PaulWilliams VU Loaded 1500

on paul williams, the father of rock journalism

I WAS 28-YEARS OLD and living in St. He­lena, the heart and soul of Cal­i­for­nia’s Napa Valley. I had a day job learning the care and main­te­nance of plants at Four Sea­sons Nursery, which I en­joyed, as plant people tend to be friendly people. I was hardly wealthy—hell, I was barely sol­vent most of the times—but I felt blessed: I had a job and I was in love with a beau­tiful woman who was in love with me.

I was also buying and selling out-of-print records, haunting the many used shops in the Bay Area (es­pe­cially the thou­sands of records in the dollar bins at the back of Rasputin’s), and selling them through ads that I ran once a month in Gold­mine.

I don’t re­call how, but I was made aware that Paul Williams was living one valley over in Sonoma Valley. Paul was some­what of a legend among ‘se­rious’ rock music fans and as­piring cognoscenti: in 1966, he had founded, pub­lished, edited, and wrote Craw­daddy, “the mag­a­zine of roll.” In it, he boldly went where no pub­lisher had gone be­fore!

Craw­daddy was the first mag­a­zine that treated rock and roll (or, in its mid-’60s incarnation—‘rock’) and its re­lated forms with se­ri­ous­ness and did so with in­tel­li­gence, in­sight, and wit. There was nothing else like Craw­daddy in the whole wide world!

Oh, there was some in­tel­li­gent writing in Hit Pa­rader (es­pe­cially their record re­views), but all other mag­a­zines dealing with pop music at the time were geared to­wards 12-14 years old [white] girls. Rolling Stone was al­most two years away.

 

PaulWilliams Crawdaddy Jan1967 600

One of the first pro­fes­sion­ally printed is­sues of Craw­daddy when color on the cover was a luxury. This issue fea­tured a cover photo from the photo ses­sions that pro­vided the front cover for Jef­ferson Air­plane’s amazing SURREALISTIC PILLOW album. The early news­stand edi­tions cost a whop­ping 35¢ at the counter!

Paul is my neighbor!

By 1980, Paul was run­ning En­t­whistle Press, a small pub­lishing com­pany in Glen Ellen, a tiny town a few miles south of Santa Rosa. He was just then working on a his­tory of the United Na­tions’ In­ter­na­tional Bill of Human Rights. I got the phone number for En­twistle and called. Paul an­swered and we simply began speaking.

Nat­u­rally, I gushed about Craw­daddy—finding the first news­stand edi­tion in early 1967; reading kin­dred spirits who saw more in pop music than the latest pab­ulum that Top 40 radio was spoon-feeding us; for having had Paul take me through the looking-glass and having both my in­tel­lec­tual and vis­ceral re­sponses to the BEACH BOYS PARTY album turned inside-out; and so, so much more.

I also thanked him for his book Outlaw Blues, a col­lec­tion of pieces that had been pub­lished in Craw­daddy. The works se­lected were, for the most part, ex­cel­lent. Its ap­pear­ance in 1969 made it one of the first se­rious rock books and one of the most in­flu­en­tial.

I had a few more con­ver­sa­tions with Paul (Dylan Brian Byrds Air­plane Donovan Sly Doors Love), and they were al­ways plea­sur­able, in­for­ma­tive, en­gaging. I liked him and I flat­tered my­self that he liked me.

 

OutlawBlues_Dutton

In 1969, Williams col­lected sev­eral of his best pieces from Craw­daddy and edited them into a book, Outlaw Blues (E.P. Dutton). Paul wrote about the music that he turned him on—the music that he loved and that he wanted to share. There was nothing neg­a­tive about his ap­proach to re­viewing records (no put­downs or de­mol­ishing sa­cred cows) or rock­writing in gen­eral.

