Speaking for the Robots: Paul Williams Breaks Down His Impromptu 2014 Grammy Speech for Daft Punk

BB3 GRAMMY PREVIEW
Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Williams (center) accepted the 2014 album of the year Grammy for Random Access Memories with (from left) Rodgers, Daft Punk and Pharrell Williams.

Daft Punk collaborator and ASCAP president/chairman Paul Williams on his memorably freewheeling 2014 album of the year speech -- touching on sobriety, same-sex marriage and Star Trek. As told to Jem Aswad.

A) “Paul Hahn [Daft Punk’s manager] told me, ‘If we win, the guys would like you to speak for us. You’re good on your feet.’ Right before they announced album of the year, they came and got us out of the 16th row and moved us down to the first row, so I thought that was a good sign.”

B) “I’m 26 years sober now, and I owe it all to the recovery community. I feel great -- I’m 76 and I feel like a really tired 34! In the remarkable archive of my bad behavior and random lost moments: I did 48 Tonight Shows, and I remember six.”

​C) “Daft Punk found me through [keyboardist] Chris Caswell, who I’ve worked with for 37 years. He was laying down a piano part on [Daft Punk’s] Tron soundtrack, and he overheard the guys talking in French. Every now and then they’d say ‘Paul Weelyams’ and wondered where they could find me. Caswell and [engineer] Peter Frank said, ‘We just came off tour with him -- why?’"

D) “This was deeply personal for me: The day before the Grammys, my daughter told me that she was going to ask her partner to marry her, and I was thrilled. During the show, I didn’t realize I was going to be so touched. It’s something I had to speak up about -- to me, it’s an important human rights issue. I will never forget seeing Paul McCartney raise his fist when I said that thing about how the Grammys have never been more elegant. We talked about it afterward, and he said he loved it.”

E) "None of the speech was planned, but the only thing I thought of in advance was to thank Pharrell for the lovely things he said about ‘Touch’ [one of two Williams collaborations on the album]. I hadn’t actually met him at that point.”

1) Daft Punk’s Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter, who don’t show their faces in public, wore robot helmets at the time.

2) After Macklemore & Ryan Lewis performed “Same Love,” 34 same-sex couples were married onstage by Queen Latifah. 

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 11 issue of Billboard.

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