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Meet Perkus Tooth

Yesterday in The Wall Street Journal, in Alexandra Alter's Q&A with writer Jonathan Lethem ("Just Asking... Jonathan Lethem"), the author confirms what many of us already knew: that the reclusive rock critic who inhabits Lethem's new novel, Chronic City, is partly based on his old friend Paul Nelson. Back in May, The New Yorker ran an excerpt from the novel as "Ava's Apartment," a short story about a washed-up rock critic named Perkus Tooth who is made temporarily homeless by a blizzard and winds up squatting in an apartment with a three-legged pit bull.

If the reference to Tooth's "Jackson Hole burger mecca" weren't enough, (Paul Nelson haunted Jackson Hole, a burger joint near his apartment on the Upper East Side), Lethem confirmed the connection in his interview with Alter, telling about when he came back to the city in the mid-Eighties: "I think of that period because I formed this very important friendship, that informs the book very strongly, with this kind of legendary semi-reclusive rock critic named Paul Nelson…"


Lethem was working at an early incarnation of Michael Seidenberg's Brazen Head Books when he first met Paul, who frequented the shop. When I visited with Lethem in 2006, he told me: "There was an unsentimental and disconnected part of Paul where I think he didn't feel that his earlier life was his present life anymore. And all those great stories that Michael and I would have to work so hard to get out him about being an A&R man and putting together that live Velvets record or signing the Dolls or his connection to Dylan—he wasn't feeling close to those experiences anymore. They were just stories that he would half-willingly tell."

Copyright 2009 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

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May 2011

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© 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 by Kevin Avery

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