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02 April 2008

Ross Macdonald

Last time I wrote about Jeff Wong, the immensely talented illustrator who's doing the cover artwork for Everything Is an Afterthought, I recounted how we'd met last summer at Crystal Zevon's Barnes & Noble reading. In November, Jeff has posted his own recollection of that encounter over at In Depth Arts in a footnote to his essay "Ross Macdonald--When Career Collides with Passion--A Rarity". Talking about the cover he had recently completed for The Archer Files, a definitive collection of Ross Macdonald short stories featuring private detective Lew Archer, Jeff wrote:

I just wish my friend, Paul Nelson, had lived to see me do the book cover (he passed away last summer). He would've appreciated how much being involved in this project means to me. Those of you unfamiliar with Paul may remember him from the Bob Dylan documentary [No Direction Home] by Martin Scorsese. Paul was one of the only critics who came to Dylan's defense when he went electric at the Newport Festival. Paul worked for Rolling Stone after a career at Mercury Records (he signed the New York Dolls) and he knew Ross Macdonald (Paul and I met via our mutual interest in the author). He wrote a pretty famous article about Warren Zevon for Rolling Stone.* Zevon was a huge Ross Macdonald fan. Macdonald figures into the story in a pretty big way. Life has a weird way of working out sometimes. 

On June 2nd (Ross Macdonald's wedding anniversary and the birthday he gave to his fictional detective, Lew Archer) I met Crystal Zevon, who is promoting her new book about WZ, at a book signing at Barnes & Noble. She and Warren actually moved to Santa Barbara, California, to be near the author and his wife. I had asked a question during the Q & A about their relationship with the author. She told a nice long story. While people were getting their books signed, someone called out my name. It turned out to be Kevin Avery, who is working on a book about Paul Nelson. We had never met before (we did a phone interview once for the book on Paul). A funny thing: when Kevin had told me who his publisher was, it turned out I had recently done a book cover for that publisher and was friendly with him. I contacted Adam, the publisher, about doing Kevin's cover and he had just been thinking about getting in touch with me. Doing the cover for a book about Paul would be a more fitting tribute to my friend than any of my anecdotes about our friendship could ever be. Kevin knew it had to be me that asked the Ross Macdonald question and called out to me. Funny how things can converge in life.

Funny indeed, but the convergence began many years before our meeting last year.

Paul was, as Jeff noted, a huge Macdonald fan. The Archer Files happened to be edited by Tom Nolan, who is not only responsible for writing the fine book Ross Macdonald: A Biography, but also knew Paul from the early Seventies. Nolan was Paul's contemporary, writing rock & roll criticism for the various music publications of note. After Paul left Mercury Records in 1975 and secured a post as reviews editor for Circus magazine, he reached out to Nolan and invited him to write for the magazine. "It didn't pay very much, of course," Nolan remembers. "But it was fun to do and it was kind of him to allow me to do that." In 1990, working on his Macdonald biography, Nolan interviewed Paul by phone. It was the last time they spoke to one another.

* Paul Nelson's article--arguably his masterpiece--about Zevon's harrowing struggle with alcoholism, was cut down for publication from 67 manuscript pages to 40. The unexpurgated version will appear, for the first time anywhere, in Everything Is an Afterthought.

Copyright 2008 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.
 

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

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