Tonight is the 2014 Grammy Awards and I’m waiting to see if Daft Punk’s “Random Access Memories” wins for Album of the Year. Yes, Daft Punk defines E.D.M. (electronic dance music for those of you with no idea what those initials mean) but it’s who they collaborated with that makes their nomination even more special to me.
To say I was a “band geek” is an understatement. I started piano lessons when I was three and learned the trumpet in fourth grade. My friends and I pored over new music at Lou Lange’s Music Bar, our local record store, and tried to replicate what we loved. Despite being from a small town in the deserts of California, we attended clinics with jazz greats Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, Buddy Rich and Louis Bellson.
Then came Paul Williams. He and his songs were everywhere.
- “Just an Old Fashioned Love song” with Three Dog Night, a song he’d casually put together in twenty minutes.
- Helen Reddy’s “You and Me Against the World”
- David Bowie’s “Fill Your Heart”
- “Evergreen” with Barbra Streisand brought him an Academy Award and a Grammy
- “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “Rainy Days and Mondays” sung by The Carpenters
- “The Rainbow Connection” with Kermit the Frog,
- The Muppet Christmas Carol
- The film score for Bugsy Malone
- He was in Smokey and the Bandit and on Johnny Carson
- He has an Oscar, two Grammys, two Golden Globe awards and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame
But to my friends and I, it was “Phantom of the Paradise” that won our hearts. A Brian de Palma film that became a cult classic, it follows the story of Swan, owner of Death Records, who has sold his soul for rock n’ roll. He steals the music of composer Winslow to use when he opens his club, The Paradise. Winslow becomes “The Phantom” to wreak revenge on Swan, who is played by Paul Williams. The music was written by Williams, who received a Golden Globe nomination for the score.
We went to see this movie numerous times until we knew it all by heart.
The music and lyrics stayed with me.
All souls last forever
So we need never fear goodbye
A kiss when I must go…
We kiss hello
“The Hell of It”
Born defeated, died in vain
Super-destructive, you were hooked on pain
Though your music lingers on
All of us are glad you’re gone
If I could live my life half as worthlessly as you
I’m convinced that I’d wind up burning too.
Love yourself as you loved no other
Be no man’s fool and be no man’s brother
We’re all born to die alone, you know, that’s the hell of it.
Life’s a game where they’re bound to beat you
And time’s a trick it can turn to cheat you
And we only waste it anyway,
And that’s the hell of it.
Little did I know that Daft Punk’s founders, Guy-Man De Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, met at ages 12 and 13 and the one movie they saw together more than twenty times was Phantom of the Paradise.
De Homem-Christo says “Touch” is the core of their Grammy nominated record and the memories of the other tracks revolve around it. “Touch” is written and performed by Paul Williams and is the most complex piece on Random Access Memories, featuring over 250 elements. For those who are Phantom fans, it will evoke the scene where Swan’s character attempts to assist Winslow to speak again after his throat is destroyed in a freak accident with a record press. Swan fiddles with electronic controls until, finally, Winslow’s voice reappears from a box he wears around his neck. The beginning of “Touch” is an homage to when Winslow’s voice is gradually restored.
Paul Williams, now age 73, was the subject of the recent documentary “Paul Williams Still Alive” and is currently writing lyrics for the stage production of Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labrynth. He is the President of ASCAP and Chairman of the 450,000+ member organization, advocating for copyright rights. Sober for 24 years, he is currently working on a book Gratitude and Trust: Recovery is Not Just for Addicts.
And tonight, I hope he and Daft Punk win. Let’s dream it never ends.
To listen to the Phantom of the Paradise album: http://www.allmusic.com/album/phantom-of-the-paradise-mw0000312654