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Kevin Avery, Nick Tosches

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

On sale date: November 21, 2011

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 This unique anthology-biography compiles Nelson's best works (some of it previously unpublished) while also providing a vivid account of his private and public lives.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.


"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." — Cameron Crowe, writer-director of Almost Famousand Jerry Maguire

"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, author and SiriusXM radio show host

"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, author of Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads

"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, author of Chronic City and Motherless Brooklyn

"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, author of The Gameand Everyone Loves You When You're Dead


Black and white
6.5" × 9.4"