Remembering Paul Williams [05.19.48-03.27.13]
by Jon Kanis
If you would like to read my feature article on Paul Williams for the San Diego Troubadour magazine you can go to this link here.
What follows below is my eulogy from the memorial in Carlsbad, CA on 04.07.13…
First of all, I want to express my sincere condolences to all of Paul’s family, particularly Cindy Lee and Alexander, Kenta, Taiyo, Eric & Heather and to all of Paul’s friends throughout the world, because there are so many people who were touched by Paul’s incredible zeal and how he expressed the creative principle through his thoughtful and passionate words and actions.
I believe that Paul thought this trip was largely about communication - in order to create communion. One of the thoughts that he committed to paper, and made an example of his life was that: “The only way to enjoy the show, to enjoy life, is to be a participant. Perhaps it’s the people who think they’re spectators who spread the idea that all pleasure must be paid for. Don’t pay for anything - life is free.” Not exactly what you would call the thinking of a free-market capitalist…
I believe that part of the beauty of Paul’s words are that they offer a window into a period of personal and collective history as well as offering a glimpse into the possibilities. The timelessness of Paul’s words are beautiful in that you didn’t have to experience them in his time in order to be enriched by what he put down on the page. His words are an evocation and an invitation of how to see, how to think - of how to simply BE. His words tick off the possibilities and suggest that if you’re willing to take action and responsibility for your personal vision that you can change yourself and, by doing so subsequently change the world. This is what the highest forms of art do. The best art is inspirational and infuses you with the notion that anything is possible, that you can reinvent yourself at ANY moment. So why not now? What are you waiting for? You won’t get a second chance to make the most of this moment. Words can wound and words can heal and words can open doors, move mountains and create universes. Being bold and courageous you can do anything. So, get cracking kid. Over the years those were the types of sentiments I heard Paul express time and again, provocative ideas that could be found throughout all his work but particularly bubbling under in the Billboard Hot 100 in his classic, unclassifiable book Das Energi.
I also believe in the law of magnetism and the principle that “like” does indeed attract “like,” which perhaps accounts for how I found myself on June 9th, 1986 sitting on a couch in University Heights talking about the great, lost Beach Boys album SMiLE with Paul. I came prepared to our get together by bringing a bootleg copy of SMiLE on cassette for Paul and in appreciation for the gift he whipped out his 1979 book Dylan - What Happened? [which contains the glorious subtitle: How and why did Bob Dylan become a born-again Christian?] - signed it and handed it to me. I was only 21 at the time but already a fan of Paul’s work and of the opinion that his writing regarding the mysterious power and spiritual sway of what we call rock and roll is as substantive and significant as the very sounds that inspired him to write in the first place. With Paul you could look him in the eye and know that you had a confidant who held a paradigm-shifting secret that he was dying to share with the world. He was endowed with a compassionate fervor that wanted to hip everyone to the awareness that music could expand your consciousness and had the power heal your soul and affirm the beauty of existence. Read his musings regarding The Rolling Stones song “The Last Time” and you’ll quickly understand how music wasn’t just a pastime or background noise, that it was no less than Existence Itself: “We’re talking holy noise here, sacred writ.” A great 45 rpm record could contain “sex and death and humor and an attitude and a great beat and guitar piano vocal orchestral rock and roll music to die for.” Jeez, no wonder I loved the guy…
A mutual friend introduced us when I happened to have an extra ticket that I passed along to Paul for the inaugural date of a 41-city North American tour by Bob Dylan, who was touring at the time with Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers. I had never seen Bob Dylan before and by the time the week was over I went to hyper-drive by experiencing four spectacular shows with Paul in San Diego, Berkeley and two nights in Costa Mesa. Over the next decade I would see Dylan another 30 times and the frequent post-concert ritual would find me and many other aficionados sharing notes with Paul about which songs were played and how well the evening came off. Most times I witnessed Paul in what seemed to be a state of ecstasy after seeing Dylan play. His enthusiasm was absolutely contagious and I came to share his conviction that apart from his talents as a writer that Bob Dylan was one of the greatest singers in the history of popular music.
Paul was a spiritual brother in every sense of the word. While it was music, music, music that brought us together I also learned a great deal about Zen philosophy, astrology and the Book Of Changes, the I Ching from Paul. He was the first person I ever saw throw a hexagram when grappling with the uncertainty about how to handle a particular problem. He was an old school hippie, a wise magician, a science-fiction geek with nerd glasses and he knew how to use words as a divination tool. You ended up hearing music differently after Paul’s sensibilities had zig-zagged through your skull and astonishing pictures could emerge from the previously unconnected dots that Paul’s prose drew together, turning your mirror maze of a mind into a cultural playground as profound as the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel.
Once in awhile I would get a postcard from Paul when he was out in the world traveling. One card dated March 13th, 1995, sent from Prague reads: “Totally in love with this city - 5 days not enough! Wallet stolen but I don’t care - Dylan reinventing self by putting down his guitar - he always surprises! Love, Paul”
I was hanging out with Paul the night that we heard Nico had passed away from a freakish bike accident in Ibiza in July of 1988. Paul got extremely upset by the news and slammed his fists into his into his knees crying out “No! No!” and fired off a few choice expletives to express his anger and sadness. That visceral response was exactly how I felt when I received the news around Paul’s own bicycle accident in April 1995 and after visiting Paul in the hospital a couple of weeks after the accident with Cindy Lee I was stunned by how quickly things change on a dime. I am grateful for the generosity of Paul’s spirit and that I was privileged to bear witness to many of the times that his generosity bore fruit by putting his love out into the world. He is definitely missed and yet his ideas will be perpetually with us and I am delighted that we got to share a little bit of space and time in this lifetime and I look to meeting up again in the next. Thanks Paul for making a difference in the world. There isn’t a better way to make use of this slice of eternity that each one of us has.