Sifting through second-hand paperbacks at a musty bookstore on the Upper West Side I stumbled upon Das Energi, a hippie-spiritual classic from 1974 that I’d heard my friend’s parents talk about when they would reminiscence about times when music was political and LSD was legal. It was one of those popular books that everyone eventually forgot about as the decade passed and the peace and love mentality of that generation faded into the 80s.
Usually these kinds of “Feel the world, heal the world” narratives can be hard to get through, mostly because they are repetitive and almost always vague, but this one struck a somewhat different note. Paul Williams manages to weave lyrical prose with hard slang into a strong and thoughtfully structured manifesto, a mantra for a new way of living life. The structure of Das Energi follows suit, each page as varied as the voice. Some pages are run-on paragraphs, set in a conversational tone Williams asks an obscure “you” why fear is so potent, why we choose to ignore the metaphysical implications of our existence. Others are only a line, something short and thoughtful to be repeated over and over again. Though he traverses a number of topics, from guiltless sex to our obsession with efficiency to the potency of religion, the one line he refers back to constantly is: “You are God”. Williams seems to believe that worshipping a separate and nonhuman entity is pointless and detracts from the self-evolution and discovery that is necessary to contribute to the energy flow of the world.
In some ways Williams came very close to sounding like the stoned middle-aged gypsies you might bump into at Burning Man while waiting in line for beer, but it is his stylistic voice that separates him from the ‘wishy washy’ aspects of spiritual culture that mainstream society can’t seem to handle. He has a very forceful approach to his doctrine and often ends up sounding much more like Karl Marx than Gandhi. His constant reference to “shedding old skin”, “setting yourself free” and of “not seeking but finding” are dispersed between urgent didactic lines like “Here and now, boys. Or else spend infinite future fighting quarrels of endless past.” He pushes forward the importance of responsibility and even outlines three self-made laws of the economics of energy. Admittedly Williams’ inconsistency in writing is sometimes shaky—it is harder to sink into a piece that chooses not to commit to any tone or mood—but he is nevertheless an earnest and often charismatic writer with enough skill to pull off a book that could have been excruciating. His words are familiar the way an old jazz tune at a coffee store is; you know the basic melody but the vocal riffs and trumpet solo always take you buy surprise.
–Michelle Ling, Art Editor