Paul Williams was among the first writers to take rock ‘n’ roll seriously as an art form. He preached that gospel in Crawdaddy!, a magazine he co-founded as a college student, and in Outlaw Blues (1969) and other books about Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Beach Boys. And yet, he had other chapters in his life, some light, some dark, including being friends and literary executor to Philip K. Dick. Zack Kopp offers a career-spanning look for PKM.
“A person’s vitality – and I appreciate the humor of myself, a dead man, speaking of such things – is difficult to capture in words. Our friends race through our lives like shooting stars, and when, of an evening’s conversation, we manage to enclose their fire and our own within a few hours and the space of a room, it is a taste of eternity, the true meaning of friendship.”-Paul Williams (1948-2013), quoted in the blog created by his family
Paul Williams, the founder of the pioneering rock ‘n’ roll magazine Crawddady!, died at age 64 on March 27, 2013, from complications related to a 1995 bicycle accident. Blindsided by the early onset Alzheimer’s that was partly the result of his injuries, his wife and son took donations for his care. The generosity of friends and fans allowed Williams as gentle a passage as possible.
Cindy Lee Berryhill, Williams’ widow and anti-folk co-founder, said, “Starting in 2009, I kept an online journal, a blog called Beloved Stranger, about caring for my ailing post-brain-injured spouse. Honestly it kept me sane. I wasn’t able to get out much for years. I had a very young son and then taking care of my husband who was descending into early onset of dementia. A very difficult time, so I wrote about it. It was cathartic and I was able to connect with new and old friends via the writings.”
Williams’s life was dedicated to self-determination and evolution, included intimacy with multiple interesting people and musical and social scenes, and was full of interesting associations with outsiders, some later revered as pioneers of various things, others roundly vilified.
He created Crawdaddy! (named after the first English club to host a show by the Rolling Stones) in 1966, during a brief enrollment at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. As rock music matured, Williams felt the form deserved a critical organ. Said Rolling Stone when it appeared, “[Crawdaddy! is] the first serious publication devoted to rock & roll news and criticism.” Williams went on to write more than two dozen books ranging from rock critique to metaphysics, then resuscitated Crawdaddy! for a latter-day run from 1993 to 2003, at which point he called a halt to production due to financial difficulties (perhaps a prescient move, whatever those difficulties may have been, considering the unexpected expenses occasioned by his hospitalization and care following the aforementioned accident).
As a cultural artifact from the age of print media, you’d think this pioneering venture might have been lost with the advent of stored data, but archivists impressed by the quality of Crawdaddy! have been at work to preserve most or all of the catalog. I was able to locate several sales notices for complete archives of Crawdaddy! online, all of which had already been sold, and an archive covering issues spanning the period from 1975 to 1979, linked here (archive.org). The closest I was able to come to anything satisfactory in the public domain was that compiled by Paste Magazine, with the option to purchase back issues (pastemagazine.com), or the one curated by Rock’s Back Pages going from 1966 to 2000, and there’s a page on Instagram called Crawdaddytv celebrating Williams’ legacy.
As editor in chief, Williams had everything to do with everything one-of-a-kind about Crawdaddy! His recurring column “What Goes On” was the first voice on several landmark rock ‘n’ roll issues. He was probably the first journalist to recognize Jim Morrison as deliberately aiming for godhood with rock theater—“The first show was the unexpected by way of the familiar, anti-climaxing nicely with ‘Light My Fire.’ . . . the second show, opening with “When the Music’s Over,” made the first an introduction. If ‘Horse Latitudes’ had shaken us stem to stern, still we didn’t know how lost we were till Jim spoke, without accompaniment, the Sophocles section of ‘The End.’ And then fell, worshiping some young lady knelt before the stage. And suddenly flew into the air, a leap to make Nureyev proud. And finally swung his microphone on its cord, around his head, toward the audience, more and more violent, prepared to release—everything; and we knew he’d do it. One of us would die. ‘This is the end,’ he sang into the now-frustrated, un-violent microphone, ‘my only friend,’ and Jim was wonderful shrugging his shoulders and letting the boys carry on in ‘Light My Fire.’.” (Williams, Crawdaddy! Sept. 1967)
He wrote a piece entitled “Record Business ‘68” that highlighted the three-way disconnect between bands, their promoters, and fans, calling attention to problem which was only to metastasize: the insidious over-mastering of creativity and fun by marketing and sales imperatives —”There is confusion afoot in the rock music world, a familiar confusion that arises from lack of understanding, lack of communication, and lack of common effort in a common cause. It is not surprising that rock musicians, record company executives, appreciators of the music, and radio station powers-that-be should each hold separate views of what rock music should be. It is not surprising that they have widely different opinions as to what rock music is now. What is perhaps a trifle unnerving is their curious refusal to even so much as consider the fact that they are all in the same boat together; each one clutches the elephant as though he were the only blind man in the world.”
