Tag Archives: Music

Paul Williams, Legendary ’70s Songwriter and ‘Muppets’ Guest-Star, is ‘Still Alive’

Paul Williams

Paul Williams

Legendary singer-songwriter/television guest-star Paul Williams received two Emmy nominations for his work on a Muppets special a couple years back. When he went to the awards ceremony, he received an interesting greeting from an old showbiz acquaintance.

“All of a sudden, Tom Hanks got up and he came over, and he went, ‘Oh my God! You’re still alive!” Williams tells Spinner with a laugh.

Hanks isn’t the only one who thought that Williams, the man behind classics like the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” Three Dog Night’s “Old Fashioned Love Song,” the “Love Boat” theme and Kermit the Frog’s “The Rainbow Connection,” was spending more time pushing up daisies than contemplating rainbows these days. Filmmaker Stephen Kessler had just assumed his childhood idol had long since passed away until he stumbled on some amazing news while searching the Internet one night: Paul Williams was alive and well — and still famous in Manitoba.

After a brief correspondence, Kessler traveled to an event in Winnipeg to meet the singer and convince him to star in the documentary that would become Paul Williams: Still Alive, which just enjoyed its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.

“There was something about Paul, because of the way I connected to him on TV, that made me want to do a film about him,” says Kessler.

Williams was far less excited about the idea. After willingly stepping away from the spotlight to take care of his addictions (to alcohol and fame) and build a better life for himself and his family, the last thing he wanted to do was tempt any long-dormant demons.

“I said to Steve at the beginning there’s something really pathetic about some little old man with his cup saying, ‘Please sir, can I have some more fame?'” Williams explains.

Even the process of filming the documentary felt wrong to him, and reminded him too much of his old life as the attention-happy talk show guest who was on The Tonight Show 48 times.

“There’s something about pretending the camera wasn’t there that felt so Old World to me. An alcoholic can abstain from alcohol. Cocaine addicts can abstain from cocaine. I think at one point, I had a deep hunger, and it was for the camera being on me. I was like the food addict who was now playing with a little bit of something that was highly addictive in my life, so it’s an odd feeling, for me, to be a participant in this.”

Eventually, Williams convinced Kessler to join him in front of the camera to make the whole process feel less artificial. That was when Paul Williams: Still Alive started to take shape. Any notion of a straightforward, where-are-they-now profile piece gave way to a rich exploration of hero worship, the creative process, and a man who who finally found what he was looking for when he turned his back on fame.

Even though Williams is out of the spotlight, he still remains extremely active in the music community. In addition to his work as an addiction advocate, he’s also President of The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) and continues to work on his own material.

He doesn’t listen to as much music as he used to, because he finds it impossible to do so without wanting to write some of his own, but he does enjoy current artists like Jason Mraz and Daft Punk. He played a duet of “The Rainbow Connection” with Mraz, and is now working on something with the French dance cyborgs. He’s also excited about the recently released Green Album, which features covers of songs that he wrote for The Muppets by artists like Weezer, Sondre Lerche and the Fray.

“It’s a chance for a young audience to rediscover work that I’m really proud of,” he says. “I love it. I’m a huge fan of My Morning Jacket, and I’m discovering some new acts, some really talented people.”

When he wants to calm his creative urges, he turns to reality crime shows. “‘The First 48’ is my favourite show on television. It’s as far away from the glitz of showbiz as you can get, solving two murders,” he laughs.

What he’s most proud of right now, though, is his brand new song that plays over the credits to “Still Alive,” a celebration of the peace and happiness that he has found. “I feel better about the song I’ve written for this movie than anything I’ve done in a long, long time. I think I finally wrote the song about my life.”

“I put it on the end of the film and it’s so great that he could have the last word in his own voice with his own music,” says Kessler. “It really adds something to the film.”

Williams is so proud of it that he’s a little worried people won’t get to hear his tale of self-discovery properly if they enjoy the film too much.

“I hope people don’t applaud through the credits at the end of the movie and then miss the song. Which would actually be an amazing comment on all of this. You feel like you do your best work and it disappears in applause? I don’t want the applause; I want you to listen!”

This story was originally published September 14, 2011 via Spinner AOL.

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The Weather Station & Jennifer Castle Collaboration Featured On Polaris Podcast EP 20

Polaris Podcast EP7 was live from Ottawa.

The 20th episode of the Polaris Podcast focused on a recent Polaris Collaboration Session between past nominees The Weather Station and Jennifer Castle.

The acts record two songs — The Weather Station’s “I Tried to Wear the World (feat. Jennifer Castle)” and Jennifer Castle’s “Midas Touch (feat. The Weather Station).” They’re available on streaming services and will become a Record Store Day Canada promotional item in 2019.

This and other Polaris Podcast episodes can be found on iTunes, Google Play or Spotify.

