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Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson

Overview

A pioneering Rolling Stone critic gets his due.
What happened to Paul Nelson? In the '60s, he pioneered rock & roll criticism with a first-person style of writing that would later be popularized by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer as “New Journalism.” As co-founding editor of The Little Sandy Review and managing editor of Sing Out!, he’d already established himself, to use his friend Bob Dylan’s words, as “a folk-music scholar”; but...
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Overview

A pioneering Rolling Stone critic gets his due.
What happened to Paul Nelson? In the '60s, he pioneered rock & roll criticism with a first-person style of writing that would later be popularized by the likes of Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer as “New Journalism.” As co-founding editor of The Little Sandy Review and managing editor of Sing Out!, he’d already established himself, to use his friend Bob Dylan’s words, as “a folk-music scholar”; but when Dylan went electric in 1965, Nelson went with him.
During a five-year detour at Mercury Records in the early 1970s, Nelson signed the New York Dolls to their first recording contract, then settled back down to writing criticism at Rolling Stone as the last in a great tradition of record-review editors that included Jon Landau, Dave Marsh, and Greil Marcus. Famously championing the early careers of artists like Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Rod Stewart, Neil Young, and Warren Zevon, Nelson not only wrote about them but often befriended them. Never one to be pigeonholed, he was also one of punk rock’s first stateside mainstream proponents, embracing the Sex Pistols and the Ramones.
But in 1982, he walked away from it all — Rolling Stone, his friends, and rock & roll. By the time he died in his New York City apartment in 2006 at the age of seventy — a week passing before anybody discovered his body — almost everything he’d written had been relegated to back issues of old music magazines.
How could a man whose writing had been so highly regarded have fallen so quickly from our collective memory? With Paul Nelson’s posthumous blessing, Kevin Avery spent four years researching and writing Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writing of Paul Nelson. This unique anthology-biography compiles Nelson’s best works (some of it previously unpublished) while also providing a vivid account of his private and public lives. Avery interviewed almost 100 of Paul Nelson’s friends, family, and colleagues, including several of the artists about whom he’d written.
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Editorial Reviews

Sound Waves
“What is central to this magnificent book is that Avery, a fabulous writer in his own regard, is also clearly a big Paul Nelson fan. As such, he presents a critical, yet caring, picture of Nelson's professional and personal life, the latter a bit sad and wistful, pulling out all the stops in a moving tribute, warts and all. [Rating] 5 stars”
Salon
“[The book is] better than you might figure.... the wild card was Avery, an unknown from Utah whose national track record starts here. But he's done inspired, diligent work. Constructed from a greater proportion of direct quotes than is normally deemed proper, the biography is doubly gripping as a result...”— Robert Christgau
Offbeat
Everything Is an Afterthought presents a vision of the heyday of rock journalism, times that have long past.... The story Kevin Avery tells is of someone who believed passionately in the art that moved him...”— Alex Rawls
PowerPop
“...an absolutely riveting and (I think) important read. ... Avery has done an absolutely smashing job of research and that there's a lot to chew on here about all sorts of issues. ... rest assured that this would be an important book if Avery had done nothing more than get some of Nelson's brilliant essays and reviews between hardcovers, where they clearly belong, at last.”— Steve Simels
Houston Press
“...[I]n this insightful and riveting biography, Avery has brought the flat-capped, sunglassed, mustachioed, Nat Sherman-smoking, hamburger eating, and Coca-Cola guzzling wordsmith back to life; a writer as fascinating — and frustrating — as many of his interview subjects.”— Bob Ruggiero
Pulp Serenade
“Kevin’s biography, Everything Is an Afterthought, tells the whole sad story. It’s heartbreaking as hell, but I couldn’t put it down. Paul was a compelling and complex as any of the artists he wrote about — and just as talented.”— Cullen Gallagher
Rolling Stone
