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31 January 2010

"Mel Lyman's America"

Though I finished writing Everything Is an Afterthought over five months ago, hardly a week goes by when I don't receive an e-mail or a phone call that is in some way connected to Paul Nelson. (Thankfully, with publication imminent this fall, the Stewie Griffin-inspired "How you comin' on that book you're workin' on?" inquiries have pretty much subsided.) Recently, I heard from William MacAdams, author of Ben Hecht: The Man Behind the Legend. In addition to being a longtime friend of Paul's, in 1995 William coauthored a book with him: 701 Toughest Movie Trivia Questions of All Time.


You probably know that at one time (and perhaps to the end of his life?) one of Paul's favorite albums was Jim Kweskin's America. To Paul the creative force behind the music was Mel Lyman, thus he referred to the record as "Mel Lyman's America." He introduced me to it sometime in the early '70s, before I moved to Europe. I had a vinyl copy, which disappeared a long time ago. Just the other day, don't know why, I thought of Lyman and checked to see if someone on Facebook had a Mel Lyman page (there isn't one), which led me to search for a CD. There is a double Kweskin set including America. I bought it, wondering if it held up. Got it yesterday and couldn't stop playing it.

When Paul died I was saddened but didn't grieve (we had been out of contact for several years, as you know, Paul shutting me out, a deeply hurtful mystery that will never be explained). The music brought Paul back so vividly I broke down in tears, especially upon once again hearing "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight," "The Old Rugged Cross," and "Old Black Joe," Paul's favorites.

I thought you might be unaware of Paul's fondness for Lyman's music. If so, the whole saga of Lyman's remarkable life is worth reading about, the Rolling Stone hatchet job/exposé, et al.


I'd never heard of Jim Kweskin or Mel Lyman, let alone the album in question. Nor could I find where Paul had ever made mention of them in any of his writings. But, trusting William's judgment (he'd proved himself an invaluable resource regarding All Things Paul Nelson), I downloaded the album posthaste from iTunes. I wasn't disappointed. While I was familiar with many of the tunes by way of other artists' versions, there's something deeply felt and unique about Jim Kweskin's America. It reminds me of something Paul wrote about Jackson Browne's Running on Empty (and which was quoted in the program at Paul's memorial service):

It's simple enough to talk about lyrics, aims, structure, and all the critical etceteras, but it's very difficult to pinpoint what it is that's actually moved you. It has to do with essences, I think, and all those corny virtues like truth, courage, conviction, kindness, and the rest of them.
Jim Kweskin's America has all those corny virtues, I think, as did Paul.

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

12 July 2007

Jackson Browne

Back when I first approached Paul Nelson about our working together to anthologize his best writing — before I knew whether or not he was interested in the project or whether he'd even received my proposal — I'd imagine the two of us sitting across a table, working long into his beloved night while we agreeably disagree which pieces to include and which ones to set aside for perhaps a different collection.

When Paul died, over a year ago now, leaving me to decide which pieces qualified as his best, I knew of less than 100 of his articles, reviews, and essays. Now I've collected more than three times that many, making the decision that much more difficult.

One thing was sure from the start, however: that my book would contain all of Paul's writings about Jackson Browne. Arguably more than any other artist about whose work he wrote, the pieces Paul penned about Browne and his music are among his most passionate, his most autobiographical. He wrote as if he completely understood Browne — because Browne seemingly completely understood him.

Paul's review of Running on Empty is available online. Along with everything else he wrote about Browne (including some previously unpublished material), it will be included in Everything Is an Afterthought.

When I interviewed Browne early this year, he had this to say about Paul: "I was always very grateful that he wrote what he wrote; and I don't want to give it a name or diminish it by encapsulating it with some sort of description of what that was. But it made me feel that I was being received, that I was being heard, by people who really got it." 

Indeed he was.

Copyright 2007 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

May 2011


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


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