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Clip: RIP music writer Paul Nelson

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  • Carl Z.
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 11, 2006
      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
      Pere Ubu.


      Paul Nelson, Critic Who Spanned Folk and Rock, Dies at 69

      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.
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