“Perhaps the best virtue of this book is that it captures the great rock critic Paul Nelson in ways he would have appreciated. It's idiosyncratic, highly personal, dark, exasperating and, finally, inspiring. In Kevin Avery, Nelson, who died in 2006, has found a smart, sympathetic keeper of his flame…. The book restores him to a deserved place in the canon of music criticism. It's not always an easy read — too grim for that. But for serious music fans, it's essential.”— Anthony Decurtis
The KEXP Blog
“...Nelson wrote like Fitzgerald or O’Connor, his prose full of god and anxiety... I’m not kidding when I say that you need to get on this ASAP if you do any music writing at all. It’s the Scribes Sounding Off book of the year, in a pretty great year of them...”— Chris Estey
Spike Magazine
“Like the best critics, Nelson was primarily a fan of what he wrote about, subjects that struck a chord with him. And here’s a bio and a collection of his work written by a fan of his.”— Robert O'Connor
Dangerous Minds
Music book of the year … [T]he thing I really appreciate in reading Paul’s writings is you get to a place where even if you disagree with him you want to really explore why… That’s what great rock writers do — they send you to the music. Of all the books I’ve read this year, Everything Is an Afterthought is the one that has meant the most to me.”— Marc Campbell
The New Vulgate
“Avery’s book… is an admirably unorthodox construction... What’s impressive about Avery’s biographic half of the book is that he’s produced both an intimate personal bio and a comprehensive professional bio as well.”— Joe Carducci (Author of Rock and the Pop Narcotic)
Chicago Sun-Times
Everything Is an Afterthought is as much a eulogy for the life and work of this influential critic and writer as it is a reflection of how otherworldly the entertainment industry of the 1960s and '70s appears from a contemporary perspective of online bloggers and digital music. …[T]he dual nature of his book is fantastic, because after reading about Nelson's life we desire and deserve to read his work.”— Thomas Conner
Our Town Downtown
“…Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson [is] a deeply moving biography that captures not only Nelson’s tragedy, but also celebrates the ardor and artistry of his life and work.”— Cullen Gallagher
Detroit Metro Times
“Believe it or not, music criticism was responsible for some of 2011's finest books, with Kevin Avery's impeccably researched Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson leading the pack.... Avery has done an outstanding job assembling a collection of the writer's work, fully illustrating why he was such an influential presence in his time.”— Bill Holdship
New York Daily News
“...Kevin Avery’s Everything Is an Afterthought... chronicles the dramatic life of one of music’s keenest observers, Paul Nelson, and curates his finest critiques.... I read and adored [Nelson] growing up, but reading [him] in the context of today’s critical standards gave me the literary equivalent to the bends. It goes without saying that, in the age of the Internet, the whole idea of a critic has changed.”— Jim Farber
The Best American Poetry
“This volume is exhilarating. Avery tells with great energy Nelson’s tale, with copious details about the active period of his subject’s life, and in so doing limns a portrait of a certain kind of pop-culture/bohemian existence in the late-70s. And Avery’s generous selection of Nelson’s writings are certainly among Paul’s best...”— Ken Tucker (Entertainment Weekly)
The College Hill Independent
“Small wonder that Jonathan Lethem modeled Chronic City’s protagonist on Nelson: Nelson’s bohemian eccentricities... make his biography a… gripping read…”— Jonah Wolf
Robert Christgau - Salon
“[The book is] better than you might figure.... the wild card was Avery, an unknown from Utah whose national track record starts here. But he's done inspired, diligent work. Constructed from a greater proportion of direct quotes than is normally deemed proper, the biography is doubly gripping as a result...”
Alex Rawls - Offbeat
“Everything Is an Afterthought presents a vision of the heyday of rock journalism, times that have long past.... The story Kevin Avery tells is of someone who believed passionately in the art that moved him...”
Steve Simels - PowerPop
“...an absolutely riveting and (I think) important read. ... Avery has done an absolutely smashing job of research and that there's a lot to chew on here about all sorts of issues. ... rest assured that this would be an important book if Avery had done nothing more than get some of Nelson's brilliant essays and reviews between hardcovers, where they clearly belong, at last.”
Bob Ruggiero - Houston Press
“...[I]n this insightful and riveting biography, Avery has brought the flat-capped, sunglassed, mustachioed, Nat Sherman-smoking, hamburger eating, and Coca-Cola guzzling wordsmith back to life; a writer as fascinating -- and frustrating -- as many of his interview subjects.”
