Memorial for Paul Winer will be held
1:00 pm SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24th, 2019
at Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA)
Published in Desert Messenger, May 15, 2019
By Mark Goldberg
In coming to Quartzsite as a visitor, I had stopped in and browsed at Reader’s Oasis Books on several occasions over the years. In 2007, we moved to Quartzsite, and I went to the store to find some books on Quartzsite history. I introduced myself to Paul Winer, and we struck up a conversation. My first impression (visual) was that he reminded me of the mummified “Tollund Man” I had seen in Denmark who was found in a peat bog, tanned and “preserved.” He had a wealth of information in his eclectic store; and, he was a wealth of local information. We struck up a conversation and became great friends over time. I attended many of his concerts and worked with him on banners, graphics and other projects. I was always amazed at his good health. Over the last year, Paul reluctantly made his first visit to a hospital in his entire life. It has been a downhill slide from there with health complications and red tape. Paul was not able to overcome the barrage of health issues which befell him and we have lost a community icon.
The Early Days
Paul Winer was born on December 9, 1943, to Jack and Celia Winer. His small stature, shyness, “lack of hunk appeal,” and being Jewish made him somewhat of a loner. He graduated from Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont; and was the Poet in Residence at Mark Hopkins College in Brattleboro, Vermont. He taught poetics and writing and was one of the youngest members of the Vermont Poetry Society. Paul owned and operated an 1875-style store, the “Vermont Stovepipe Press” where he published works of poetry, books, and more.
“When I was eleven-years old , I saw Fats Domino [in Lynn, Massachusetts] in one of his legendary one-night stands. I decided then, that’s what I wanted to be – a piano thumper.”
The Birth of Sweet Pie
Paul was a self-taught musician. He wrote most of the music and lyrics he performed with titles like, “Hello Celia,” “Bulldog Boogie,” “Nothing Nowhere Blues,” and, “Please Remember Your Love For Me.” Paul’s first musical/theatrical performance was in a small bar in Vermont, where he convinced the owner to rent him a piano and let him perform. He wore a long tunic and started playing the piano. Mid-performance, he threw off the tunic and started playing naked. The owner got mad, threw him out, and shot at him. Paul called the police and they suggested that he leave town within 24 hours. He left town.
This was the start of Paul’s boogie-woogie and blues cabaret show, and career as “Sweet Pie.” The name was derived from, “Sweet: 1.- pleasure to the taste; 2. Pleasure to the mind or feelings; agreeable, gratifying.” “Pie: a dessert.” He played to over 1.5 million people throughout the east coast and Canada in the early days. Being the first male stripper to publicly perform, he met with much resistance regarding obscenity and local blue laws. Over the years, Paul was the subject of 68 lawsuits and a Federal precedent-setting case. He won all of the cases. The Federal court case was Winer v Vermont. It was about freedom of speech. In Paul’s words, “My case opened up the male exotic industry…I was the first.” “I never decided to be a nudist.” “My skin is hypersensitive, and I hate the feeling of clothing rubbing on my body.”
“Nudist is what people chose to call me. It wasn’t a choice; it was who I was…” “Naked is just the way I’m dressed.”
Joanne & Celia
Joanne was reeling from a past divorce, and her girlfriends decided to take her to a strip show on her birthday to lift her spirits. They went to the Sweet Pie show in Canada. Following the show, Paul joined the girls at their table and was smitten with Joanne. He sat on her lap and had a conversation. Joann later says that she looked past what he did for a living, and was impressed with his eloquence, poetry, and that he was a college graduate. They were married in 1984, and toured together in a 24-foot travel trailer. Joanne did not have success in getting pregnant, and had given up when they were “surprised” with the birth of their daughter, Celia on March 28, 1986.
Celia was born after only 23 ½ weeks, weighing only 1.25 pounds and 12” long. She was Canada’s smallest surviving baby in both birth weight and gestation. Celia grew, slowly, into a fine young girl, a straight-A student. She was artistic, and toured with the family. She was interested in everything; particularly animals and the environment. Celia was susceptible to colds and was getting to be of school age. Paul said, “I didn’t want my daughter growing up in a trailer behind hotels and next to dumpsters.”
Paul gave up performing to find a location with Joanne, suitable to Celia’s health conditions and providing school opportunities. They ended up in Quartzsite in 1991. With $35 dollars in their pocket and a small trailer, they started by learning “swapping” at The Main Event in a 10’ x 20’ tent, selling t-shirts, cards for truckers and RVers, and selling two boxes of Danielle Steele books given to him by his mother. It was a whole new learning experience in the school of hard knocks. Over a few years, they gained experience in bartering and selling books. Also, Paul’s mother and father would glean yard sales in the Phoenix Area and bring them boxes of books. After several ramshackle sites on Main Street, Horizon Community Bank offered them their first loan in Quartzsite, to construct a bookstore, Reader’s Oasis Books at 690 E. Main Street.
