by Paul Williams
In the summer of 1970, when I was 22 years old, I was given a rather wonderful gift. I was allowed or inspired (filled with breath) to be the author or vehicle of a little book called DAS ENERGI, which eventually found many enthusiastic readers who have felt at times that the book speaks for them, so much so that they not only read it again and again but also are often moved to share it with friends and strangers. What a nice gift! Like getting to write a hit song. Do I know where this "consciousness handbook" came from? Not exactly, except in the sense that it came from the same place an unexpectedly wonderful jazz solo comes from. Out there. In here.That mysterious place. "The Source."
But since this year  marks the 25th anniversary of DAS ENERGI's
publication (by Elektra Records, the first and only book they ever published), and since
Channing asked, I'm inclined to share with you some of the circumstances of the writing of my only bestseller (500,000 copies sold so far, far more than any of my 24 other published
books, but I'm also fortunate that the other books have not been too painfully jealous of
all the attention their sibling still receives...).
I was living near the ocean when I wrote it. I was a long-haired hippie living in a wilderness commune on an island in the Georgia Strait, 100 miles north of Vancouver. I'd been there about three months. My girlfriend and I lived in a tiny cabin built out of cedar poles and bark and shakes by a previous communard. The cabin was off in the woods, far from the garden and most of the other buildings, but still close to the water. I had a spiritual practice (though I didn't call it that) that year of jumping into the ocean every morning, regardless of my mood or the weather. I remember when I wrote the opening pages of DAS ENERGI ("The only sin is self-hatred"... "We are in the Garden, let us open our eyes") I was sitting in the sun in a favorite spot, a grassy bluff overlooking our private, nameless cove, where I often went after my swim, with a pad of paper, to write letters to faraway friends (it was a great ritual and adventure to row or sail five miles across Desolation Sound to Refuge Cove, home of the region's only store and post office, to pick up and send the mail).
An important detail of the story is that when I found myself writing these intriguing lines of prose-poetry, instead of a letter to whatever friend had been in my thoughts a few moments earlier, and then when I realized later that day or anyway for sure by the next morning, that this could be the first page of a book, I was unexpectedly breaking a fast.
In a typical fast, one abstains from consumption, but since I had
been (and still am) almost addicted to expression, I'd decided in February after I finished my
previous book, TIME BETWEEN, that I needed to undertake a fast from writing, a kind of
abstention from expression. This at a time when I was caught up in a very energetic
communication with my felt (and mostly unseen) audience. TIME BETWEEN was over a hundred thousand words,and written in two months. DAS ENERGI, which broke the fast
("Here I am!" "Oh, okay. I guess it's been long enough... Goody!"), is probably less than ten thousand words. It was written in 18 days.
Once I realized this was a book I was writing (first, of course, I went back to the cabin to read those first pages to Carolanne, who responded encouragingly), I knew pretty quickly what its title was. That's because I recognized it as being a book I'd prophesied or imagined and announced seven months earlier. (This was an absolute textbook case of Intention resulting in Expression of Universal Spirit.)
On the 8th page of TIME BETWEEN, on December 28, 1969, I wrote: "I
Paul Williams have written many books in my mind:" This was followed by
descriptions of five such Intentions, and the 5th said, "DAS ENERGI is my Taurus (Marx,
Freud) masterpiece. a true collaboration, tour de force of economic theory,
written (and read) by the collective unconscious. Property is out. Money ain't worth much to me. How do things really work in the world today? We all know more than we care to
believe about the way energy flows... Which is all we need to know to be healthy &
happy. Send for your free copy today."
Where the F did this come from?? The acid I was taking? Something
in the air? The collective moment? Hey, cliche though it might sound like, Carolanne and I had met the previous August at the Woodstock Festival.
I know where the title came from. I was aware (had a good high
school education) that Lenin had written a little book called WHAT IS TO BE DONE?, borrowing the title from an earlier revolutionary self-publisher named
Chernyshevsky. I definitely was (and still am) attracted to the kind of broadside-booklet publishing Chernyshevsy and Lenin and Tom Paine were doing (you won't be surprised to learn that I later, 1982, wrote a booklet called COMMON SENSE). And I'd read
Heilbroner's THE WORLDLY PHILOSOPHERS so I had a sorta benign, very non-Marxist, appreciation for Marx's accomplishment as an author/visionary. The real visionary sees not the future (yeah Karl thought he did, but we've all had similar delusions) but the present. He or she sees more deeply into the present. As I understood Heilbroner, in my 12th-grade economics class, Marx was looking into and questioning the centuries-old
fact that power in Europe had been organized on the principle that he who has the land has the power. But, Marx realized and pointed out, that had changed while no one was looking...now capital had become the real source of power in human affairs; if you had capital you could buy land and otherwise make economic activity possible. Marx articulated some new and very potent insights into how things actually are in the world we live in.
And so I had the bright idea (I have a bad habit of falling in love with my ideas) that the paradigm (we didn't use that word then) had shifted again, and that now even though capital still held the visible strings and went on throwing its weight around just as land (the aristocracy) had done in Marx's day, actually things had changed, and if you looked closely (with LSD eyes, say) you could see that the real source of economic power in our brave new world was not capital or land but rather had become energy. I wasn't talking
about fossil fuels. My vision had to do with the vital importance of human energy. Who's got it? Bob Dylan. Billie Holiday. You and me. The individual. Let's take charge.....
So, DAS ENERGI as a parallel title to DAS KAPITAL. There were
some flaws in my German, but oh well, poetic license. (It's spelled energie, and it's feminine, die energie, but that wouldn't have had the right ring to it.)
This thinking about the title was back in December, or maybe it had
been in my mind all autumn. But now, in July, I was writing the book...the way you walk across the snow or the desert. Each step follows the previous ones. I'd get up each morning and write a few pages, before or after my swim, mostly following the motion of the pages I'd done already, trying to clarify something, or vary the tempo, or bring in separate threads that seemed to belong to the same big picture. Gotta talk about fear now. And collective consciousness. And ecological responsibility. And the mental tricks we
use to obstruct and confuse ourselves.
All handwritten. Print, not cursive. Whereas TIME BETWEEN had
been mostly typewritten. Although it was a precursor to DAS ENERGI in the sense that each typewritten page (or handwritten or whatever) was meant as a picture, and you could feel/see the dance of the words while you read them. DAS ENERGI very quickly became all about the negative space around its words, and the impact of placing a thought alone on a page. Especially after I wrote the 7th page, probably the 3rd day: "You are God."
Aha! It was supposed to be scary as well as challenging. Awakening. The jig's up. Time to take responsibility!
One of the manuscript's first fans was a French-Canadian woman who
lived at the commune for a while, Therese, quite a bit older than the rest of us
back-to-the-landers and sexual idealists and draft dodgers. She wanted to translate the book into French. I remember making a copy (by hand, by pen, no Xerox, no electricity) for her to take back to Montreal with her. Nothing came of that as far as I know. The book has so far appeared in German (quite successful, under a different title), Japanese, Hebrew, and Czech. And American.
I think this is the most of the story I've ever put in writing; and there's more to tell. But my intention is to rest before blurting out more expression of what it was like to be a vehicle of universal spirit, in this case. I did always mean for the reader to think of the book as something he or she almost wrote themselves. Hence my decision not to put my name on the cover.
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