Cullen Gallagher - Pulp Serenade
“Kevin’s biography, Everything Is an Afterthought, tells the whole sad story. It’s heartbreaking as hell, but I couldn’t put it down. Paul was a compelling and complex as any of the artists he wrote about — and just as talented.”
Anthony Decurtis - Rolling Stone
“Perhaps the best virtue of this book is that it captures the great rock critic Paul Nelson in ways he would have appreciated. It's idiosyncratic, highly personal, dark, exasperating and, finally, inspiring. In Kevin Avery, Nelson, who died in 2006, has found a smart, sympathetic keeper of his flame…. The book restores him to a deserved place in the canon of music criticism. It's not always an easy read -- too grim for that. But for serious music fans, it's essential.”
Chris Estey - The KEXP Blog
“...Nelson wrote like Fitzgerald or O’Connor, his prose full of god and anxiety... I’m not kidding when I say that you need to get on this ASAP if you do any music writing at all. It’s the Scribes Sounding Off book of the year, in a pretty great year of them...”
Robert O'Connor - Spike Magazine
“Like the best critics, Nelson was primarily a fan of what he wrote about, subjects that struck a chord with him. And here’s a bio and a collection of his work written by a fan of his.”
Marc Campbell - Dangerous Minds
“Music book of the year … [T]he thing I really appreciate in reading Paul’s writings is you get to a place where even if you disagree with him you want to really explore why… That’s what great rock writers do -- they send you to the music. Of all the books I’ve read this year, Everything Is an Afterthought is the one that has meant the most to me.”
Joe Carducci (Author of Rock and the Pop Narcotic) - The New Vulgate
“Avery’s book… is an admirably unorthodox construction... What’s impressive about Avery’s biographic half of the book is that he’s produced both an intimate personal bio and a comprehensive professional bio as well.”
Thomas Conner - Chicago Sun-Times
“Everything Is an Afterthought is as much a eulogy for the life and work of this influential critic and writer as it is a reflection of how otherworldly the entertainment industry of the 1960s and '70s appears from a contemporary perspective of online bloggers and digital music. …[T]he dual nature of his book is fantastic, because after reading about Nelson's life we desire and deserve to read his work.”
Cullen Gallagher - Our Town Downtown
“…Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson [is] a deeply moving biography that captures not only Nelson’s tragedy, but also celebrates the ardor and artistry of his life and work.”
Bill Holdship - Detroit Metro Times
“Believe it or not, music criticism was responsible for some of 2011's finest books, with Kevin Avery's impeccably researched Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson leading the pack.... Avery has done an outstanding job assembling a collection of the writer's work, fully illustrating why he was such an influential presence in his time.”
Jim Farber - New York Daily News
“...Kevin Avery’s Everything Is an Afterthought... chronicles the dramatic life of one of music’s keenest observers, Paul Nelson, and curates his finest critiques.... I read and adored [Nelson] growing up, but reading [him] in the context of today’s critical standards gave me the literary equivalent to the bends. It goes without saying that, in the age of the Internet, the whole idea of a critic has changed.”
Ken Tucker (Entertainment Weekly) - The Best American Poetry
“This volume is exhilarating. Avery tells with great energy Nelson’s tale, with copious details about the active period of his subject’s life, and in so doing limns a portrait of a certain kind of pop-culture/bohemian existence in the late-70s. And Avery’s generous selection of Nelson’s writings are certainly among Paul’s best...”
Jonah Wolf - The College Hill Independent
“Small wonder that Jonathan Lethem modeled Chronic City’s protagonist on Nelson: Nelson’s bohemian eccentricities... make his biography a… gripping read…”
Bruce Springsteen
“Paul Nelson's writing meant a lot to me emotionally at the time, enough to just flick that switch so that when you went on onstage that night you remembered: Hey, you're working on a promise to keep, not to just yourself but to him. He put his ass on the line for you in that last story, so you better be good.”
Dave Marsh
“This book beautifully balances Paul Nelson’s life and work, the struggling man and the gifted craftsman. Its Nelson is equal parts Hammett and Bartleby, a connoisseur and a Coke-head, possessed of wisdom and uniquely self-destructive. That Paul’s actual writing makes up half the book takes nothing away from Kevin Avery’s scrupulous reporting and remarkable empathy with his subject. I don’t know if the story of my friend and mentor, colleague and neighbor will break your heart. But that’s exactly what it did to mine, and in a way that leaves me grateful.”
