Tournament of Books 2015

Wednesday, March 6th, 2002


Back to the Miracle Factory: Rock Etc. 1990s


The Critic Who Writes Like a Fan

A review by Adrienne Miller

Paul Williams -- not the tiny and ubiquitous '70s presence who wrote the songs "The Rainbow Connection" and "Evergreen," by the way, but the music critic and founder in 1966 of Crawdaddy!, "the first U.S. rock magazine" -- writes about music in a most refreshing way: like a fan. While he's neither as scholarly as Todd Gitlin nor as insane as Lester Bangs nor as lucid as Greil Marcus, Williams is a critic to contend with. He does what few other critics dare to do: He writes about his emotional response to the art. He writes honestly, and from the heart. The man loves music, just loves it, and his enthusiasm is infectious. He tenderly describes a Bob Dylan album as "gorgeous rich heartfelt splatter." He listens to music, we learn, because he needs "the nourishment" and tries to be open to "that which I have not yet heard, from any voices new or old as long as they're sincere and awake...I need to feed and renew my own vision." Sincere and awake -- how wonderful.

The essays here are so charmingly good-hearted, in fact, and uncynical, that they sometimes seem a little bit shocking. Here's Williams's take on contemporary music: "...but all the while the music keeps coming, extraordinary natural resource, the record companies can't believe their luck, turn around and there's some new kid or bunch of kids with a new sound, new vision, new open channel to the source, the magic." Statements such as these actually made me wonder, uncynically, if maybe the stuff record companies churn out isn't entirely corporate-produced bullshit. Sincere, awake. That's a wonder.

Adrienne Miller is Esquire's literary editor.

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