Williams also had the prescience to detect the Beatles impending breakup three years before it became official, at a time later cited by all members as the end of their time as a collective of personalities: “So, after months of contradictions, rumor becomes fact: the Beatles have broken up—they aren’t a group anymore. Each has his separate plans, and they don’t seem even to include group recordings. John and Ringo are involved in films, George in the sitar, and Paul seems very much the American college student, taking a year off to find himself: ‘I’m spending a lot of time alone in the house, just doing things or thinking. I’ve a year to find out what I want to do. It’s very self-indulgent.’ Meanwhile, the Beatles are committed to one more group movie, and at least one album plus the movie soundtrack. And I think we can expect a few surprises.’ (Williams, Crawdaddy! Feb. 1967). Indeed, the Beatles surprised us with a few more arguably great albums after Sgt. Pepper’s, but the unity of form was notably absent, which is good or bad, depending on your viewpoint. Williams can be seen in photos of the circle of journalists invited to John and Yoko’s Bed-in for Peace at Montreal’s Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and his voice can be heard in the chorus of “Give Peace a Chance”.
Williams also arranged for Naked Lunch author and occultist William S. Burroughs to write a regular column for Crawdaddy!, touching on such things as time travel, the nature of beauty, and the fall of art (In June 1975, Burroughs interviewed Led Zeppelin guitar wizard Jimmy Page, then living in Aleister Crowley’s former residence on the shores of Loch Ness, scene of an untold number of magickal rituals and since razed). (Crawdaddy! June 1975, reprinted at endofthegame.net).
Near the beginning of his Outlaw Blues (1969), Williams wrote, “Very few people have the balls to talk about ‘rock and roll’ anymore. Revolver made it difficult. Between the Buttons, Smile and the Doors lp are making it impossible. ‘Pop music’ can only be defined by pointing at a current chart . . . rock has achieved the high standards of mainstream music, but conversely . . . rock has absorbed mainstream music, has become the leader, the arbiter of quality, the music of today. The Doors, Brian Wilson, the Stones are modern music and contemporary ‘jazz’ and ‘classical’ composers must try to measure up.”
Outlaw Blues was published in 1969 containing artistic investigation of many acts of the time, prefiguring Lester Bangs’s Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung by a few decades. The two journalists were in print contemporaneously, but Williams’s style was always more expansive in spirit than Bangs’s comparative regression to power chords, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Outlaw Blues was potentially the first serious book on rock music, including lines like “The Beatles say they’d ‘love to take you home with us’; the Stones aren’t polite but they’ll ‘get you safely to your door.’ What more could you ask?” and “Two words are really significant to Jefferson Airplane’s sound and appeal: complexity and kinetics.”
In the spring of 1967, Williams’ then-girlfriend Trina Robbins, assisted by Bhob Stewart and Art Spiegelman, introduced Williams to the speculative fiction of Philip K. Dick. The two writers met in August 1968 at the 26th World Science Fiction Convention,. Their friendship lasted through the rest of Dick’s life, including the period where he felt a pink laser beam had been fired into his eye revealing the true nature of existence (see the VALIS Trilogy by Philip K. Dick). Williams began working on a profile of Dick for Rolling Stone in 1974 and it appeared in the Nov. 6, 1975 issue headlined, “The True Stories of Philip K. Dick”. The article covered a number of subjects, including the aforementioned pink laser epiphany, and Dick’s drug use (amphetamine addiction and infrequent LSD experimentation) as a factor in his writing, and an influence on his outlook on the nature of reality. For several years after Dick’s death, Williams was his literary executor and used that position to get several of the author’s previously unpublished novels into print. From 1983 to 1992, Williams ran the Philip K. Dick Society, which boasted thousands of members internationally. The society’s range was a significant influence on promotion of Dick’s work internationally.
In 1986, Williams published Only Apparently Real: The World of Philip K. Dick, one of the first biographies of Dick, and is a featured interviewee in three documentaries about Dick: a biographical documentary BBC2 released in 1994 as part of its Arena arts series called Philip K Dick: A Day in the Afterlife, The Gospel According to Philip K. Dick, produced in 2001, and The Penultimate Truth About Philip K. Dick, another biographical documentary film produced in 2007.