Paul at Zenith

By the late ’80s, BEM and I had moved to the Seattle area. My soon-to-be ex, who was slowly grav­i­tating to­wards woo-woo—er, I mean “grav­i­tating to­wards the tenets of a New Age be­lief system”—called my at­ten­tion to Paul’s up­coming ap­pear­ance at a shop on Roo­sevelt Way in Seattle (I think it was Zenith Sup­plies, who are still there) for a reading and book-signing.

He would be reading from Das En­ergi, an amazing book of notes ob­ser­va­tions re­al­iza­tions sug­ges­tions in prose poem-like format that had been pub­lished in 1973.

”Paul Williams orig­i­nally pub­lished this book in 1973 and it be­came an un­der­ground classic in pretty short order. Its title is in­tended to par­allel Marx’s Das Kap­ital: Williams’s es­sen­tial thesis is that just as cap­ital re­placed land in modern economies, so ‘en­ergy’ will re­place cap­ital. (I’m putting the word en­ergy in quo­ta­tion marks so that it won’t be mis­un­der­stood as having some­thing to do with, say, solar heating or wind elec­tric power gen­er­a­tion.)” – John S. Ryan in a re­view for Amazon.com

While this sounds po­lit­ical, it was any­thing but: Das En­ergi is often claimed as one of the foun­da­tions for what be­came known as the New Age move­ment! He gave it a Ger­manic slant: das is German for that while en­ergi is simply the coining of a new word via a simple spelling al­ter­ation. 1

 

OutlawBlues_Pocket

In 1969, Dutton pub­lished both a hard­cover a pa­per­back below that Outlaw Blues, nei­ther of which found a market. In 1970, Pocket Books is­sued this pa­per­back edi­tion, which was graced with one of the best covers ever on a rock & roll book. Of which there weren’t many at that time. This edi­tion found a rea­son­ably large au­di­ence and spread the gospel ac­cording to Craw­daddy far and wide.

Renewing our acquaintanceship

We went over early and while BEM checked out the sup­plies (can­dles and crys­tals and jew­elry and …), I found Paul. I in­tro­duced my­self and—Gloriosky!—he re­mem­bered me and our con­ver­sa­tions! Fol­lowing the reading and the ques­tions an­swers min­gling, the three of us walked to the Sun­shine Cafe and re­laxed.

Again, I liked him and I flat­tered my­self that he liked me—and he and BEM hit it off, and for more than the patina of woo-woo as­so­ci­ated with Das En­ergi and, by as­so­ci­a­tion, with Paul!

As I was a pub­lished ‘au­thor’ by then with a couple of record col­lec­tors price guides to my credit and a slew of ar­ti­cles in Gold­mine mag­a­zine, we swapped writing and pub­lishing sto­ries. We ex­changed con­tact in­for­ma­tion and from that time on, if Paul was heading to Seattle, he would drop us a line and in­vite us to a reading.

Paul had also be­come friends with one of my fa­vorite writers, Philip K. Dick, and, upon Dick’s death, Paul was named his lit­erary ex­ecutor. I was in the process of tracking down every­thing that PKD had written so that I could read them.

Need­less to say, this gave us an­other mu­tual pas­sion for our con­ver­sa­tions. Al­though the books that had PW’s at­ten­tion at the time were Dick’s non-SF ti­tles, the few Dick books that did not hold my at­ten­tion. 2

 

DasEnergi_black

The hard-to-find orig­inal printing of Das En­ergi in by Elektra Books (1973) had a black border, as did the widely avail­able reprint by Paul’s own En­t­whistle Press from 1980, avail­able at the time he and I were neigh­bors (and pic­tured above). 

The Bob Dylan Convention

In April 1993, a dif­ferent event drew Paul to our neck of the woods: “The Ninth In­ter­na­tional Bob Dylan Con­ven­tion in the Vasa Park Ball­room on the shores of Lake Sam­mamish was a sad but noble af­fair, too empty of fans to gen­erate ex­cite­ment but too heart-felt to ridicule.”

