In Memory of Paul Williams

Paul Williams died yesterday, aged 64.  I don’t expect this means anything to most people who visit this blog, but you should honour his memory for various reasons.

paul williams

In the wider realm of popular culture, you should honour him as the founding father of rock journalism.  The magazine he founded as a 17-year-old college student in 1966, Crawdaddy!, was the first publication to focus on serious writing about the then-new music.  It launched the career of writers such as Jon Landau (who went on to become Bruce Springsteen’s manager), Sandy Pearlman, and Richard Meltzer.  It was the inspiration for subsequent magazines, notably Rolling Stone.  Paul wrote many books about music, and particularly about Bob Dylan.

As an sf reader, which I assume you probably are, you should honour him as one of the two principal figures who kept the name of Philip K. Dick alive in the decades following his death.  Paul was a close friend of Dick’s, and his 1975 Rolling Stone article “The True Stories of Philip K. Dick” was the most significant piece of writing about him published during his lifetime.  (It later formed the basis of a book, Only Apparently Real, which was in turn the first book about Dick.)  When Dick died in 1982, Paul was named his Literary Executor, and he worked tirelessly in conjunction with Dick’s long-time literary agent Russ Galen (the other hero of this story) to keep his name alive.  Paul founded and ran the Philip K. Dick Society, which attracted hundreds of members in scores of countries.  The small publishing company he ran together with David Hartwell published Dick’s novel Confessions of a Crap Artist – the first time any of Dick’s non-sf novels from the 1950s saw the light of day.

Dick’s reputation is now so secure that it’s hard to remember that it wasn’t always so, particularly – perhaps – in the USA.  (He was generally better served by publishers in France and the UK.)  It was Paul’s and Russ’s work which transformed the situation.  When you read one of the many Gollancz editions of Philip K. Dick it is worth remembering that they are there in part because of their efforts.

He was equally enthusiastic about the work of Theodore Sturgeon, and edited the twelve-volume edition of Sturgeon’s short stories which will be appearing as SF Gateway eBooks during 2013 and 2014.

Tragically, all this work came to a halt after 1995, the year he suffered a traumatic brain injury aged just 47 in a bicycle accident.  The injury led to early-onset Alzheimer’s, and his last few years passed in a sad twilight.  He was a tremendous enthusiast, pursuing his passions with energy and determination, and that’s how he should be remembered.