Greil Marcus
“Paul was his own kind of subterranean—disappearing around corners on the surface, thinking his way through the catacombs beneath it. He cultivated his obsessions over decades, until he could pass on the glow they gave off for him to other people. He left behind more than one ghost, and many of them are in this book.”
Jonathan Lethem
“Paul Nelson’s life was a fierce quiet drama of devotion to culture, with a run of triumphs along the way to a slow-motion tragedy. This book restores the triumphs of his writing to a conversation that may not have known, or remembered, what it was missing. That alone would make this book essential; the biographical research, the unpublished pieces, and the photographs make it a human saga as well, as heartbreaking as the novel or film Nelson never managed to write. The whole thing proceeds out of Kevin Avery’s own quiet devotion, for which I can hardly express my gratitude.”
Cameron Crowe
“Kevin Avery has done something heroic here. Avery has rescued the work and the passion, the life and the meaning of the great Paul Nelson. Nelson was a deep and beautiful writer, mysterious and painstaking and brilliant. Thanks to Avery and Everything Is an Afterthought, Paul Nelson’s work finally has a home. This wonderful writing is here for the faithful, and now forever available for new fans who’ll never forget him.”
Neil Strauss
“If it wasn’t for Kevin Avery, the life and work of one of the world’s first and greatest rock writers might otherwise have remained scattered in time and space. Written and compiled with intelligence, meticulousness, and passion, Everything Is an Afterthought is simultaneously a moving biography, a classic criticism anthology, an earnest expression of fandom, and, most importantly, an overdue addition to the canon of essential rock books.”
Heather ­McCormack - Library Journal (Starred Review)
“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.”
Library Journal
That 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.]—Heather McCormack, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
A Paul Nelson (1936–2006) acolyte delivers a labor-of-love exhumation of the pioneering rock critic's legacy. Even among rock fanatics of the 1960s and '70s, Nelson never attained (nor seemed to strive for) the higher profile of Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau or Dave Marsh. Yet few were as beloved among his peers, his acolytes, even the artists he reviewed and perhaps too often befriended. This welcome volume spotlights the work of the critic who championed the young Bob Dylan's transition from topical songs to electric rock, who provided early support for Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon and who served a stint at Mercury Records during which he signed and championed the New York Dolls and became buddies with Rod Stewart. Says Jay Cocks, who became a successful screenwriter and was the film and music critic for Time during Nelson's most prolific years, "Paul was one who deserves the word critic; the rest of us were reviewers." Says Jann Wenner, whose Rolling Stone hired Nelson as review editor and then accepted his resignation as the magazine moved toward shorter reviews in a section that was more aligned with popular taste: "He had that authority and that level of gravitas that these other guys, [Jon] Landau and Greil (Marcus) had had before him. He was the last of that tradition. I guess that era of the independent fiefdom came to an end with Paul." Avery's book also serves as a memorial to a man who saw his career succumb to paralyzing writer's block as well as changing journalistic values, who clerked in a video store and became borderline destitute, who refused contact with former friends and colleagues and who died a week before his body was discovered. Reading Bruce Springsteen description of Nelson's "fan's enthusiasm…tempered by the incredible intelligence" recalls an era when the rock critic, and rock criticism, really mattered.
David Hajdu
[Nelson] was on to something legitimate when, in his 20s during the early '60s, he took the ambitions of the rapidly maturing music of the rock generation as a challenge to produce ambitious criticism. The fiery, literate pop-music writing he developed soon crystallized—and probably helped elevate—the standards of the work he wrote about, while raising the expectations of its audience…His significance as a maker of ardent and crafty (if parochial) rock writing is clear from the testimonies by critics and musicians in the biographical sections of Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson, a quirky pastiche of biography and anthology…
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781606994757
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics Books
  • Publication date: 11/21/2011
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 1,115,313
  • Product dimensions: 6.38 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Avery has published over 300 articles and short stories. His books include Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson and Conversations with Clint 1979-1983: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.
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