Quartzsite loses color with death of local celebrity

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris

If the desert is monochromatic, Quartzsite breaks the mold. A tiny town by most standards, but most decidedly colorful. A big share of that color was courtesy of Paul Winer, the (in)famous “Naked Bookseller.” For decades Paul has attracted attention – of bookstore customers, area citizens and, of course, the local police. But Quartzsite shifted toward monochrome, as on May 7, “Sweet Pie” Paul Winer died after 75 Technicolor years.

Quartzsite loses color with death of local celebrity
Reader’s Oasis Books

For the uninitiated, Paul ran Reader’s Oasis Books on Main Street for decades. For bookworms new to town, if unwarned, their first visit to Paul’s shop could have easily been one leading to a heart attack. Paul, from a young age, found that clothing was irritating to his skin. Step in Paul’s shop and be prepared to find him usually clad only in what some described as “a sock over his privates.”

Paul, by his own recount, was born to Jewish parents and spent his childhood in conservative – and cold – Vermont. As a young man, he says he never had much “hug appeal.” Perhaps life wasn’t too out of sorts until he attended a Fats Domino concert and decided then and there, that’s what he wanted to be, a piano-thumping boogie-woogie man. Described by some as “rebellious,” perhaps the music and non-clothing choices just had to go hand-in-hand.

For his first paying gig, Paul convinced a Vermont bar owner to let him drag a piano in and play for the crowd. All went well for the first part of the show, where Paul, dressed in a long tunic affair, beat on the keys. But at some point, he tossed away the tunic and played in the raw. This didn’t sit well with some in town – he says he later was shot at. Police told him they could only guarantee his safety for 24 hours. Paul moved along, assuming the stage name “Sweet Pie,” making a circuit of Vermont watering holes with his outrageous show, skipping clothing, but tossing in copious amounts of “colorful language.”

Joining Paul on the circuit – after a fashion – the state’s Liquor Control Board would promptly pull each venue’s license after Paul appeared. Paul’s history says this lead to numerous freedom of speech lawsuits, and eventually to the opening up of male stripping as a profession. Eventually Sweet Pie got a van and his travels took him farther and farther afield throughout the U.S. and Canada.

At one memorable appearance, in the audience was a woman recovering from a divorce. Joanne’s gal-pals had brought her there to try and get her to get back into the social life. After the show, Paul sat down and chatted up Joanne, and she found him to be much more than “Just another beautiful body.” Paul wrote poetry, was a college graduate, and was a man of surprising depth. They married and continued on the road together.

But Paul and Joanne’s road-tripping days were interrupted by the birth of their daughter, Celia. Paul knew that raising a child wasn’t congruous with “sleeping in a van behind motels,” and the family settled down in Quartzsite, Arizona. But making a living doing a strip act and beating piano keys just wasn’t the Quartzsite thing. Paul had a few boxes of books, so he set up at a tailgating sales venue and the books sold.

Selling books became a kind of salvation: “How can I be naked every day, in a little redneck retirement community?” Open up a bookstore on Main Street and do what minimal coverage is required. Local authorities took a dim view of Paul’s choice of attire, but after a few skirmishes, Paul was firmly established as The Naked Bookseller. Some report that “happily” he would slip into a skimpy swim suit when it came time to bicycle through town. A remarkable number of fans, many of them older women, would show up at Paul’s shop to pose in photos with him – in all his raging glory.

The Winer family spent a few years in Quartzsite, developing roots and a reputation. But in 1995 their life took a hit when Celia, at age eight, died of a viral heart condition. Today in a town park, “Celia’s Rainbow Gardens” stands as a memorial tribute to Paul and Joanne’s daughter – a little girl who spent hours with her nose in the books at her father’s shop.

Paul immersed himself in his bookstore, but eventually Sweet Pie got a revival. Paul began to appear as Sweet Pie locally at the local Quartzsite Improvement Association. His “everything on view” appearance got a bit more of a cover-up and the lyrics of his songs were toned down a bit to apply to a more “family” audience. Then, in 2017 the self-described “Baron of Bare-ass Boogie” did a two-night reprise show Wilmington, Vermont. On his return, he continued to do the tame shows in Quartzsite, but last year he announced they would be his last.

