David E. Williams would make the perfect sicko in a made-for-TV murder mystery. He's an insurance salesman by day who lives in a nice little row house in south Philadelphia. But by night, he sits in dark, smoky places singing about quadriplegic prostitutes and a guy who pulls someone's teeth out with pliers ("He did it slowly, he did it for fun") and a woman who slashes her wrists in a tub while listening to Bob Dylan ("I wanted to use Neil Young," says the composer, "but it didn't rhyme") while playing eerie, Vincent Priceish chords on an electric keyboard. What's more, he's kind of pasty-looking -- like some creature who never sees daylight. And he speaks in this sedated monotone that's really quite alarming.
They pay people in Hollywood a lot of money to come up with such characters. All Williams did was spend four years at Penn State reading Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Bukowski.
And take piano lessons as a kid.
And, he says, know some scary, dangerous people.
Take his song "Last Belch of the Fish": "That's basically about this woman who works with the circus. She's the mistress of a small-town mayor who's a drug addict. He uses her as cover for his addiction. One night, in a drug-induced stupor, he pulls out her teeth with pliers. One by one."
She's the one who eventually ends it all while listening to Dylan.
"I try to depict the world as I feel it really is," Williams says. "A lot of the songs I guess one could call extreme."
Or violent. Even deranged. Yet, somehow, believable. One reviewer wrote: "If Barry Manilow had an evil twin -- ripped from the womb, half dead and bleeding -- who decided to go into music," he would sound like Williams.
Williams, in fact, had a chance encounter with Manilow recently. Someone has actually gone and done a full-blown revue set to Manilow's '70s hit "Copacabana." And Manilow attended the opening-night cast party. "I was within five feet of Barry at one point," says Williams. The twins reunite!
But no. Williams didn't say hello. Manilow was too busy schmoozing. Williams just grabbed a souvenir Manilow key chain and split.
David E. Williams is performing at the Grog and Tankard tonight at 8:30. For information call 202-333-3114. CHANCE, A SAX It's just happenstance that Jim Galloway plays saxophone:
"This is such a corny story, it makes my toes curl when I tell it," he says, his soft Scottish brogue exaggerating the corniness of it all. "I had a friend in a little town where I grew up, and they were a musical family. Their walls were lined in instruments. And he asked if I would like to borrow a clarinet. Had he said trombone, I might have been a trombone player."
But instead he became a fine clarinetist.
And then, in the '60s, he immigrated to Toronto and took up saxophone. He is now considered one of the world's foremost sax players -- his specialty the soprano, his repertoire traditional, swing and mainstream jazz.
"I listened to jazz on records and a lot on the BBC," he says of his musical education as a youngster. "It was after the Second World War, and the American networks were still going strong. There was a particular station out of Stuttgart that I listened to that played a lot of swing and jazz."
He was seduced by the sounds of musicians such as Coleman Hawkins, Vic Dickenson, Buddy Tate and, of course, Louis Armstrong. But perhaps his greatest influence -- evidenced by his program tonight -- is premier soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet.
"Anybody who plays soprano sax better listen to Sidney Bechet," he says. "I mean, he is a giant. The giant."
The Jim Galloway Quartet will present "The Music of Sidney Bechet" tonight at 7:30 at the National Museum of Natural History's Baird Auditorium. Tickets are $12 for Smithsonian Resident Associate Program members, $16 for non-members. For information call 202-357-4090. ON THE BOARDS All he did was go out for a walk, an evening constitutional in Central Park. Suddenly, for a brief but traumatic 15 minutes, Brian Bedford's life became "a comedy of errors! At the Plaza Hotel!" Imagine that.
See, they have these new-fangled keys, he says. "Not the regular kind," he says, but pieces of cardboard or plastic or something with holes punched in them. His didn't work.
So he went to the front desk to get a new key.
"They required ID to get another," he blasts, his fine English accent getting more taut by the breath. "And I said, 'I don't have any ID! I went out for a walk!'
"Nevertheless," he sighs, "here I am." A few minutes late and definitely rattled.
Time to change the subject to something he loves: Shakespeare. Bedford is a classically trained Shakespearean actor.
"My first job as an actor was in Stratford-on-Avon," he says warmly. "I remember I used to wander around the river and the streets, places where William Shakepeare had wandered, and I was obsessed, mad on what the man was like.
"In the back of my mind, I thought, 'Someday, I want to do a show that would have some biographical information as well as the work.' "
He has. It's called "The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet," a two-hour "impressionistic portrait" of Shakespeare, illustrated through lines from sonnets, excerpts of plays and assorted historical facts.
"He seemed to have a pretty good idea that his work would last forever," says Bedford. "He kept saying it in his sonnets. He promised the young man he would be known forever through his verse. He knew they would be enjoyed or read for posterity.
"You know the engraving of Shakespeare by Martin Droeshoud?" Bedford asks. "Oh, yes, of course you do. Everyone does. It's the one you see everywhere. This show is an attempt to put dimension, blood and soul into that portrait."
Bedford uses no costumes, no sets. "It's me and the stage," he says. "Floorboards and a passion."
Naturally, there are audience members who are fellow Shakespeare junkies, "who are just dying to hear some Shakespeare," he says. Then there are those who come to learn. This is what Bedford hopes they will find:
"That William Shakespeare was a man who experienced love and lust and depair and exuberance. In other words, one of us."
Brian Bedford will present "The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet" Saturday night at 8 and Sunday at 3 at the Alden Theatre in McLean. Tickets are $14 and available at TicketCenter. For information call 703-790-9223.