Although active at school and in the community, Celia passed away suddenly on October 25, 1994 from a viral heart infection. Paul and Joanne were devastated, but decided, “The town was so good to us; we stayed, because this is where people knew her.”
In October, 1995, Joanne and Paul received the blessings of the Town of Quartzsite and the Bureau of Land Management to construct Celia’s Rainbow Garden in Town Park off Plymouth Road, north of Town Hall, to commemorate Celia and her love of nature.
The Rebirth of the Blues
Having stopped performing in order to provide a home for Celia; Paul’s music career “slept.” Paul focused his attention to family and the bookstore. He was able to be comfortable in the bookstore saying, “The bookstore shelters a lifestyle. I can’t live in most places on an everyday basis.”
Paul’s life changed dramatically on August 10, 2010. Paul received a telephone call from a group which was staging a Salisbury Beach Reunion, his old stomping grounds in Massachusetts. They said they wanted him to perform his Sweet Pie Show, and they would provide airfare, hotel, transportation, and a piano if he would attend. Paul jumped at the opportunity - his dream of becoming a Fats Domino had always been present. Paul spent weeks re-learning all of his songs and practicing on the piano; his music having been mostly dormant for the past 20+ years. He boarded the airplane to the reunion…his first airplane ride. At the venue, he was greeted by hundreds of fans. The theme from Rocky, was playing as he entered to a 15-minute standing ovation. Paul said, “I was flying – never had my ‘self’ been so ‘rekindled.’ Paul’s musical career was reborn.
Upon returning to Quartzsite, Paul made big plans for performances, local and back east. After another jaunt back east, Paul decided that his home in Quartzsite was his best venue. On October 23, 2010, Paul was asked to perform at the “Nostalgics Car Club” special dinner and entertainment in Quechan Park, Blythe, CA. It was his first major local performance. He was joined by washtub bass player Ralph Martin, who played most concerts with Paul as his sidekick and accompanist.
Many local performances followed over the next 10 years, punctuated by Annual Fundraising Shows at the Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) where Paul typically played to sold-out crowds of his loyal fans. There were two particularly memorable shows at the QIA. The first was on January 12, 2011; “An Evening with Paul Winer and His Friends.” After his success back east, Paul assembled a group of his musical friends including: Ralph Martin, Jerry Mullins of “Barefoot and Boots,” and Sonja and Norm in a new group, “Skyhawk.” Paul and his friends played to an appreciative, sellout crowd of 760 people (admission was a $5 donation.) Anker Rasmussen, of QIA, noted, “The evening was the most successful single-evening musical event in the history of the QIA!”
At Paul’s request, I picked up Paul’s parents Jack and Celia in Phoenix, and brought them to the show. Paul and his father were estranged due to Paul’s lifestyle, for over thirty years. His father didn’t mind that he performed naked, or played ribald songs…as an act; but that, he should have a “normal lifestyle” after performing. They had somewhat reconciled following Celia’s passing; however, his father and mother had never seen Paul perform until that evening. Paul sang a special song to his father called, “I Love My Dad.” There wasn’t a “dry eye in the house.” It was a great evening for all.
The second memorable show was Paul’s last performance at QIA on February 16, 2019. Paul was in ill health, and made a superhuman effort to perform his songs and cajole with the audience. It was evident that he was in poor health; yet, his loyal fans were excited to see him perform, and rallied him to continue.
Paul and Joanne have spent their entire time living in Quartzsite promoting the Town of Quartzsite, the Bookstore, Paul’s career, and Celia’s Rainbow Garden. People and media have come from all over the world to see, interview, or film “the Naked Bookstore Guy.” There are news articles and references about Paul and Reader’s Oasis Bookstore in hundreds of publications, television, novels, movies, DVDs, CDs, books, YouTube Videos (professional and amateur), Social Media and more. Joanne has volunteered thousands of hours at the Quartzsite Business Chamber of Commerce, the Quartzsite Community Thrift Store. She has consistently published articles on Paul and has been promoting the Town of Quartzsite in local and regional newspapers, Visitor Guides, and lots more. They both have spent countless hours selflessly donating their time and talents to raise funds for a wide variety of community causes. Most people have no idea that the team of Paul and Joanne have always been Quartzsite’s most consistent and effective promoters, pro bono.
Paul said in many interviews, “I wanted to be Fats Domino when I was a kid. I lived my dream as Sweet Pie for 25 years, and I’m going to live the rest of the dream – and that is to continue it for a lifetime until I die doin’ it on stage.”
Paul Winer, 1943-2019
[Editor’s Note: A memorial is being planned for 1:00 pm SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24th, 2019. A fundraiser has been set up at https://www.facebook.com/donate/378968652827266/608346602963370/.
A Memorial CD of the Paul’s final concert at QIA is now available for purchase at Reader's Oasis Bookstore. Folks are also encouraged to join the new Facebook Group called “Paul Winer Memorial.” Feel free to share your photos, memories, and ideas for a memorial project honoring the legacy of Paul Winer.]