This Time It's for Real

Almost a year ago, I was pleased to announce that Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson was up on Amazon. Then, as often happens in life (but even more so in publishing), things didn't quite go as planned. But now we're back on track with a new publisher, Fantagraphics Books, and an even bigger book, with more material about Paul and more of his writings.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon by clicking here.

To quote Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes: This time it's for real.

Copyright 2011 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead

Late in August of 2006, almost two months after Paul Nelson's death, I met with Robert Christgau. It was one of my earliest interviews for a book that, at the time, still didn't have a name or a publisher. What I did know, however, was this: the project was mine, it was something I had to do. In a sense, I'd grown up with Paul Nelson's writing and, somehow, I was going to do right by him by bringing his largely forgotten but much-deserving work to the attention of others.

So imagine my reaction when Christgau, walking me out of his East Village apartment to the elevator and pushing the first-floor button for me, happened to mention, "I hear that Neil Strauss is doing a big piece on Paul Nelson for Rolling Stone." The elevator ride down duplicated my sinking feeling inside. I felt as if I were being scooped. 

Soon after, Neil Strauss called me and we compared notes. He turned out to be a good guy. Within days, we met in person, immediately following Paul's memorial service at St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery. By the time his fine piece, "The Man Who Disappeared," came out in Rolling Stone at the end of the year, he'd shared some valuable information with me, and I'd like to think I shared some valuable information with him.

Now, over four years later, with Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson finally coming out in November, Neil Strauss has kinda sorta scooped me once again, this time with his new book, Everyone Loves You When You're Dead

Conducted for articles he's written, Neil has revisited the source materials--tapes, notes, and transcripts--of over 3,000 interviews, culling from them 228 "moment[s] of truth or authenticity. After all, you can tell a lot about a person or a situation in a minute," he writes. "But only if you choose the right minute." In doing so, he analyzes fame, notoriety, success, and their meaning in our pop culture-obsessed society. Among his cast of characters in what is organized as a ten-act play are Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Courtney Love, Britney Spears, Madonna, Johnny Cash, Neil Young, Tom Cruise, Marilyn Manson, Hugh Laurie, Trent Reznor, Prince, and... Paul Nelson.

Though Paul is not among the interviewees and, like the great white whale in Moby-Dick, doesn't surface until very near the end of the book, his presence in Everyone Loves You When You're Dead is deeply felt. Neil uses Paul's lifelong obsession with movies, books, and music as a barometer by which to measure whether it's all worth it.

Included in what also serves as a tribute to Paul ("Nelson's influence on rock criticism and rock itself is extraordinary," he writes) are snippets of interviews with several people who knew him: his son Mark Nelson, Kit Rachlis, David Bowie, Dave Marsh, Greil Marcus, Tom Pacheco, and Paul's good friends Michael Seidenberg and Steve Feltes. 

Everyone Loves You When You're Dead is a terrific book. In selecting the aforementioned "moments of truth," Neil Strauss knew the importance of paying attention to the stammers and the stutters and the discontinued sentences--because often what isn't said is as telling as what is. It's especially important when it comes to understanding Paul Nelson, whose life was often characterized by meaningful silences.

Copyright 2011 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Happy 75th, Paul

Last Friday, January 21, would have been Paul Nelson's 75th birthday. British author Michael Gray, who has written several books about Bob Dylan (including The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia), noted the date in his blog

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Elliott Street Radio

A couple of Saturdays ago,  Elliott Murphy played an amazing show at the Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side. Featuring a mix of old and new (he just released his thirty-first album, Elliott Murphy), the singer-songwriter played to a standing-room-only house. Many of the members of the audience used to regularly come to his shows around the city back in the Seventies and Eighties, before he moved to Paris, France. 

Elliott Murphy performing at the Rockwood Music Hall,
December 11, 2010
. Photo by Kevin Avery.

Earlier this week, he was the featured DJ on Sirius XM Radio's E Street Radio channel. Spending an hour spinning a mixture of his own songs and his friend Bruce Springsteen's, Murphy kicked off the show by quipping that he'd always thought E Street Radio "stood for Elliott Street Radio."

After playing his favorite Springsteen song, "Downbound Train" (because of the line "Now I work down at the carwash/Where all it ever does is rain"), Elliott said: "I just thought I'd mention a very mythical figure who appears both in my own story and that of Bruce's, as well. It was a rock critic by the name of Paul Nelson. Paul came from Minnesota, went to college with Bob Dylan, and is credited with turning on Bob to Woody Guthrie albums, which Bob 'borrowed' from Paul's dormitory room (and that's a whole other story).

"But Paul Nelson was the first man who ever mentioned Bruce Springsteen to me. Paul was working in A&R at Mercury Records and I was down in the streets looking for a record deal. I just happened to get an appointment with him and he gave me a copy of Bruce's first record, Greetings from Asbury Park, which I just thought was amazing. Here was a guy who kind of was thinking the same way I was, I thought. Paul took me to see Bruce at Max's Kansas City on Park Avenue South. It was an amazing show. And that's how Bruce and I first met. That was 1973, in January. A long time ago. The friendship has continued all these years.

"Paul sadly passed away a couple of years ago," Elliott said, "and they found some notes." He didn't go into the details, but he was referring to a Post-it note that I'd found in Paul's apartment after his death. Paul used to make tons of CDs for himself of his favorite songs. He often put Post-it notes on his CDs to remind him of which ones he liked. The note in question listed three songs off of Murphy's Soul Surfing album from 2002: "Come on Louann," "Fix Me a Coffee," and "Nothing Can Take the Place of You." Sharing space on the same note was the version of "Romance in Durango" from Bob Dylan's Live '75 album. 

