Q: What are you doing in San Diego?
A: The quick answer is, I fell in love with a woman who lives here. And one good thing about being a writer is, you can do your work anywhere, as long as there's a copy store nearby and a three-prong outlet for the computer.
The longer answer is that I was born with California in my blood, even though I spent my first 17 years in the suburbs of Boston. My dad is from Palo Alto. He met my Brooklyn mom at Los Alamos, working on the atomic bomb. So I made my way from Cambridge to New York City to Mendocino to New York again to Glen Ellen, 18 years in the wine country, and now here I am on the outskirts of Greater Tijuana, ready for the 21st Century.
I like Encinitas because it’s on the edge of the wilderness, the Pacific Ocean. Every service imaginable to 20th-century humans is available a mile inland, but where I live it still manages to be a funky little town full of surfers and musicians and people who aren't in too much of a hurry. So I can ride my bicycle to the post office. I don’t mind driving to the supermarket, but riding my bike to the P.O. is very important to me.
Q: Now Mr. Williams, I’m going to make a request of you that I’m fairly sure would provoke a hostile response if you were talking to any other interviewer. Would you tell us some stories about some of the people you met and the scenes and activities you were part of back in the 1960s?
A: I’d rather talk about the American bankers and stockbrokers (and their political and media puppets) and the sucker game they’re running right now on the Mexican people and on the poor in Orange County (your neighborhood next). Except that I honestly feel that no one wants to hear it, which is depressing. Why are we nostalgic for a time when people tried to find out the truth and do something about what was going on, but we resist following the same course now, this decade, this present moment?
Q: Mr. Williams, your blood pressure.
As My blood pressure’s fine. It’s the times, and the citizens of the times. We’re moral idiots. And it’s going to cost us. It does every time. But you want me to tell stories. My friend Ray Mungo, a Southern Californian himself these years (Palm Desert), pegged it at the time. He lifted three words from a Bob Dylan lyric and wrote a book about his ’60s escapades, published in 1969, called Famous Long Ago.
Oh, okay. I’ll try.
Q: Why did you start a rock and roll magazine?
A: Partly just because it had never been done before. I was 17 and heavily influenced and inspired by the two scenes that I’d found to hang out in during my teen years, science fiction fandom and the Cambridge, Massachusetts, folk music thing. Science fiction fans are readers who get involved in a conversation with each other and soon become more interested in the conversation than in the SF stories that brought them together in the first place. They (we) invented the word “fanzine.”
I used to publish a science fiction fanzine when I was 14 and 15, so I knew that the freedom of the press belongs to anyone who owns a typewriter and can cut a stencil and has access to a mimeograph. Actually, 1 put out four or five issues of an independent newspaper/magazine on the school ditto machine when 1 was 9 or 10, so I was always headed in this direction.
I put out my own 'zine, and I read an article in a friend’s ’zine by Jim Warren, publisher of Help! and Famous Monsters of Filmland, about how to become a magazine publisher. He told his own story and got across to me the idea that what you needed was to find an audience that had a keen interest in something that was not yet being covered in a professional magazine and go forth and fill the niche.
So anyway, then I discovered girls and Dave Van Ronk and Howlin’ Wolf and didn’t publish or read any fanzines for a while. I heard Skip James perform in the Club 47. I was a few feet away from him. Got into Bob Dylan and saw him in concert in ’63. And I read a biweekly magazine published in Cambridge called Boston Broadside, which told you who was playing at the coffeehouses and profiled the artists and had a great funny column by Peter Stampfel, who made it possible for a prep school teen to feel hip just by reading and digging him.
And the Rolling Stones converted me to rock and roll (Beach Boys and Beatles had been tempting me too, but the Stones and the Kinks convinced me and made it all right), and Sonny Boy Williamson died and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band came to town. I was at the 47 all three nights. And then off to my freshman year of college, and I missed the scene, got to hanging at the college radio station instead. Had a weekly blues show in the evening and also a rock and roll program one morning a week; and since it was 1965 and there was so much great stuff to play, we usually cut classes and kept the station on the air till noon (it was scheduled to go off at 8:30). And I’m getting more and more into these British bands like the Yardbirds and hitchhiking to New York (from Philadelphia, I was going to Swarthmore) to see the Blues Project, and I’m a Stones fanatic by this point (later the same year), of course. And 1 started thinking that if there were folk music magazines, why not a rock and roll magazine?
I thought I’d call it Crawdaddy! after the club in London where the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds got their start. It was intersession, January 1966, and I said “Fuck it” and hitched to New York and slept on the floor in a friend’s room and went to a couple of record companies and listened to records they gave me and typed. And that weekend I went to another friend’s place in Brooklyn (these were both science fiction connections; one guy later became editor of Heavy Metal and Amazing; the other became one of the leading science fiction book editors of the last few decades) and ran off 500 copies of my ten-page magazine of rock and roll record reviews, the forerunner of Rolling Stone, etc.