This was the opening sen­tence to a rea­son­ably ac­cu­rate as­sess­ment of the event as re­lated by Bill Di­et­rich for The Seattle Times (April 5, 1993). The ar­ticle was ti­tled “Fans At Dylan Fest Not Le­gion But Loyal” and the writer was Bill Di­et­rich. 

The show was in­ter­esting: ex­pecting hordes of deep-pocketed col­lec­tors, sev­eral dealers had flown across the country and rented ta­bles. With at­ten­dance com­fort­ably less than one hun­dred, the sellers sold little but had plenty of time to talk with me!

I was not able to do more than greet Paul and ex­change a few words—he was the guest of honor and his time was taken with things other than friendly palaver. I at­tempted to sit through Paul’s screening of the looooooooooooong ver­sion of Re­naldo & Clara, to which Paul not only du­ti­fully but down­right en­thu­si­as­ti­cally pro­vided an­i­mated com­men­tary throughout.

Alas, my long-time mem­ber­ship in the Bob Dylan Ap­pre­ci­a­tion & Preser­va­tion So­ciety had limits and Bob had tested them too many times since his last great al­bums, PLANET WAVES and BLOOD ON THE TRACKS, way back in 1974 and ’75. I saw little of value in the movie that Dylan had ob­sessed over for years; I said goodbye to Paul and headed for my car.

It was the last time I spoke with Paul.

 

DasEnergi_red

I al­ways pre­ferred the warmer red border of the Warner Books pa­per­back edi­tions from 1978. This book was a fore­runner of the New Age move­ment without the spir­i­tu­al­istic mumbo-jumbo-woowoo.

On his way to somewhere else

In 1995, Paul had an ac­ci­dent while riding his bi­cycle: he was thrown over the han­dle­bars and landed on his head. The damage was se­vere and led to early onset Alzheimer’s dis­ease. Paul con­tinued writing and living with his wife, Cindy Lee Berry­hill, and kids.

On March 27, 2013, Paul died due to com­pli­ca­tions brought on by the Alzheimer-related de­mentia. He was 64 years old.

For the past few months, I have wanted to write some­thing on Paul Williams, about the man with whom I was friendly but, due to cir­cum­stances, never quite friends. The man who gave me a foun­da­tion upon which to base my love for and un­der­standing of Six­ties Rock—to see rock as “a means of ex­pres­sion, an op­por­tu­nity for beauty, an art”—and who also in­flu­enced my own out­look and there­fore writing with Outlaw Blues and Das En­ergi.

 

PaulWilliams VU Loaded 1500

HEADER IMAGE: In the movie Phe­nom­enon, George Malley (John Tra­volta) at­tempts to ex­plain his im­mi­nent death to two chil­dren. To allay their fear, he takes a bite of an apple, telling them that the apple is now a part of him. He then tells them that “Every­thing is on its way to some­where.” Paul has taken all that en­ergy and gone some­where.

 


FOOTNOTES:

1  Ac­tu­ally, Das En­ergi deals with the au­thor’s be­lief that human con­scious­ness is on the verge of changing into some­thing other, some­thing better. It re­ally isn’t all that mys­tical or woo-woo. It has more in common with that elu­sive thing called common sense than with mag­ical thinking!

2   The only other writer I re­call speaking with him about was Lew Shiner, who I knew nothing about. Paul and Lew were friends and he sug­gested that I read Shin­er’s novel Glimpses. He re­marked that Shiner and I not only had sim­ilar back­grounds but ac­tu­ally looked some­what alike. I read Glimpses and found a kin­dred spirit and then read De­serted Cities Of The Heart and be­came a Shin­er­holic. But that’s an­other story.

 

 

 

Subscribe
Notify of
Rate this article:
Please rate this article with your comment.
1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Lovely piece. I thought about writing a post when he passed and de­cided I just didn’t know enough to add any­thing to the stuff al­ready widely avail­able. You ob­vi­ously knew enough. Thanks for sharing it. (And I will get Outlaw Blues soon!)