Oscar-winning songwriter Paul Williams happy to be back in spotlight with ‘Still Alive’
Best known for winning an Academy Award for writing the song “Evergreen” for the 1976 film A Star is Born and for the song “Rainbow Connection,” which Kermit the Frog sings in The Muppet Movie, singer/songwriter Paul Williams has never lost his passion for the craft that made him a cultural icon in the 70s.
In the new documentary, Paul Williams: Still Alive, Williams looks back on his career as director Stephen Kessler explores the impact he had on the entertainment during that era and why nearly 40 years later he is still inspiring people with his lyrical talent.
Paul William: Still Alive was recently nominated by the Broadcast Film Critics Association for Best Song for “Still Alive,” which Williams wrote specifically for the documentary. The song was also put on the shortlist for a possible Academy Award nomination this week.
Paul Williams: Still Alive can currently be seen on YouTube Movies.
What were your initial thoughts about making documentary on your career?
I didn’t know for sure if I really wanted to do it. It had been a really long time since I considered being back in the public eye. I didn’t think there was anything more pathetic than some little old man saying, “Please film me! Please let me be famous for two more minutes!” That’s not who I am. For years, I was such a little media whore. If there was a couch and a camera, you would see me there.
So, was it about fame and staying in the public eye back then?
Songwriting has always been my art form and my life. It’s what always got me into the parties. When I did The Tonight Show (with Johnny Carson) the first time everybody started treating me differently. It was like I was a big shot. I think I developed an addiction to the attention. But then my addiction to drugs and alcohol came. I got better at showing off than showing up. After I got sober I asked myself, “Do I really want to go back to that world?”
I was very moved by your new song “Still Alive.” One of the lyrics is “If you’re lucky, when it’s over/The dreamer’s still alive.” After 40 years in the film and music industry, do you still consider yourself a dreamer?
I think everything we do in our lives that is productive probably begins with a dream. I don’t think I’ve changed that much in the last 22 years. I think my dreams are happily still alive. At first I didn’t like the title of the movie, Paul Williams: Still Alive because I still have a little ego left, but I realized I am alive and connected to the world in ways I have never been.
I know you were elected President of ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) back in 2009. So, I’m wondering, do you get a royalty every time someone sings “Rainbow Connection?”
Oh, absolutely. That’s what ASCAP does. There are two ways to make money with your music: if someone buys a CD or downloads the song, money goes to the writer, the publishers, and the record company. Then there’s the performance part of it where you’re paid if you’re song is performed or played on the radio. If you have a bar or a grill or a radio station and you pay for an ASCAP license, you can play as much of our music as you want. ASCAP has 450,000 members.
There have been so many musicians who have covered that particular song. Are there any renditions that you especially like?
There have been some great recordings of it. I’ve done duets of that song with Willie Nelson and Jason Mraz that I really love. I loved the Sarah McLachlan record. Willie Nelson recorded it alone as well. It’s been recorded by everyone from Me First and the Gimme Gimmies to the Dixie Chicks. The best part about being a songwriter is what I like to refer to as “heart payments.” A heart payment is when someone comes up to me and says something like, “My little boy is learning how to play the piano and is learning how to play ‘Rainbow Connection’ or my mom was a single mom and you wrote a song called ‘You and Me Against the World’ that is a really important song to us.” I mean, I love the fact the money can put my kids through school and put gas in the car, but the most important payment for a songwriter my age are those heart payments.
I have a one year old that is addicted to Yo Gabba Gabba, so I hear you sing “Rainbow Connection” at least once a day since you made a cameo on the show a few years ago.
See, that’s what I’m talking about! What you just gave me right now was a heart payment. That is one of my favorite things ever. I’m going to go downstairs and tell my wife about this. One time, I was in a restaurant and there was a woman with her baby who was about two years old and when I walked by them the baby pointed to me and said, “Gabba.” I’ve got a whole new fan base!