Everything Is an Afterthought

The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson
Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson. Fantagraphics. Nov. 2011. c.584p. photogs. ISBN 9781606994757. $29.99. MUSIC
OrangeReviewStarThat there are pundits who have made careers out of pronouncing criticism dead would've deeply rankled the late Paul Nelson, whose dedication to film and music ran so deep that he routinely withheld copy if it didn't achieve his standard of emotional intelligence. As journalist Avery documents in this cohesive biography-cum-first anthology of the onetime Rolling Stone record review editor's oeuvre, Nelson was a gifted early practitioner of new journalism and, though a child of the Sixties folk and rock counterculture, one of its most vocal critics. Bob Dylan probably received from Nelson as many pointed reality checks as he did gushing valentines. Reading his inconceivably insightful profiles of Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Warren Zevon, and Rod Stewart helps make sense of a needlessly guilt- and disappointment-laden life—here was a hyper-romantic Midwesterner by birth but a New Yorker by necessity who thought he could transcend mundane cruelties by dedicating himself to the popular arts.
VERDICT Seamlessly incorporating the perspectives of Nick Tosches, Robert Christgau, and Jann Wenner, Avery has crafted both a cautionary tale and a celebration of a noir-influenced writer who deserves a place alongside Lester Bangs for his ability to live, always, in the music. Devotees of folk, establishment rock 'n' roll, and pulp fiction will rue not having discovered Nelson sooner. [See also the Avery-edited Conversations with Clint: Paul Nelson's Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood, 1979–1983, coming in October from Continuum.—Ed.]
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