April 1, 2013

"Paul Williams, a writer and critic who founded the alternative pop music magazine Crawdaddy,..."

"... one of the first outlets for serious writing about rock music, and whose critical support helped rescue the science fiction author Philip K. Dick from obscurity, died on Wednesday..."
Mr. Williams was a 17-year-old freshman at Swarthmore College when he started his magazine, in 1966. The first issue, mimeographed and stapled together, promised readers a level of critical insight into the emerging rock scene that it said was missing in fan magazines and trade publications. “Crawdaddy will feature neither pin-ups nor news-briefs; the specialty of this magazine is intelligent writing,” Mr. Williams wrote.
Williams was 64 when he died of "early onset dementia... triggered by a traumatic brain injury suffered in a bicycle accident in 1995."

Here's an old interview with Williams. Excerpt:
Pat Thomas:   How did you get the idea? This was really the first rock magazine or fanzine...

Paul Williams:   Well, there were two big influences on me. One was that I'd been a science fiction fan and was used to putting out magazines. When I was 14, I put out my first science fiction fanzine, and there was a whole community of people doing that, and I put that out for a couple years. You know, mimeograph stencils and writing your own magazine seemed normal to me coming out of that world. The other influence was, when I started Crawdaddy! I was at Swathmore College near Philadelphia, I'd grown up in Cambridge and the Boston suburbs, and there was a very active folk scene, and of course there were folk music magazines...

Pat Thomas:   Like Sing Out and Broadside...

Paul Williams:   In Boston there was one called Boston Broadside, which was really great and it came out every week, and that was really a model for me, too. When I turned from being a folk music fan, 'cause I'd been a real Club 47, you know, blues/folk fan, and the Rolling Stones converted me to rock 'n' roll--'cause it was kind of like a passageway from blues to rock. It's interesting, because after resisting the Beatles and kind of liking some of their songs, or even a couple Beach Boys songs, I was still not taking any of it seriously because I was a folk snob. Then I got really excited about Rolling Stones Now! and the single "The Last Time," and the Kinks's "You Really Got Me" and the Beatles's "Ticket to Ride."


CEO-MMP said...

I tend to read by looking at whole lines and whole paragraphs instead of reading each word. Sometimes it produces interesting results, like just now. I thought Mr. Williams died from obscurity.


If I'd only stayed on the adderall--I'd be fine today.

Robert Cook said...

Although I read science fiction and some fantasy growing up--liked Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, hated THE LORD OF THE RINGS, (after having enjoyed THE HOBBIT)--it was Paul Williams who was directly responsible for my reading Philip K. Dick (and my becoming subsequently an obsessed fan of Dick's work). I was away at college for the first time, 20 years old, when Williams' article about Dick appeared in Rolling Stone magazine in the fall of '75. I'd heard of PK Dick but had never read him. Williams' article spurred me to read THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE and then THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH. It was the experience of reading this latter work that sparked my obsession with Dick's work: it was a more dazzling novel than HIGH CASTLE, (a more subtle novel, but masterful), but, more significantly, I came to recognize and become attuned to Dick's "voice" when reading the second novel. Once one learns to know his voice, it becomes compelling and entrancing, (despite some frankly bad writing in patches, a consequence of Dick's rushed writing to meet his financial needs).

I later became a pre-subscriber to Williams' periodic newsletter for THE PHILIP K. DICK SOCIETY, and maintained my subscription through its life.

Williams had a fleeting, non-speaking appearance in the French film BARJO, an adaptation of one of Dick's non-sf novels, CONFESSIONS OF A CRAP ARTIST.

RIP, Paul Williams, your work touched the lives of people who never heard your name.

Mitchell the Bat said...

"Rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read."

-- Frank Zappa

Robert Cook said...

While I can appreciate the humor in Zappa's remark, it is condescending and untrue.

EDH said...

"That's why I think you should just turn around and go back, you know, and be a lawyer or something."

"Honest, unmerciful" = "cruel neutrality"?

Anonymous said...

"Honest, unmerciful" = "cruel neutrality"?

EDH: No. Though I'd say you've put your finger on Althouse's confusion.

Cruel != Unmerciful
Neutrality != Honest

BTW, for those who don't know, "Honest, unmerciful" is from the character based on Lester Bangs, not Paul Williams, both rock journalists.

Nonapod said...

