Gary James' Interview With Crawdaddy Magazine's
Paul Williams knew all the greats of rock 'n roll. As the founder of the 1960's Rock publication, Crawdaddy magazine, Paul met and interviewed people like John and Yoko, and Jim Morrison. In March of this year, (2013), Paul Williams died. He was 64 years old. When this interview was conducted in 1989, Paul was talking about his book: The Map, or Re-discovering Rock And Roll, A Journey.
Q - Let's talk about Jim Morrison, a man who is very much in the news these days. You were on a flight with Jim Morrison, weren't you?
A - Yeah. I was flying to California and Jim said, "I'm going back. Let's go together." So, we did. I hung out with Jim now and then. I was a very early supporter and promoter of The Doors. I did the first stuff about them in a national magazine, Crawdaddy. In this case, he asked me to take the same flight and give us a chance to really talk and get to know each other.
Q - And did you get an insight into what really made Jim Morrison tick?
A - Well, yes and no. I mean, I think I have some sense of what Jim was about, yeah.
Q - Was a lot of it a put on?
A - That's an act in many ways, yes. I mean, I don't know exactly if a put on is the right emphasis on it. But Jim was definitely playing the part of Jim Morrison, which I think he was one of the pioneers in a sense at that particular way of being a rock 'n roll musician or a rock 'n roll star where you kind of take an attitude and live it in a Stanislavsky kind of way, you know? Just throw it around the stage. Throw it around the room when you're in the room. There was a lot of leading with his chin. He was an insecure guy. He was a sex star in a sense, a sex symbol. Probably typical of people who were in that role. He was pretty insecure sexually as far as one-on-one. So, you take that energy instead and project it outward if you have that particular gift I guess.
Q - How did you arrive at the fact that Jim Morrison was sexually insecure? Through talking to him?
A - From women who knew him. Of course, part of his problem was he'd been drinking and doing drugs a lot. The impressions I got from people who were close to him was that he wasn't any sexual dynamo in bed. That's kind of personal, but the point is, that was his image. It's interesting to have that contrast. That can very often happen with a female sex star where your energy really goes out to putting on an appearance to the world. You can be successful if all your attention is on that. Unfortunately, and sometimes this happens, the man was not as interesting as the myth. I don't mean he wasn't an interesting guy. Myth is real important. It plays a big role in our lives. It's obvious for example that the myth of Elvis is strong enough so that all these sort of inside information books on what a dull guy Elvis actually was most of the time, doesn't make any difference. I don't want to be a myth breaker. There is an athletic experience that the fan has when they see Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1956. They catch something from him that they've really experienced. With Morrison, the 'live' performances really were great, at least for a couple of years. They were extraordinary. I think what you get from that is even more real than whoever the person might be backstage.
Q - In talking with Morrison, did you get the impression he would die young?
A - Yeah. After I heard the second album, "Strange Days", before it was released, I was always crazy about "When The Music's Over", especially when they did it 'live', but on the album as well and what I wrote at that time was just that it felt like everybody involved in this record would be in jail in six months. (Laughs). As far as him actually dying, sure. That was not hard to believe if you saw him on stage when he started to let go more and more. He was drinking heavily. I'd see him offstage too. He was a wreck. There was a period there when he was just incredible, just an unbelievable performer. I had never seen rock 'n roll taken to such a level in theater before as Morrison and The Doors on stage in '67. It seemed very possible that he was gonna destroy himself, maybe even sooner than he actually did. In a way, I'd say Jimi Hendrix is more of a tragic figure because you can make a case for him really being trapped. Morrison is more a victim of his own indulgence. In a sense, the same thing with Janis (Joplin). What makes it relevant to all of us is what they became addicted to, us. The nuance and the image we have of them and the sort of impossible love you can feel when you're on stage and you can never deserve. There's no question that a sense of guilt or unworthiness plays a big part in destroying a Jim Morrison or Janis Joplin.
Q - Will the world ever experience the excitement of an Elvis or Beatles again?