In an interview, Paul described how his last show should play out, should he have his way. Appearing as Sweet Pie, he’d be thumping his piano, then fall backwards off the stool and die in front of the audience. “The audience would gasp, and they’d never forget Sweet Pie,” Paul related. “The ultimate end!” Paul’s wish never played out. On the evening of May 7, Sweet Pie Paul died in his sleep.

Maybe, in the end, Paul’s wish will play out. For anyone whoever met him, it will be difficult to ever forget him – ultimate end, bare end, or otherwise.

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Jan Deelstra

Paul Winer brought us color, music, art and heart. He was one of the most genuine humans I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and a unique and talented musician; A true gift.

Donn

Long years back, there was yet another forgotten desert dweller….”Desert Dutch” and he was part of the
Quartsite folk. He put together one of the best online sites I’ve ever experienced. There was tons of very
helpful information, many great stories, lots of great ideas and….just a ton of material to plow through.
Matter of fact, you could constantly review the information. I loved it. I think everyone else did. Then,
suddenly one day, it just seemed to disappear. There was never an explanation, the website went down,
Dutch was no longer there. Chuck had helped him build up the site and refused to discuss it for whatever
reasons. A most ignominious ending . Going to that website was almost as good as the actual journey
to Quartsite itself. I miss Desert Dutch and his meandering site.

Peter McDonald

I am currently reading a book I bought in his shop in April. I didn’t get to meet him though. I had the pleasure of talking to the lady of the establishment. Quite a place with unique people.

Lou Finkle

Paul Winer, the (in)famous “Naked Bookseller.” will be missed by all of us who looked forward to watching the ladies line up and pose with him every January at Quartzsite, AZ. Not so much as seeing him, he’s was always around, but watching the expressions on the faces of elderly women! I bet that was the biggest thrill they had in years!

Bob Schilling

Talk about deja vu… we were dining with friends last weekend and the discussion turned to places we used to go in the 1970’s in Western Mass and Vermont. Turns out several of us remembered that wacky guy, Sweet Pie, who wore a loincloth (or less) and hammered out boogie on the piano up in Vermont (The Mt. Snow Ski Lodge in our case). He was a most flamboyant character with “interesting” lyrics in his music. Thanks for an update and a refresh of a fun memory.

Sharon B

Dying in your sleep is a blessing. Never had the pleasure of meeting this man, but it sounds like he was rich in color and well read. He may not have worn expensive suits and a Rolex watch, but it sounds like he contributed a colorful character! I hope to meet this fellow when it comes my time to leave….and I hope I croak in my sleep when it’s time. :)…..zzzzzz What a way to go.
I am an RN and have worked hospice watching some terrible endings. He was really lucky.

Billy Bob Thorton

Never met him, but God bless the SOB. He lived his life as he saw fit, left alone to just enjoy life. Be envious my friends, because; it is Not how you Do, it is how you end up!

Jim

Paul was a very intelligent man and easy to talk to. He had an incredible book store too. RIP

Tommy Molnar

My wife and I stopped in the book store every time we were camping near Quartzsite. “The Naked Bookseller” was a good guy. And, his collection of books was SO extensive I never failed to find something I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it. Almost like going to Costco . . . We will miss that part of our trips down that way.

marty chambers

Going to his store was an item for my bucket list, not any more. RIP old man.

George Bogosian

Guys like Spaulding add “color”…and makes life a little more interesting.

George Bogosian

Guys like Paul give the world “color”…and adds value to our lives.

Mike

Never seen nor heard of “Sweet Pie” until this article, but I’m a visual reader and I think I saw him just fall off his stool! RIP

Jacqueline Chaplin

Certainly won’t be the same, when I go to Quartzsite in Jan, without Paul being there. Rest In Peace and boogie on.

Ran

RIP Sweet Pie-Paul! You were always the talk of the town! Glad we were able to make the Quartzsite event, to learn the local history! Thanks for making Quartzsite a true RV destination!