Clip: RIP music writer Paul Nelson
- Nelson wasn't prolific, but his best work ranks with the best music
writing I have read. His 1981 profile of Warren Zevon in Rolling
Stone is essential for anyone interested in Zevon's biography or
influences. (As well as fans of Ross Macdonald.) About 11 years
later, he wrote a profile on Freedy Johnston than put him in context
with several artists not mentioned in Pareles's obituary, among them
Paul Nelson, Critic Who Spanned Folk and Rock, Dies at 69
By JON PARELES
Published: July 10, 2006
Paul Nelson, a pioneering rock critic, was found dead in his apartment
in Manhattan on Wednesday. He was 69.
His death was confirmed by Steven Feltes of Evergreen Video in
Greenwich Village, his friend and former employer, who said that the
cause had not yet been determined.
As a critic at Rolling Stone, where his writing appeared regularly and
where he edited the reviews section in the 1970's, Mr. Nelson was a
constant advocate for tough-minded music, particularly from
singer-songwriters; he named Jackson Browne's album "The Pretender" as
his choice for a desert island. During a brief stint working for a
recording company, he signed the New York Dolls.
Mr. Nelson prized hard-boiled detective novels and film noir, and his
style was pithy and passionate. Reviewing Neil Young's "Rust Never
Sleeps" for Rolling Stone in 1979, he wrote: "For anyone still
passionately in love with rock & roll, Neil Young has made a record
that defines the territory. Defines it, expands it, explodes it. Burns
it to the ground."
Mr. Nelson was born in Warren, Minn., and attended St. Olaf College
and then the University of Minnesota. With a friend, John Pankake, he
started Little Sandy Review, a magazine about folk music, in 1961.
Bobby Zimmerman, a songwriter from Hibbing, Minn., who was working at
local coffeehouses, sought out Mr. Nelson after seeing the magazine.
"He had a whole lot of records which probably couldn't be found
anywhere else in the Midwest," Bob Dylan, formerly Mr. Zimmerman, said
in the 2005 documentary "No Direction Home." At one point, when he
knew Mr. Nelson was out of town for the weekend, Mr. Dylan dropped by
his house and, he said, "helped myself to a bunch more records." About
25 disappeared from Mr. Nelson's collection, providing songs for Mr.
Dylan's early repertory.
Mr. Nelson moved to New York City in 1963 hoping to write film
criticism. Instead, he became the managing editor of the folk music
revival's most important magazine, Sing Out! Two years later, when Mr.
Dylan played his first electric concerts and was being booed by folk
diehards, Mr. Nelson wrote in defense of the change, and quit Sing
Out! In an interview with www.rockcritics.com., Mr. Nelson said: "The
folk music just turned into rock for me. When I heard 'Like a Rolling
Stone' it changed everything for me."
Mr. Nelson then worked at a pop magazine, Circus, and at Rolling
Stone. In 1970, he took a job at the publicity department of Mercury
Records and then became an A. & R. — an "artists and repertoire" — man
there. He assembled the Velvet Underground's live album "1969" and
signed the New York Dolls, the anarchic glam-rock band later
recognized as a major influence on punk. When the Dolls failed to
sell, he was fired. He returned to Rolling Stone, where he wrote
features and edited the record reviews section until 1983.
Mr. Nelson left Rolling Stone when a new format drastically shortened
the reviews. He wrote features for Musician magazine and reviewed
albums for People. In 1988, he collaborated with the rock critic
Lester Bangs on a biography of Rod Stewart. But by the early 1990's he
had lost interest in current music, immersing himself instead in
bluegrass and the jazz trumpeter and singer Chet Baker.
Until last July he worked at Evergreen Video, an aficionado's video
store, where he could watch and discuss movies all day. In 2000, he
was working on a screenplay he never expected to see filmed. "It's so
different than anything Hollywood is putting out today," he told
Mr. Nelson is survived by a son, Mark, of Dallas; a sister, Linda
Barna of Pennsylvania; and one grandson.