on paul williams, the father of rock journalism

Estimated reading time is 8 minutes.

I WAS 28-YEARS OLD and living in St. Helena, the heart of California’s Napa Valley. I had a 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 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, and 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 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 rock writing 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. (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!)

 

OutlawBlues_Pocket
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, the three of us walked to the Sunshine Café 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.

(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.)

 

DasEnergi_black
The hard-to-find original printing of Das Energi 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 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.

 


 

1 thought on “on paul williams, the father of rock journalism”

  1. 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!)

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