Which is why this week, on Elliott Street Radio, Elliott Murphy dedicated "Come on Louann" to Paul Nelson. 

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Captain Beefheart (1941-2010)

Don Van Vliet, better known in the music world as Captain Beefheart, died on Friday (you can read The New York Times obituary here). 

In the very early 1970s, shortly after Paul Nelson accepted a job in publicity at Mercury Records, he worked closely with Beefheart. In Paul's memoirs, which are included in Everything Is an Afterthought, he detailed "two great memories" he had of Beefheart.

And, as mentioned here a couple of years ago, Paul played a part in making sure that Beefheart's classic Trout Mask Replica became part of the White House Record Library back in 1979.

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Classic Nelson

Reviewing the Ramones' first album for Rolling Stone, Paul Nelson borrowed from Andrew Sarris writing about Samuel Fuller. Click on the image below to read the complete review. 


Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Irwin Silber (1925-2010)

Irwin Silber, Paul Nelson's editor and ofttimes nemesis at Sing Out! magazine, passed away one week ago today. He was eighty-four.

Irwin Silber in 1991

Before Paul resigned from the magazine, he wrote his now legendary defense of Bob Dylan going electric. In that same November 1965 issue of Sing Out!, Silber countered with his own piece, "An Open Letter to Bob Dylan," stating, in part: "I saw at Newport how you had somehow lost contact with people. It seemed to me that some of the paraphernalia of fame were getting in your way."

While Paul always claimed that his resignation from Sing Out! was fueled by the old folk guard's violent reaction to Dylan at Newport, his leaving, as with all of Paul's departures, was much more complicated than that. Still, Paul always maintained that he'd had to sneak his pro-electric Dylan into print. When Richie Unterberger asked Silber about this in a 2002 interview, Silber replied: "I don't recall exactly, but I was the editor. And I knew his opinion. And I think I asked him to write it. I wrote one piece, and he wrote another. And it wouldn't have gone in if I didn't say okay [chuckles]. I think Paul said he wanted to write an alternate opinion. I was always for controversy, and it didn't make any difference if it was directed against me or not. So I can't swear that that's exactly the way it happened, but he didn't have a problem getting it into Sing Out!"

William MacAdams, who co-wrote 701 Toughest Movie Trivia Questions with Paul, remembers going to a film screening with him one afternoon in the early Seventies, when Paul was working in A&R at Mercury Records. When they came out of the theater, Paul spotted Irwin Silber, who'd also been in attendance. "Mercury had sent two limos to pick up some talent that didn't show, so we were going to go off somewhere to eat in one of the limos. Paul, however, knowing Silber was standing behind us watching, told me to take one of the limos while he got in the other alone."

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.

Conversations with Clint

I'm pleased to announce that Continuum Books will be publishing my second book, Conversations with Clint – 1979 to 1983: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood.

A little background: 

In 1979, Paul Nelson convinced his higher-ups at Rolling Stone that a cover story about Clint Eastwood was in order. A devout genre film and literature fan, Paul idolized Eastwood, who for him was, among other things, a handy and accurate cultural reference point. Reviewing a live performance by rock & roller Warren Zevon in 1976, Paul had written that “seeing the man onstage was like experiencing... Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry... at a very impressionable age. Rightly or wrongly, your life got changed.”

Paul embarked on what at the time, according to critic Dave Marsh, was “probably the longest series of interviews Clint Eastwood's ever done with anyone,” occurring off and on until 1983. Much to Paul's pleasure, he and Eastwood hit it off. The actor-director seemed to trust him and enjoyed spending time with him, and provided him with a wealth of material.

Still acting in other people’s films, the most bankable star in the world was honing his directorial craft on a series of inexpensive films that, without fail, he brought in under-budget and ahead of schedule. Operating largely beneath the critical radar (he took the critics even less seriously than they took him), he made his movies swiftly and inexpensively. Few of his critics then could have predicted—nor would they most likely have gone on record if they had—that Eastwood the actor and director would ever be taken as seriously as he is today.

But Paul Nelson did.

Unfortunately, for reasons explored in the chapter of Everything Is an Afterthought that is devoted to his relationship with Eastwood, Paul—despite the almost twenty-two hours he'd recorded with Eastwood and another ten with his friends and associates—was unable to get beyond page four of the article he'd set out to write.

For over twenty years, the whereabouts of Paul Nelson’s legendary “lost” interviews with Clint Eastwood have been talked about by Eastwood and Nelson fans alike with the same holy-grail hopefulness that cinephiles used to invest in the directors’ cuts of Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil or Sam Fuller’s The Big Red One. The tapes were discovered in Paul's apartment following his death in 2006.

The recordings reveal that Eastwood was indeed relaxed and confidential with Paul, speaking openly and without illusions about his influences, his strengths, and his public persona. Aside from their obvious value as a window into the life of one of our major actors and directors at a specific time and place in his career, they reveal a man who’d found a friend in his interviewer and who gave him the benefit of the doubt again and again over a four-year period because he liked him and believed in him.

The publication of Conversations with Clint – 1979 to 1983: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood will finally bear out that belief.

Copyright 2010 by Kevin Avery. All rights reserved.