A - You know, not necessarily in the sense that we would feel like it was the same or as wonderful. But I think it has to do with the times. The quality of the music can be just as high now, if we go looking for it, if we find what really connects for us, as it was for this sort of time we hold on a pedestal. In a certain sense, we are not likely to see something that we would say is as great as that in our time or in the next decades, if only because we now have this sort of legend to measure everything against. The ground is not fresh in that conceptual sense. I don't think it's necessarily how good the music is, but how great our collective public sense of discovery can be.
Q - In your book, you say "Many of us (Americans in their 30s and 40s) harbor secret or not so secret fears that we are losing touch with Rock. We don't know what's going on." Maybe nothing is going on.
A - Well, perhaps, but that's not what I found out when I checked out the scene. It seems real clear to me that for those who really care passionately about music, there are really great artists out there, both old and new. I'm really very convinced that there is music being made that is every bit as exciting as say what I might have seen in San Francisco in 1966 or 1967. I don't think it's going to set the world on fire in the same way, but that has to do with the world more than the music.
Q - You also say, "There is so much out there (music) if you try to expose yourself to everything, or to like everything your friends want you to like, you'd go nuts." The fact that record companies release so many records isn't helping. Isn't that the part of what's wrong with the rock 'n roll business today?
A - The process is crazy. I don't have a kind of conspiracy view of it. I don't think there are any particular evil forces. I just think they're not very inspiring forces either that move these things around both on the part of the business people and on the part of the public too. By and large, we don't have anything like good radio in most places. They can get in all sort of market reasons for that and they're very real. But, you also have to understand, the public gets what they want and deserve. There's something to be said on both sides.
Q - "I'm bombarded on music television with images of bands playing music to excited audiences and virtually every one of these songs is phony." So why do these types of videos keep getting made?
A - It has to be phony in the sense that the concept of the music video is to accompany something made in the recording studio. So, you get this band playing, but they can't actually play what you are hearing. There's like two or three exceptions out of thousands, where the music video is actually the 'live' performance instead of the studio track. But since the purpose of it is an advertisement to sell what was made in the studio, it goes with the very concept that you only have to pretend to play. (Laughs). It's very hard to break out of that concept unless somebody has the guts to put 'live' music on them, but then that defeats the commercial concept they have created there.
Q - "The Velvet Underground were such amateurs and so were The Beatles." The Beatles, amateurs?! Why do you say that?
A - They were not musicians in the professional model of learning your instruments and having a particular technical kind of fluency. I think throughout their career their whole approach was to dream up new things. McCartney had a lot of musical background and he would make use of it. He had a really great mind for bringing things in. But there really was an amateurish joyfulness and playfulness and sort of willingness to do anything that I think forms virtually all of their records. One of the things that characterizes The Beatles' albums and individual tracks and singles is that they had to think up something new. They wanted to think up something new each time. That was what made it fun. It wasn't thinking up something new in the professional sense, whatever that would mean. "A Hard Day's Night" I think is a reasonable expression of the sort of spirit of horsing around, coming up with something.
Q - "The willingness to change and experiment with music was the beauty of The Beatles." You're not putting them down for that, are you?
A - Oh, no. It's interesting, both Maureen of The Velvet Underground and Ringo of The Beatles, if you talk to drummers, some of them are going to say they are terrible drummers because their ranges so limited. Other drummers who have more of a sophisticated sense of what rock 'n roll is, are going to say these are two of the greatest drummers that there ever were. And they are. What makes them both great is the spirit. It seems like that would mean anything, but it means a tremendous amount. A spirit with which the instrument is played, that the whole of the music is able to unite around. When you look at these great bands, you're gonna find a really unique and somehow dominant rhythm section out of which the rest of the music comes. When you look at music from a professional concept you would say, "I can copy that, anybody can do that" and you imagine the drummer or bass player is basically replaceable and in fact it's my belief it doesn't work that way at all. There's something about the way Ringo play drums that's as important to The Beatles becoming something in the first place. It defies people's formal concept of how music is made.
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