Saturday, January 21, 2012
"Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson" by Kevin Avery
Paul Nelson's life narrative is too good and too tragic. A man who didn't compromise, and paid the price for his stance in the world - nor could he really take care of himself as well. in other words the dark noirish side of being a professional rock n' roll critic.
Nelson was one of the first important figures in Bob Dylan's professional life and eventually signed the New York Dolls to Mercury Records, where he worked as an A&R man. A job for sure that wouldn't last forever. The great aspect of Nelson's work as a critic and even as a human being is his ability to see through the artist's work and really define it on a very personal level. That I think is a critic's job, and Nelson nails it to the written page.
The painful thing about reading this book beautifully written and edited by Kevin Avery is a lot of people are going to identify with Nelson's love for culture and what it means to him/us/them. Any person who loved Jackson Browne as well as the New York Dolls is able to see beyond the veil of pop machinery and just focus on the work on hand. The fact that he went all out to get the Dolls signed is an amazing narrative. No one in the music biz liked the Dolls except for a handful of critics - and Nelson was the one who really stopped at nothing to get them signed and that alone we can be really grateful for Paul Nelson.
But here is a man who didn't drink alcohol, but consistently had two cans or bottles of coke with his daily hamburger (he is sort of a Popeye Wimpy figure) and led a life devoted to his interests and nothing else. Also the fact that he ended up working at a video store is both tragic and great at the same time.
The tunnel vision that made him unique is also what killed him in the end. And again, that is the scary part of someone who is so devoted to comment on music, film (a huge film fanatic as well as music) and living on the side of noir despair. A very sad book. But the interviews with his fellow critics and friends (most love him to bits) is quite moving and a tribute to those who write to expose how 'their' feelings are attached to the shine or the mirror-like image of pop culture.