Dear Dr. Guy


"About the wistfulness, 'fraid I can't help you there. They's a whole lot of it going around.”

– GNW, August 26, 2003

I should write about my former Favorite Living Writer, Guy Neal Williams. After all, he made me want to write better, and not just because he was so much more fluid with words than anyone I’d read. I’ve often made reference to My Beloved English Language, but I suspect Guy was sleeping with the mother tongue. But one never asks a gentleman—nor a rogue—whom he’s entertaining, just on the chance that one might be courting the same idiom.

It’s just past 11pm, and this is the hour when most writing would begin. Usually emails. I've just spent the past thirty minutes reading emails that won’t have any further replies, and I’m already missing the exchange that was scatological, profane, and still funnier than it should be after a few years. Man is frail, and his body will fade, but his words will live forever on the internet, so long as we have electricity. Who said that? I don’t know. Third base. How can you textually compete with a former journalist who knew more stories than most men have hours in their lives? With a man who would wake up at 5am and read with the book six inches from his face because his eyes were failing, just like his hearing was diminishing, which made it difficult to have a successful conversation with him in any way other than via email? What hope do you have with a man who kept an enormous book of etymology three feet from his bed, which was ten feet from a boxing bag? Jump in and start putting words together, I guessed. Writing with Guy was a game of one-upmanship, a lyrical drag race trying to show off who had the fastest funny car and the dirtiest turn of phrase. I was beaten every time, I say with no shame. Guy was an undefeated master of the written word, and I loved to read him. Somewhere, there's a book he’d written... somewhere. It might be finished, if we’re all very fortunate, but considering the way the world is today, it’s likely nowhere near ready for publication. I asked Guy about it over the years, and he said it’s the only book he’d ever write, and it wouldn’t be published until he had left the planet. I could have waited a long, long time, Mr. Weeyums, for that provision to be realized.


We went to Mexico City together. Ten million laughs, very little Español spoken, and so many photographs of what we saw. He was a very visual person, and despite his deteriorating eyesight he saw the world very clearly. We visited Museo de la Casa del Poeta Ramón López Velarde, which was possibly the most peculiar thing we could have hoped to see in all of Mexico City. He was fascinated by its strangeness: dark rooms, a secret passage, weird angles, and a death bed (“NO TOCAR”) seemed like the sort of thing we should expect on an adventure, and that was only the first day. We also watched Chuck Prophet record an album in a converted bank safe, gazed upon the Avenue of the Dead, ate cheap, succulent tamales, and heard two kids sing a convincing "And I Love Her" with a battered acoustic one night on Avenida Álvaro Obregón. And everywhere we went, Guy’s deep baritone resonated with talk of life, love, madness, and memory. And it continued all the way out of the country. Have you ever had the Pillars of Quakerism explained to you as you raced through Benito Juárez International Airport with a man on a cane? Even the flight back was typical Guy: the H1N1 swine flu pandemic was hitting Mexico City about the time we arrived, and we were practically the only passengers without blue masks on as the plane flew out of Mexico. Midway through the flight, we started coughing violently and laughing hysterically, two lunatics getting worried glares from all sides. We looked over the photos I’d taken, and one struck him more than any other. It was a shot taken from a car weaving through Mexico City traffic of a young couple leaning against a wall, a stolen moment of sweet love in a dirty place, and Guy was delighted that I’d been able to get the picture. Parting ways with him in Atlanta was hard, even exhausted as we both were. But we met again not too long afterwards. 


I was once an overnight guest at 729 Polo, a night filled with dinner at The Hat, then a long evening in his dining room, creating music to his words, both of us making it up on the spot. We spent the next few days in Cabin No. 9 at Hanging Rock, one of his favorite places on Earth, as he told me more than a few times that week. More music. More talking. More madness. No tv, no wifi, no phone signal. Just the two of us and a couple of guitars and books and magazines and a camera. Katie took us on a photo expedition to an actual Bridge to Nowhere, then to a house that Nature was patiently converting to its own image. We also explored the ruins of the Piedmont Springs Hotel, ninety years gone at that point, but stubbornly refusing to let the woods bury its stones. And we cooked in Cabin No. 9, on pans that the Salvation Army had rejected, dinners that would top each other every night, until finally food seemed like the worst idea ever, but let’s eat anyway. Every night, a long conversation that ricocheted from one subject to another, loosely connected by keywords that touched off another story, another memory, another historical fact, another remarkable find in the mines. Conventional conversation was difficult, with his hearing shot and my fast speaking cadence, so rather than have him say “beg pardon?” every other time I opened my mouth, I just let him speak. I recorded our last evening: a 102-minute discourse on family and Jesus and gravedigging and newspapers and ice skates and whatever connects them all until 2:30am.


