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Everything Is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson Hardcover – November 21, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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  That alone would make this book essential; the biographical research, the unpublished pieces, and the photographs make it a human saga as well, as heartbreaking as the novel or film Nelson never managed to write.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)

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)

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)

With [this book], one of the most thoughtful, soulful, and articulate writers on music in the 60s and 70s has been revived. (Bob Nickas - Vice)

The fiery, literate pop­-music writing [Nelson] developed soon crystallized ― and probably helped elevate ― the standards of the work he wrote about. . .the rock world came to think of its music as an art when serious critics started treating it like one.... 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. (David Hajdu - The New York Times Book Review)

Nelson, who died in 2006 at age 69, was part of the first generation of rock critics, instrumental in bringing attention to musicians including Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, New York Dolls and Warren Zevon. The book is both an anthology of his best writing and a tragic recounting of a life that shut down too soon. (Ken Tucker - Fresh Air (NPR))

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) - The New Vulgate)

...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 - New York Daily News)

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 Best American Poetry)

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. (Heather ­McCormack - Library Journal (Starred Review))

Kevin Avery has compiled an incredibly thorough account of one of folk and rock music’s most important critics of the 20th Century: Paul Nelson. Nelson is . . . also a true writer who loved his subject matter possibly more than anything else. After reading, I felt that I knew more about Nelson than simply his life’s accomplishments ― I knew him as the man he was.... (Chris Proctor - SLUG Magazine)

Avery crafts a biography of a largely self­-taught thinker who immersed himself in his passions, whether that meant classic film, the detective fiction. . . or folk music. The author allows his subject to develop primarily through oral history, as his friends and contemporaries recall a quirky iconoclast. . . But the book is most compelling simply by bringing Nelson’s own distinctive writing voice to a new generation . . . and a commitment to understanding what artists were trying to accomplish. (Scott Renshaw - City Weekly)

This is a fascinating and moving story, not just of a life gone adrift but of the phenomenon of rock culture in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s 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)

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 - Offbeat)

...[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 - Houston Press)

...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 - The KEXP Blog)

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 - Dangerous Minds)

Nelson’s writing is deeply personal, inviting readers into the relationships he had with the people he wrote about. Avery’s biography similarly invites readers into Paul Nelson’s life, lonely as it was. (Matt Smith­Lahrman - New Books Network)

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 - Pulp Serenade)

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 - Spike Magazine)

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 - Our Town Downtown)

Small wonder that Jonathan Lethem modeled Chronic City’s protagonist on Nelson: Nelson’s bohemian eccentricities... make his biography a… gripping read… (Jonah Wolf - The College Hill Independent)

About 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: Paul Nelson’s Lost Interviews with Clint Eastwood, 1979 – 1983. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Fantagraphics; 1st THUS edition (November 21, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1606994751
  • ISBN-13: 978-1606994757
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,607,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book is a combination biography/collected work . It is a unique format that works quite well. We see the sadness of Paul Nelson's life at the end ,but then we are given the chance to read all of the work we have been reading about. I also have to commend Fantagraphics for this book's physical package; the paper, endpieces photos and everything else are top quality. It feels like an important book. Paul Nelson was someone who when I had the chance to read his work , I was never disappointed. I was introduced to him as a teenager by the infamous ROD STEWART book (Lester Bangs actually completed it for him). I then rediscovered him years later when Rolling Stone made Nelson's epic Warren Zevon article availble online after WZ's death. I came across this book in the Fantagraphics catalog and jumped to buy it. You will not be disappointed if you like music,film and literary criticism. I wish mass market magazines still ran stories like these
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, I need to disclose the fact that Kevin Avery is a personal friend of mine. I know how long and hard he has struggled to write, compile and publish this book. I have a number of friends who are creative types. I am sometimes asked to critique their work. I have learned to be very diplomatic, so as not to hurt their feelings, when I can't "feel" their art. I have no such problem with Kevin. I knew he was a fine writer because I have read some of his earlier work. After reading the introduction to "Everything is an Afterthought", I realized i had underestimated my friend's gift. The book itself is a bibliophiles dream, that needs to be read in its physical format (not electronically). Its heavy and beautifully designed cover, ample photographs, and thick pages are a feast for the eyes and fingers. This book is so obviously a labor of love, without being a hagiography (Paul Nelson was obviously a wonderful, extremely talented, but deeply troubled man). The foreword by Nick Tosches and Avery's previously mentioned introduction are things of beauty. If you are a lover of rock and roll and the printed word this is an essential purchase. The biographical section will break your heart by the time you get to the final pages. The anthology of Nelson's writing will be a revelation to anyone who reads his work for the first time. He was a man who wrote about Bob Dylan (carefully read the first article on Mr. Zimmerman) and the New York Dolls, as if he were writing the great American novel. At his very best, Nelson was a poet. There are certain lines in this book by Nelson, Avery, and Tosches that simply glow off the page and demand to be reread again and again. This book is a keeper. My copy is going on my shelf next to my well worn copies of Greil Marcus' "Mystery Train" and Peter Guralnick's "Last Train to Memphis". It's that good.
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Format: Hardcover
First, I must share that I am from Warren, Minnesota -Paul's hometown. I believe Mr. Avery deserves HUGE kudos for getting it right when it comes to growing up in Warren, a small town. Even though I came along a couple decades later....graduating from Warren High School in the early '70s, things had not changed a whole lot in Warren. Paul's quotes were as true in my day as they were in his. I went to the same church as he did, our mothers were dear friends, and the smalltown depictions of Warren were right on. You absolutely could not marry outside your faith, and sometimes even your age! Northwest Minnesota seems to be the cultural desert of the world and I could easily relate to Paul's comments about never hearing an orchestra until college! So, when it comes to depicting Warren, Mr. Avery offered truthful and accurate information and quotes. So if you have grown up in a small town, it's a wonderful read! Being a musician myself, I also could relate on that level and could reminisce about some of his critiques as well. How ironic it is that I have now returned to Warren - something that Paul could never do until his death. I have gone out to his gravesite and on a very strange level, can totally relate to his sadness and yet his life gives me inspiration. this book may be a wonderful inspiration to you, too.
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Format: Hardcover
I remember reading Paul Nelson's reviews in "Rolling Stone" and appreciating their literariness and erudition. He seemed to go deeper than most other rock critics. Unfortunately, his depth went with a certain tunnel vision, so when the relatively small world of rock criticism changed in the 1980's he wasn't flexible enough to adjust. And so began his long slow professional and personal suicide. In "Everything Is An Afterthought", Kevin Avery presents the story of Nelson in the form of an oral history. Dozens of people who knew Nelson in life get their say. We are left as readers to put the pieces together. The process of judging almost becomes like one of Nelson's beloved detective novels. Avery's biography also is a perceptive bit of the cultural history of the U.S. in the last half of the last century. I finished the biography part of the book in one large gulp, and then turned to Nelson's reviews. Here they are presented unedited unlike the versions which were actually used in the magazine. In the case of some pieces that makes quite a bit of difference, so it's like reading them for the first time (especially the pieces on Warren Zevon). I really admired Avery's candor. He reproduces Nelson's ecstatic reviews of Zevon and Jackson Browne, while acknowledging that Nelson later has serious fallings-out with both men and wasn't on speaking terms with them at the time of his death. Nelson's life is both a story of proud intellectual accomplishment and a cautionary tale almost too sad to endure. Put this on the shelf next to Greil Marcus, as Nelson finally gets his due.
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