark so much. I'd been afraid how that might feel. I mean, I was with Paul for over 20 years. But I always did stuff on my own anyways and with varieties of friends. That's the musicians way. There's just something, rather comforting I suppose, in thinking that there is another light there that is waiting for you to take your next step down, closer to ground and the way out of the park.
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We stood with a park ranger watching the two lights descending the mountain. "Has anyone ever gotten stuck way up there all night?" "Sure have" he said, "helicopters came in the whole thing. But nothing 'til morning. Pretty wild out there, so those folks will have to make it on their own."