Today, two very famous faceless Frenchmen and the most unlikely of stars from Omaha, Nebraska who turned his back on fame. All three, masters of the disappearing act.
“I love that they choose to be anonymous. I am deeply respectful of somebody who expresses their craft and their art without the hunger for the public attention. They disconnect who they are to allow you to experience what they create.” Paul Williams
Here is the last known photo of the two recluses.
“We are not craving to be known. If we don’t have this or that we are fine. You have to be self-content. The art is the first and only priority. We don’t have to rush things.” Thomas Bangalter
On the first listening of Daft Punk’s excellent new album, before I knew anything about the singer, this song stood out. I was tempted to write about the song Giorgio, which features a spoken word recording from Italian record producer and electronica pioneer Giorgio Moroder, but after hearing Touch again, I knew I had to write about this one.
It´s always good to have a back story to the song, so I was pleased when a friend asked if I knew who Paul Williams was? I didn’t. Or I didn’t think I did. It turns out a lot of people don’t. Well if you don’t know him, you probably do know him. You just don’t know it yet. We’re coming to that. By the way he´s still alive.
“Ultimately what I do is… I hear words in music… Sometimes I write words down to music and a lot of times I’ll write words to other people’s music… and it’s a journey of pure surprise for me, because I never know what I’m going to hear.”
Who doesn´t know We´ve Only Just Begun, Rainy Days and Mondays, Bowie’s cover version of Fill Your Heart on Hunky Dory, Three Dog Night’s An Old Fashioned Love Song or Helen Reddy´s You and Me Against the World? He also wrote the lyrics to the standard Evergreen, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Song.
Oh and he wrote the Rainbow Connection for Kermit the Frog and many other songs for The Muppets movies! Not to mention the Bugsy Malone soundtrack.
As if that wasn´t enough, he’s also an actor and director. You might remember him as the little blonde haired fella from Smokey and the Bandit. I think you’re getting the picture, but he’s been on a bit of a journey since then. A one time fame hungry, drug addled star, he’s long since turned his back on both those addictions and up till recently, like the notoriously shy Daft Punk, has shunned the limelight.
“My life changed intensely 23 years ago when I got sober, and at that point slowly but surely I began to realise that every day is a gift, and I hope that’s in that song… There is that sense of wonder in that song and beyond… Because this is a life beyond life for me. I’ve buried a lot of friends from addiction through the years, and to all of a sudden have a life that is… an elegant chain of surprise… There´s an elegance and a grace to what they’ve created… and I think it’s an interesting parallel for how I feel about my life in general, and I think that’s why I find that 9 minute journey of touch, it’s very emotional for me and I hope it will be for other people.”
There was a documentary made about him in 2012. Here’s a link to the trailer…
“All I know is that when he had everything he was miserable, and now he has a lot less, he’s pretty happy.” Stephen Kessler, the director
I’m just about to watch it. I’ll add a little more here afterwards. From watching an interview with Paul and the director it appears as though he’s fulfilled that old William Blake maxim: the road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
“They’re two of the greatest innovators in popular music and we’re as excited to hear what they are doing as we are about David Bowie.” Chris Price talking about Daft Punk
“I think they’re as enigmatic and pioneering as Kraftwerk… They drop out and disappear and their fan base grows.” Dave Clarke of the Soma Label who discovered them 20 years ago.
Like Kraftwerk before them, Daft Punk take on the appearance of robots.
“There’s a bit of a connection based on my conversations with these two gentlemen of a film called Phantom of the Paradise where I think the sense of he mask and working behind the mask may have been born.” Paul Williams
“It covered everything we liked when we were teenagers: horror, rock, musicals, glam… Listening to Led Zeppelin songs backwards, watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre on VHS and getting KISS and David Bowie albums. It synthesised all of these elements.”
Daft Punk weren’t your everyday electronica collective. At first, they started out as a band called Darlin’ , named after The Beach Boys single above.
The liner notes to the first Daft Punk album would include this tribute to Brian Wilson.“In Brian Wilson’s music you could really feel the beauty—it was very spiritual. Like Bob Marley, too.” The Rolling Stones were also an early influence. When Darlin’ disbanded in the early 90s, Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo were left to experiment and went in a house/synthpop direction.
In 1993, the duo presented a demo of their electronic music experiments to DJ Stuart Macmillan at a rave at EuroDisney. The contents of the cassette were released in 1994 on a Scottish Techno and House label, which had been co-founded by Macmillan’s band. They went back to the studio to record Da Funk in the meantime. The popularity of their singles started a bidding war between record labels and they were eventually signed to Virgin Records in 1996.