The 1960s was a great decade for people who were manipulators of the vulnerable and weak minded. The notion of Divinity’s availability to anyone who claimed it fostered a rise in communes and cults, from the Manson family to Mel Lyman’s Fort Hill Community in Boston. Lyman, described as “casual and real and unresponsive” by one member in this video compilation, was one who claimed to be a manifestation of God’s spirit on Earth, and Williams, who knew Lyman from his years in Boston, stayed at Fort Hill for a few months in 1971. The community set up in Boston’s predominantly Black Roxbury neighborhood by white intellectuals from the Cambridge area moved into several empty apartment houses bordering the park. Relations with the Black neighborhood immediately deteriorated as armed members of the new Fort Hill Community were witnessed patrolling its grounds. Williams was one of these armed guards during the few months he spent on Fort Hill.
He later told Rolling Stone’s David Fenton that he’d had to escape under cover of darkness after being told he would not be allowed to leave, having become convinced they were a dangerous cult who would kill anyone who threatened them. “I said I was leaving the day before and they said I wouldn’t be allowed to. They said they’d be watching me 24 hours a day.”
“The Lyman Family’s Holy Siege of America” by David Fenton appeared in Rolling Stone in Dec. 1971.
Author of 25 books and editor of 17 more, Williams assumed a new role after writing one called Das Energi in 1973, but he was following the same evolutionary directive. As Western society at large began to consider things unseen, he turned his own mind to its reviewing. Guerrilla journalist types might consider him to have gone New Age or be flakey for having written books like Das Energi, Coming, or Energy and Essence, but as Williams summed it up in these lines from poem of his I found online called “Common Sense,” there seemed an imperative to evolve.
Let us serve as models.
And let us vow
to enjoy our work so much
that the hesitant and the fearful will grow jealous
and drop their chains
and run to join the fun.
How to prevent world catastrophe:
1) Admit that it could happen.
2) Decide that it will not happen
3) Commit your vision and energy to number two
without ever forgetting number one.
To choose to build a bridge
is the essential act of love.
. . . and a favorite chorus in most outlaw blues I can think of, from the Rolling Stones’ “Midnight Rambler” to Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Williams was a lifelong Bob Dylan fan, and Dylan’s having won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 for his lyrics makes an appropriate parallel to his own attempts at making rock ‘n’ roll an art deserving of intelligent consideration and review. As he said in Outlaw Blues, “A dream is a portrait. Moving target for the mind. Waking is the shift from one level to another; here to there but not in space or time. This stuff is all important. And the hell of it is, rock really does communicate. It discusses this stuff in its own peculiar ways, and many an idea comes and goes without a conscious thought. Shifting, moving, existing, gone . . . How rock communicates is a mystery to me. Some days I stand in the shower til evening, pushing at songs in my mind.”
Williams married the Japanese pop singer Sachiko Kanenobu in 1972, raising two sons, Kenta and Taiyo. One summer, Philip K. Dick suggested the couple move up to Sonoma, where he was living at the time, and they drove out to visit him. According to Kanenobu, the car they were driving happened to break down right in front of a real estate office, Williams leapt out, ran inside and purchased a house right down the street, where Kanenobu still lives, though the marriage ran its course, and Williams met Berryhill (The Adventurist, Garage Orchestra, others) met in 1992 and married in 1997.
Anti-folk, Berryhill’s banner, is among the new breed of authentic, organic countercultures that included Hammel On Trial, Kimya Dawson and Berryhill in its roster. Some people call it acoustic punk. Paul and Cindy Lee had one son, Alexander Berryhill Williams, and Paul lived with his last family in Encinitas California for several years before catching a traumatic brain injury in a bicycle accident, after which he succumbed to early onset dementia and a steady decline to the point where he required full-time care. A trust fund was set up for Williams’s care, and it lasted as long as he lasted.
Says the multi-talented adventurist Berryhill, who is also an author, currently revising her latest cluster buster while giving guitar lessons online, “Paul’s oldest son, Kenta, was with his father when he passed away. Remarkably an hour before he was gone Kenta got us on FaceTime together and Alexander and I told Paul how much we loved him. I told him how beautiful his books and writings look at the gallery, with the admiring eyes reading his words. I also told him I would help his books and papers and writings find a home.”