Paul Williams and Tracey Jackson at Barnes & Noble

This past Thursday evening my girlfriend Michele and I were at the Barnes & Noble on 82nd & Broadway in Manhattan. Singer, songwriter & actor Paul Williams and author & screenwriter Tracey Jackson were at the store to do a reading, Q& A and signing of their new book Gratitude & Trust: Six Affirmations That Will Change Your Life.

Photo courtesy of George Baier IV and www.vanityfair.com
Photo courtesy of George Baier IV and http://www.vanityfair.com

Michele and I are both fans of Paul Williams. He is an amazing songwriter and singer.  I am not ashamed to say that, yes, I do have a fondness for sappy, sad, wistful love songs.  Williams has penned many memorable tunes of that sort.  I always seem to get at least a little misty-eyed whenever I hear Kermit the Frog singing “The Rainbow Connection,” co-written by Williams and Kenneth Ascher, for which they deservedly earned Ocsar nominations.  More recently, Williams collaborated with Daft Punk on their Grammy-winning album Random Access Memories.

Williams also starred in, and wrote the music for, the superb cult classic movie Phantom of the Paradise which I’ve blogged about previously (here’s a link). Among his other acting credits that I’ve enjoyed were his portrayal of Virgil the scientist/philosopher orangutan from Battle for the Planet of the Apes, appearing as himself on The Odd Couple and The Muppet Show, voicing The Penguin on Batman: The Animated Series, and playing an animated version of himself on Dexter’s Laboratory.  I’m probably forgetting a few other good ones.

For a number of years Williams struggled with alcohol & drug addiction. He has been sober since March 15, 1990.  Since then, he has been active in the recovery movement, working as a Certified Drug Rehabilitation Counselor.

Author Tracey Jackson is, on the other hand, not an addict, at least as far as substances such as booze or pills are concerned. But for many years she found herself trapped in a pattern of repeating a variety of self-destructive behaviors to compensate for and avoid dealing with her unhappiness.

I enjoyed hearing Williams and Jackson reading from Gratitude & Trust, and listening to their Q & A. I had a great deal of identification with both of them, and I felt they offered very helpful suggestions for people who are in recovery.

Photo courtesy of www.gratitudeandtrust.com
Photo courtesy of http://www.gratitudeandtrust.com

It is true that you do not have to abuse alcohol or drugs to be an addict. And once you put down those substances you can still end up not having a sober mindset if you merely substitute your addition to those for other things.  Even if you do not have a problem with mind-altering substances, there is so much out there to become addicted to: food, money, shopping, sex, work, gambling, fame, anger, the Internet, etc.  And, yes, that includes comic books and caffeine, I acknowledge with a definite self-awareness!

I do not know if it is a quality of Western society or of humanity in general, but we often cope with unhappiness and dissatisfaction via outside remedies or distractions. We seek material possessions and the validation of others over addressing the defects of character that lie within us.  Instead of addressing our flaws and working to put behind us the traumas of our pasts, we look for ways to get out of our heads.  It is actually understandable, because it is far easier, at least in the short term, to grab hold of something that will give us momentary satisfaction, than to commence at the hard, unflinchingly honest work that is necessary to address our underlying unhappiness.

Perhaps there is also that impetus of self-reliance, the myth of pulling yourself up by your boot-straps, at play, upon which much of Western society is rooted. We are more likely to try to solve problems on our own than to turn to others for assistance, seeing that as a sign of weakness.  But often there are tasks and struggles we cannot overcome without the help or advice of others.

And then there is the issue of God. I can definitely understand why many people recoil at that word, and at the thought of praying to some nebulous deity for strength & assistance.  There are so many examples of organized religions acting in an imperious, oppressive manner throughout the world, movements and organizations rife with hypocrisy & corruption, so much so that we often wish to slam the door on God.  But it is a fact that some people do find great comfort in their faith.  I am a firm believer in the vital importance of individual spirituality.  What works for me may not work for you.  Each person should be free to work on developing their relationship with the Higher Power of their understanding.

Williams and Jackson definitely address these concepts within Gratitude & Trust. The book is their attempt to take the principals of recovery that have been utilized by alcoholics & drug addicts over the decades and demonstrate how these can also be utilized by others to improve their lives, to find serenity and peace of mind.  I certainly applaud their efforts.  I’m looking forward to reading their book.  Hopefully I’ll be able to put these suggestions into practice into my own life.

