Paul Williams, born in 1948, created the first magazine of pop music criticism and rock culture, Crawdaddy!, when he was a seventeen year-old college student. Crawdaddy! created a first home for many of the first wave of music writers, including Jon Landau, Sandy Perlman, and Richard Meltzer, as well as for Paul’s own celebrated critical writing. If ‘rock writing’ has founding fathers, Paul isn’t just one of them – he’s Washington, Jefferson, or Adams. His role in science-fiction fandom and the “zine” revolution also place him as a pivotal figure in the history of pre-internet self-publishing and fan culture.
Beginning with a phone call to his dorm room from Bob Dylan, Crawdaddy! placed Paul at the center of the burgeoning counterculture, involving him with many of the subjects of his writing: Dylan, Jim Morrison, David Crosby, Brian Wilson, Philip K. Dick, Theodore Sturgeon, and many others. Among the many characteristic glimpses of Paul’s “Zelig”-like place in the ‘60’s: in 1968 he served as campaign manager for Timothy Leary’s run for the governorship of California, during which time he and Leary joined John Lennon and Yoko Ono at their Toronto “Bed-in For Peace”. During the overnight visit the song “Come Together” was written, based on Leary’s campaign slogan “Come together, join the party”. Paul’s voice can be heard mixed into the chorus on the original recording of “Give Peace A Chance”. Similarly, on The Doors “Unknown Soldier”, he can be heard locking and loading a rifle. Paul was introduced to marijuana by none other than Brian Wilson, in a tent in Wilson’s living room, while listening to early masters of what would become SMiLE, and he wasn’t only at Woodstock, he rode to the festival from New York City in the Grateful Dead’s limousine. Paul’s books of what he calls “Practical Philosophy”, like Das Energi, and his memoirs of commune living and hippie lifestyle document his immersive style of cultural participation; more so perhaps than any of the other early rock writers, Paul lived inside the new world the music heralded.
Crawdaddy! having been transferred to other editorial hands, Paul’s ‘70’s writing thrived in a variety of ways, including the famous Rolling Stone article on Philip K. Dick that was widely seen – including by Dick himself – as introducing Dick’s writing to a readership outside genre fiction. When Dick died, in 1982, Paul founded the Philip K. Dick Society and edited the society’s newsletter, yet another legendary and collected ‘zine’. In the ‘80’s and 90’s Paul’s music scholarship leapt to another level when he began a sequence of studies of Bob Dylan in performance, eventually in three volumes, with a fourth planned but unfinished: Bob Dylan: Performing Artist. These seminal books did much to legitimize Dylan’s unavailable and bootlegged recordings, many of which were eventually made ‘official’ in Dylan’s recent Bootleg Series. In the outpouring of those decades also came the books of cultural lists, collections of articles on Brian Wilson and Neil Young, and the massive editorial enterprise of The Collected Stories of Theodore Sturgeon.
In 1995, while living with his future wife, the singer Cindy Lee Berryhill, in Encinitas, California, Paul suffered a traumatic brain injury in a spill from his bicycle, and was never completely able to resume his full activities as a writer. The injury likely triggered an early onset of Alzheimer’s disease; some symptoms were immediate, while others revealed themselves in tragic slow motion: fading powers of memory, then of comprension and speech. In 2008, unable to continue caring for Paul while also taking care of their eight year-old son, Cindy began to arrange for Paul to live in managed care outside the home. Like so many freelancers, Paul lived without any structure of institutional support. The burden on Cindy and their 7 year-old son has been immense.
Plans are underway for a benefit music-anthology, and for republication of some of Paul’s books. In the meantime, direct donations, small or large, are urgently needed. The community of Paul’s friends and professional acquaintances is large – the community of those affected by Paul’s writing and his other enterprises – from music fans to Philip K. Dick fans to readers of his other books – is simply immense. Few, until now, have been aware of the urgent need for help. If you count yourself among those learning of Paul’s disability here for the first time, please consider responding with a donation, as others have before you – and as we hope many more will soon choose to do.