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 70 — 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 This unique anthology-biography compiles Nelson's best works (some of it previously unpublished) while also providing a vivid account of his private and public lives.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.
Bruce Springsteen says, "He is somebody who played a very essential part in that creative moment when I was there trying to establish what I was doing and what I wanted our band to be about."
This is a landmark work of cultural revival, a tribute to and collection by one of the unsung critical champions of popular art.
Download and read a 51-page PDF excerpt (3.7 MB) which includes the Table of Contents, Kevin Avery's Introduction, and excerpts from the biography and Paul Nelson's writings.
Audio Excerpt:Kevin Avery Reads from Everything Is an Afterthought by Vanity Fair
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Advance praise for Everything Is an Afterthought:
"Everything Is an Afterthought is remarkable. A biography, literary excavation, history of rock 'n' roll – New York wing. Kevin Avery summons all appropriate demons for a party of the first quality. Everyone is present and speaking, as if for the first time. All your heroes, all everyone's heroes. If you care about the culture of the Sixties and the years that followed, you must read this book." – Frederick Barthelme
"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." – Neil Strauss
"F. Scott Fitzgerald said, 'Show me a hero and I'll write you a tragedy.' Once upon a time, Paul Nelson was my hero and in many ways his life was a tragedy. But nobody ever wrote about the music that matters with such poetic intensity, such delirious commitment as Paul did. He opened my eyes, ears and imagination to the holy trinity of Music, Books & Films. Everything Is an Afterthought is a finely written and well-deserved legacy ... Thanks Kevin Avery." – Elliott Murphy, Paris, France
"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 Nelsons work finally has a home. This wonderful writing is here for the faithful, and now forever available for new fans wholl never forget him." Cameron Crowe
"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." Jonathan Lethem
"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." Greil Marcus
"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. Dave Marsh
"In this riveting, original and comprehensive biography, Avery not only captures the essence of one of the first and finest chroniclers of rock and roll history, but he gives us insight into the oddly mysterious character that so many called 'friend.' Paul Nelson was as odd as he was honest, as eccentric as he was salt-of-the-earth, as outspoken as he was introverted a brilliant journalist who walked away from it all and left us wanting. Thank you, Kevin Avery, for your masterful portrait of this important man, and for bringing back to life his work, without which no history of rock and roll would be complete." Crystal Zevon, author of I'll Sleep When I'm Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon
"Paul was a classic personality of his times. Radically talented, seriously flawed, loved by many of us, forgotten by too many of us, Kevin Avery brings him to life in his sympathetic biography and his fine selection of Paul's writing." Jon Landau, critic and producer
"Like the very greatest critics, Paul Nelson took whatever he wrote about far too personally. He was a dynamo of hyper-responsiveness, his tastes forever in motion and never at rest. This book is a chance to tap into his mind and energize our own minds in the process. Just make sure to read it at full volume." Walter Kirn, author of Up in the Air and Thumbsucker
"This is a rich and mysterious book. Kevin Avery has glimpsed Nelson's soul, and the image he presents is fascinating and deeply human. Avery's respect (and affection) for Nelson is evident, but the details he presents of this elusive man's life are effectively clear-eyed. We sense the joy in Nelson's creative gift and equally shiver in the shadows of his dark side. Yet, shimmering through it all are Nelson's words. No one wrote about music the way he did. You can feel the rhythm in every phrase. His writing moves like an effortlessly constructed wave carrying insight, understanding, and thought that is always profoundly satisfying and original." Tom DiCillo, writer-director of When You re Strange: A Film About the Doors
"Here is the gospel according to Paul Nelson. Finally, that unholy ghost in Rock-kritics' Trinity with Lester the father, Nick Kent the bastard son has received his due. Amen to Avery." Clinton Heylin, author of Dylan Behind the Shades
"This welcome volume spotlights the work of the critic who championed the young Bob Dylans 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.... Averys book also serves as a memorial to a man who saw his career succumb to paralyzing writers 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 Nelsons 'fans enthusiasm tempered by the incredible intelligence' recalls an era when the rock critic, and rock criticism, really mattered." Kirkus Reviews
Praise for Paul Nelson:
"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." – Bruce Springsteen
"There was no moment of falsity, there was no moment of dishonesty in [Paul Nelson's] life or his writing. He may have been looking for refuge all the time from whatever deep demons he had, but he never came on as being anyone or anything other than what he was. He was remarkable." – Jay Cocks
"I admire Paul Nelson more than anyone. He's always been the one who's best understood what I've been trying to accomplish." – Rod Stewart
"[Paul Nelson's] writing was flinty, elliptical, and romantic, an unusual combination. He was drawn to loners and the excluded." – Greil Marcus
"I was always very grateful that [Paul Nelson] wrote what he wrote. I don't want to give it a name or diminish it by encapsulating it in some sort of description of what that was, but it made me feel that I was being received, that I was being heard, by people who really got it." – Jackson Browne
"This is a fascinating and moving story, not just of a life gone adrift but of the phenomenon of rock culture in the 60s and 70s and its accompanying commentary . Paul Nelson wrote as if his existence depended on the meaning his musical heroes made of humanity." Barney Hoskyns, The Word