Photo by Michele Witchipoo
Photo by Michele Witchipoo

So, yes, it was definitely very cool meeting Paul Williams at Barnes & Noble. I’m afraid that I was terribly nervous, and I forgot to tell him how much I was a fan of his acting & music throughout the decades.  But I did let him know that I appreciated that he and Tracey Jackson penned this volume.  I hope he heard me, since I was probably mumbling a bit!

Anyway, I think that Gratitude & Trust is worth a look. Considering how many of us attempt to look for relief in a bottle of whiskey or a pint of Ben & Jerry’s or a shopping spree at Macy’s or whatever your particular vice is, this book offers a more constructive alternative to the very difficult task of living life on life’s terms.

Robert L. Washington III: 1964 – 2012

The comic book biz is one of those fields that, to outside fans, often appears to be a glamorous occupation.  But sometimes a case will occur that serves as a reminder that, like any other industry or occupation, it is filled with its share of hardship & tragedy.  Such is the case of Robert L. Washington III, who passed away on June 7 at the age of 47.

Washington was not an especially prolific writer, and his career in the comic book field was confined to the 1990s.  But during that brief time period, he made a significant impact.  With co-writer Dwayne McDuffie and artist John Paul Leon, he created Static for Milestone Media, which was published through DC Comics.  Washington would write 18 issues of Static.  Among his other credits were The Batman Chronicles and Extreme Justice for DC, as well as Ninjak for Valiant Comics.

Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool trade paperback

I first became familiar with Static when it was adapted into the very enjoyable animated series Static Shock, which debuted in 2000 and ran for four seasons.  Several years later, the first four issues of Static (along with a later miniseries) were collected in a trade paperback, Static Shock: Rebirth of the Cool.  I bought that, and found it a great read.  It is a real shame that DC did not publish any subsequent volumes.  I’ve been meaning for some time to track down the back issues of Static, but it is something I never got around to.

Washington also wrote a two part tale in 1995 for Valiant Comics’ entertaining Timewalker series.  Timewalker featured the immortal Ivar Anni-Pada, a millennia-old being who traveled back and forth in time via portals called “time arcs,” having all manner of adventures.  Washington’s story “Ashes of the Past” appeared in Timewalker #12-13.  Ivar arrives in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, where he attempts to prevent the lynching of an African American teenager who has been accused of assaulting a white woman.  In contrast to many of the stories in the Timewalker series, it was a very serious, somber tale.  Ivar, despite all his powers, is unable to stop a great tragedy from unfolding.

timewalker 12

The story by Washington that has really stood out in my mind all these years was an emotional two part Firestorm piece “Storm’s Clearing” that appeared in the DC anthology series Showcase ’96.  “Storm’s Clearing” addressed the alcoholism of Ronnie Raymond, as he enters a treatment center to deal with his addiction.  It was a very serious and adult look at the problems of substance abuse.  The unconventional artwork by Randy DuBurke added to the story’s impact.  Years later there were elements to it that I would look back on and identify with when dealing with certain of my own personal problems.

Following the severe downturn of the comic book industry in the late-1990s, Washington found himself out of work.  According to Comic Book Resources, he was able to obtain employment in such odd jobs as a call center and a warehouse.  Tragically, Washington found himself homeless on several occasions, and was forced to rely on financial assistance from the charitable Hero Initiative.  Washington was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens after suffering a heart attack on June 6, and passed away the next day.

For me, the story of Robert L. Washington III serves as a cautionary tale of the comic book industry.  Despite being a talented writer who had co-created Static, a groundbreaking character who went on to star in a very successful animated series, Washington was reduced to very dire circumstances before passing away at much too young an age.  And there just seem to be too many stories like Washington’s, of creators who worked for DC or Marvel or Archie, only to then be left bereft, their creations taken out of their hands, the profits they generated falling into the pockets of corporate owners.  In a better, more just & fair world, Washington would still be alive, and writing a new Static Shock series for DC.  But that was not to be.

Showase 96 7 pg 24

After Washington’s death, I could not help but bitterly muse that all too often the mainstream comic book industry has taken its best & brightest creators, chewed them up, and spit them out.  Although an extreme example, Washington is just the latest occurrence of a comic book professional falling by the wayside while the corporate machinery of the big companies continues to chug onward.

Other individuals wiser than myself have looked at Washington’s unfortunate plight and taken from it the lesson that those who would enter the comic book biz should have a back-up plan, some other career or occupation to fall back on.  I certainly hope the young creators of today will take this advice to heart.  Perhaps then in the future we will have fewer tragedies such as that which befell Robert L. Washington III.