Rock journalist Paul Williams passed away on the evening of March 27th, and it’s taken me a week to come up with the proper words to pay tribute to the man.
I’m very glad to see a wealth of decent obituaries on Paul from major publications, each acknowledging his historic role in creating one of the very first publications to focus on intelligent writing on the subject of rock ‘n’ roll music. As a 17 year old college freshman student at Swarthmore College, Paul published Crawdaddy initially as a mimeographed journal in 1966, which quickly expanded into a highly influential magazine with national distribution.
The magazine inspired a wide variety of likewise-minded publications, and also became a nurturing ground for many contributors that became very successful in different fields within the entertainment industry.
As Paul explained in an interview with Pat Thomas & Christoph Gurk, published at Rockcritics.com, his ventures into the new frontiers of rock journalism were a result of his experiences with science fiction fanzines, “bringing a science fiction fanzine sensibility into rock and roll.”
A writer first and foremost, Paul left the publishing duties of Crawdaddy to focus on his own writing. As fate would have it, a 1975 article Paul wrote about science-fiction writer Philip K. Dick for Rolling Stone magazine led to significant new interest in Dick’s works, which in turn led to Hollywood adaptations of various stories. Four months before the release of “Blade Runner,” the first film adaption, Phillip died from a stroke at the age of 53 years and Paul wound up as the literary executor for the estate. Paul held that role for several years after Phlllip’s death and used that position to get several previously unpublished Philip K. Dick novels into print.
Paul Williams was the author of over 25 books.
It was fate that I would meet him in May of 1992 at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California.
I actually met Paul via his friend and future wife Cindy Lee Berryhill, who I spotted sitting alone in a booth, strumming a guitar. I struck a little conversation with Cindy Lee, who provided me with a great exclusive performance and story connected to the song LOUIE LOUIE. Later on, Paul showed up, and we had a nice little yackfest, comparing notes on Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Jimmy Carter (who I also met that afternoon), and our mutual friend Shasta Bates, a singer-songwriter from my neck of the woods in SF Bay Area.
I found out later that my friend Shasta actually introduced the two of them to each other earlier that week.
Over the years, I managed to keep in touch every now and then, mostly running into Cindy Lee whenever she’d do a show in the SF Bay Area.
Fast forward to June 28th, 2009, and Cindy Lee is in San Francisco, performing at big benefit for her husband. Paul suffered a terrible brain injury from a bicycle accident in 1995. Initially, it didn’t seem such a big deal, as Paul was continuing to write and lecture for the next year or two after the accident, but his health eventually took a turn for the worst, with Paul’s mental condition deteriorating with accelerated dementia. There were serious medical bills to be paid, with no insurance to pay for any of the massive expenses.
There was a great show of support for Paul at this event. John Doe (of X), Jello Biafra (original singer of Dead Kennedys), Debora Iyall (of Romeo Void), Mark Eitzel (of American Music Club) and John Easdale (of Dramarama) performed that night. Mojo Nixon came out of semi-retirement, visiting from San Diego to play his first San Francisco show in over 10 years. Wolfgang’s Vault, the company that purchased the assets of the Crawdaddy empire, was one of the sponsors of the event, paying tribute to the founder of this highly influential publication. Jim Marshall donated a special photographic print of Johnny Cash “flipping the bird,” auctioned off by journalist Ben Fong-Torres and Mojo Nixon.
For Cindy Lee, this event was an opportunity to showcase her new album “Beloved Stranger,” which focused on the heartache of living with a beloved sweetheart whose illness transformed him into a whole other person that was so very different from the man she married.
Cindy Lee Berryhill – Beloved Stranger
A few months later, there was another benefit event for Paul in Napa (north of San Francisco) featuring the “Three Wives” of Paul, featuring Cindy Lee and Paul’s first two wives- Sachiko Kanenobu and Donna Nassar.
It was really a wonderful tribute to a man who was loved with such affection. I was really touched to see this type of love, respect, and great admiration for someone that was such a big part of their lives. This really spoke volumes to me – seeing a current wife and two ex-wives come together for the cause of helping their beloved Paul. Definitely NOT the sort of thing I see happen very often….
Luckily, Paul was eventually accepted into the Medicare system in December 2009, so the biggest financial burden on the family was lifted. Paul was placed in an assisted care facility, which took care of his basic needs.
It certainly hasn’t been easy for Cindy Lee Williams or their son Alexander.
Not long after the release of the “Beloved Stranger” album, Cindy Lee created a blog of the same name, as a means of sharing a journal of their situation.
Last month, Cindy shared a wonderful statement on the essence of Paul, in regards to his connection with fellow writer Theodore Sturgeon:
Paul was a loyal reader of and friend and later a champion of, science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon. He edited most of the Complete Short Stories series and wrote copious story notes. He would also read these stories aloud to me. One of the most memorable was More Than Human, where a commune of people, together form a whole being, a newly evolved mind.
I like to think that Paul was always looking for that way of being. He didn’t do it in a perfect way, as we family members can attest to, and sometimes his idealism didn’t match up with our own personal realities, but he was somehow, always hoping to find a way that the people he loved could live or be alright together as a whole. This could make for a rather complicated and not altogether natural way of handling ‘marital bliss’. But in his way, Paul was striving for a perfection that Sturgeon’s story had alluded to.
The cover of the 1953, 35cent paperback, with a cracked spine and yellowing pages says:
More Than Human,
the provocative story of six people who became-together-a new kind of humanity…..
Somewhere in this world there are six people who -together-can do anything. Some day, perhaps tomorrow, they will put their power to work and world will be transformed. In the meantime they are waiting quietly. They look-often behave-like people you know. But with a difference: they think of themselves as “I”-not “we”-because in a curious way they are One. That is the source of their strength. This is the story of how they met, and what they became…
….and what they intend to do.
A wonderful sentiment that I can certainly get behind.
Rest in peace, Beloved Stranger.
The suffering is over.
With love, tears and deepest sympathy for the family and friends of Paul Williams.
(More video and references after the flip….)
Continue reading RIP: Paul Williams, writer, Crawdaddy publisher