Sunday, May 10, 2020

Paul Williams wonders how

I've been re-reading a lot of original, on-the-ground music writing from the 1960s lately—Richard Goldstein, Ellen Willis, Ellen Sander, Paul Williams, Lillian Roxon, et al. Late in Outlaw Blues (1969), Williams, in the form of a letter to "Trina," who I assume was Trina Robbins, his girlfriend, muses on the mystery of writing about music, and of expression in the abstract. His tone is characteristically enthusiastic, curious, and essayistic, and if it borders on the futuristic-speculative, in which he'd later indulge, his purpose is clear: how does music do what it does? How in the hell do I do what I do? Timeless stuff, it seems to me.

"I don’t know how I get these things on paper," he marvels. "Thoughts in my mind form words on a page through my fingers; concepts come together and generate ideas, and what can I point to to say, 'I intended that'? The reader himself has no certain idea what goes on as his eyes touch the paper. He receives. I have given. But how?"
How do we get from one place to another? (Now I’m thinking out loud.) Space is conquered by movement. Freedom of movement is granted by lack of restraint. There are things I can move through—water, and air; there are things that detain me, like stone. I cannot walk through fire. How do we get from one‘ place to another? We will ourselves to move through receptive media. 
Then what are our vehicles for? They get us there safer, and faster, retarding our movement in time. We cover more space and less time. What is a vehicle for an image, a concept? Something that carries that concept, from here to there, in space and time; I hear music in New York that was recorded in Oklahoma; I hear it today and tomorrow; the musicians performed it last year. And the music itself is vehicle, just like my words on the page. Pick up a concept, stick it in the music, send it on its way.

Photo of Williams via Rolling Stone

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