War Stories From the Songwriting Battlefield With Paul Williams
Wednesday, March 14, 12:30pm, Austin Convention Center Room 16AB
"I did 48 Tonight Shows. I remember six."
That's pretty exceptional, even by a drunk's standard. And Paul Williams was certainly that.
Strange as it might seem now, Williams was also once borderline omnipresent in Hollywood. Not only did the diminutive entertainer appear in everything from Smokey and the Bandit to the Planet of the Apes franchise, but he was also the songwriter behind such monumental soft rock classics as "We've Only Just Begun" (the Carpenters) and "Evergreen" (Barbra Streisand). He wrote the lyrics to The Love Boat theme and appeared in multiple episodes as a passenger on the Pacific Princess. He has a star on Hollywood Boulevard and an Oscar nomination for penning The Muppet Movie anthem "The Rainbow Connection." He also loved drugs and alcohol.
"In the Seventies, I was doing work I was really proud of, but somewhere I crossed the line from use to abuse to addiction," says Williams. "Twin addictions were running on parallel tracks with me: One was drugs and alcohol and the other was addiction to celebrity. I became better at showing off than showing up. The next thing you know, you've gone from being the center of attention to peeking out the venetian blinds at 3am looking for the tree police because you know they're out there and you haven't slept for two days and nights."
Williams, sober for 22 years this March, is now the subject of the documentary Paul Williams: Still Alive. And while not the chart fixture of the past, the songwriter was paid an enormous compliment by his peers in 2009 when they elected him president of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers. Despite the potential political aspects of that position, Williams is and always will be a songwriter first. He's got the scars to prove it.
"The reason you respond to something is because of what we have in common – our fears, our triumphs, and this full range of human emotion," he opines. "All this shit we write about, we all go through. If you're spectacularly brilliant and different from the rest of the world it makes it a tougher communication than if you're Paulie and you go, 'Ouch, mommy. I need to be held today.' Someone else out there is going, 'I need to be held today, too.'"