RIFFS 2014
August 11, 2014
Up The Ladder
Robin Williams [1951 - 2014]

I find it extremely hard to be glib with this modern day teletype item, my regal cats and kitties. If there is such a thing as a Latter Day Royal Court of Lord Buckley I am sad to report that one of it’s sweetest princes has taken his untimely leave of us. Robin Williams, whose list of talents, accomplishments and artful inventions staggers we Mortals of Mere, is dead. How can that even be possible? That golden boy, that unconquerable spirit, that crazy and noisy run up the ladder is silent forever. I want to know why it is not one of the countless Governor Slugwell’s of this sphere that got snatched out of line early. Why does a cat with so much gleeful wiggage not want to stay with it all the way to Endsville? It is an answer not to be found I fear.

Journalist Doug Cruickshank has posted his thoughts on Facebook.


That likely would have been Lord Buckley's observation on today's heartbreaker. We interviewed Williams a number of years ago for a documentary film that I'm working on about Buckley. We met him at the office of his then-wife's production company at the Presidio here in San Francisco. He was extremely shy, soft-spoken, didn't make eye contact at first, but loosened up and relaxed as we talked. He was a true Buckley lover and the night before had spent a couple of hours listening to Buckley recordings in preparation for the interview. He was very generous with his time, talking with us for nearly two hours, as I recall. At one point, out of nowhere, he did a dialogue between Lord Buckley and William F. Buckley that was a trenchant and true bit of magic.


Here are a few excerpts from our interview. Present were Doug Cruickshank, Roger Mexico and Michael Monteleone also sound recordist Michael Stocker and camera person John Knupe:


"To see it? It was just amazing to see his face, I mean, to see him. I mean I've only seen stills like, especially the one's where's he like kind of like that. Looking like Dali on speed. And you get that thing - to see him most of the time, you know, everyone of them he was in a tux and tails. And, you know, especially to see him on Sullivan, which is the most bizarre thing. Because you never associate the two together. [RW does an Ed Sullivan impression] Right now..."

"What he was doing, you know, kind of - it's almost like a weird double edge - it's beyond irony because he's doing, you know, white people speaking with black voices - he's a white man doing a black voice but yet, he's making fun of it but yet, it's at that time - the radio show [Amos and Andy] had ended a little earlier which was two white doing the voices. And they now, I think at that point, just had the TV show where I think it was Amos and Andy was on. So, he even called one of the characters 'Crayfish', you know [RW goes into a Amos and Andy voice] Hi, Crayfish [RW back to his own voice] And then every time he wants someone to speak he slaps them and they [goes into an Amos and Andy voices in dialogue] Have you been drinking? My drinking! [cough sound] [back to RW voice] And he keeps banging the hell out of these people and they're very famous people so he's kind of abusing the shit out of them."

"And as you - when I heard him first it was years ago hearing the Hip Gan and maybe it was The Nazz. And then, you know, you heard this weird kind of thing because you, you go wait a minute and the finger-poppin' and all that stuff and it's so musical. I mean it's all, it's like - even some of them he breaks off into full blown riffs like 'zatz a plemimza!' and Studs 'zoooht high ho and walking away!' And you see all that stuff that - the pure jazz of it. And that's what I was just struck by - seeing him live, doing very straight shows but still pushing the envelope. And especially then, 1949? Doing, you know, pretty standard - it's almost like vaudeville but he's putting a little, you know, zetz in it. And then that other show -they had that Club 7 where you start - he almost goes into The Nazz but I think he reads the room isn't that hip so he kind of pulls back. But he's singing 'Oh, when the Saints!' And the place is going, you know, he's doing an evangelist."

"Just the rhythms, the riffs, the fact that it was like, you know, spoken jazz. It was - you know you start off with something like The Nazz, which is basically, you know, a real hip version of, of Jesus. And then you hear something like The Gettysburg Address and you're going - he's doing it word for word but totally in another language. And you kind of pick up on it, it really works it's, you know [does Buckley's voice] 'That all cats are created level in front.' [back to regular voice] It was a great way to think about cats are -everybody's equal, you know. And he puts it out in a way you pick up on it. And it makes you laugh but it hits - it hits home just as well. Just like the same as Marc Antony's address and, you know, To Be or Not To Be. [does Buckley's voice] 'To swing or not to swing - whether to hang - no - that is the hanger. To swing or not to swing that is the hanger.' [regular voice] And you're going, "That's to be or not to be. But somehow works for me!" You know, all of that stuff I was going, 'Wow, this is really fascinating.' "