“Many record companies offered us deals. They came from everywhere, but we decided to wait—partly because we didn’t want to lose control of what we had created. We turned down many record companies. We weren’t interested in the money, so we turned down labels that were looking for more control than we were willing to give up. In reality, we’re more like partners with Virgin.” Bangalter
With the current culture of talent shows that feed us pale imitation cover versions of classics or not-so-classics, with closely coached singers with so-called “good” voices, it´s nice to see that there are still some music makers with credibility. In my opinion these talent shows are ruining the chance for new music to develop. The pity is that maybe some of these kids would have something more to offer rather than a flash-in-the-pan hit, once the judges have found that elusive ‘x- factor’, only for these wannabees to disappear the next year, when the Simon Cowells of this world will find another pawn to make a cheap buck for the label. The way things have gone, the charts are all about image and marketing these days. The golden age of good pop music seems a long time ago. I don’t watch these shows, but it’s hard to avoid them, and it’s also hard to listen to the chart music that has spawned from their influence. Rant over. 🙂
“We’ve got much more control than money. You can’t get everything. We live in a society where money is what people want, so they can’t get the control. We chose. Control is freedom. People say we’re control freaks, but control is controlling your destiny without controlling other people. We’re not trying to manipulate other people, just controlling what we do ourselves. Controlling what we do is being free. People should stop thinking that an artist that controls what he does is a bad thing. A lot of artists today are just victims, not having control, and they’re not free. And that’s pathetic. If you start being dependent on money, then money has to reach a point to fit your expenses.” Bangalter
Funny how the artists who are most in control of their own destiny are the ones who are coming up with arguably the best music this year. Makes you wonder…
On the other hand you’ve got to hand it to Virgin and Richard Branson for trusting artists and letting them do their own thing. It´s worked out for him too. His first project was to take a risk on a 19-year-old Mike Oldfield who was doing something with music that no one had done before, when other record companies wouldn’t touch him with the proverbial 10 foot pole. More of that please…
Spike Jonze who directed the Da Funk music video said of the duo:
“They were doing everything based on how they wanted to do it. As opposed to, ‘oh we got signed to this record company, we gotta use their plan.’ They wanted to make sure they never had to do anything that would make them feel bummed on making music.”
Their debut Homework was released in 1997 and contained the hits Da Funk and Around the World, which made a mark worldwide thanks in part to the distinctive videos directed by Jonze and fellow Frenchman Michel Gondry respectively. Both reached number 1 on the US Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play singles charts.
The album was named Homework because of “the fact that we made the record at home, very cheaply, very quickly, and spontaneously, trying to do cool stuff.”
Their next album, Discovery would propel them to even greater fame, and critical acclaim, but most people couldn´t pick them out of a line up unless they were wearing their robot suits.
Human After All followed and was met with mixed reviews. Afterwards they created the score for Tron: Legacy collaborating with Joseph Trapanese who arranged and orchestrated their tracks.
This year, 2013, Daft Punk signed with Sony, and one week ago, May 21st, their new album Random Access Memories, which had been five years in the making, was finally released. It’s a bit of a masterpiece. It harkens back to the days of those epic classic albums. It’s full of collaborations. You can read the Guardian review here.
“The music that’s being done today has lost its magic and its poetry because it’s rooted in everyday life and is highly technological,” Thomas says with a sorrowful expression. “Then you have this classic repertoire of great music that feels like it’s coming from this other, timeless place. We wanted to say that these classic albums that were ambitious in scope don’t just belong to the past.”
Now, back to the man in question, Paul Williams.
Their website released a series of videos featuring each of the people they worked with. Here´s the one on Paul Williams. Check out the other videos after listening to the album.
A little more from Williams (extracts taken from the video):
“For guys that are famous for techno pop… this is elegant beautiful composition, and it touched me…”
“The first thing we talked about was about “who am I writing for? and what we talked about was an unidentified first person. In other words, we don´t know if this is an alien, if this is some creature waking up, coming out of a coma, experiencing life for the first time, and we never really identified who that person was.”
“For me, listening to myself at that moment, I feel I sound so vulnerable; I sound so little, you know? And I’ve spent my whole life trying to be big… and what I think is the prettiest that I’ve ever sounded is when I’m allowing myself to be honest and vulnerable.”
So, all that’s left is for you to enjoy the song. It really is, as Williams says, a gorgeous melody; cinematic; a real emotional rollercoaster… and the words aren`t half bad either.
“Hold on. If love is the answer you’re home.”
Touch, I remember touch
Pictures came with touch
A painter in my mind
Tell me what you see
A tourist in a dream
A visitor it seems
A half-forgotten song
Where do I belong?
Tell me what you see
I need something more
Kiss, suddenly alive
Hunger like a storm
How do I begin?
A room within a room
A door behind a door
Touch, where do you lead?
I need something more
Tell me what you see
I need something more
If love is the answer you’re home.
Touch, sweet touch
You’ve given me too much to feel
You’ve almost convinced me I’m real
I need something more
I need something… more