Kevin Avery spent four years compiling notes, conducting interviews and organizing the biography and some choice writings of his childhood literary hero, Paul Nelson, one of folk music’s most important critics of the 20th Century. Nelson was not only a critic, but was considered by many to be the original folk music scholar. Bob Dylan credits Nelson for supplying him with many of the records he began to listen to early in his songwriting, heavily influencing Dylan’s sound and, after Dylan’s enormous commercial success, that of popular music. Avery does more than simply create a timeline of events as he paints a clear picture of the kind of man Paul Nelson was from his love of film, his introspective nature, right down to his habit of ordering two cokes with every meal. On April 13, Avery returned from Brooklyn, NY to his hometown of Salt Lake City, Utah for a reading and book signing of his book, “Everything Is An Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson,” at the King’s English bookshop.
Just before sundown I walked into the small bookstore, which is laid out like a house with books lining every inch of every wall, and made my way to the back room. About 30 people were packed in this small space in rows, listening to Avery read from the first pages of his book. Donning reading glasses and a sweater, he looked like the classic writer with a warm, quiet yet firm voice that was well fit for narrating, making him a pleasure to listen to. He read from the pages describing Nelson’s early love of books and his tendency to read everything in sight except his school’s required material. “Something in me just wouldn’t let me read what was required. It never became fun until I could do it without any ‘A’ as a goal or ‘pass’ as a goal,” Avery read from the book, quoting Nelson. Hearing him read these quotes aloud brought to life the already clear picture I had of Nelson from reading Avery’s book myself.
After reading for about 20 minutes, Avery took some questions from the crowd that mostly related to himself as a writer. I had a question forming in my head when someone took the words from me, asking, “Do you think Nelson’s romantic writing style would be accepted today with the way music reviewing has gone?” Avery stated simply that people don’t write about music with the same passion anymore, that it’s a consumer guide mentality meant for consumers, not patrons of the arts. Perhaps Avery is right. Many of the music critics in the ’60s and ’70s wrote with more insight, and bias, than a great portion of music journalists today. Journalistic writing is cold, hard math, and Nelson’s romanticism might not have a place in “serious” journalism anymore. That, as Avery portrays in the book, is part of what made Nelson’s writing so great, important even. It was something than could be touched by him alone. Many others have tried, and some great writers have popularized Nelson’s first person reviewing style, but it was he who originated it.
After the questions, I waited by the doorway for a chance to talk to Avery. As he walked past me, he looked down and eyed the advance uncorrected proof I held in my hand. “I bet you’ve seen this copy one too many times,” I said. Avery laughed and replied, “Yes, I noticed that when you walked in. You must be the guy from SLUG.” He commented on my review of his book that was posted earlier that day, which I was surprised he had already read, we had a short chat about his recent move to Brooklyn and then he was off to sign his book. Everything is an Afterthought: The Life and Writings of Paul Nelson was published by Fantagraphics Books and is currently on sale online and at The King’s English bookstore on 1500 east and 1511 south.