Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Bio Pic: Paul S Williams

Paul Williams: THE BIO-PIC--Part 1
(originally posted March 8, 2010)

1. Film begins with footage of the first atomic bomb. 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 explosion, from a safe distance, hidden behind boulders.

Janet Williams and her best friend Heidi Sitte. Janet is here holding young Paul. Both Janet and Heidi's husbands were physicists that worked together in Colorado, after Bob Williams Manhattan Project years. 

Kurt Sitte and Bob Williams (Paul's father) in the 1940s. Kurt was a Czech Jew who had escaped from a Nazi concentration camp. He was later arrested by the Israelies for spying for the Czech (communist) government. After Kurt was arrested Heidi and Paul's father left their spouses for one another, only to have Heidi die young of liver cancer. Some family members think Heidi was Bob Williams 'only true love'. 

2. Paul was brought up in Cambridge but lived a short year of his childhood in Princeton where his dad taught Physics….at age 5 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. 
Paul around the time his father left the family for Heidi Sitte. He felt the weight of having to be the responsible one now, even though he fought with his mother bitterly on most issues. He told me of her suicide attempt, with pills, after his father left. 

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 graduated, but he 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.

Paul gave free copies of his first few issues of CRAWDADDY! out to music fans
at the Newport Folk Festival. Here he is watching with zeal, Howlin' Wolf, with Grace Slick
looking over his way. He wasn't on stage here, just a fan standing around the stage, trying to catch an upclose of a great performance. 

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 Holtzman of Elektra Records bought a complete set. Elektra 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 Wolf’s set.

(photos of Janet and Bob Williams courtesy of David Williams)

Monday, August 15, 2016

A Kind Of Intellectual Elation

I met Paul in May of 1992 at a Dylan show at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. I was on a date with a friend of a friend, a nice guy, and I still feel guilty about how I kinda ditched him that night. I knew I'd see friends at the show and I kept making excuses about needing to go to the bathroom or needing a drink from the bar and I'd leave him sitting there waiting for his date to return and Dylan to begin. 

Out in the lobby I did run into folks I knew,  but I was surprised to see my friend Andy Paley, one of Brian Wilson's co-writers and ex-best friends, among them. I was on a big Brian Wilson/Beach Boys music jag at the time. I used to say that it was "informing my new music" and it was ...but mostly Brian's music and life story was a great narcotic for a girl still reeling from a broken New York romance (and lost record deal and lost-stolen car, lost booking agency, manager,...) . The smokey phantasm of Brian's great music lead me down a yellow brick road into an enchanted forrest of weird dreams which included some Beach Boy "visitations"; new friends related to the Beach Boys story (Andy being one of them) and a brand new song-cycle of tunes having nothing to do with the lost New York boyfriend. I still remember zoning out alone, after my VW bus was stolen (and all my belongings as I'd just moved back to San Diego from New York) listening to the Surf's Up CD, the song Feel Flows captures that hazy rapture perfectly, you don't even need the hash pipe.

Along with Andy, Dominic Priore was in the lobby and Wes (John Wesley Harding), and Paul Williams. It was remarkable meeting Paul, I'd just read his old CRAWDADDY! pieces on Brian's SMiLE period. We hit it off right away. I was very happy to talk to another Brian fan and asked him if he'd join me for lunch at Canters the next day. I wanted to ask him a million questions about what it was like smoking pot in the tent at Brian's house back then or what did the SMilE music sound like on those original acetates. 

We met the next day and shared a pastrami on rye and then proceeded to talk through the rest of the day. Paul then invited me to come back to the Dylan show two days later, on May 19th and join him and his wife Donna. It would be Paul's birthday. 

I wouldn't say I fell in love with Paul that day but he made a huge impression on me. It was just such a pleasure to meet and talk with another lover of music and not feel the least bit geeky about it and have it parlay into discussions of Stephen Hawking's theories of black holes and Science Fiction or whatever. It's always a great kick to meet a fellow traveler. 

Later I was to realize that this experience I'd had with Paul, a kind of intellectual elation, was not particular to me, others had had it as his friend or through reading his books and essays.