We flew to Winnipeg soon after, with a fabricated mission to film Chuck Prophet at the Winnipeg Folk Festival. Guy and I tromped around the festival site with our Press Credentials, photographing everyone and hearing fine music all over the place. We even opened for Chuck at The StuDome, presenting ourselves as The Delta Doctors to to a group of sweet, slightly-bewildered Canadians who had paid good money to see a good performer, so who were these strange Americans opening the show? A couple of nights ago, I watched the video for the first time since we performed, and I laughed a lot at the sight of us. I played guitar as Guy and I made up a twenty-minute routine about The Blues, jumping into a song he extemporized called “Egging the Bus for Jesus”, which was loosely based on a 2003 tour where Bruce Springsteen bypassed Winnipeg for the 7000th time in a row, and our pal Stu was swept up in a crazy joke gone internet-viral. I don’t know how many people in our audience knew what Guy was singing/bellowing about, but they somehow bought the idea that I was a music anthropologist from Dartmouth and Guy was from Folsom City. I was asked about our class syllabi after our show, and I was surprised at how much Guy and I had gotten away with, just winging it with honest faces and fast talking. Someone else asked how we came by the opening slot at a Chuck Prophet show, and I joked, “I made a bet that I could play a show with a half-deaf person. I lost.” Truth is, I won. Mr. Weeyums was larger than life, but only from far away. Up close, he was a dear friend, engaging and kind, and he would have a lot of well-measured obscenities to say if he read words like that written about him. I loved him for that, and for everything else.


One of my most favorite things I’ve ever made was written with Guy. We concocted a 10-part series on the 2008 presidential election, entitled “The Shiner Spencer Report”. It was published on brink.com, a site that is no longer Brink Magazine. Regretfully, I don’t think the pages are anywhere on the web now. I have the original documents, written from the perspectives of a gay, black, Ivy League conservative and a washed-up white liberal, both reporting from varying locales on a strange presidential race that was as ridiculous to us as our commentary on it. I researched as much for those Reports as any term paper I’d written, possibly more. I wanted to get the facts right before we made fun of them, but Guy always came at it from an angle I could never anticipate. It always fit, and we laughed and laughed, then were not much surprised when Obama won. After all, we’d written that ending.


I composed about a dozen songs to Guy’s words. I'd send them to him after he’d send words, but I never heard a thing about them. I didn’t ask. If they were any good, I figured I’d hear about them at some point. If they weren’t good, I wasn’t worried. I’d never been adept at writing songs to other people’s lyrics, maybe because I couldn’t completely interpret what they were about. We made a song in Cabin No. 9 called The Bridge, which was about Golden Gate Bridge jumpers, and he scribbled down words as I churned out a dark, reverb-heavy instrumental track. He insisted I include a D major chord near the end, something he proudly demonstrated on a keyboard with which he’d recently been experimenting (Katie had taped the letters of each note to its keys). The D major brought sweet sunlight to the otherwise gloomy chords, and listening to it now, it makes sense. I sometimes thought Guy was the loneliest man I knew, even though he had more friends than Santa Claus in December. I'd heard and read about so many of his tragedies, much of them self-inflicted, and sometimes it sounded like he was emailing from Siberia. And maybe he felt that way, with the oncoming darkness of blindness and deafness. Maybe a D major was what he needed to hear more often. But every man has his demons; Guy just knew his by name.

Now it’s nearly 3am, and I’m looking at my phone. The last time Guy called, I couldn’t answer. He left a message; I still have it. I tried returning his call the next day, but he didn’t answer. A couple of emails went back and forth, but he went into the hospital and we never spoke again. And that’s the way it goes. I’ll never know exactly what his next scheme was, only that it had to do with a studio in April, and I’d become an honorary North Carolinian. “Gimme a call. I’ll be around. I’m not going anywhere… see ya.” His last message is still on my phone, partially because I didn’t want to delete it, but partially because I was too distracted to remove it. Now, it’s priceless. It reminds me of how I've often described Guy Neal Williams as the kind of person you hope you have at least one of in your life.

Mr. Weeyums, I‘m glad you were.

Yrs. in Crust,


De mortuis nihil nisi bonum