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09 January 2010

Lou Reed

One of the more frustrating aspects of selecting which of Paul Nelson's writings to include in Everything Is an Afterthought was deciding which works not to include. For a guy who's famous for his struggles with getting the word onto the page, he wrote a hell of a lot. As much as I hated to, one of the last chapters I deleted from the manuscript was devoted to Lou Reed. Reed was a frequent touchstone and reference point for Paul, but he wrote about the singer-songwriter-founding Velvet Underground member surprisingly few times. Fortunately, two of his best pieces about Reed are available online.


When Paul was still in A&R at Mercury Records, he seized the opportunity to acquire some previously unreleased tapes of the Velvets performing live in Texas, less than a year before Reed departed the band. When the album (a double) was finally released in 1974 as 1969 Velvet Underground Live, Paul penned the liner notes that appeared on the back of the LP’s gatefold cover. (For the inside, he invited singer-songwriter Elliott Murphy, whom he was still trying to sign to Mercury, to compose some liner notes of his own. Murphy writes about the experience here and, although he misremembers the year—it was 1973, not 1972—offers a download of his original handwritten notes.) 


In 1975, a few months after Paul left Mercury Records and returned to criticism, he wrote about Reed again, reviewing Lou Reed Live, the artist's follow-up to his classic Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. “Had he accomplished nothing else,” Paul wrote, “his work with the Velvet Underground in the late Sixties would assure him a place in anyone's rock & roll pantheon; those remarkable songs still serve as an articulate aural nightmare of men and women caught in the beauty and terror of sexual, street and drug paranoia, unwilling or unable to move. The message is that urban life is tough stuff—it will kill you; Reed, the poet of destruction, knows it but never looks away and somehow finds holiness as well as perversity in both his sinners and his quest.”



Paul ended his critique of Lou Reed Live on an optimistic note and, as his review the following year of Coney Island Baby attests, his faith in Reed was rewarded. The review contains some of Paul’s best writing, his usual well-chosen words expressing not only his aesthetic admiration for Reed’s new work but also the sheer pleasure he derived from listening to it. The review—one of the rare times that his writing reflected his love of sports—also boasts one of my favorite Paul Nelson last lines. 

Which makes me want to enjoy the entire piece over again.

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

May 2011

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

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