Or, to make it easy, you can listen to it right here:

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Smashing Pumpkins Play Supposed Farewell Toronto Show

Smashing Pumpkins

Smashing Pumpkins

By uncompromisingly kicking-off this small venue gig with the 10-minute epic “Glass And The Ghost Children,” Billy Corgan and his Smashing Pumpkins crew set the tone for the rest of the night — they may be a huge rock band, but they’re still going to do whatever the hell they want to, when they want to and how they want to.

Regardless, two-plus hours of music and 20-some songs (considering the last third of the show deteriorated into a noodling session of cover songs and medleys) the Smashing Pumpkins proved they were not only ace rockers, but also ace facilitators of what could be described as a drunken goth-rock parody of a Promise Keepers convention.

Whether it was through pummeling the crowd with a sped up “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” or through the irony-fist-pump posturing of “Heavy Metal Machine,” it was obviously Lord Billy could do no wrong this night. It also would seem that we were witnessing the next step in Billy Corgan’s evolution from angsty grunge god to a mellower Buddha rock god, if you’ve got the comic book sensibilities to follow.

Corgan’s profuse bowing to the audience, “god blesses” and such would seem crass coming from someone of his elevated status if he hadn’t seemed so damn genuine when he was doing them. And it was ultimately this genuine affection which helped ensure the Pumpkins got over this night. The actual show was somewhat spotty, what with the aforementioned noodle-jam off going on between Corgan and fellow guitarist James Iha and the Pumpkins’ collective slavish devotion to meddle and alter their songs.

“Zero” was viciously rendered, but “Cherub Rock” seemed to be one of the few songs where the Pumpkins acted like they were just going through the motions.

Perhaps the highlight of the night came when Corgan performed a solo acoustic cover of Rush’s “Limelight.” All I’ll say about that one is that when you think about it, it’s shocking how many people know all the words to the average Rush song.

When Iha did a twisted take on Them’s “Gloria” instead as “Canada.” (“C-A-N/A-D-A/Cannnn-ada”), the crowd were more than happy to take the bait, not in small part because it gave them an excuse to shout their catcall flatteries to new bassist Melissa Auf Der Maur.

Much less the foil-for-the-frontperson she was in Hole, Auf Der Maur still managed to blow a few kisses and throw out the goat horns on multiple occasions.

Much less flattering however was what could be called the “Tribute To Howlin’ Wolf Set To The Tune Of Crawling King Snake.” This probably represented the musical low-point for the evening, despite the fact a sizable segment of the audience were actually howling along with Corgan when he’d “HOOOWWWLLL!!” into the mic.

Still, despite whatever low-lights there were, for any devotee of the Pumpkins, this was undoubtedly a night of music bliss. They pulled out old classics like “I Am One” and blistered through new tunes like “The Everlasting Gaze.” And the bonus outpouring of affection from Corgan to the audience proved that love is truly all you need.

This story was originally published March 22, 2000 via Chart Communications

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Samaritan News 10 Pack: Metallica, Hayden And More

Metallica

Metallica

My contributions to the charitably-minded entertainment site Samaritanmag continue. Here are some pieces I wrote in the summer:

City And Colour, Barenaked Ladies Headline Hayden’s Fifth Dream Serenade Charity Concert

Third Annual Autism Rocks LA Concert Aims To Raise Autism Awareness

PETA Wants Aretha Franklin’s Fur Coat Collection for Repurposing Campaign

Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, Steve Earle, Graham Nash Tour To Support Refugees

Donate To Metallica’s Charity, Earn Chance To See All Their Shows

Danforth Strong GoFundMe Page Established for Shooting Victims

England Players Have Been Donating World Cup And Related Tournament Fees To Charity Since 2007

Xavier Rudd and Emmanuel Jal Release Song to Spread Love

Rae Sremmurd Use New “Guatemala” Video To Support Country After Deadly Volcano Eruption

Metallica Donate Polar Prize Proceeds To Three Charities

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Polaris Podcast EP 19 Salutes Jeremy Dutcher

Polaris Podcast EP7 was live from Ottawa.

Episode 19 of the Polaris Podcast was all about honouring 2018 winner of the Polaris Music Prize, Jeremy Dutcher.

In an in-depth interview Dutcher told us all about his prize-winning album Wolastoqiyik Lintuwakonawa and the reasons why he made it. We also spoke to Matt Carter, the Polaris juror tasked with arguing on behalf of the album.

This and other Polaris Podcast episodes can be found on iTunes, Google Play or Spotify.

Or, to make it easy, you can listen to it right here:

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Polaris Podcast EP 18 Takes On 10 2018 Short List Albums

Polaris Podcast EP7 was live from Ottawa.

For episode 18 of the Polaris Podcast we got jurors Ian Steaman, Laura Stanley and Marc-André Mongrain to go deep on the ten albums that made the 2018 Polaris Music Prize Short List.

