EVERYTHING IS AN AFTERTHOUGHT

THE LIFE AND WRITINGS OF PAUL NELSON

A Paul Nelson (1936–2006) acolyte delivers a labor-of-love exhumation of the pioneering rock critic’s legacy.

Even among rock fanatics of the 1960s and ’70s, Nelson never attained (nor seemed to strive for) the higher profile of Lester Bangs, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau or Dave Marsh. Yet few were as beloved among his peers, his acolytes, even the artists he reviewed and perhaps too often befriended. This welcome volume spotlights the work of the critic who championed the young Bob Dylan’s transition from topical songs to electric rock, who provided early support for Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne and Warren Zevon and who served a stint at Mercury Records during which he signed and championed the New York Dolls and became buddies with Rod Stewart. Says Jay Cocks, who became a successful screenwriter and was the film and music critic for Time during Nelson’s most prolific years, “Paul was one who deserves the word critic; the rest of us were reviewers.” Says Jann Wenner, whose Rolling Stone hired Nelson as review editor and then accepted his resignation as the magazine moved toward shorter reviews in a section that was more aligned with popular taste: “He had that authority and that level of gravitas that these other guys, [Jon] Landau and Greil (Marcus) had had before him. He was the last of that tradition. I guess that era of the independent fiefdom came to an end with Paul.” Avery’s book also serves as a memorial to a man who saw his career succumb to paralyzing writer’s block as well as changing journalistic values, who clerked in a video store and became borderline destitute, who refused contact with former friends and colleagues and who died a week before his body was discovered. Reading Bruce Springsteen description of Nelson’s “fan’s enthusiasm…tempered by the incredible intelligence” recalls an era when the rock critic, and rock criticism, really mattered.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-60699-475-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Fantagraphics Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

A LIFETIME OF RECORDINGS

Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)

Pub Date: May 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-19-508629-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1995

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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