It's strange, I have a natural disdain for "rock journalism" even though I enjoy reading it and I don't have a lot of respect for those who practice it. Mostly I like disagreeing with stuff I guess.

Anonymous said...

Paul Williams... Well, his death has been coming a while.

Williams was one of the best rock writers ever. It was never a snooty critic's pastime for Williams. He cared passionately about the music and took the reader along with him.

You used to be able to find much of his old writing online, but now it's behind the pay wall of something called "rock'sbackpages" which has cornered the market on much old rock writing and charges ridiculous subscription prices ($90 / 3 months).

I know that Williams's family was desperate for cash when they paying to take care of him, so I don't held it against them.

Zach said...

Rescued from obscurity?! Phillip K. Dick was nominated for three Hugo awards, five Nebula awards, and won the John W. Campbell memorial award, the British Science Fiction Association Award, and the Graouilly d'Or.

He was a genre writer who started out right as the pulp magazines were collapsing due to the onset of television. He was poor, but hardly obscure.

Robert Cook said...

Philip K. Dick was obscure until well after his death. He was known in the SF world--but as an eccentric and niche talent, not one of its stars--but the SF world was a small and provincial world before STAR WARS birthed a commercial bonanza for it, (the more juvenile form of it, space opera), and its writers remain relatively unknown and under-recognized even today, a few big names who achieved celebrity notwithstanding, (Asimov, Clarke, Bradbury, Heinlein, LeGuin and a few other strays).

Paul Williams' article in ROLLING STONE in 1975, as well as his work in memorializing Dick's work and salvaging his reputation after his death are considerably to be credited with bringing Dick back into print in nice editions and getting his work before a broader public than he ever enjoyed while alive.

Anonymous said...

Philip K. Dick was obscure until well after his death.

Robert: What are on about here? I can tell you know Williams and Dick, but really.

PKD was still alive when Ridley Scott released Blade Runner based on Dick's novel, "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sleep?" That's what pushed Dick over the top, if any one thing.

Alhtough Dick was not at the Heinlein level of SF success, he was far more than a "niche talent." While he was alive, Ursula LeGuin was talking him up as "our own homegrown Borges."

Williams played his part in bringing PKD to a wider audience, but I'd go with Zach on this one and I'm sure Williams would agree.

Robert Cook said...


BLADERUNNER was a commercial flop on its original release, (which was released a few months after Dick's death, actually), and it bubbled under the pop culture radar for a long while, slowly gaining an audience over time, just as Dick's emergence from relative obscurity to broader readership, fame, and recognition occurred gradually, and almost entirely after his death.

Robert Cook said...

"While he was alive, Ursula LeGuin was talking him up as 'our own homegrown Borges.'"

Dick was always recognized as a special talent by his fellow SF writers; it was the broader SF readership that didn't quite "get" him, as he did not offer the familiar genre thrills most of the SF audience demanded. To the non-SF audience, Dick was entirely unknown during his lifetime, despite encomia by LeGuin and others who praised him extravagantly.

Trivia note: LeGuin and Dick attended Berkely High School at the same time, although neither knew the other while there.

tiger said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tiger said...

"Rock journalism is people who can't write, interviewing people who can't talk, for people who can't read."

-- Frank Zappa

Said by the man who never had any amount of success until he 'dumbed down' his music to write and perform 'Valley Girl'.

Yeah Zappa turned into a real jerk in his later years - although some say he was that way all along.

And as for Paul Williams: yeah this is sad; 65 is too young to die especially when it's caused by something from over 10 years ago. I liked Crawdaddy and read it for 6-7 years. Until I realized that most rock musicians didn't have much to say and what they did was mostly knee-jerk liberalism.

William said...

He died young, and if he had lived ten years longer, he would have outlived rock. Some extraordinary claims were made for rock music. Ragtime, big band, swing, Viennese waltzes have come and gone without changing the world and the nature of its inhabitants. Only rock made this outlandish claim. It was the music of the most narcisstic generation ever, and the narcissists claimed it was the greatest music ever.

Jeff with one 'f' said...

"Only rock made this outlandish claim. It was the music of the most narcisstic generation ever, and the narcissists claimed it was the greatest music ever."

William wins the internet for the day!

Popville said...

If you don't care for the Zappa quote (mean spirited unless directed at Rolling Stone), how about this one which I've long loved?

"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture."

Attributed to a number of folks but most likely coined by Marin Mull or Thelonious Monk.