Kevin Avery on The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson
From the 1960s to the early 1980s, Paul Nelson was known for writing passionate, insightful criticism of folk and rock music that showed a partiality for singer-songwriters. He, and his record collection, was of great importance to Bob Dylan early in his career. As an editor at Rolling Stone, he influenced many great critics, such as Charles M. Young and Mikal Gilmore. But suddenly, in the early 1980s, when editorial decisions at Rolling Stone ran contrary to his thinking, Nelson walked away from music criticism. In fact, he dropped out of criticism entirely, choosing to spend his remaining years in relative obscurity, working at a video rental store. He died in 2006, but not before writer Kevin Avery contacted him about a potential biography. After Nelson's death, Avery was tapped to compile this new Fantagraphics book, Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life And Writings Of Paul Nelson, in which Avery documented Nelson's career as well as collecting his writing. In addition to discussing this book, Avery also discussed his other Nelson-related book that he edited, Conversations with Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood, 1979-1983 (Continuum Books). To mark the release of both books, Avery recently allowed me to interview him via email.
Not to toss a large question your way, but how did Paul Nelson help to shape present day rock criticism?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask. As a result of immersing myself in the music and criticism of the Seventies and Eighties, I really don’t follow rock criticism much anymore, but what I do read bears very little resemblance to the kind of writing that Paul did. Paul’s writing was more contemplative and expansive—in contrast to some of what I read today, which is dictated by time and space constraints (some of the very things that brought Paul’s tenure at Rolling Stone to an end in 1982).
In gathering this book, were there certain key parts to the collection that proved harder to track down then others?
Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson is actually divided into two books: Book One, which is Paul’s biography and sets up Book Two, which, while continuing to tell Paul’s story, presents an anthology of some of his best writing. Tracking down the various writings that I wanted to include in the book wasn’t that difficult—the challenge was documenting the last twenty or so years of his life, after he left Rolling Stone and “began to erase himself from the world” (as Anthony DeCurtis recently chillingly wrote). He closed the door on most of his many friends and colleagues and began leading an increasingly private life (which was hermetic to begin with).Continued on the next page