These jurors talked about what they liked about these records, what they didn’t like, and which album they thought would win.

This and other Polaris Podcast episodes can be found on iTunes, Google Play or Spotify.

Or, to make it easy, you can listen to it right here:

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The Circus That Was The Strokes

The Strokes' Is This It

The Strokes’ Is This It

If you happened to be sauntering around Queen West yesterday in search of new pants or maybe some fancy boots, you’d have surely noticed the untold amount of Sloan Pretty Together posters stapled to, literally, every post along Queen between John and Spadina. If you didn’t know there was a new Sloan record coming out before yesterday, you sure as hell know now. You may have also noticed the ridiculous line-up of people trying to get into the Horseshoe.

That Sloan were getting some street-marketing love from their new label BMG Canada isn’t shocking. But what was interesting was how it represented just a small part in an elaborate plan that would pay off most effectively around 12:30 a.m. later that evening as The Strokes triumphantly strode off the stage from their free show at the Horseshoe Tavern.

The invasion of the much-hyped Strokes proved an excellent opportunity for piggy-backing. Along with aforementioned New Yorkers, their label BMG Canada coyly set up an early evening showcase with Copyright. The catch, if you wanted to get a “privileged” ticket to guarantee admission to The Strokes, you had to go to the Copyright showcase at the Rivoli to pick up said ticket. It was a sly move for sure and it seemed to pay dividends as the plied-with-free-liquor insiders gave Tom Anselmi and crew surprisingly hearty round of cheers, though more mean-spirited colleagues of ours took great pleasure in deriding bass player Eric Marxsen’s Archie Bunker rock ‘n’ roll look.

And then it was off to the madhouse… It was a mighty surreal sight to behold a line-up to get into the Horseshoe that stretched well past The Rivoli and was three or four people wide. Clearly, a lot of folks were going to be sent home unhappy but the optics of such a ridiculous display must have been pure gold in The Strokes’ camp.

Shortly after the ‘Shoe doors were flung open and the kids with dollar bills between their teeth dutifully attacked the merch table, troubadour Pete Yorn took to the stage. He started off on the right foot with a cover of The Smiths’ “Panic” — an effective move considering the crowd of hipsters and anglophiles in attendance — but lost much of that initial steam when the weight of the inane chatter filling the club rendered him mute.

Around this time the celeb spotting began in earnest. There was Patrick Pentland from Sloan, some members of Treble Charger, Copyright, Robin Black and his ubiquitous posse of spandex casualties, hip-hopish upstart K-OS, Neil Leyton, members of Wayne Omaha and Maximum RNB and no doubt a whole bunch of others that we didn’t see just because it was too damn packed to actually move.

For the more disgruntled types, pretty much every high-profile music reporter in the city was hovering around as well, including reps from the Toronto Star, Toronto Sun, Eye, Now, local radio and Much as well as no less than 10 different Chart writers. All it would have taken was one well-timed machine gun attack and there’d be no more scathing condemnations of Big Wreck, Big Sugar, Our Lady Peace, The Watchmen or any of the other usual suspects we rock reporter types use as fodder for our elaborately constructed punchlines.

And speaking of punchlines, let us discuss The Moldy Peaches’ wardrobe. We’ll start with Adam Green, the skinny acid-casualty of a singer whose range of facial expressions ranged from vacant to, um, vacant. For one, guys wearing hats like that need to be shoved in lockers, and two, what the hell was that gossamer poncho get-up? Really? We’ve got to start a whole new paragraph for Green’s singing companion Kimya Dawson. Looking like a cruel experiment between an understudy for Cats and too many cheeseburgers, Dawson was somewhat more entertaining, though the cat-calls of “Get off the fucking stage!” were getting hurled at her and her band with regularity.

At least they played their anthem “Who’s Got The Crack” quite well, though few of the stern, and by this time sardine-packed, audience members picked up on the wonderful singalong possibilities of chanting “Who-woo-woo’s got the crack?” over and over. Opportunities lost, children.

From there it was on to The Strokes. The band were clearly on the top of their game as they ran through virtually every song from their Is This It album. Though the record isn’t even officially out yet in Canada, MP3s and a fortuitously early Australian release of the album meant a substantial number of the multi- hundred jammed into the ‘Shoe knew songs like “Hard To Explain” and “Someday” intimately.

Considering the stodgy and downright prickishly cold nature of most Toronto audiences, the zeal that bordered on fanaticism in support for the band was a sight to behold. It’s rare that the icy reserves of such a collection of know-it-alls and too-cool-for-schools would be broken down so effectively, but that’s because The Strokes showed and proved all of their advance billing. The band’s rock ‘n’ roll swagger made every machination, line-up and invasion of personal space moot.

Commence your “I saw them when” stories now.

This story was originally published October 3, 2001 via Chart Communications

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