My appearance with Jonathan Lethem on WNYC's Soundcheck
last week (which you can listen to here
) was pure pleasure. I only have one regret. When host John Schaefer equated the mystery that was Paul Nelson's life to Rashomon,
"where some people knew this part of Paul Nelson, some people knew that part of Paul Nelson," my response suggested that Paul's departure from society at large was due to his disillusionment with the state of rock & roll in the early Eighties and, in particular, with some of the artists whose work he'd championed. That was only part of Paul's (to employ Jonathan's well-chosen words) "slow fade." The reasons were many.
In the course of writing Everything Is an Afterthought
, I several times discovered that some of the legendary tales of Paul's life (why he left his wife and child, why he resigned from Sing Out!
in the Sixties and Rolling Stone
in the Eighties, why he stopped writing, etc.) were ultimately much more complex than they initially seemed. "When the legend becomes fact," a character says in the 1962 John Ford film The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence
, "print the legend"; but the facts are often much more interesting.
That is perhaps the greatest achievement of Jonathan's novel Chronic City
(recently chosen as one of the ten best books of 2009 by The New York Times
): the character of Perkus Tooth, Jonathan's Paul Nelson simulacrum, doesn't so much embody Paul as it accurately portrays his complexity and the intensity of his obsessions, and especially the different lives he led with his different friends.Copyright 2009 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.