Music writer Paul Williams died Wednesday of complications from a 1995 bicycle crash. Williams was 64 years old and died among family in Encinitas. Williams wrote for Rolling Stone, published dozens of books... but most importantly Williams was the founder of Crawdaddy! -- a vanguard rock music magazine that predated Rolling Stone by nearly 2 years.
Chris Ziegler is co-founder of L.A. Record, the award winning Los Angeles music magazine. For him, Paul Williams was a role model. He even interviewed Williams twice, as he told Off-Ramp producer Kevin Ferguson.
The Boston born Williams was just 17 years old when he founded Crawdaddy!, he wrote the magazine out of his Philadelphia dorm room. "I don't know if he invented, but he really put out there this sort of impressionistic but also very serious, artistic rock writing," said Ziegler. "When you see a really heartfelt, considered, serious reaction to a piece of popular music, that's probably coming from what Paul Williams started."
Among the myriad books penned to Williams' names were four volumes of works about Bob Dylan, and an essay called "Understanding Dylan." Ziegler argues the essay is probably the William's greatest work. Here's an excerpt:
Perhaps the favorite indoor sport in America today is discussing, worshiping, disparaging and above all interpreting Bob Dylan. According to legend, young Zimmerman came out of the West, grabbed a guitar, changed his name and decided to be Woody Guthrie. Five years later he had somehow become Elvis Presley (or maybe William Shakespeare); he had sold out, plugged in his feet and was rumored to live in a perpetual high (achieved be smoking rolled-up pages of Newsweek magazine). Today, we stand of the eve of his first published book (Tarantula) and the morning after his most recent and fully realized LP (Blonde on Blonde), there is but one question remaining to fog our freshly minted minds: what in hell is really going on here?
I have gone into this background only because there continues to be so much useless misunderstanding, so much talk about "folk-rock," so much discussion of the "old Dylan" and the "new Dylan." Util you, as a listener, can hear music instead of categories, you cannot appreciate what you are hearing. As long as people persist in believing that Dylan would be playing his new songs on a folk guitar instead of with a band, except that recording with a band brings him more money, they will fail to realize that his a creator, not a puppet, and a creator who now reached musical maturity. Dylan is doing his songs now the way he wants to do them. He is a bard who has found his lyre, no more, no less; and if you're interested in what he's saying, you mus listen to him on his own terms.
Williams was known for more than rock writing though--he sang on the recording session for John Lennon's "Give Peace a Chance" and was an early champion of novelist Phillip K. Dick. In Rolling Stone, Williams penned a 1975 profile on the author. "He basically says [Phillip K. Dick] is the most consistently brilliant science fiction writers of his time," said Ziegler. "But he was saying it to an audience that wasn't necessarily a science fiction audience." He'd later become Dick's literary executor.
Paul William's wife, musician Cindy Lee Berryhill, stated on Facebook that Williams died with his son by his side. "It was a gentle and peaceful passing," she said.