Late in August of 2006, almost two months after Paul Nelson's death, I met with Robert Christgau
. It was one of my earliest interviews for a book that, at the time, still didn't have a name or a publisher. What I did know, however, was this: the project was mine, it was something I had
to do. In a sense, I'd grown up with Paul Nelson's writing and, somehow, I was going to do right by him by bringing his largely forgotten but much-deserving work to the attention of others.
So imagine my reaction when Christgau, walking me out of his East Village apartment to the elevator and pushing the first-floor button for me, happened to mention, "I hear that Neil Strauss is doing a big piece on Paul Nelson for Rolling Stone
." The elevator ride down duplicated my sinking feeling inside. I felt as if I were being scooped.
Soon after, Neil Strauss called me and we compared notes. He turned out to be a good guy. Within days, we met in person, immediately following Paul's memorial service at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery. By the time his fine piece, "The Man Who Disappeared," came out in Rolling Stone
at the end of the year, he'd shared some valuable information with me, and I'd like to think I shared some valuable information with him.
Now, over four years later, with Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson
finally coming out in November, Neil Strauss has kinda sorta scooped me once again, this time with his new book, Everyone Loves You When You're Dead
Conducted for articles he's written, Neil has revisited the source materials--tapes, notes, and transcripts--of over 3,000 interviews, culling from them 228 "moment[s] of truth or authenticity. After all, you can tell a lot about a person or a situation in a minute," he writes. "But only if you choose the right minute." In doing so, he analyzes fame, notoriety, success, and their meaning in our pop culture-obsessed society. Among his cast of characters in what is organized as a ten-act play are Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Courtney Love, Britney Spears, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Tom Cruise, Marilyn Manson, Hugh Laurie, Trent Reznor, Prince, and... Paul Nelson.
Though Paul is not among the interviewees and, like the great white whale in Moby-Dick
, doesn't surface until very near the end of the book, his presence in Everyone Loves You When You're Dead
is deeply felt. Neil uses Paul's lifelong obsession with movies, books, and music as a barometer by which to measure whether it's all worth it.
Included in what also serves as a tribute to Paul ("Nelson's influence on rock criticism and rock itself is extraordinary," he writes) are snippets of interviews with several people who knew him: his son Mark Nelson, Kit Rachlis, David Bowie, Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Tom Pacheco, and Paul's good friends Michael Seidenberg and Steve Feltes. Everyone Loves You When You're Dead
is a terrific book. In selecting the aforementioned "moments of truth," Neil Strauss knew the importance of paying attention to the stammers and the stutters and the discontinued sentences--because often what isn't
said is as telling as what is. It's especially important when it comes to understanding Paul Nelson, whose life was often characterized by meaningful silences.Copyright 2011 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.